Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 30, 2014

Truth and Consequences in Sochi

The news this afternoon that the Justice Department will seek the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving accused Boston Marathon bomber, comes at a time of increased attention to the terror threat from the Russian Caucasus, the breakaway region from which the Tsarnaevs fled to America. And for the Russian government it’s an ill-timed reminder of the consequences of the breakdown of trust in American-Russian security cooperation.

That’s because the Winter Olympics are set to begin in the Russian city of Sochi next week, and security concerns have only grown since dual suicide bombings in Volgograd in December. The U.S. Olympic Committee and State Department have warned American athletes not to wear their identifying gear outside the Olympic compound, and the threat of violence has put something of a cloud over the athletes’ families traveling to Sochi for the games. As the Washington Post reported earlier this week:

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The news this afternoon that the Justice Department will seek the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving accused Boston Marathon bomber, comes at a time of increased attention to the terror threat from the Russian Caucasus, the breakaway region from which the Tsarnaevs fled to America. And for the Russian government it’s an ill-timed reminder of the consequences of the breakdown of trust in American-Russian security cooperation.

That’s because the Winter Olympics are set to begin in the Russian city of Sochi next week, and security concerns have only grown since dual suicide bombings in Volgograd in December. The U.S. Olympic Committee and State Department have warned American athletes not to wear their identifying gear outside the Olympic compound, and the threat of violence has put something of a cloud over the athletes’ families traveling to Sochi for the games. As the Washington Post reported earlier this week:

The United States will send the largest delegation of athletes from any single country in the history of the Winter Olympics to Sochi, a team 230 strong that includes 13 gold medal winners .

And to one degree or another, the 105 women and 125 men will carry with them concern for their personal safety and that of loved ones who will make the round-the-globe trek to cheer them on.

“Obviously I keep up with the news. I’m very aware of the security threats,” said two-time U.S. figure skating champion Ashley Wagner, 22, of Alexandria, whose parents also will travel to Sochi for her Olympic debut. “At the same time, I have to tell myself that the USOC and the Russian Olympic Committee are doing everything they can. We want this Olympics to go smoothly; I know they absolutely want this Olympics to go smoothly.

“Really, what can you do other than believe in the people put in charge to take care of you?”

But reassuring the athletes and their families is not so simple. As Wagner suggests, trust has much to do with it. That is the upshot of today’s ABC News dispatch from Sochi. The article may assuage some of the concerns of the athletes and spectators, but it can’t possibly make the Russian government–or the American government, for that matter–very happy.

The article details the ways in which Russia has dotted the landscape with invisible security–or almost invisible, that is. ABC News’s correspondent began spotting some of the camouflaged army tents along the highway in and out of Sochi. “Once you spot one,” the correspondent noted triumphantly, “the others are easier to find.” The Russians quite justifiably told ABC to knock it off:

Missile batteries poke out from behind camouflage nets in the hills above the Olympic Park. Soldiers stand guard inside tents masked with fake leaves and branches in the mountains. Navy speedboats patrol the coast. Plainclothes police officers mingle among the crowd. Closed circuit security cameras are everywhere. An electronic surveillance program monitors all cell phone and internet activity.

Russian security officials have promised a “ring of steel” to safeguard the Sochi Winter Olympics. Putin has ordered tens of thousands of extra troops and police to help secure the Olympics. Judging by the number of times ABC News was asked to stop filming or asked to show identification, it is clear that Russian authorities are taking security very seriously.

As the story goes on to note, Russia is trying to strike a balance familiar to any country struggling with increased threats of domestic terrorism. They want the attendees to know the security is there without seeing them. People expect checkpoints around the main arteries in and out of the city, but they don’t want to constantly be reminded they’re in danger or feel like they’re competing in a police state.

But Russian security policy toward the Caucasus hasn’t exactly earned blind faith. Whereas the complaint often heard in the West is about “threat inflation” to justify intensive security measures (such as the controversial NSA programs), in Russia the opposite is the case. Ever since Vladimir Putin prosecuted the Second Chechen War, he has tried to build his public image on the idea that he pacified the troubled region. That means he understates the threat, and looks unprepared or disingenuous when trouble strikes.

It’s also why American and Russian military officials have been in talks about sharing American security technology for the games. U.S. officials don’t need any more reminders that authoritarian governments that rely extensively on propaganda and punishing dissent can’t be simply taken at their word.

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A BDS Thought Bubble

What a relief that Scarlett Johansson has stepped down as Oxfam ambassador. When it comes to relieving poverty, there is one thing we know: the most important thing is ideological purity.

As the Zionist oppressors at COMMENTARY are doubtless aware, Johansson recently accepted a role as global ambassador for SodaStream. SodaStream contributes to the oppression of Palestinians by employing about 500 West Bank Palestinians at much higher wages than they could earn elsewhere. That is why we say, along with Oxfam, that SodaStream helps “further the ongoing poverty” of Palestinian communities. We regret that Oxfam did not also mention that having Israelis working alongside Arabs in the factory furthers Israeli apartheid.

You will undoubtedly deploy your colonialist “logic” to point out that higher wages do not further poverty and that having Israelis working alongside Arabs does not foster apartheid. It is true that Reuters, that mouthpiece of Zionist colonialist expansion, reports that “in the plant, assembly lines buzz to the mixed voices in Hebrew and Arabic of its employees – a rare example of people from the two sides working and talking together.” But Reuters is obviously drinking the SodaStream Kool Aid, which, curse them, they make in three delicious varieties.

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What a relief that Scarlett Johansson has stepped down as Oxfam ambassador. When it comes to relieving poverty, there is one thing we know: the most important thing is ideological purity.

As the Zionist oppressors at COMMENTARY are doubtless aware, Johansson recently accepted a role as global ambassador for SodaStream. SodaStream contributes to the oppression of Palestinians by employing about 500 West Bank Palestinians at much higher wages than they could earn elsewhere. That is why we say, along with Oxfam, that SodaStream helps “further the ongoing poverty” of Palestinian communities. We regret that Oxfam did not also mention that having Israelis working alongside Arabs in the factory furthers Israeli apartheid.

You will undoubtedly deploy your colonialist “logic” to point out that higher wages do not further poverty and that having Israelis working alongside Arabs does not foster apartheid. It is true that Reuters, that mouthpiece of Zionist colonialist expansion, reports that “in the plant, assembly lines buzz to the mixed voices in Hebrew and Arabic of its employees – a rare example of people from the two sides working and talking together.” But Reuters is obviously drinking the SodaStream Kool Aid, which, curse them, they make in three delicious varieties.

But the SodaStream plant is located in Maale Adumim, a piece of the occupied territories east of Jerusalem, which already contains tens of thousands of radical Israeli suburban commuters. Almost no one thinks that Maale Adumim will become part of a future Palestinian state, but a movement can dare to dream, can it not? That is why some Oxfam insiders worried that keeping Johansson on would threaten its relationships with Palestinian partners. These Palestinian partners sensibly stand by this principle: no one who supports a company that employs Palestinians in a territory certain to be ceded to Israel as part of a peace agreement will be permitted to help Palestinians. We hold that truth to be self-evident.

The fact is, it’s not just the settlements. We in the BDS movement oppose all joint Israeli-Palestinian projects, wherever they take place. As the guidelines for our academic and cultural boycott plainly state, we must “refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions.” Johansson therefore crossed a line when she expressed support for “economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.” Even COMMENTARY readers, if they are willing to relax their ideological pose for a moment, will grasp why those words are so hateful. We don’t care how effective Scarlett Johannson is as an anti-poverty advocate, or how good she was in Iron Man 2, a movie we permitted ourselves to enjoy before we realized that it glorified an industrial capitalist.

Although we are deeply disappointed that Johannson beat Oxfam to the punch by resigning, we still say good riddance. And don’t think that Oxfam needs you either, Ms. Johansson. They’ve still got Annie Lennox and Desmond Tutu.

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Syrian Deal Missing Deadlines

In the State of the Union address, President Obama claimed that “Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated” because of “American diplomacy, backed by threat of force.” Not so fast. Like his claim that by the end of the year “America’s longest war,” the one in Afghanistan, “will finally be over” (tell that to the Taliban), this is a soaring goal which is at odds with reality.

Even Obama’s own secretary of defense now has to admit that “the Syrian government is behind in delivering these chemical weapons and precursor materials on time, and with the schedule that was agreed to.” Far behind, to be exact.

The New York Times notes:

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In the State of the Union address, President Obama claimed that “Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated” because of “American diplomacy, backed by threat of force.” Not so fast. Like his claim that by the end of the year “America’s longest war,” the one in Afghanistan, “will finally be over” (tell that to the Taliban), this is a soaring goal which is at odds with reality.

Even Obama’s own secretary of defense now has to admit that “the Syrian government is behind in delivering these chemical weapons and precursor materials on time, and with the schedule that was agreed to.” Far behind, to be exact.

The New York Times notes:

Two small shipments representing only a tiny percentage of the 600 tons of the most dangerous chemicals have been exported so far, one shipment on Jan. 7 and the other on Monday.

The deadline for exporting all 600 tons of the most dangerous chemicals passed on Dec. 31, and the deadline for exporting the total amount of all chemical materials, an estimated 1,200 tons, is Feb. 6. There is a widespread expectation that deadline will be missed as well.

The Syrian regime blames the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, for not providing all the tools that it needs to dismantle and export its chemical weapons, but the UN body reports that it has given the Syrian government everything it needs. No doubt the heavy fighting going on in Syria is a contributing element to the delay as well–as is the Assad regime’s reluctance to part with these fearful weapons.

That’s why many of us were skeptical that the deal brokered by Russia would be carried out. The skeptics may still be proven wrong; Syria has until June 30 to destroy its entire chemical-weapons stockpile. But on the current trajectory the odds of success appear to be diminishing–which should, but almost certainly won’t, make the administration question whether any deal it can reach with Assad’s sponsors in Tehran will be worth the paper it is printed on.

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Will ScarJo Pay a Price for Her Principles?

The BDS campaign against SodaStream took an unexpected turn yesterday when actress Scarlett Johansson announced her resignation as a representative of Oxfam. The British-based coalition of philanthropic groups had condemned Johansson’s role as a commercial spokesperson for SodaStream, an Israeli soda machine manufacturer, because of its location in the Jerusalem suburb of Maale Adumim in the West Bank. Initially, Johansson sought to remain with both organizations, but it was soon clear that she had to choose and released the following statement through a spokesman:

“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,” the statement said. “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.

In response, Oxfam thanked Johansson for her service but made it clear that her decision with SodaStream meant she was no longer welcome:

While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador. Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.

Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Ms. Johansson has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and in 2007 became a Global Ambassador, helping to highlight the impact of natural disasters and raise funds to save lives and fight poverty.

This is a remarkable turn of events. For Johansson, a prominent Hollywood liberal who has campaigned for Democrats and progressive causes, Oxfam was a perfect fit because of her interest in poverty-related causes. But as one of the most visible international charities, it was also a good match for a career in that it added a touch of gravitas to an actress who might otherwise be trivialized as the only woman to be named the sexiest woman in the world by Esquire twice. One might have thought that in terms of an immediate monetary reward, Johansson would choose SodaStream over Oxfam because one pays her and the other doesn’t. But in terms of positive publicity and maintaining her status as a member in good standing of the Hollywood liberal establishment, Oxfam might have been the more sensible choice.

In sticking with SodaStream, Johansson will win the praise of many Americans, especially fellow Jews, but it opens a new and potentially bitter chapter in the struggle by the BDS movement against Israel. The question facing the actress as well as friends of the Jewish state is whether her decision will herald more defeats for those seeking to isolate Israel or will instead provide a new focus for a BDS movement that is gaining support in Europe even as it remains marginal in the United States.

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The BDS campaign against SodaStream took an unexpected turn yesterday when actress Scarlett Johansson announced her resignation as a representative of Oxfam. The British-based coalition of philanthropic groups had condemned Johansson’s role as a commercial spokesperson for SodaStream, an Israeli soda machine manufacturer, because of its location in the Jerusalem suburb of Maale Adumim in the West Bank. Initially, Johansson sought to remain with both organizations, but it was soon clear that she had to choose and released the following statement through a spokesman:

“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,” the statement said. “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.

In response, Oxfam thanked Johansson for her service but made it clear that her decision with SodaStream meant she was no longer welcome:

While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador. Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.

Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Ms. Johansson has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and in 2007 became a Global Ambassador, helping to highlight the impact of natural disasters and raise funds to save lives and fight poverty.

This is a remarkable turn of events. For Johansson, a prominent Hollywood liberal who has campaigned for Democrats and progressive causes, Oxfam was a perfect fit because of her interest in poverty-related causes. But as one of the most visible international charities, it was also a good match for a career in that it added a touch of gravitas to an actress who might otherwise be trivialized as the only woman to be named the sexiest woman in the world by Esquire twice. One might have thought that in terms of an immediate monetary reward, Johansson would choose SodaStream over Oxfam because one pays her and the other doesn’t. But in terms of positive publicity and maintaining her status as a member in good standing of the Hollywood liberal establishment, Oxfam might have been the more sensible choice.

In sticking with SodaStream, Johansson will win the praise of many Americans, especially fellow Jews, but it opens a new and potentially bitter chapter in the struggle by the BDS movement against Israel. The question facing the actress as well as friends of the Jewish state is whether her decision will herald more defeats for those seeking to isolate Israel or will instead provide a new focus for a BDS movement that is gaining support in Europe even as it remains marginal in the United States.

It is possible that Oxfam’s decision wasn’t entirely based on the anti-Israel bias of its London-based leadership. One of the leading corporate donors to Oxfam just happens to be the Coca Cola Company that has given millions to the group. That tie between a company that can be linked to obesity and bad nutrition and a charity that promotes feeding the hungry is seen as a contradiction by some and only explained by the cash that flows from Coke to Oxfam. But the fact that SodaStream is a competitor that is already eating into Coke’s market share could account, at least in part, for Oxfam’s speed in denouncing Johansson.

But even if contributions from Coke had nothing to do with Oxfam’s decision, the most important conclusion to be drawn from the way this controversy developed is the ease and speed with which a theoretically apolitical charity like Oxfam publicly embraced the BDS stand even though it meant losing the services of such an effective ambassador as Johansson. The decisiveness and alacrity  with which Oxfam’s leaders condemned her ties with an Israeli company may well have come as a rude shock to Johansson after she signed on to appear in SodaStream commercials, including one scheduled for broadcast during the Super Bowl. Though she is an active supporter of many liberal causes who embraced Oxfam because of its apparent compatibility with her personal values, it may not have occurred to her that in international progressive circles such associations with Israel aren’t kosher.

The point here is not simply the factual inaccuracy of Oxfam’s accusations that settlements further Palestinian poverty or deny Palestinian rights. Having seen SodaStream’s operations herself, Johansson knew that charges that it exploited its Arab workers were nothing but propaganda and absurd lies. She rightly understood that its owners were committed peaceniks who genuinely believe that the cooperative and mutually profitable relations between Jews and Arabs that go on at SodaStream are exactly what the region needs. But in the world of Oxfam, opposition to West Bank settlements isn’t about what’s good for the Palestinians. The factory’s location, a few miles from Jerusalem’s city limits in territory that almost certainly would be incorporated into Israel in the event of a peace treaty, is merely an excuse to continue a campaign of delegitimization against the Jewish state. And in that struggle, there can be no exceptions or even any grey areas where people of good conscience may differ.

The arrogant moral certainty of Oxfam’s statement simply assumes that the presence of Jews in what is, under international law, disputed territory rather than that of a sovereign state, is repugnant. That is exactly the mindset of BDSers whose purpose is not aiding poor Palestinians but to further impoverish them by destroying businesses that provide them with income and an opportunity to better themselves that is largely denied them by the corrupt governments led by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza.

But now that Johansson has rejected the leftist groupthink of Oxfam that assumes the Jewish state to be beyond the pale, it remains to be seen whether there will be a price to be paid for her principled choice. As I noted earlier this week, it is possible that in the future Johansson may become the focus of a concerted boycott by Israel-haters. Though their efforts won’t put even a minor dent in her career prospects in the United States, it is entirely possible that she will be become better known in Europe and Asia as a supporter of Israel than as a gifted A-list actress. The implications of such a development would not be trivial for film producers who increasingly rely on international markets to realize profits, nor for other companies seeking film stars to promote their products.

If Johansson had abandoned SodaStream it would have signaled an immediate and high-visibility victory for the BDS campaign, certainly its most important victory in the United States. But having cast her lot with defenders of the Jewish state, the actress must understand that this isn’t the end of the story. She may have thought her work for Oxfam gave her common ground with progressives in Europe and around the globe. But she may now discover that, from this day forward, they will only see her as a public figure to be rejected and shunned as a principled Jew who stands with Israel.

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Why Bridgegate Won’t Clear Jeb’s Path

Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal had such an impact on the emerging 2016 GOP primary field not only because Christie was considered the early frontrunner but because of why he was considered the frontrunner. In addition to his advantage as a governor and his success in getting Democratic and minority votes, Christie was the 2016 candidate who was moderate enough to win prominent establishment backing but still conservative enough to envision winning the nomination.

Thus while the primary fight would no doubt be bruising, it was conceivable that the other categories–libertarian, religious conservative, defiant conservative firebrand, etc.–would be represented by more than one candidate and split the remaining vote. Christie, then, had both no competition and too much competition. I think this scenario always overestimated Christie’s odds at winning the nomination because at some point the competition would thin out and supporters would coalesce around fewer candidates, but there’s no question it made him a strong contender.

If Christie is no longer the frontrunner, that means there’s an opening for a “moderate” with conservative credentials. And that, in turn, means we’ll have a resurgence in speculation over whether Jeb Bush will run. Politico catches the latest, which was Bush’s radio interview yesterday mulling it over:

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Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal had such an impact on the emerging 2016 GOP primary field not only because Christie was considered the early frontrunner but because of why he was considered the frontrunner. In addition to his advantage as a governor and his success in getting Democratic and minority votes, Christie was the 2016 candidate who was moderate enough to win prominent establishment backing but still conservative enough to envision winning the nomination.

Thus while the primary fight would no doubt be bruising, it was conceivable that the other categories–libertarian, religious conservative, defiant conservative firebrand, etc.–would be represented by more than one candidate and split the remaining vote. Christie, then, had both no competition and too much competition. I think this scenario always overestimated Christie’s odds at winning the nomination because at some point the competition would thin out and supporters would coalesce around fewer candidates, but there’s no question it made him a strong contender.

If Christie is no longer the frontrunner, that means there’s an opening for a “moderate” with conservative credentials. And that, in turn, means we’ll have a resurgence in speculation over whether Jeb Bush will run. Politico catches the latest, which was Bush’s radio interview yesterday mulling it over:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says he will make a decision on whether to run for president in 2016 at “the right time” — later this year.

“I don’t wake up each day saying, ‘Now what am I going [to] do today to make the decision?’ I’m deferring the decision to the right time, which is later this year,” Bush said in an interview Wednesday with Miami CBS affiliate WFOR.

The brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush said he will make up his mind based on whether he can run an uplifting campaign.

Jeb Bush is also pushing back, ever so diplomatically, against his mother’s comments last year that “there are other families” besides the Bushes, and it’s time to give someone else a turn. After Jeb’s brother, George W. Bush, was asked about the comments by Jay Leno (and said his brother would make a great president), CNN quoted Jeb’s response: “Even when I was a teenager, I’d listen to her respectfully and never always followed what she said, even though she was probably right. And now at the age of 60, I really feel I don’t have to listen to every word she says,” he said, drawing laughs. “At some point you got to make these decisions like a grown up.”

But his name came up on Leno’s show again this week, in a more positive mention:

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner made his first ever appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on Thursday, just to get some facetime with Leno before he leaves the show on Feb. 6. …

Asked what he thought of the upcoming presidential race in 2016, Boehner said, “I’m not endorsing anybody. But Jeb Bush is my friend and, frankly, I think he’d make a great president.”

Jeb Bush not only has the gubernatorial success and moderate credentials to match those of Christie, but he is also thought to have the crossover appeal to voters outside the GOP’s traditional support blocs that Christie does. So it’s reasonable to assume that Bush, who in fact has picked fewer fights with the grassroots than Christie has, could step into Christie’s shoes. But does that make him, like Christie was thought to be, the frontrunner?

Probably not, because Bush’s path to the nomination would be complicated in a few ways. The most obvious is his last name, and the GOP, with a bevy of young stars, will probably only be more hesitant to nominate Bush now that it appears Hillary Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner. One advantage Republicans would have over Clinton is that she represents a bygone era both for the country in general and the Democratic Party in particular, having already spent eight years in the White House of a president with a very different political agenda than the one she served as secretary of state. It’s doubtful the grassroots, so opposed to the GOP’s history of next-in-linism, would be satisfied with a Bush-Clinton election.

Additionally, Christie wasn’t the only prospective candidate standing in Jeb Bush’s way. The general consensus was that either Bush or Marco Rubio would run in 2016, but not both. They served the same state and would thus split their constituency, most likely ensuring neither would win. Would the party prefer to run Jeb or Rubio? The latter seems the better bet at this point.

Competing with the senators won’t be easy, considering Rand Paul’s popularity and Ted Cruz’s Texas network. And the governors, like Scott Walker and Mike Pence, would thrive against a wounded (or absent) Christie. Luck has never been on Jeb Bush’s side with regard to the presidency: no one doubts his qualifications, experience, intelligence, diligence, or sense of service, to say nothing of his accomplishments in office in areas like education reform. But even with Christie weakened by bridgegate, his path to the presidency is strewn with roadblocks.

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Politics and the Anti-Sanctions Coalition

With news that support for Iran sanctions may now be showing signs of crumbling among Democrats in the Senate, it’s worth recalling that there have been a host of Jewish and self-titled liberal Zionist groups working tirelessly to make this happen. When UCLA Professor Mark Kleiman recently urged those who “have Jewish sounding names” to lobby their senators against further Iran sanctions, it was because he knew that these calls would seem to carry extra weight and legitimacy if they appeared to be coming from those who are assumed to be pro-Israel.

Several Washington-based lobby groups, claiming to be pro-Israel, have been lending their image of legitimacy to an organized coalition that is working to lobby against Iran sanctions. In joining this group, which also receives its briefings from White House officials, J Street and Americans for Peace Now are putting themselves into coalition with a number of other organizations and individuals who are at best completely indifferent to Israel’s welfare, such as, for instance, the National Iranian American Council.

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With news that support for Iran sanctions may now be showing signs of crumbling among Democrats in the Senate, it’s worth recalling that there have been a host of Jewish and self-titled liberal Zionist groups working tirelessly to make this happen. When UCLA Professor Mark Kleiman recently urged those who “have Jewish sounding names” to lobby their senators against further Iran sanctions, it was because he knew that these calls would seem to carry extra weight and legitimacy if they appeared to be coming from those who are assumed to be pro-Israel.

Several Washington-based lobby groups, claiming to be pro-Israel, have been lending their image of legitimacy to an organized coalition that is working to lobby against Iran sanctions. In joining this group, which also receives its briefings from White House officials, J Street and Americans for Peace Now are putting themselves into coalition with a number of other organizations and individuals who are at best completely indifferent to Israel’s welfare, such as, for instance, the National Iranian American Council.

That said, it is doubtful that these left-wing Jewish groups are being motivated by any explicitly pro-Iranian sentiment. Rather it seems that, in J Street’s case in particular, this action is an expression of shameless partisan loyalty to what is after all a Democrat administration and to the policies generated from the left of the Democratic Party. As recently as July of last year, J Street had been vocally supporting sanctions when the Obama administration was pushing this as an alternative to military action; now that the administration is also setting about dismantling the sanctions J Street has also fallen in line and is advocating precisely the same policy. American’s for Peace Now, hardly to their credit, have been a little more consistent in opposing sanctions against Iran. They even opposed sanctions when the administration thought them a preferable way to encourage Tehran to participate in negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program. 

The coalition was brought together by the Ploughshares Fund, which advocates for a nuclear free world (the irony). Those attempting to justify logically and morally untenable positions often feign sophistication by appealing to the counterintuitive, yet the fact that this effort against sanctions–sanctions that are specifically designed to prevent a nuclear Iran–is being led by people claiming to be against nuclear weapons is simply beyond paradoxical. It was noteworthy at the time that many of those who campaigned against the war in Iraq, claiming they favored non-violent solutions, had previously protested sanctions against Iraq also. Now, with Iran, those who were against the military option are also lining up to try and prevent the sanctions option. Indeed, in an almost Orwellian inversion, some in this coalition have accused the supporters of sanctions of “warmongering.” The question arises, what kind of pressure for preventing the proliferation of the very nuclear weapons that these people claim to oppose would they consider acceptable?

In the case of both of the supposedly pro-Israel groups in question, their participation in this coalition would seem to suggest that whatever it is that they are committed to, it is hardly Israel’s welfare first and foremost. J Street already made clear that it took its marching orders from the Obama administration when it lobbied hard for Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense. Hagel had made a series of infamously anti-Israel and even anti-Jewish comments and had been concerningly ambiguous in his stance on Iran. J Street not only failed to oppose his nomination, they supported it.

American’s for Peace Now may be less slavish to the dictates of the Obama administration, but their consistent opposition to even peaceful measures for preventing Iran from getting the bomb would seem to betray a general hostility to Western interests as well as to the security and survival of Israel in particular. 

When American Jews and friends of Israel look to AIPAC, or the ZOA, or the Emergency Committee for Israel, they may not agree with all of their tactics or even their policies. Yet, they can be sure that these groups are unequivocally pro-Israel. Of J Street and American’s for Peace Now they know no such thing.  

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Artificial Intelligence

I have one question for National Intelligence Director James Clapper and his predecessors. As we all know, the infamous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate asserted with “high confidence” that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons development, and no subsequent NIE ever reversed that judgment. Yet fast forward seven years, and the latest annual intelligence assessment asserts that “Tehran has made technical progress in a number of areas … from which it could draw if it decided to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons,” and consequently, it now “has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons” should it so choose. So here’s my question: If Iran stopped its weapons development effort seven years ago, how did it happen that since then, it has made precisely the kind of technical progress that now enables it to build a nuclear warhead whenever it chooses?

There are two plausible answers to this question. One, the work never really stopped, or resumed at some point in the last few years, and U.S. intelligence agencies simply missed it. That’s certainly possible; intelligence agencies aren’t omniscient, and it’s unrealistic to think they will never make mistakes. A more troubling possibility is that since intelligence rarely reaches the level of absolute certainty, the available information was misinterpreted due to political bias–a desire to avoid military action against Iran, and hence to avoid interpreting Iran’s behavior in a way that might necessitate such action.

But the answer offered by the Obama administration strains credulity: that Iran really did stop its weapons program and never resumed it, but somehow, mysteriously, nevertheless made major technical progress over the last seven years of precisely the kind that now enables it to build a nuclear warhead anytime it pleases. Even a two-year-old wouldn’t buy that.

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I have one question for National Intelligence Director James Clapper and his predecessors. As we all know, the infamous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate asserted with “high confidence” that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons development, and no subsequent NIE ever reversed that judgment. Yet fast forward seven years, and the latest annual intelligence assessment asserts that “Tehran has made technical progress in a number of areas … from which it could draw if it decided to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons,” and consequently, it now “has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons” should it so choose. So here’s my question: If Iran stopped its weapons development effort seven years ago, how did it happen that since then, it has made precisely the kind of technical progress that now enables it to build a nuclear warhead whenever it chooses?

There are two plausible answers to this question. One, the work never really stopped, or resumed at some point in the last few years, and U.S. intelligence agencies simply missed it. That’s certainly possible; intelligence agencies aren’t omniscient, and it’s unrealistic to think they will never make mistakes. A more troubling possibility is that since intelligence rarely reaches the level of absolute certainty, the available information was misinterpreted due to political bias–a desire to avoid military action against Iran, and hence to avoid interpreting Iran’s behavior in a way that might necessitate such action.

But the answer offered by the Obama administration strains credulity: that Iran really did stop its weapons program and never resumed it, but somehow, mysteriously, nevertheless made major technical progress over the last seven years of precisely the kind that now enables it to build a nuclear warhead anytime it pleases. Even a two-year-old wouldn’t buy that.

The real problem, however, isn’t what this says about the past, but what it says about the future. After all, for years, opponents of attacking Iran’s nuclear program have argued that Tehran hasn’t yet decided to make a nuclear weapon, and if it ever does, the U.S. will know in enough time to stop it before it succeeds. Therefore, there’s no reason for either America or Israel to take military action now. Yet how can either Americans or Israelis have confidence that U.S. intelligence will detect a nuclear breakout in time if, for the past seven years, it has either missed all the signs that Iran was continuing to make “technical progress” toward weaponization, or deliberately ignored them out of a desire to avert military action–a desire that, judging by both words and deeds, remains the administration’s top priority?

The answer, of course, is that they can’t. And the lesson for Israel is clear: It cannot rely on U.S. promises to stop Iran from getting nukes, because these promises are based on the faulty assumption that U.S. intelligence will uncover a “smoking gun”–the kind of irrefutable proof that can’t be argued away–in enough time to take action. Hence the day is coming closer when Israel will have to make a fatal decision: attack Iran itself, or learn to live with a nuclear Iran.

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