Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 15, 2014

Palestinian Incitement and the Endless War

Last week, the Israeli government sought to focus the world’s attention on one of the chief obstacles to peace in the Middle East: Palestinian incitement aimed at fomenting hatred of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. The report detailed the way the Palestinian Authority uses its official media, school textbooks, as well as the influence of many of its leaders to reinforce the notion that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state irrespective of its borders. The hate that is routinely broadcast on Palestinian television, published in its newspapers, or taught in schools seeks to demonize Jews and inculcate the notion that they are evil and have no rights to any part of the country. In doing so, the PA—which is supposed to be Israel’s partner for peace—doesn’t merely exacerbate an already tense situation but also sows the seeds of future conflict by teaching new generations to hate their Jewish neighbors.

Unfortunately, the reaction from the United States and much of the international media to this information was apathetic if not one of complete indifference. While some try to draw a false moral equivalence between official Palestinian government hate speech and honors for terrorist murderers on the one hand and stray comments by a tiny minority of Israelis who express hate for Arabs on the other, American officials and media pundits determined to place the blame for the lack of peace on the Jewish state simply ignore the subject. As was the case in the 1990s when both the United States and the Israeli government turned a blind eye to the incitement carried out by the newly empowered PA in the wake of the Oslo Accords, most peace processers treat talk about Palestinian incitement as a distraction from the real issues. Anything that diverts attention from attempts to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians is seen as off the point, if not a destructive effort to derail peace.

But the issue of incitement isn’t limited to hate speech on Palestinian TV or in textbooks. As today’s New York Times reports, the PA’s rivals in Gaza have managed to put their even more extreme program of hate into action. The Hamas government there used the winter break for its schools to enroll more than 13,000 youngsters at terrorist training mini-camps throughout the Gaza Strip. The recruitment of school-age children in this manner is child abuse on a massive scale as well as a potential war crime. But just as important, it is a sign that the issue of incitement isn’t so much a theoretical problem as a literal guarantee of endless war.

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Last week, the Israeli government sought to focus the world’s attention on one of the chief obstacles to peace in the Middle East: Palestinian incitement aimed at fomenting hatred of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. The report detailed the way the Palestinian Authority uses its official media, school textbooks, as well as the influence of many of its leaders to reinforce the notion that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state irrespective of its borders. The hate that is routinely broadcast on Palestinian television, published in its newspapers, or taught in schools seeks to demonize Jews and inculcate the notion that they are evil and have no rights to any part of the country. In doing so, the PA—which is supposed to be Israel’s partner for peace—doesn’t merely exacerbate an already tense situation but also sows the seeds of future conflict by teaching new generations to hate their Jewish neighbors.

Unfortunately, the reaction from the United States and much of the international media to this information was apathetic if not one of complete indifference. While some try to draw a false moral equivalence between official Palestinian government hate speech and honors for terrorist murderers on the one hand and stray comments by a tiny minority of Israelis who express hate for Arabs on the other, American officials and media pundits determined to place the blame for the lack of peace on the Jewish state simply ignore the subject. As was the case in the 1990s when both the United States and the Israeli government turned a blind eye to the incitement carried out by the newly empowered PA in the wake of the Oslo Accords, most peace processers treat talk about Palestinian incitement as a distraction from the real issues. Anything that diverts attention from attempts to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians is seen as off the point, if not a destructive effort to derail peace.

But the issue of incitement isn’t limited to hate speech on Palestinian TV or in textbooks. As today’s New York Times reports, the PA’s rivals in Gaza have managed to put their even more extreme program of hate into action. The Hamas government there used the winter break for its schools to enroll more than 13,000 youngsters at terrorist training mini-camps throughout the Gaza Strip. The recruitment of school-age children in this manner is child abuse on a massive scale as well as a potential war crime. But just as important, it is a sign that the issue of incitement isn’t so much a theoretical problem as a literal guarantee of endless war.

The Futwaa program is funded by the Hamas Education Ministry and focuses on teaching boys and young teenagers the finer points about the use of weapons, street fighting (in which civilians are used as human shields), and ferreting out Palestinians who might give information to Israel. This massive effort not only prepares children for future service in the so-called military wing of Hamas, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which supervises the Futwaa camps, but also enables them to intensify the hate education about Israel and Jews that is already integral to public education in Gaza. As the Times notes, Hamas officials are pleased with the results and are thinking about expanding their program:

Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, told Futwaa participants at a graduation ceremony on Tuesday in Gaza City that theirs was “the generation that will achieve the liberation and independence” of Palestine. Suggesting that the program would soon be provided for girls as well, Mr. Haniya predicted that Israel would face “a Palestinian generation that weakness knows no way into their hearts.”

One participant, Osama Shehada, 15, said he wanted to study physical engineering to learn how to make bombs and explosives to target Israel.

Lest there be any confusion about what this indoctrination consists of, by “liberation and independence” of Palestine, Hamas isn’t referring to a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem that is supposed to be the solution to the conflict. When they say “liberation” that means “liberating” all of Israel, including those areas inside the June 1967 lines, from its Jewish population–which is to say exterminating the Jews. That the Times article refers to Hamas using bases evacuated by Israel in 2005 in an effort to separate the two peoples and therefore achieve peace for these camps is a cruel but telling irony.

Instead of ignoring Israeli efforts to focus on incitement, Secretary of State John Kerry should be paying close attention to the issue. While a solution that would create two states for two peoples regardless of the borders would be something an overwhelming majority of Israelis would happily accept, Palestinian educators, both in the West Bank governed by PA “moderates” and in Hamas-run Gaza, have ensured that most Palestinians would reject any such deal. Until a sea change in Palestinian culture occurs that would allow their leaders to make peace, all efforts to craft a compromise to resolve the conflict are doomed to fail.

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Aiming at Ailes–and Missing Badly

One of the most famous quotes about Fox News is Charles Krauthammer’s quip that Fox’s success was due to its appeal to a niche market: half the country. There are times it seems almost an understatement, so thoroughly does Fox dominate the ratings. And in fact it’s almost as though Krauthammer’s “half the country” might refer to the speakers instead of the audience. Just as talk radio thrived as an alternative to mainstream liberal news and opinion, so too did Fox suddenly offer otherwise-marginalized right-of-center views to a public who didn’t want to be as ideologically cloistered as is the modern liberal establishment.

This came to mind when I read a humorous, but telling account of a recent interview with Gabriel Sherman, the author of a new book on Fox’s Roger Ailes. The title of the book is The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country. That last phrase piqued the interest of Norah O’Donnell and Charlie Rose, who interviewed Sherman late last week. Specifically, they wanted to know, how precisely has Ailes divided the country? The Washington Post’s media writer Erik Wemple caught the exchange and posted a transcript of that part of the interview:

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One of the most famous quotes about Fox News is Charles Krauthammer’s quip that Fox’s success was due to its appeal to a niche market: half the country. There are times it seems almost an understatement, so thoroughly does Fox dominate the ratings. And in fact it’s almost as though Krauthammer’s “half the country” might refer to the speakers instead of the audience. Just as talk radio thrived as an alternative to mainstream liberal news and opinion, so too did Fox suddenly offer otherwise-marginalized right-of-center views to a public who didn’t want to be as ideologically cloistered as is the modern liberal establishment.

This came to mind when I read a humorous, but telling account of a recent interview with Gabriel Sherman, the author of a new book on Fox’s Roger Ailes. The title of the book is The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country. That last phrase piqued the interest of Norah O’Donnell and Charlie Rose, who interviewed Sherman late last week. Specifically, they wanted to know, how precisely has Ailes divided the country? The Washington Post’s media writer Erik Wemple caught the exchange and posted a transcript of that part of the interview:

O’Donnell: You say he’s divided a country.

Sherman: Yes, he has.

O’Donnell: How?

Sherman: Because his ability to drive a message: He has an unrivaled ability to know what resonates with a certain audience. You know, he comes from a blue-collar factory town in Ohio, he speaks to…

Rose: So what’s the message that divides the country?

Sherman: He speaks to that part of America that feels left behind by the culture. You know, it’s the old Nixon silent majority, which is what was his formative experience.

Wemple notes that Sherman does not, in fact, come close to answering the question. It’s quite a charge to say that someone divided the United States. When it’s put in the title of your biography of that person, the reader expects you to not only make that case but use it as a basis for understanding the subject’s work. Wemple continues:

After three years of reporting and more than 600 interviews, Sherman should come equipped to his media interviews with better answers. What’s divisive, after all, about understanding what “resonates with a certain audience”? What’s the problem with speaking to Americans who feel “left behind by the culture”? Wouldn’t that be a public service? Indeed, everything that Sherman cited to the CBS people — including blue-collar origins — would appear to be assets for a guy like Ailes. Why haven’t Fox News allies seized upon these remarks as evidence of Sherman’s disdain for conservative America? (Stelter tells the Erik Wemple Blog that he planned a follow-up to that portion of Sherman’s “CBS This Morning” interview but ran out of time).

Taken at face value, the exchange would seem to be totally unedifying. But it’s actually quite the opposite. Roger Ailes most certainly did not divide the country, and few people are unhinged enough to believe he did. So what made Sherman use the phrase–in the book’s title, no less? It becomes easier to understand when you remember that Sherman’s evasive response was actually him thinking he answered the question.

The American left became spoiled by its dominance of major media before Fox. Liberals reveled in their belief that they had ownership of a high-minded consensus. In order to own that consensus, however, the liberal media elite had to be speaking for the country. But who strikes you as more representative of the broader American public–Gabriel Sherman, a writer for New York magazine who also lives in New York City, or the “blue-collar” Ohioans Sherman mentions?

This is not a paean to the “real America” that supposedly excludes coastal elites. It was Sherman, in fact, who brought up the blue-collar folk that Ailes resonates with as an example of the supposed divisive nature of Ailes’s work. In his blisteringly negative review of the book for Slate, Michael Wolff notes that Sherman gets facts wrong and uses unreliable sources. But even more than that, he doesn’t seem to understand the difference between cable and network news, and the audiences they attract. Wolff adds:

Fox’s prime-time audience averages 1.1 million. Network news audiences in the great old days reached 40 million. Sherman’s thesis that Ailes “divided a country” is quite absurd. What Ailes did do is to help turn politics into a special interest category. It is not just the Fox view that is a closed ecosystem—it is the liberal view of the Fox view that is as much a part of the bubble. Perfectly targeted co-dependents.

The country was already divided politically among conservatives, liberals, and everything in between. What Ailes did was enter the conversation, and did so quite effectively. And liberals won’t forgive him for it.

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Obama Can’t Help Dems Keep Senate

President Obama understands the stakes in the midterm elections all too well. If Republicans take back the Senate in November that will give them a stranglehold on both Houses of Congress and ensure that the president will get nothing passed in his final two years in office. If the talk about the president being a lame duck hasn’t already begun, such a result would ensure him being consigned to irrelevance for the remainder of his term. While the GOP missed chances to win seats in the last two election cycles, 2014 offers them a golden opportunity with the Democrats defending 21 seats (including five in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012) to only 14 for their opponents.

But rather than sit back and wait to see if vulnerable red-state Democrats up for reelection can survive, the administration has decided to send in the cavalry. As Politico reports, the White House is consciously seeking to promote initiatives designed to help Democrats win over wavering moderates as well as mobilize the liberal base. But this plan, which reportedly includes more consultations with embattled Democratic incumbents, is a mistake. While the Democrats understand that they must somehow divert attention from problems with ObamaCare and focus voters on their income inequality agenda that polls far better than the president’s disastrously unpopular health-care law, their instincts here run counter to the best interests of some of their candidates. The last thing Democrats in places like North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, or Alaska need is an attempt to nationalize an election. If they have any hope of holding onto their majority in the Senate it lies in keeping the president and his agenda out of their states.

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President Obama understands the stakes in the midterm elections all too well. If Republicans take back the Senate in November that will give them a stranglehold on both Houses of Congress and ensure that the president will get nothing passed in his final two years in office. If the talk about the president being a lame duck hasn’t already begun, such a result would ensure him being consigned to irrelevance for the remainder of his term. While the GOP missed chances to win seats in the last two election cycles, 2014 offers them a golden opportunity with the Democrats defending 21 seats (including five in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012) to only 14 for their opponents.

But rather than sit back and wait to see if vulnerable red-state Democrats up for reelection can survive, the administration has decided to send in the cavalry. As Politico reports, the White House is consciously seeking to promote initiatives designed to help Democrats win over wavering moderates as well as mobilize the liberal base. But this plan, which reportedly includes more consultations with embattled Democratic incumbents, is a mistake. While the Democrats understand that they must somehow divert attention from problems with ObamaCare and focus voters on their income inequality agenda that polls far better than the president’s disastrously unpopular health-care law, their instincts here run counter to the best interests of some of their candidates. The last thing Democrats in places like North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, or Alaska need is an attempt to nationalize an election. If they have any hope of holding onto their majority in the Senate it lies in keeping the president and his agenda out of their states.

The White House is right that even in red states Democrats often prosper by playing the populist card on big business and abuse of the poor. Obama’s proposals for increasing the minimum wage and lengthening unemployment benefits may be economic snake oil, but they poll well everywhere. But the last thing Senators like North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, or Arkansas’s Mark Prior need is for Obama or his agenda to become part of this year’s election narrative. To the contrary, their main hope rests on keeping the president out of their states and putting the focus on divisions within the Republican Party.

The only reason Harry Reid is still the Senate Majority Leader is that in 2010 and 2012, Republicans found themselves saddled with poor candidates in crucial races that turned almost certain victories into defeats. Democrats can’t count on the second coming of such godsends as Sharon Angle in Nevada (who let a vulnerable Reid off the hook), the wacky Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, or the unfortunate Todd Akin in Missouri (whose dreadful gaffe about abortion and rape tarnished every Republican in the country). But their goal has to be to keep the public’s attention on conflicts within the GOP and demonizing Tea Party activists who form a crucial part of the conservative base.

As Politico notes, the president is key to fundraising efforts for Democratic Senate candidates but some of those benefitting from his skill in bringing out liberal donors want to keep him at a distance. For instance, Hagan won’t be anywhere near Obama when he campaigns in North Carolina this week for his economic agenda. She understands, as do many other Democrats facing the voters this year, that sympathy for the working class and the poor doesn’t necessarily translate into affection for a president with negative poll ratings. As recent polls show, Hagen has her hands full in a race in which she currently trails every one of her possible Republican opponents.

With the president set to rally his troops behind his effort to revitalize a disastrous second term with a shift to the left, the temptation to try to nationalize the election this year may be irresistible to the White House’s political operation. But without a popular president on the ballot this year and with an off-year turnout likely to see many of his supporters staying home this November, they would be wise to avoid injecting Obama into the already difficult battles Democrats face in red states. Having largely ignored the needs of Democrats in both the House and the Senate during his first five years, the president may think more attention paid to their races will help keep him relevant in 2015 and 2016. But if he is to have any chance of holding onto the Senate, he should stay out of races where he is more of a burden to his party than an asset.

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The White House Iran War Canard

The Obama administration has been playing hardball in its attempt to stop the Senate from adopting a new and tougher sanctions law aimed at Iran, but it has now gone too far even for one of its leading congressional loyalists. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the minority whip in the House of Representatives cried foul over a statement by the spokesperson for the National Security Council that accused sanctions supporters of pushing for war. But Hoyer’s call for Bernadette Meehan to retract her comments is a little unfair to the NSC staffer. Meehan was doing nothing more than articulating the same slander that has been put into circulation by a variety of administration sources and their press cheerleaders when she said the following in response to questions about the growing congressional support for sanctions:

If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be upfront with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.

This is a straw argument if there ever was one. The argument against sanctions is utterly illogical since the only possible path to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear threat that President Obama has vowed to thwart is via the pressure of tough economic restrictions. By loosening the sanctions in the interim nuclear deal signed in November, Secretary of State John Kerry lost some of that leverage. But by staging an all-out effort to stop a bill that would not go into effect until after the current process is seen to have failed, the administration is taking Iranian threats about ditching the negotiations so seriously that it has, in effect, become Tehran’s hostage. The problem here is not just about over-the-top-rhetoric or competing strategies. As many in Congress are beginning to suspect, the effort to brand all those calling for more pressure on Iran as war-mongers only makes sense in the context of a foreign-policy shift in which the president will seek to weasel out of his commitment to force Tehran to give up its nuclear dream.

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The Obama administration has been playing hardball in its attempt to stop the Senate from adopting a new and tougher sanctions law aimed at Iran, but it has now gone too far even for one of its leading congressional loyalists. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the minority whip in the House of Representatives cried foul over a statement by the spokesperson for the National Security Council that accused sanctions supporters of pushing for war. But Hoyer’s call for Bernadette Meehan to retract her comments is a little unfair to the NSC staffer. Meehan was doing nothing more than articulating the same slander that has been put into circulation by a variety of administration sources and their press cheerleaders when she said the following in response to questions about the growing congressional support for sanctions:

If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be upfront with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.

This is a straw argument if there ever was one. The argument against sanctions is utterly illogical since the only possible path to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear threat that President Obama has vowed to thwart is via the pressure of tough economic restrictions. By loosening the sanctions in the interim nuclear deal signed in November, Secretary of State John Kerry lost some of that leverage. But by staging an all-out effort to stop a bill that would not go into effect until after the current process is seen to have failed, the administration is taking Iranian threats about ditching the negotiations so seriously that it has, in effect, become Tehran’s hostage. The problem here is not just about over-the-top-rhetoric or competing strategies. As many in Congress are beginning to suspect, the effort to brand all those calling for more pressure on Iran as war-mongers only makes sense in the context of a foreign-policy shift in which the president will seek to weasel out of his commitment to force Tehran to give up its nuclear dream.

If the president is serious about keeping his numerous campaign pledges to force Iran to give up its nuclear program, then it is obvious that more pressure is needed to convince its leaders that the U.S. means business. As I discussed yesterday, the triumphalist rhetoric emanating from Iran, including its President Hassan Rouhani, about the interim nuclear deal being a victory for the Islamists isn’t just an embarrassment for the president. That the man the administration has claimed is a moderate who represents a real chance for change in Iran is mocking the president in this manner ought to have set off alarms in the White House, despite yesterday’s attempt by spokesman Jay Carney to downplay it.

The Iranians are making no secret of the fact that they believe Obama is more concerned about achieving a new détente with them than he is in shutting down their nuclear facilities. Given the fact that the deal Kerry signed in Geneva tacitly recognizes Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium while also weakening sanctions it’s hard to argue with that conclusion. The ayatollahs believe they have the whip hand in the next round of talks with the West that begin soon, and the administration’s slavish devotion to the notion that any further sanctions would “break faith” with their new partners in Tehran lends credence to that conclusion. Under these circumstances, it’s difficult to imagine that the talks can possibly produce a new deal that will permanently shut down the Iranian centrifuges or dismantle their nuclear facilities. Only a dramatic toughening of sanctions that would put a damper on a reviving Iranian economy by a total embargo of the sale of oil would give the P5+1 negotiators any hope in their quest to persuade Tehran to finally give in.

Since the administration is determined not to put that arrow in its quiver, it’s fair to ask what U.S. diplomats think they can possibly achieve through further negotiations. Without more sanctions, the U.S. will be faced with only two options: the use of force or acceptance of Iran as a nuclear power. Since neither the president nor Congress has any appetite for a conflict with Iran, without more sanctions, containment of a nuclear Iran seems the only likely result despite the president’s promises not to accept such an outcome.

But the only way to pave the way for Congress and the American people to accept a policy that would pose a threat to U.S. security as well as endanger allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia is to convince them that anyone who cares about the issue is a warmonger. Seen in that light, Meehan’s war canard isn’t a gaffe. It’s a vital element in a clear administration strategy aimed at delegitimizing opponents of the appeasement oft. 

The choice facing the country on Iran isn’t between diplomacy and war but between a congressional majority that is intent on giving the diplomats the only tools that will help them succeed and an administration that is determined to prevent that from happening. Rather than criticizing Meehan, pro-Israel Democrats like Hoyer and other members of the Democratic caucus that lament the noxious nature of this administration tactic must understand that what is at stake here is nothing less than the entire direction of U.S. foreign policy. If a rush to détente with the Islamist regime and an acceptance of Iranian nukes is to be stopped, it will require a full-scale Democratic mutiny against an administration that seems determined to keep faith with Iran while breaking its word both to its allies and the American people.

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France Acts, England Dithers, Over “Quenelle” Salute

Thanks in large part to the efforts of French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, Dieudonné, the anti-Semitic French propagandist who describes himself as a comedian, is finally on the defensive. Last week, as thousands of enthusiasts turned up for one of his shows in the city of Nantes–as can be seen in the photos here, many of them were hipsters making the quenelle, the inverted Nazi salute which Dieudonné devised–Valls successfully appealed to France’s Council of State to shut down the performance.

Mindful that Dieudonné has already racked up seven convictions for anti-Semitic hate speech–including one last year following a media interview in which he stated, “the biggest crooks in the world, that’s the Jews”–Valls deemed that “peddlers of hate stop at nothing and show boundless creativity … the status quo is not a solution.” As a direct result of the ban, Dieudonné has announced that he is working on a new show with completely different material (about Africa, according to Reuters) adding somewhat obliquely, “as a comedian, I have pushed the debate to the very edge of laughter.”

The parameters of this “debate” are efficiently summarized by the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, writing in the Daily Beast:

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Thanks in large part to the efforts of French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, Dieudonné, the anti-Semitic French propagandist who describes himself as a comedian, is finally on the defensive. Last week, as thousands of enthusiasts turned up for one of his shows in the city of Nantes–as can be seen in the photos here, many of them were hipsters making the quenelle, the inverted Nazi salute which Dieudonné devised–Valls successfully appealed to France’s Council of State to shut down the performance.

Mindful that Dieudonné has already racked up seven convictions for anti-Semitic hate speech–including one last year following a media interview in which he stated, “the biggest crooks in the world, that’s the Jews”–Valls deemed that “peddlers of hate stop at nothing and show boundless creativity … the status quo is not a solution.” As a direct result of the ban, Dieudonné has announced that he is working on a new show with completely different material (about Africa, according to Reuters) adding somewhat obliquely, “as a comedian, I have pushed the debate to the very edge of laughter.”

The parameters of this “debate” are efficiently summarized by the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, writing in the Daily Beast:

…the only form of anti-Semitism with legs today, the only form capable of taking in and galvanizing large numbers of people, is one that accomplishes the trifecta of anti-Zionism (Jews as supporters of an allegedly murderous state), Holocaust denial (an unscrupulous people who, in pursuit of their purposes, are capable of inventing or staging the slaughter of their own), and competitive victimhood (memory of the Holocaust as a screen to hide other massacres on the planet). Well, Dieudonné was in the process of tying these strands together. With his accomplice, French right-wing extremist Alain Soral, he was a sapper assembling his explosive device and preparing to set it off.

Inevitably, the ban has set off concerns about the limits of free speech in France. If Dieudonné were performing in America, the First Amendment would guarantee his right to be as offensive as he wishes. Yet as Lévy pointed out in an interview with the newspaper Le Parisien, available in English here, the basis for the French government’s decision was not some abstract conception of what constitutes offensive speech, but a concrete appraisal of the country’s existing laws against Holocaust denial and racist incitement–both of which have been engaged in by Dieudonné. Indeed, after years of indulging his performances, the French government finally decided, as Lévy put it, that its “duty…was to say ‘enough!’ It does not, though, logically follow that other provocateurs in France will be similarly silenced. “There isn’t a serious judge in France,” Lévy argued, “who would say: ‘Having convicted X for defiling the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, I will now convict Y for making fun of Minister Smith and Minister Jones’.”

The same determination to clearly identify the problem that Dieudonné represents appears, sadly, to be absent across the English Channel. It was not in France, but during an English soccer match that the latest scandal around Dieudonné first emerged.

On December 28, Nicolas Anelka, a French Muslim striker who plays for Premier League side West Bromwich Albion, celebrated one of the two goals he scored against West Ham United by giving the quenelle salute. It was a gesture seen by millions all over the world, including in the United States, where Premier League games are now broadcast on NBC. In the game’s immediate aftermath, representatives of the Jewish community and anti-racist activists filed complaints with the Football Association (FA) the governing body of English soccer, urging that Anelka be appropriately disciplined.

Soon after, Anelka confirmed that he would not make the quenelle again–he had, after all, already made his point–explaining that he had engaged in the gesture as a mark of solidarity with his personal friend, Dieudonné. Notably, Anelka did not apologize or express any regret over his action. The FA, meanwhile, has remained disturbingly silent. More than two weeks after Anelka gave his quenelle, the FA has made no substantive comment on the incident, save for saying that it has retained an expert to examine the issue and that an update can be expected on January 20 at the earliest.

According to Kick it Out, an organization combating racism in English soccer, the FA’s reluctance to issue an immediate condemnation has led to “criticism, particularly from community organizations, who feel deeply and rightly aggrieved by the gesture.” Now it can be pointed out, in the FA’s defense that the disciplinary process for two players who were convicted of racially abusing black opponents during the previous Premier League season also dragged on for several months. However, in one of those cases, the FA’s room for maneuver was held up because of a simultaneous criminal trial, while in the other, conflicting evidence given by witnesses meant that the Association had to proceed extremely carefully. By contrast, there is no doubt that Anelka gave the quenelle, nor that he did so in order to support a man who has arguably become Europe’s leading anti-Semite.

There will be much speculation as to why the FA has been so slow to move against Anelka. It will certainly have crossed their minds that Anelka could, as a Muslim, allege that he is being singled out for special opprobrium. It is also possible that some FA officials have been seduced by the nonsense that the quenelle is merely an “anti-establishment” gesture, and cannot therefore be explicitly tied to anti-Semitism.

If the FA has any mettle, it will understand that the evidence built up against Dieudonné in France can be used against Anelka in England. And its verdict should be as decisive as in the racism cases I mentioned earlier, in which both players were heavily fined and subjected to lengthy match bans. Anelka deserves no less.

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Jefferson Lives

When John Marshall became chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1801, notes the historian James F. Simon, the high court “could not, in fact, claim parity with the executive or legislative branch of the federal government in either prestige or power.” He sought to rectify that, first and foremost by thwarting the desire of new President Thomas Jefferson to devolve more power to the states. Marshall would thereby increase the high court’s influence and standing while creating a larger pool of executive power from which to claim an equal slice.

Jefferson, for his part, didn’t believe a government had to be powerful to be strong: “I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest government on earth,” he declared. The two would battle for years over the question, and there is no doubt that Marshall largely succeeded in amplifying the power of the court while protecting executive power in the process. What was so intriguing about this particular conflict was that an American president was trying to reject the expansion of his own prerogative.

The struggle between the high court and the executive branch we are much more familiar with is the reverse: presidents demand ever more power and discretion and the court seeks to rein them in. But that also means that without Jeffersonian presidents, the role of the court in curtailing presidential ambition is that much more essential. Which is why this week’s judicial activity has been heartening. On Monday, the Supreme Court heard opening arguments in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, a case centered on the president’s power to make recess appointments, and the justices appeared skeptical of the Obama administration’s case. Which is as it should be.

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When John Marshall became chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1801, notes the historian James F. Simon, the high court “could not, in fact, claim parity with the executive or legislative branch of the federal government in either prestige or power.” He sought to rectify that, first and foremost by thwarting the desire of new President Thomas Jefferson to devolve more power to the states. Marshall would thereby increase the high court’s influence and standing while creating a larger pool of executive power from which to claim an equal slice.

Jefferson, for his part, didn’t believe a government had to be powerful to be strong: “I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest government on earth,” he declared. The two would battle for years over the question, and there is no doubt that Marshall largely succeeded in amplifying the power of the court while protecting executive power in the process. What was so intriguing about this particular conflict was that an American president was trying to reject the expansion of his own prerogative.

The struggle between the high court and the executive branch we are much more familiar with is the reverse: presidents demand ever more power and discretion and the court seeks to rein them in. But that also means that without Jeffersonian presidents, the role of the court in curtailing presidential ambition is that much more essential. Which is why this week’s judicial activity has been heartening. On Monday, the Supreme Court heard opening arguments in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, a case centered on the president’s power to make recess appointments, and the justices appeared skeptical of the Obama administration’s case. Which is as it should be.

The Constitution provides the president the authority to make recess appointments to positions that would otherwise require Senate confirmation. But the Senate actually has to be in recess for that. President Obama decided the Senate was in recess even when it was not so he could get his appointments through. It was preposterously unconstitutional, and openly contemptuous of both the plain meaning of the Constitution and the English language. The idea that the president can decide when the Senate is in recess is risible, bordering on loony. (The president was an instructor in constitutional law, by the way, which is a blistering indictment of American elite education.)

The Supreme Court justices are far from issuing their ruling, of course, but their skepticism was cause for optimism from those who understand at least the basics of constitutional law.

The other case this week that deserves attention concerns what is known as “net neutrality”: the principle holding that Internet traffic must be treated equally by service providers regardless of its source. In 2010, fulfilling an Obama campaign pledge, the FCC codified that principle into law, intending to prevent a “tiered” Internet in which those who pay up–like video streaming services, for example–can have their content delivered faster than others.

Advocates of net neutrality fret that a tiered Internet privileges large companies like Google over upstart competitors, and will thus crowd out competition. Verizon challenged the FCC rule, arguing it amounted to statutory overreach. Yesterday, a D.C. appeals court panel agreed:

Deciding a lawsuit brought by Verizon, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the rules. The court said the FCC saddled broadband providers with the same sorts of obligations as traditional “common carrier” telecommunications services, such as landline phone systems, even though the commission had explicitly decided not to classify broadband as a telecom service.

“Given that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the commission from nonetheless regulating them as such,” Judge David Tatel wrote for the court.

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Jonathan Adler explains that the judges’ decision was more about process than policy:

The court held 2-1 that that FCC has the authority to regulate broadband providers, and that such regulation may govern broadband providers’ handling of internet traffic.  Despite this holding, the FCC did not prevail because the court also concluded (unanimously) that the FCC’s specific regulations here were unlawful because the FCC sought to regulate broadband internet providers as common carriers.  This victory for Verizon and the other petitioners may be short-lived, however, as the majority opinion suggests alternative steps the FCC could take to effectuate a “net neutrality” policy without exceeding its statutory constraints.

As in the case of the recess appointments (or, more accurately, Obama’s “recess” appointments), there are two separate issues at play. There is the question of the wisdom of the policy: should the president get to make appointments that would otherwise be rejected by the Senate, and should Internet service providers be prevented from favoring those willing and able to pay for special treatment?

Then there is the question of authority: who gets to decide when the Senate is in recess, and does the FCC have the power to treat Internet service providers as if they were telephone companies? The question of policy may be more interesting than the question of process, but it is far less significant in its implications for the system of American government. This week the courts seemed inclined to agree. Jefferson lives–for now.

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Kerry’s Moral Inversion on Terrorism

Speaking yesterday at the Vatican, Secretary of State John Kerry let slip a comment so ludicrous that one has to wonder how much wider the gap between reality and Kerry’s worldview can yet grow. Following his meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, in which the two discussed the violence in Syria and prospects for Middle East peace, Kerry delivered a public statement in which he remarked, “And so we have a huge common interest in dealing with this issue of poverty, which in many cases is the root cause of terrorism or even the root cause of the disenfranchisement of millions of people on this planet.”

In making such a claim, America’s Secretary of State commits a terrible moral inversion, one in which the terrorists are cast as the victims, driven to such desperate acts by poverty, while the people they murder, particularly when Westerners, are really the ones who are guilty–guilty of having allowed the great injustice of poverty in the first place.

Had a comment of similar thoughtlessness come from a Republican politician it would have instantly been set upon as a credibility-terminating gaffe. Yet, in this instance Kerry’s thinking is entirely in step with the line pushed by much of the liberal media. Kerry’s assertion here is, of course, completely untrue. But as Jeryl Bier at the Weekly Standard has already pointed out, this isn’t the first time Kerry has peddled such beliefs. Speaking last October at the Global Counterterrorism Forum the Secretary of State proclaimed, “Getting this right isn’t just about taking terrorists off the street. It’s about providing more economic opportunities for marginalized youth at risk of recruitment.”

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Speaking yesterday at the Vatican, Secretary of State John Kerry let slip a comment so ludicrous that one has to wonder how much wider the gap between reality and Kerry’s worldview can yet grow. Following his meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, in which the two discussed the violence in Syria and prospects for Middle East peace, Kerry delivered a public statement in which he remarked, “And so we have a huge common interest in dealing with this issue of poverty, which in many cases is the root cause of terrorism or even the root cause of the disenfranchisement of millions of people on this planet.”

In making such a claim, America’s Secretary of State commits a terrible moral inversion, one in which the terrorists are cast as the victims, driven to such desperate acts by poverty, while the people they murder, particularly when Westerners, are really the ones who are guilty–guilty of having allowed the great injustice of poverty in the first place.

Had a comment of similar thoughtlessness come from a Republican politician it would have instantly been set upon as a credibility-terminating gaffe. Yet, in this instance Kerry’s thinking is entirely in step with the line pushed by much of the liberal media. Kerry’s assertion here is, of course, completely untrue. But as Jeryl Bier at the Weekly Standard has already pointed out, this isn’t the first time Kerry has peddled such beliefs. Speaking last October at the Global Counterterrorism Forum the Secretary of State proclaimed, “Getting this right isn’t just about taking terrorists off the street. It’s about providing more economic opportunities for marginalized youth at risk of recruitment.”

To be clear, terrorism does not have its “root cause” in poverty. For one thing it is paid for by “rich people.” If we look to Islamic terrorism specifically, Sunni terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and al-Nusra get much of their funding from wealthy benefactors in the oil producing Gulf states, while Shia groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Mahdi Army-related groups in Iraq have received their funding from Iran’s state sponsored terror network.

Nor are the terrorists themselves primarily from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds. Research has consistently shown that terrorists predominantly come from not only middle class backgrounds, but also highly educated ones. It can’t be that none of these findings have found their way onto the secretary of state’s desk. But presumably they don’t fit Kerry’s worldview and so he chooses not to recall them. Yet, the reality of the privileged terrorist is certainly not in doubt if we look to the Middle East where no shortage of studies have found Palestinian terrorists, for example, to often be more affluent and better educated than the surrounding population. And similarly when it came to the 9/11 hijackers, their Egyptian leader Mohammed Atta had graduated from the University of Cairo before going on to become a graduate student in Hamburg, Germany.

When it comes to homegrown terrorism from the West, the point becomes even more stark. Britain’s MI5 intelligence service has said that more than 60 percent of terror suspects there are from educated and well-to-do backgrounds, with one of the 2005 London bombers possessing assets worth over $150,000. And the suspects of the Boston bombings can hardly be ruled to be particularly disadvantaged; one of them majored in marine biology with plans to enter dentistry.

The nonsense of claiming poverty as the underlying cause of terrorism becomes apparent just as soon as one considers the millions and millions of people all over the world, who live amidst the most terrible conditions and hardships, without ever coming remotely close to turning to terrorism, that preferred route out of the poverty trap. 

It is of course concerning that Secretary Kerry would so readily make a claim of such self-evident inaccuracy. But what is really troubling here is the shameful moral inversion that he gives voice to by making such statements. Terrorists are not the victims, not of poverty or anything else. They are the adherents of hate-fueled and nihilistic ideologies. This is the root cause of terrorism.    

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Without Bluster, Christie’s Not That Interesting

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was under the national media’s microscope yesterday when he delivered his annual “State of the State” address in Trenton only days after the “Bridgegate” scandal broke. Christie responded with a restrained, intelligent speech that acknowledged that fiasco but concentrated on a reform agenda on taxes, crime, education, and other nuts-and-bolts issues that have endeared him to his state’s voters. These are the same topics he would have highlighted even if his political trajectory had not been jeopardized by last week’s revelations of his staff’s bizarre scheme to create traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge. So the address was a chance for Christie to get back on message and to show that he can still govern and do so in a manner that will bolster his reputation as an effective and innovative governor who can work with Democrats for the common good. Judged on its content and by the measured manner with which it was delivered, Christie did just that.

But there is no escaping the fact that the Christie who spoke yesterday was not quite the same guy who had become a national figure in the last year. As many observers noted, the governor’s manner was noticeably more restrained than it had been last year when he took a bow in Trenton in the wake of his successful efforts to help the state recover from Superstorm Sandy. Bluster and flamboyance were replaced by a more low-key approach that showed Christie was acutely conscious of the fact that he could no longer get away with a cavalier dismissal of critics who believe the Bridgegate misdeeds as well as the examples of the governor’s office exacting revenge on his foes were directly linked to his brusque and often arrogant style.

While the change of tone won’t stop Democrats, both in New Jersey and elsewhere, from making his life miserable investigating the scandal and seeking to undermine any efforts for bipartisan compromise, it does offer him a chance to start the difficult task of making the public forget about the nightmare of the last week. But it also raises the question of whether the new, less abrasive Christie will be as interesting and ultimately as much of a star as the old one. Based on yesterday’s evidence, the answer is not so much.

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was under the national media’s microscope yesterday when he delivered his annual “State of the State” address in Trenton only days after the “Bridgegate” scandal broke. Christie responded with a restrained, intelligent speech that acknowledged that fiasco but concentrated on a reform agenda on taxes, crime, education, and other nuts-and-bolts issues that have endeared him to his state’s voters. These are the same topics he would have highlighted even if his political trajectory had not been jeopardized by last week’s revelations of his staff’s bizarre scheme to create traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge. So the address was a chance for Christie to get back on message and to show that he can still govern and do so in a manner that will bolster his reputation as an effective and innovative governor who can work with Democrats for the common good. Judged on its content and by the measured manner with which it was delivered, Christie did just that.

But there is no escaping the fact that the Christie who spoke yesterday was not quite the same guy who had become a national figure in the last year. As many observers noted, the governor’s manner was noticeably more restrained than it had been last year when he took a bow in Trenton in the wake of his successful efforts to help the state recover from Superstorm Sandy. Bluster and flamboyance were replaced by a more low-key approach that showed Christie was acutely conscious of the fact that he could no longer get away with a cavalier dismissal of critics who believe the Bridgegate misdeeds as well as the examples of the governor’s office exacting revenge on his foes were directly linked to his brusque and often arrogant style.

While the change of tone won’t stop Democrats, both in New Jersey and elsewhere, from making his life miserable investigating the scandal and seeking to undermine any efforts for bipartisan compromise, it does offer him a chance to start the difficult task of making the public forget about the nightmare of the last week. But it also raises the question of whether the new, less abrasive Christie will be as interesting and ultimately as much of a star as the old one. Based on yesterday’s evidence, the answer is not so much.

Christie’s rise to prominence in the last two years was not based as much on his ideas as his personality. He is just one among a number of successful reform-minded Republican governors who have sought new solutions to the deadly spiral of debt and taxes with which liberal big-government schemes have saddled their states. He deserves credit for making progress on these issues, especially in a blue state with a Democratic legislature. But as good as his record may be, it does not especially stand out when compared to the achievements of some of his peers who are also presidential possibilities, such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker or Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal.

What made Christie special was his demeanor. His lack of inhibition when telling people off and dismissing their criticisms was as refreshing as it was often politically incorrect. The YouTube videos of his town hall meetings and press conferences where he jousted with foes were entertaining because of his attitude, not the strength of his positions. Christie’s magic was based on the public’s delight in his brash manner and unfettered opinions, especially his penchant for blasting anyone who dared to question his ideas or motives. It was always an open question whether this Northeast everyman would play as well in flyover country as he did in the metropolitan New York media market, especially when his embrace of President Obama after the storm alienated many conservatives. But as long as he pulled no punches, Christie had little to worry about—a conclusion that was reinforced by a landslide reelection in which his support from women, Hispanics, and blacks seemed liked a preview of a GOP victory in 2016.

But shorn of the bluster and reduced to a calm advocate of good government, the new Chris Christie is not as interesting as the old one.

Having risen to the top of the polls of future Republican presidential contenders largely on the strength of being a media darling, it’s far from clear that the Christie who has been transformed in the space of a few days into a press piñata can stay afloat in the conversation about 2016. The problem is not only that he is taking a pounding from liberals who rightly feared him as the GOP’s best threat to derail a Hillary Clinton presidency. It’s that a Christie who is on the defensive and must now worry about appearing to be a bully will be hard-put to distinguish himself from other Republicans with similar ideas but without the baggage that the governor must now carry as he goes forward.

Unless Democrats and their press auxiliaries can dig up something that directly incriminates Christie in the bridge lane closings, he will survive this rough patch. Polls show he has retained, at least for the moment, his support in the state. But the chastened Chris Christie who must now adopt a more generous tone toward his foes is not the same man who rocketed to fame as the tough guy who wasn’t afraid to abuse the press or tell voters that it was none of their business where his kids went to school or what they did. Even if everyone forgets about the bridge a year or two from now (and given the Democratic interest in making sure we won’t, don’t expect that to happen) Christie can never be quite the same politician again. In some ways that might even turn out to be an improvement since a bit more humility and restraint when torching anyone who isn’t a cheerleader would be a good thing for the governor. But the Christie who emerges from this crisis isn’t the kind of candidate who is likely to become the Republican nominee in 2016.

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All NSA News Fit to Print?

It seems to be open season on the NSA. Hardly a day passes without more irresponsible disclosures of the cyber-techniques it uses to fight terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and hostile states such as China and Iran. The latest is the disclosure that it “has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the United States to conduct surveillance on those machines and can also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks.”

The New York Times, which reports this news in Wednesday’s newspaper, notes that the information originally appeared in even more detailed form in two foreign newspapers: “A Dutch newspaper published the map of areas where the United States has inserted spy software, sometimes in cooperation with local authorities, often covertly. Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine, published the N.S.A.’s catalog of hardware products that can secretly transmit and receive digital signals from computers, a program called ANT.”

Why this is news fit to print is a bit of a mystery since, as the Times notes, “there is no evidence that the N.S.A. has implanted its software or used its radio frequency technology inside the United States.” So even if you assume (wrongly) that the NSA is some kind of big brother organization engaged in nefarious monitoring of your Web-browsing habits, the efforts disclosed here are totally unrelated. Like much of what we have learned of the NSA’s activities, this relates to foreign espionage, a realm in which until now there has been pretty universal agreement that the U.S. intelligence community should do its utmost to ferret out the secrets of aggressors or potential aggressors.

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It seems to be open season on the NSA. Hardly a day passes without more irresponsible disclosures of the cyber-techniques it uses to fight terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and hostile states such as China and Iran. The latest is the disclosure that it “has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the United States to conduct surveillance on those machines and can also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks.”

The New York Times, which reports this news in Wednesday’s newspaper, notes that the information originally appeared in even more detailed form in two foreign newspapers: “A Dutch newspaper published the map of areas where the United States has inserted spy software, sometimes in cooperation with local authorities, often covertly. Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine, published the N.S.A.’s catalog of hardware products that can secretly transmit and receive digital signals from computers, a program called ANT.”

Why this is news fit to print is a bit of a mystery since, as the Times notes, “there is no evidence that the N.S.A. has implanted its software or used its radio frequency technology inside the United States.” So even if you assume (wrongly) that the NSA is some kind of big brother organization engaged in nefarious monitoring of your Web-browsing habits, the efforts disclosed here are totally unrelated. Like much of what we have learned of the NSA’s activities, this relates to foreign espionage, a realm in which until now there has been pretty universal agreement that the U.S. intelligence community should do its utmost to ferret out the secrets of aggressors or potential aggressors.

It is hard to know what exactly Edward Snowden and his media enablers think they are up to. Are they advocating the position of Secretary of State Henry Stimson who in 1929 closed the State Department’s code-cracking office with the naive statement that “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail”? Not quite, because even extremists like Glenn Greenwald know that such an argument would not fly with most reasonable people. So Snowden, Greenwald et al. are not actually bothering to make a cogent argument–they are simply exposing and sabotaging the NSA’s activities willy-nilly and trying to create a vague impression that the NSA has been doing something wrong.

Of course they say nothing about the cyber-intelligence activities of Iran, China, Russia, North Korea, or other states; perhaps if we knew more about what they’re up to, more people would understand the folly of the unilateral disarmament that Snowden and his acolytes seem to be advocating.

For all the incoherence of the Snowden argument, it must be admitted that it has achieved its effect, putting NSA “reform” at the top of the political agenda. All of Washington waits to see how far President Obama will go in reining in our most valuable intelligence agency; he is due to announce his position on Friday.

Let us hope he gives serious heed to the advice of knowledgeable experts such as federal Judge John Bates, a former chief judge of the court which oversees the NSA, who warns that it would be a mistake to create a privacy advocate to appear before the court or take other steps (such as limiting the FBI’s ability to issue administrative subpoenas for phone records) that numerous NSA critics have advocated.

There is a good if not incontrovertible probability that if the NSA’s present activities had existed in 2001, the 9/11 attacks might never have happened. There is an equally good probability that if we significantly rein in the NSA’s collection efforts, we are dramatically increasing the probability of another 9/11.

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