Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 3, 2014

More than a Gesture Behind Euro Jew-Hate

Most of us may not have heard of it until recently, but the quenelle, the name given to a hand gesture that is a downward facing Nazi salute, has become an important symbol of the shift in European culture in recent years. Created by Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, an anti-Semitic French comedian, the quenelle is now all the rage in France. Soccer players do it after scoring goals and the comic’s fans, including soldiers, send him pictures in which it is performed in every conceivable manner, especially at sites like Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and schools. Even Tony Parker, a French citizen and an American basketball star of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, has had his picture taken performing it with Dieudonné, as he is known on stage, though Parker has since apologized. As such it is an all-too-pertinent example of how Jew hatred has moved from the margins of European society to the mainstream as a result of what the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism.

Though M’Bala M’Bala claims the gesture is nothing more than an “anti-system” inside joke, his attempts at humor tend to revolve around resentment against Jews. That allows the jest to be the not-so-secret handshake that brings disaffected Muslim immigrants together with the denizens of the far right in a shared community of hate in which Jewish targets are the punch lines. But while French authorities, including sports league officials, are seeking to discourage its use, the problem here is a lot bigger than one foul-mouthed show-business personality and his followers.

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Most of us may not have heard of it until recently, but the quenelle, the name given to a hand gesture that is a downward facing Nazi salute, has become an important symbol of the shift in European culture in recent years. Created by Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, an anti-Semitic French comedian, the quenelle is now all the rage in France. Soccer players do it after scoring goals and the comic’s fans, including soldiers, send him pictures in which it is performed in every conceivable manner, especially at sites like Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and schools. Even Tony Parker, a French citizen and an American basketball star of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, has had his picture taken performing it with Dieudonné, as he is known on stage, though Parker has since apologized. As such it is an all-too-pertinent example of how Jew hatred has moved from the margins of European society to the mainstream as a result of what the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism.

Though M’Bala M’Bala claims the gesture is nothing more than an “anti-system” inside joke, his attempts at humor tend to revolve around resentment against Jews. That allows the jest to be the not-so-secret handshake that brings disaffected Muslim immigrants together with the denizens of the far right in a shared community of hate in which Jewish targets are the punch lines. But while French authorities, including sports league officials, are seeking to discourage its use, the problem here is a lot bigger than one foul-mouthed show-business personality and his followers.

At a time when the efforts of European intellectual elites to delegitimize Israel has frequently crossed the line into anti-Semitism, and the growing population of North Africans and Africans have brought their own brand of traditional animus toward Jews onto the continent, the quenelle is the perfect example of the changed atmosphere in Europe and the way practitioners of Jew hatred have managed to portray themselves as trendy rather than throwbacks to the Holocaust.

The conceit of the quenelle is that it can claim to be a counter-cultural symbol, as distinct from those directly associated with traditional anti-Semitism or Nazism. Since in many European countries, and France in particular, hate speech is banned, the furor over the quenelle’s breakout into mainstream culture has led to a discussion about whether the gesture should become illegal as well as if Dieudonné’s shows, which feature soi-disant humorous rants about Jewish “slave drivers” manipulating ordinary people and complaints about claims of Jewish victimhood, should also be prohibited.

This is a mistake, since although France has a strong tradition of government intervention in affairs in which authorities should stay out of, banning either the gesture or the performer will raise justified complaints about rights of free speech as well as making Dieudonné into a victim rather than a perpetrator. More to the point, the exclusive focus on the comedian, which has brought him international notoriety and exposure that he could never have hoped to achieve with his limited artistic appeal, misses the point about the popularity of the gesture and the simmering hate that it exposes.

The quenelle fad, which Dieudonné not unreasonably terms a success, is merely a symptom, not the disease. This outbreak is inconceivable outside the context of the non-stop incitement against Jews that masquerades as criticism of Israel or Zionism that has become a mainstream element of both elite as well as popular European culture. In the decades following the Holocaust this would have been confined to the fever swamps of the far right or far left, but the old constraints against Jew-hatred have slipped away in recent years. At a time when Jewish religious practices such as circumcision and kosher slaughter are under legal attack in many European countries and Israel has become the whipping boy of the international community, traditional hate has become acceptable so long as it operates under the cloak of anti-Zionism.

What is needed in France is not a ban on the quenelle but a determination by politicians, opinion leaders, and cultural figures to fight back against this new variant strain of anti-Semitism. But with so many of the cultural elites there–as well as in other Western European nations–so closely associated with the demonization of Israel, such a campaign may not be possible.

When people are having their pictures taken performing the quenelle in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse where Jews were massacred by a Muslim shooter, as has reportedly happened, France may have reached the tipping point where it is no longer safe for Jews. If Europe truly wishes to avoid the flight of the remnants of Jewry that has put down new roots there since 1945, it must recognize that its problem is mainstream Jew hatred, not a rogue comedian.

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Which Is the Lesser of the Evils?

Colorado legalized the selling of marijuana beginning January 1 and the punditocracy largely does not approve. David Brooks of the New York Times writes that “In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.”

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post writes “widespread legalization is a bad idea, if an inevitable development. Washington state will be the next to light up, in a few months. A measure is heading to the ballot in Alaska this year, along with measures in Oregon and California. As with gambling — also a bad idea, by the way — more states are certain to feel the peer pressure for tax dollars and tourist revenue.”

I’m not an advocate for pot. I think that, unlike alcohol in moderation, it makes you stupid while giving you the illusion of being brilliant. And it surely must be bad for one’s health. Sucking smoke into your lungs has a pretty bad track record in that regard after all.

But unlike Brooks and Marcus, I’m not opposed to its legalization. I would state as a general principle that it is a bad idea to forbid what the government cannot substantially prevent and which a substantial portion of the population has no moral objection to. We should have learned this lesson with Prohibition, which was supposed to get rid of demon rum and gave us Al Capone instead.

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Colorado legalized the selling of marijuana beginning January 1 and the punditocracy largely does not approve. David Brooks of the New York Times writes that “In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.”

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post writes “widespread legalization is a bad idea, if an inevitable development. Washington state will be the next to light up, in a few months. A measure is heading to the ballot in Alaska this year, along with measures in Oregon and California. As with gambling — also a bad idea, by the way — more states are certain to feel the peer pressure for tax dollars and tourist revenue.”

I’m not an advocate for pot. I think that, unlike alcohol in moderation, it makes you stupid while giving you the illusion of being brilliant. And it surely must be bad for one’s health. Sucking smoke into your lungs has a pretty bad track record in that regard after all.

But unlike Brooks and Marcus, I’m not opposed to its legalization. I would state as a general principle that it is a bad idea to forbid what the government cannot substantially prevent and which a substantial portion of the population has no moral objection to. We should have learned this lesson with Prohibition, which was supposed to get rid of demon rum and gave us Al Capone instead.

When something with a large market is outlawed, entrepreneurs will try to tap into the huge profit premium produced by its being illegal and they will succeed in doing so. And unlike hard drugs and alcohol, marijuana can be easily grown nearly anywhere in the country and requires minimal industrial processing. It is already about as hard to obtain as Coca-Cola. Any commercial disputes those entrepreneurs have will be settled in parking lots with guns, not court rooms with lawyers. Tax money will be spent trying, unsuccessfully, to suppress an illegal product instead of being earned taxing a legal one.

So now, because the states can be the “laboratories of democracy,” we’re going to have an experiment. As the Wall Street Journal wrote this morning, “Colorado and Washington voters may come to regret their decision if they notice a surge in drug use, or more violence, or a generation of underdeveloped young people. Legalization, once achieved, will be hard to reverse. Better, then, to let Colorado go first, and watch what happens.”

We are about to find out which is the lesser of the evils, legal or illegal marijuana.

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Human Rights Watch Should Rescind Reports

It should be terribly embarrassing that both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) partnered with al-Karama, a group whose Qatari leader now appears to have been an al-Qaeda financier. National-security reporter Eli Lake, who broke the story, wrote:

On Wednesday [December 18], the Treasury Department issued a designation of [Abdul Rahman Umayr ] al-Naimi that said he oversaw the transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars to al Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen over the last 11 years. In 2013, the designation says, al-Naimi ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al Qaeda via the group’s representative in Syria. In the same notice, the Treasury Department also designated Abdulwahab Al-Humayqani, al-Karama’s representative in Yemen, as a financier and member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s Yemen affiliate.

It’s bad enough that HRW and AI partnered with such groups, for if they cannot accurately assess their own partners, then it raises questions about how well they can assess others. It is possible that the leadership and analysts at HRW and AI were blinded by their own politics. After all, if al-Karama criticized the right targets, then why should HRW or AI criticize its motives?

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It should be terribly embarrassing that both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) partnered with al-Karama, a group whose Qatari leader now appears to have been an al-Qaeda financier. National-security reporter Eli Lake, who broke the story, wrote:

On Wednesday [December 18], the Treasury Department issued a designation of [Abdul Rahman Umayr ] al-Naimi that said he oversaw the transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars to al Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen over the last 11 years. In 2013, the designation says, al-Naimi ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al Qaeda via the group’s representative in Syria. In the same notice, the Treasury Department also designated Abdulwahab Al-Humayqani, al-Karama’s representative in Yemen, as a financier and member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s Yemen affiliate.

It’s bad enough that HRW and AI partnered with such groups, for if they cannot accurately assess their own partners, then it raises questions about how well they can assess others. It is possible that the leadership and analysts at HRW and AI were blinded by their own politics. After all, if al-Karama criticized the right targets, then why should HRW or AI criticize its motives?

What is truly reprehensible, however, is that given the questions now surfacing with regard to al-Karama, Human Rights Watch has not rescinded the reports in whose development it had partnered with al-Karama. Take the case of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which last year successfully busted a coup plot by al-Islah, the local affiliation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Human Rights Watch condemned the UAE and accused it of torture in a study that it conducted in conjunction with al-Karama. Now it seems that its partner’s leader was committed not only in rhetoric but also fact to advancing al-Qaeda’s goals. Can HRW really, in hindsight, take seriously the group’s work which castigated a government which has cracked down on al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood? Frankly, it seems plausible that al-Karama’s leadership wanted to use HRW’s mantle to castigate those it saw as ideological enemies.

Now, the UAE isn’t the only target of al-Karama/HRW partnership. And it is possible that human-rights violations did occur in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere. But, if HRW is a professional organization that wants to uphold the highest standards of analysis, it should begin 2014 with a recall of any and all reports to which al-Karama researchers or the organization contributed and, if necessary, apologies to governments like the United Arab Emirates. The sanctity and impartiality of human-rights research should trump political advocacy and the desire to avoid organizational embarrassment. What HRW and Amnesty International should not do, alas, is obfuscate and delay, the very strategy in which they now seek to engage.

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Discussing the Future of Conservatism

This morning I appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal to discuss “The Future of Conservatism.”

The interview covered a lot of ground, including what I deem to be the proper conservative outlook toward government and topics like the Federalist founders and Lincoln, the Tea Party, Pope Francis, the poor and poverty, democratic capitalism, income inequality, taxes and economic growth, the 2012 election and America’s shifting demographics, Reagan and Thatcher, the Bush years, and the Obama presidency. The host, Peter Slen, demonstrated the professionalism and fairness that is synonymous with C-SPAN. For those interested, they can view the interview here.

This morning I appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal to discuss “The Future of Conservatism.”

The interview covered a lot of ground, including what I deem to be the proper conservative outlook toward government and topics like the Federalist founders and Lincoln, the Tea Party, Pope Francis, the poor and poverty, democratic capitalism, income inequality, taxes and economic growth, the 2012 election and America’s shifting demographics, Reagan and Thatcher, the Bush years, and the Obama presidency. The host, Peter Slen, demonstrated the professionalism and fairness that is synonymous with C-SPAN. For those interested, they can view the interview here.

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Cautious Optimism in Afghanistan

With violence growing in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, among other places, there is not much good news to report in the greater Middle East these days. So it’s worth highlighting this report in the Wall Street Journal that, as the fighting season ends in Afghanistan, security forces have been holding their own against the Taliban with a considerably diminished level of American assistance.

The article is focused on Helmand Province and especially the Sangin district, a major battleground between Marines and the Taliban since 2009. Ace war correspondent Michael Phillips reports from Sangin

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With violence growing in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, among other places, there is not much good news to report in the greater Middle East these days. So it’s worth highlighting this report in the Wall Street Journal that, as the fighting season ends in Afghanistan, security forces have been holding their own against the Taliban with a considerably diminished level of American assistance.

The article is focused on Helmand Province and especially the Sangin district, a major battleground between Marines and the Taliban since 2009. Ace war correspondent Michael Phillips reports from Sangin

Masses of Taliban foot soldiers attacked this spring and summer in a bid to take over Sangin district; government forces turned them back. Mohammad Rasoul Barakzai, the acting Sangin district governor, describes the year-end situation as “calm,” with only intermittent Taliban attacks.

What holds true in Sangin is true for Helmand Province more broadly: “the Afghans have emerged from the warm-weather fighting season in nominal control of every heavily populated district of Helmand—a result that U.S. and Afghan commanders say should inject optimism into the often-gloomy debate over the country’s future.”

This runs counter to recent reports of the Afghan army doing deals with the Taliban in Sangin. Phillips reports that this was a low-level accommodation reached by junior officers who have since been disciplined.

If his report is right, it is certainly good news, suggesting that Afghanistan has a fighting chance to survive the pullout of most Western forces at the end of this year.

There is, however, a big caveat that must be added. While U.S. troops mostly pulled out of ground combat last year, they continued to provide substantial support to their Afghan partners. As the Journal notes, “the U.S. continues to provide supplies, close air support and air evacuation of the badly wounded.” That’s less significant than the U.S. role in years past but it is still a major enabler of Afghan capability. If you take away that American support, no one knows what will happen.

But even under the best-case scenario–which is that President Karzai finally gets off his duff and signs the security accord he negotiated with Washington–it is unlikely that U.S. forces will continue to provide close air support or medevac. (Instead, U.S. forces are likely to be limited to a few major bases.) The worst-case scenario is that the bilateral security accord falls through and Afghanistan is left entirely on its own.

The Journal report shows that it would be foolish to write off Afghanistan–as long as it continues to receive substantial American assistance. If that assistance isn’t forthcoming, all bets are off and Afghanistan could regress back to the dark days of the 1990s, which led to the takeover of the Taliban and their Arab allies in al-Qaeda.

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Study: “Basic Economic Principle” Debunks ObamaCare Claim

“If you’ve got insurance, then … preventive care is going to be covered, and that should make a difference,” President Obama said in 2010, describing ways his unpopular health-care reform law “should save us all a lot of money. I mean, one of the toughest things about this health care debate was—and sometimes I fault myself for not having been able to make the case more clearly to the country—we spend—each of us who have health insurance spend about a thousand dollars of our premiums on somebody else’s care.”

How were we all spending that money on other patients’ care? “What happens is, you don’t have health insurance, you go to the emergency room,” and the costs for those expensive ER visits get passed along. “And that’s why,” Obama boldly declared, “we feel pretty confident that over the long term, as a consequence of the Affordable Care Act, premiums are going to be lower than they would be otherwise; health care costs overall are going to be lower than they would be otherwise. And that means, by the way, that the deficit is going to be lower than it would be otherwise.”

That sounded great, but as we’ve come to understand with ObamaCare’s selling points, that means it’s probably false. And indeed we are getting more evidence on that score. The New York Times reports on the latest data from Oregon’s Medicaid study:

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“If you’ve got insurance, then … preventive care is going to be covered, and that should make a difference,” President Obama said in 2010, describing ways his unpopular health-care reform law “should save us all a lot of money. I mean, one of the toughest things about this health care debate was—and sometimes I fault myself for not having been able to make the case more clearly to the country—we spend—each of us who have health insurance spend about a thousand dollars of our premiums on somebody else’s care.”

How were we all spending that money on other patients’ care? “What happens is, you don’t have health insurance, you go to the emergency room,” and the costs for those expensive ER visits get passed along. “And that’s why,” Obama boldly declared, “we feel pretty confident that over the long term, as a consequence of the Affordable Care Act, premiums are going to be lower than they would be otherwise; health care costs overall are going to be lower than they would be otherwise. And that means, by the way, that the deficit is going to be lower than it would be otherwise.”

That sounded great, but as we’ve come to understand with ObamaCare’s selling points, that means it’s probably false. And indeed we are getting more evidence on that score. The New York Times reports on the latest data from Oregon’s Medicaid study:

Supporters of President Obama’s health care law had predicted that expanding insurance coverage for the poor would reduce costly emergency room visits because people would go to primary care doctors instead. But a rigorous new experiment in Oregon has raised questions about that assumption, finding that newly insured people actually went to the emergency room a good deal more often.

The study, published in the journal Science, compared thousands of low-income people in the Portland area who were randomly selected in a 2008 lottery to get Medicaid coverage with people who entered the lottery but remained uninsured. Those who gained coverage made 40 percent more visits to the emergency room than their uninsured counterparts during their first 18 months with insurance.

The pattern was so strong that it held true across most demographic groups, times of day and types of visits, including those for conditions that were treatable in primary care settings.

The findings, the Times correctly notes, “go against one of the central arguments of the law’s supporters”—a phrase we’re getting used to hearing by now. It’s another casualty not just of the dishonesty that marked the efforts to mislead the public enough to get the law through Congress but also of the degree of intellectual isolation so typical of ObamaCare’s supporters, who closed themselves off from the evidence that would have helped them make more informed decisions, as the Times adds:

“I suspect that the finding will be surprising to many in the policy debate,” said Katherine Baicker, an economist at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and one of the authors of the study.

Sure—when the government passes a major reform law first and asks questions about its bedrock assumptions later, don’t be surprised to be surprised as the facts reveal themselves. But is that intellectual isolation even an excuse? The Times piece not so subtly suggests that a combination of basic economics and common sense could have solved this puzzle for the administration’s pseudo-wonks:

Dr. Baicker and Amy Finkelstein, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, another author, said the increased use of emergency rooms is driven by a basic economic principle: When services get less expensive, people use them more. Previous studies have found that uninsured people face substantial out-of-pocket costs that can put them in debt when they go to the emergency room. Medicaid reduces those costs.

No kidding. And that preempts a line in the story that might have put the administration’s ignorance in a better light—but is a blistering, if unintentional, condemnation of government in general. Readers are told that this Medicaid study is the “gold standard” in terms of being able to accurately analyze the effects of the policies under consideration, but that such experiments “are rarely used for domestic health care policy.”

The article is full of such now they tell us revelations, including doctors telling the Times that (contra President Obama) preventive care is quite limited in preventing ER visits, and policy experts saying that the cost savings would have been modest even if Obama had been right about such care—though he wasn’t.

But it’s actually worse for ObamaCare than it sounds, because the new health law risks exacerbating the situation—turning a minor increase in costs into a potentially more consequential expense. As CNN reported in October, “Obamacare is expected to increase patient demand for medical services. Combine that with a worsening shortage of doctors, and next year you may have to wait a little longer to get a doctor’s appointment.”

That wait time increase, according to one of the authors of the study, is a major factor, as might be expected, in the increase in ER visits:

Heidi Allen, an assistant professor at Columbia University and an author of the study, said much of the non-urgent emergency department use among patients she interviewed happened because those patients could not get same-day appointments with their primary care doctors.

Again, much of this is common sense, the rest basic economics. That neither seems to have been utilized in reforming America’s health-care system is both appalling and, by now, all too apparent.

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The Illegal Lawyer and the Rule of Law

On the surface, the tale of Sergio Garcia’s legal triumph is heart-warming. The native of Mexico worked hard in several jobs and went to college, eventually graduating from Cal Northern School of Law and passed the state’s unusually challenging bar exam on his first try. He should be celebrated as an example of how the American dream still works for immigrants who are willing to follow the same path emigrants from other countries pursued in the past. But because Garcia entered this country illegally, his successful attempt to practice as an attorney illustrates both the dysfunction of the current system of legal immigration as well as how counter-productive some of the efforts of those pushing for change have been.

Garcia is in the news today because the California Supreme Court yesterday upheld a law passed by the state legislature that enabled illegal immigrants to practice law and be admitted by the state bar association. This is in spite of the fact that federal law makes it illegal for any business to hire him because of his immigration status. In effect, what the liberal-dominated legislature and court have done is to attempt to annul a federal law by state fiat. Indeed, the state court went even further, framing the issue in such a manner as to deny that there was, in fact, anything amiss about a person entering this country illegally and then claiming the right to participate as an officer of the court in our legal system:

“We conclude that the fact that an undocumented immigrant’s presence in this country violates federal statutes is not itself a sufficient or persuasive basis for denying undocumented immigrants, as a class, admission to the state bar,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in her opinion. “The fact that an undocumented immigrant is present in the United States without lawful authorization does not itself involve moral turpitude or demonstrate moral unfitness so as to justify exclusion from the state bar.”

It’s not entirely clear whether Garcia can legally practice on his own and charge clients for his services. Until that is sorted out, he will remain a liberal icon who, according to the New York Times, actually makes a living as an inspirational speaker. But what he and his supporters have also accomplished is to give the large number of Americans who believe our immigration laws should be enforced yet another reason to oppose efforts to reform the system. Rather than work to change a legal structure that is failing, liberals are flouting it, effectively making the anti-immigrant camp’s case that what is at stake in this debate is not policy but the rule of law itself.

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On the surface, the tale of Sergio Garcia’s legal triumph is heart-warming. The native of Mexico worked hard in several jobs and went to college, eventually graduating from Cal Northern School of Law and passed the state’s unusually challenging bar exam on his first try. He should be celebrated as an example of how the American dream still works for immigrants who are willing to follow the same path emigrants from other countries pursued in the past. But because Garcia entered this country illegally, his successful attempt to practice as an attorney illustrates both the dysfunction of the current system of legal immigration as well as how counter-productive some of the efforts of those pushing for change have been.

Garcia is in the news today because the California Supreme Court yesterday upheld a law passed by the state legislature that enabled illegal immigrants to practice law and be admitted by the state bar association. This is in spite of the fact that federal law makes it illegal for any business to hire him because of his immigration status. In effect, what the liberal-dominated legislature and court have done is to attempt to annul a federal law by state fiat. Indeed, the state court went even further, framing the issue in such a manner as to deny that there was, in fact, anything amiss about a person entering this country illegally and then claiming the right to participate as an officer of the court in our legal system:

“We conclude that the fact that an undocumented immigrant’s presence in this country violates federal statutes is not itself a sufficient or persuasive basis for denying undocumented immigrants, as a class, admission to the state bar,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in her opinion. “The fact that an undocumented immigrant is present in the United States without lawful authorization does not itself involve moral turpitude or demonstrate moral unfitness so as to justify exclusion from the state bar.”

It’s not entirely clear whether Garcia can legally practice on his own and charge clients for his services. Until that is sorted out, he will remain a liberal icon who, according to the New York Times, actually makes a living as an inspirational speaker. But what he and his supporters have also accomplished is to give the large number of Americans who believe our immigration laws should be enforced yet another reason to oppose efforts to reform the system. Rather than work to change a legal structure that is failing, liberals are flouting it, effectively making the anti-immigrant camp’s case that what is at stake in this debate is not policy but the rule of law itself.

Gracia’s difficulties in obtaining legal status bolster the justification for California’s actions to flout U.S. law. Though his parents first brought him to the United States illegally when he was 17 months old, he moved back and forth across the border until coming to stay for good at the age of 17. At that time, he applied for legal status using his father, who had become a legal resident as a sponsor. Unfortunately, that request is still pending 19 years later. That shows how outrageously dysfunctional the system has become. Like millions of other illegals who have also become productive residents of this country Garcia deserves a chance to obtain legal status and get on the path to citizenship. In the absence of progress on that front, California thinks it is justified in defying federal law.

But the notion that California can opt out of federal immigration laws is as absurd as the one that claims Garcia can swear (as he must if he is to become a lawyer) to uphold the laws of the United States even though his actions and presence in this country demonstrate his inability, thanks to the complete breakdown of the federal government’s enforcement of existing immigration statutes, to comply with some of them. Though this is a trick that President Obama and  his Attorney General played with their selective enforcement of federal law, the notion of illegal immigrants being granted privileges as officers of the court turns logic and effective jurisprudence on its head.

Garcia’s tale aptly illustrates the point Senator Marco Rubio has repeatedly made in defense of his efforts to promote immigration reform. In contrast to with any of the proposed plans–such as the bipartisan immigration bill he co-sponsored in the Senate –creating “amnesty” for illegals — the amnesty now in place is a system that has all but collapsed and is one that’s routinely defied by immigrants, employers and a growing number of states and courts.

But the only way to persuade many Americans who are reluctant to take action to resolve the dilemma of millions of illegals currently in the country is to convince them that reform is not synonymous with efforts to supersede existing laws. What California has done in the case of Sergio Garcia is to effectively make the case that the U.S. has no right to control its borders or to determine who may enter the country. Contrary to the decision of the California Supreme Court, those who violate the law via illegal entry are not the moral equivalent of a driver who receives a parking ticket. If the system is to be changed it can only be via a process, such as the one that Rubio backed (and which has little or no chance of passage in the House of Representatives) that would require illegals to pay penalties and go to the back of the line to obtain legal status.

A legal system that countenances an officer of the court whose presence in the country is itself a violation of legal codes is not one likely to inspire respect for the concept of law. Actions such as that of the California legislature and its Supreme Court will only make it harder for immigration reform advocates to ultimately prevail. Rather than hastening the day when his fellow illegals will be granted a path to citizenship, Garcia’s triumph will only strengthen the resolve of those who see immigration reform as an unacceptable attempt to defeat all efforts to secure the border and uphold the rule of law.

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Iran Gloats over Ashes of American Influence

Amidst Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic afterglow from his supposed breakthrough nuclear deal (never mind that it has yet to be implemented and Iran continues to enrich uranium well past levels and quantities needed to fuel its nuclear power plant at Bushehr), it is often useful to remember how the Islamic Republic views the region and how it sees the United States.

As such, on January 1, Fars News Agency published an essay gloating over America’s supposed downfall relative to Russia and China (both of whom it has previously praised for defending Iran at the nuclear negotiating table):

Pax Americana, the so-called American Peace, is dead. It was never much of a peace anyway. In context of the Middle East, the term itself signifies a period of US dominance that arose after the Second World War and reached its zenith in 1978. Then in 1979 came along the Iranian Revolution…

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Amidst Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic afterglow from his supposed breakthrough nuclear deal (never mind that it has yet to be implemented and Iran continues to enrich uranium well past levels and quantities needed to fuel its nuclear power plant at Bushehr), it is often useful to remember how the Islamic Republic views the region and how it sees the United States.

As such, on January 1, Fars News Agency published an essay gloating over America’s supposed downfall relative to Russia and China (both of whom it has previously praised for defending Iran at the nuclear negotiating table):

Pax Americana, the so-called American Peace, is dead. It was never much of a peace anyway. In context of the Middle East, the term itself signifies a period of US dominance that arose after the Second World War and reached its zenith in 1978. Then in 1979 came along the Iranian Revolution…

The essay continues to highlight American mistakes:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was so sure in 2006 that American domination in the broader Middle East would expand. She triumphantly declared amidst Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon that the map of the Middle East would forever change to the profit of the United States. It did not, and Israel lost the war too. US influence began eroding, while the influence of its rivals began increasing… In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s influence would increase dramatically. The March 14 Alliance, the Hariri-led Lebanese entity sponsored by the US and its allies against Hezbollah, has proven to be impotent in its task of neutralizing Hezbollah and its political allies in Lebanon’s March 8 Alliance.

And gloats over how U.S. influence has hemorrhaged as a result of President Obama’s policy of inaction in Syria, and Secretary of State Kerry’s desire for a deal—any deal not matter what its content—with Iran:

The US has not neutralized its two main adversaries in the Middle East. The objective of regime change in Damascus has failed and Washington did not unleash the might of the Pentagon on Syria. An interim nuclear deal was reached in the Swiss city of Geneva between America and Iran. The decisions by the United States not to go to war with Syria or to finally strike a deal with the Iranians are not the reasons for the unraveling of American power. American power was already on the decline. Washington struck deals involving Syria and Iran as a means of trying to maintain its influence in the broader Middle East and to actually slow the speed of its decline. Instead, America’s allies and clients are fuming and feeling scared. As a result of the declining power of the United States, Washington’s allies and clients are slowly diversifying their relationships. From Tel Aviv and Riyadh, the regional allies of the US realize that America’s imperial umbrella over them has begun to erode. They are looking for alternatives to the US patronage.

Alas, when it comes to U.S. influence and unraveling security and stability in the Middle East, there is something to the Iranian essay. But what the essay does not acknowledge is that behind every case of declining U.S. influence was a decision in Washington to compromise, force allies into concession, or to cut ill-advised deals.

Hezbollah started the 2006 war with Israel, but watching Israel do battle for a couple weeks, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exerted great pressure on Israel to curtail its operations short of its operational goal to eradicate Hezbollah’s military capacity. She helped broker a deal for enhanced international presence on the border, but UNIFIL is impotent and, as Hezbollah re-armed, neither they nor Iran faced consequences. She made matters worse in 2008 when, against the backdrop of Hezbollah threatening greater violence against Lebanon’s elected government, she blessed the 2008 Doha Accords which gave Hezbollah veto power over the Lebanese government. Much of the weakness of the March 14 movement was its own internal bickering, but rather than help push it into shape, Rice effectively pushed it over the precipice.

U.S. military aid to the Syrian opposition would be counterproductive given the triumph of the radicals within the opposition, although the secular, pro-Western Kurdish entity in western Syria, the very region whose government Kerry bizarrely excludes from the diplomatic process, deserves real support. That said, the apparent Syrian government use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburbs should have resulted in an immediate and punishing military strike. That it did not only lost whatever credibility Obama had left, but is now a source of Iranian gloating. And, of course, so is the nuclear deal which the Iranians describe not as an indication of bringing peace, but rather in terms of it being a death blow to U.S. allies in the region. It seems everyone—Chinese, Russians, Iranians, and Saudis—see themselves in a Great Game for influence in the region. The United States refuses to recognize reality and so, as far as both the Iranians and U.S. regional allies are concerned, is forfeiting everything that is at stake.

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The Jewish State and the Story the Palestinians Hold Dear

In her “Memo from Jerusalem” in the New York Times, Jodi Rudoren asserts that “in recent weeks,” Benjamin Netanyahu has “catapulted to the fore” an issue “even more intractable than old ones like security and settlements: a demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” She reported it is now a “core issue” in the current negotiations and that “critics” say Netanyahu raised it as a poison pill:

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has repeatedly said that the Palestinians will never agree to it, most recently in a letter to President Obama last month. The Palestinians … contend that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would disenfranchise its 1.6 million Arab citizens, undercut the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees and, most important, require a psychological rewriting of the story they hold dear about their longtime presence in the land.

The issue, however, was not recently “catapulted to the fore” by Netanyahu; it is an issue that long pre-dates him; and it goes to the heart of whether the “peace process” is about peace. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, picking up the story with the internal 2007 Palestinian memorandum entitled “Strategy and Talking Points for Responding to the Precondition of Recognizing Israel as a ‘Jewish State’,” leaked in the “Palestine Papers.” The memo contained the following instruction for Palestinian negotiators:

We recommend that the Palestinian negotiators maintain their position not to recognize or otherwise characterize the state of Israel as “Jewish”. Any recognition of Israel within a treaty or agreement should be limited to recognizing it as a sovereign state. It should not recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”, “state for the Jewish people”, “homeland for the Jewish people” or any similar characterization.

The reasons in the memo did not include “the story [the Palestinians] hold dear about their longtime presence in the land.” Rather, the memo warned that “[r]ecognizing the Jewish state implies recognition of a Jewish people and recognition of its right to self-determination.” The Palestinians did not want to recognize a Jewish people, a Jewish state, a Jewish homeland, Jewish self-determination, or any Jewish demographic considerations.

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In her “Memo from Jerusalem” in the New York Times, Jodi Rudoren asserts that “in recent weeks,” Benjamin Netanyahu has “catapulted to the fore” an issue “even more intractable than old ones like security and settlements: a demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” She reported it is now a “core issue” in the current negotiations and that “critics” say Netanyahu raised it as a poison pill:

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has repeatedly said that the Palestinians will never agree to it, most recently in a letter to President Obama last month. The Palestinians … contend that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would disenfranchise its 1.6 million Arab citizens, undercut the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees and, most important, require a psychological rewriting of the story they hold dear about their longtime presence in the land.

The issue, however, was not recently “catapulted to the fore” by Netanyahu; it is an issue that long pre-dates him; and it goes to the heart of whether the “peace process” is about peace. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, picking up the story with the internal 2007 Palestinian memorandum entitled “Strategy and Talking Points for Responding to the Precondition of Recognizing Israel as a ‘Jewish State’,” leaked in the “Palestine Papers.” The memo contained the following instruction for Palestinian negotiators:

We recommend that the Palestinian negotiators maintain their position not to recognize or otherwise characterize the state of Israel as “Jewish”. Any recognition of Israel within a treaty or agreement should be limited to recognizing it as a sovereign state. It should not recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”, “state for the Jewish people”, “homeland for the Jewish people” or any similar characterization.

The reasons in the memo did not include “the story [the Palestinians] hold dear about their longtime presence in the land.” Rather, the memo warned that “[r]ecognizing the Jewish state implies recognition of a Jewish people and recognition of its right to self-determination.” The Palestinians did not want to recognize a Jewish people, a Jewish state, a Jewish homeland, Jewish self-determination, or any Jewish demographic considerations.

Netanyahu assumed office on March 31, 2009 and began preparations for his May meeting with President Obama. On May 3, 2009, Netanyahu’s senior advisor, Ron Dermer (currently Israel’s U.S. ambassador), spoke at the AIPAC Policy Conference, setting forth Israel’s position (see the videos here and here). He identified the “core issue” preventing peace:   

The half of the Palestinian polity that is not openly dedicated to Israel’s destruction [as Hamas is] are unwilling to recognize Israel as the Jewish state. … For those of you think that this has anything to do with the refugee issue — you’re wrong. In 1947, there wasn’t a single refugee, and the Palestinian and the Arab world was not willing to recognize a nation state for the Jewish people. That is a core issue, the core issue …

In their May 18, 2009 press conference, Obama and Netanyahu both referenced Israel as a Jewish state. Obama affirmed “[i]t is in U.S. national security interests to assure that Israel’s security as an independent Jewish state is maintained.” Netanyahu said that for there really to be an “end to the conflict,” the Palestinians “will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” He explained why in his June 14, 2009 Bar-Ilan speech:

Many good people have told us that withdrawal from territories is the key to peace with the Palestinians. Well, we withdrew. But the fact is that every withdrawal was met with massive waves of terror, by suicide bombers and thousands of missiles. … [T]o our regret, Palestinian moderates are not yet ready to say the simple words: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will stay that way. … Therefore, a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

In his 2010 appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations, Netanyahu called on Abbas to give a Bir Zeit speech, to affirm the Palestinians would recognize a Jewish state if Israel recognized a Palestinian one: 

They have to openly say it, not for our sake but for the sake of actually persuading their people to make the great psychological change for peace. I’ve said it. I’ve stood before my people and before my constituency and I said what my vision of peace includes, and I did that not without some consequence … But this is what leaders have to do. They have to educate their people.

In 2011, Tal Becker, a lead Israeli negotiator in the year-long Annapolis Process in 2007-08, published “The Claim for Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State,” under the auspices of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explaining that recognition of a Jewish state is the natural counterpart to recognition of a Palestinian one:

This is not a new demand. It is a reaction to the sense that what was once largely self-evident is now under threat. Israel’s leaders increasingly view the erosion of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish nation-state as a challenge not just to national identity, but to national security. … [T]he physical threat posed by Israel’s regional enemies has been compounded by an assault on its raison d’etre as a Jewish homeland … In this context, [demanding recognition of] the Jewish people’s right to self-determination has acquired significance within Israel … as a component of the national defense.

The premise of the “two-state solution” is “two states for two peoples” (another phrase no Palestinian leader will utter). But if the Palestinians won’t recognize a Jewish state, what they have in mind is not a solution but a two-stage plan, in which the Palestinians first gain a sovereign state and then prosecute their “right of return” to the other one–the one whose status as a Jewish state they never conceded. They seek not an end of the conflict, but a chess move in a bigger game.

A “psychological rewriting”–to use Rudoren’s quaint phrase–is precisely what peace requires, but it has nothing to do with “the story [the Palestinians] hold dear.” It has to do with their longstanding objective since 1947. They want a state, but not if it requires that they recognize a Jewish one. In today’s Jerusalem Post, Khaled Abu Toameh reports that Palestinian sources have told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that the “most dangerous” part of Secretary of State Kerry’s proposed “framework” is Israel’s demand that the Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state. One can see why: if the Palestinians accepted it, they would have to end the conflict.

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