Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 6, 2014

The U.N.’s War on Religious Liberty

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child didn’t break any new ground when it issued a report criticizing the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse scandal in which priests were found to have abused large numbers of children while the church hierarchy protected the priests. The egregious nature of the scandal has been amply documented, as has the church’s shameful record in responding to the accusations. While it can be argued, as the UN Committee did, that more can be done, the fact is the church has already paid a terrible price both in terms of its reputation and the drain on its wealth because of the legal restitution it has paid to survivors. As investigations of these crimes continue, that price is likely to go higher and it is to be hoped that Pope Francis will ensure that the institution he leads will make good on its promises to create the necessary safeguards to make certain that the church will never again turn a blind eye to the victimization of children entrusted to its care.

But while the UN Committee was justified in speaking of the church’s past sins, the world body did not content itself with harsh rhetoric about the sexual abuse scandal. It went further, denouncing the Vatican for a number of its religious doctrines. As the New York Times reports:

The report, issued in Geneva, addressed issues far beyond child sexual abuse, taking the Vatican to task for its opposition to contraception, homosexuality and abortion in cases of child rape and incest. The committee even suggested that the church amend its canon laws to permit abortions for pregnant girls whose lives and health are at risk.

The views of the UN committee may represent the views of many associated with the world body and, indeed, perhaps, of the majority of Americans. But for a United Nations agency to demand that one of the world’s great religions change its beliefs in this manner is outrageous. The “suggestions” of the UN not only have nothing to do with the sexual abuse scandal, they represent a symptom of the contempt for religious freedom that is increasingly popular among global liberal elites, including some in the United States.

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The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child didn’t break any new ground when it issued a report criticizing the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse scandal in which priests were found to have abused large numbers of children while the church hierarchy protected the priests. The egregious nature of the scandal has been amply documented, as has the church’s shameful record in responding to the accusations. While it can be argued, as the UN Committee did, that more can be done, the fact is the church has already paid a terrible price both in terms of its reputation and the drain on its wealth because of the legal restitution it has paid to survivors. As investigations of these crimes continue, that price is likely to go higher and it is to be hoped that Pope Francis will ensure that the institution he leads will make good on its promises to create the necessary safeguards to make certain that the church will never again turn a blind eye to the victimization of children entrusted to its care.

But while the UN Committee was justified in speaking of the church’s past sins, the world body did not content itself with harsh rhetoric about the sexual abuse scandal. It went further, denouncing the Vatican for a number of its religious doctrines. As the New York Times reports:

The report, issued in Geneva, addressed issues far beyond child sexual abuse, taking the Vatican to task for its opposition to contraception, homosexuality and abortion in cases of child rape and incest. The committee even suggested that the church amend its canon laws to permit abortions for pregnant girls whose lives and health are at risk.

The views of the UN committee may represent the views of many associated with the world body and, indeed, perhaps, of the majority of Americans. But for a United Nations agency to demand that one of the world’s great religions change its beliefs in this manner is outrageous. The “suggestions” of the UN not only have nothing to do with the sexual abuse scandal, they represent a symptom of the contempt for religious freedom that is increasingly popular among global liberal elites, including some in the United States.

It is important to note that none of these beliefs has anything to do with the abuse of children or the toleration of sexual predators. The crimes of which some priests were accused were entirely unrelated to Catholic doctrine and, it must be emphasized, constituted a gross violation of the church’s beliefs. To imply anything to the contrary is a terrible libel that should be retracted.

One need not share the church’s views on homosexuality, contraception, or abortion to understand that when governments or world bodies such as the United Nations venture into the realm of what faiths may or may not practice or preach, it constitutes a mortal threat to religious liberty. Here in the United States we have seen a conflict over the Obama administration’s efforts to impose a mandate forcing religious institutions and their adherents to pay for services that offend their faith. If upheld by the courts, that ObamaCare mandate would constitute an intolerable infringement on the First Amendment rights of religious freedom from government intrusion.

But what the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has done here is to suggest that the beliefs of the Catholic Church on social issues somehow fall outside of the pale of the civilized world. One doesn’t have to delve too deeply into Europe’s dark history of religious persecution to see what happens when unpopular beliefs are branded in this manner. Just as Catholics are now advised what they may or may not believe about these issues, Jews are being told by some of the same liberal elites in Europe that religious practices such as circumcision or kosher slaughter may likewise be prohibited by law. Despite the fact that those issuing these pronouncements claim they are doing so in the name of the rights of children or some other seemingly laudable cause, such efforts are a well-worn shortcut to tyranny and the abrogation of religious liberty.

The church should unequivocally reject the UN Committee’s pronouncements about faith. So, too, should everyone who values and wishes to preserve freedom of religion for all people. 

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The Legend of George Kennan

Has there ever been a celebrated American official whose contribution to a successful policy has been more overrated than George Kennan? I can’t think of one. Kennan is, and it seems he will forever be, credited with crafting Harry Truman’s “containment” policy toward the Soviet Union. What actually happened–which Kennan tried to explain–was that Kennan provided the outline of an approach to foreign policy that Truman and various other advisors refashioned into a successful policy that Kennan deplored and never truly understood.

Whether it’s condescension toward Truman, a plain-speaking Midwesterner with no college degree, or fascination with the intellectualization of elite opinion whose supposed erudition frees it from the responsibility to be sound or successful, Kennan has been given this legacy against his will. I think it’s a combination of the two, but the latter–the intellectualization to the point of fetishization–is hard to ignore these days, ubiquitous as it is in the age of Obama. This is a president whose policies are disastrous but who was president of the Harvard Law Review and uses the phrase “permission structure” (“The phrase puzzled reporters,” explained a puzzled reporter) when dismissing the democratic process, so the assumption has always been that there’s a method to the madness.

Perhaps there is a method. But presidents make foreign policy, as Kennan learned the hard way. So while there might be a “doctrine” behind the policy, there isn’t likely to be a muse, even when there appears to be one. And that’s probably what Kennan would say to the suggestion, made in an otherwise shrewd assessment of Obama’s attitude toward the Middle East, that “the Kennan of Obama’s Middle East policy is Stephen Walt.” The column is from Lee Smith, the consistently incisive authority on the Middle East. Smith notes that Walt, whose “Israel lobby” blathering is sold as “realism,” has special concern about the way special relationships (like the U.S. has with Israel) can impede traditional balance-of-power strategy:

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Has there ever been a celebrated American official whose contribution to a successful policy has been more overrated than George Kennan? I can’t think of one. Kennan is, and it seems he will forever be, credited with crafting Harry Truman’s “containment” policy toward the Soviet Union. What actually happened–which Kennan tried to explain–was that Kennan provided the outline of an approach to foreign policy that Truman and various other advisors refashioned into a successful policy that Kennan deplored and never truly understood.

Whether it’s condescension toward Truman, a plain-speaking Midwesterner with no college degree, or fascination with the intellectualization of elite opinion whose supposed erudition frees it from the responsibility to be sound or successful, Kennan has been given this legacy against his will. I think it’s a combination of the two, but the latter–the intellectualization to the point of fetishization–is hard to ignore these days, ubiquitous as it is in the age of Obama. This is a president whose policies are disastrous but who was president of the Harvard Law Review and uses the phrase “permission structure” (“The phrase puzzled reporters,” explained a puzzled reporter) when dismissing the democratic process, so the assumption has always been that there’s a method to the madness.

Perhaps there is a method. But presidents make foreign policy, as Kennan learned the hard way. So while there might be a “doctrine” behind the policy, there isn’t likely to be a muse, even when there appears to be one. And that’s probably what Kennan would say to the suggestion, made in an otherwise shrewd assessment of Obama’s attitude toward the Middle East, that “the Kennan of Obama’s Middle East policy is Stephen Walt.” The column is from Lee Smith, the consistently incisive authority on the Middle East. Smith notes that Walt, whose “Israel lobby” blathering is sold as “realism,” has special concern about the way special relationships (like the U.S. has with Israel) can impede traditional balance-of-power strategy:

It is the focus on the impediment posed by these “special relationships” to realist balance-of-power policymaking that distinguishes Walt from virtually every other American in the realist school. Sure, former policymakers like Jim Baker have lamented the influence of Jewish Americans on American policymaking—but compared to Walt, Baker was a squish. It was Walt whose 2006 London Review of Books article “The Israel Lobby,” co-authored with University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, later expanded into a controversial book with the same title, first targeted the problem directly: The pro-Israel community needs to be cut down to size.

Unlike Kennan, a career diplomat, or Baker, a former secretary of state, Walt doesn’t have a formal role in government, or even any privileged access to this White House. But his ideas have nevertheless emerged at the core of a major shift in U.S. Middle East policy, which may come as a surprise to those who dismissed him as a fringe academic. The idea certainly isn’t pleasant for this columnist, who’s documented Walt’s dog-whistling blog posts meant to draw anti-Semites and anti-anti-Semites to his FP.com column, but it’s hard to dismiss his influence now. So, I tip my hat to the new George Kennan, for whether you love him or hate him, Stephen Walt has won the X sweepstakes.

Smith’s column is spot-on when describing the way the president relishes an opportunity to mute the pro-Israel voices in Washington and, when necessary, throw the occasional brushback pitch up and in. But the more encouraging aspect to the column is the memory of the Kennan-Truman collaboration it evokes–not the one of legend, but the real story.

Why did Kennan come to so dislike a policy with which he was credited? When Truman announced what became known as the Truman Doctrine, an appeal to Congress for funding to aid Greece and Turkey, the president said: “I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”

As Truman biographer Robert J. Donovan notes, “This was the epitome of containment, although not the beginning of it.” But in fact Kennan objected to the sentence on the grounds that it was universalist, not the unprincipled realism he so preferred. It was also ideological, at odds with Kennan’s perspective as well. Kennan was not the only advisor spooked by the commitment Truman was seeking to make on behalf of the United States, so why did that line, and that commitment, stay in the speech?

Because Truman understood that his audience–the people and especially their congressional representatives–were more comfortable with a policy that reflected their values. Americans didn’t care about the fate of the postwar Greek government nearly as much as they cared about democracy and liberty–ideas and ideals worth fighting for. Kennan’s realism rarely made room for ideology, and never made room for values. It was no coincidence that he also wasn’t particularly fond of popular democracy. He thought he knew better than the masses. He was wrong.

The same is true with Walt, Obama, and other such cynical realists. Walt’s conspiracist mindset may also animate the White House’s destructive approach to the Middle East, but it fails time and again to move Congress and the public away from our allies like Israel not because of some all-powerful congressional lobby, but because the people and their representatives believe that yes, actually, Western values and democratic politics are important. Contra Walt, Israel is most certainly a strategic ally. But why stop there? Israel and America share a moral bond too. Kennan would likely disapprove of such sentimentality. And he’d be every bit as wrong now as he was then.

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On the Eve of the Fourth Palestinian “No”

Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to orchestrate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has breathed new life into old arguments about West Bank settlements and the need for Israel to take risks for peace. Kerry’s clear advice to the Israelis that they must give the Palestinians what they want or find themselves boycotted and isolated is widely accepted as conventional wisdom by the foreign-policy establishment. The movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel assumes Israel’s foes will ultimately win because in the absence of peace, frustration about failed negotiations will cause the Jewish state to be portrayed as the new South Africa, a crumbling nation that will be brought to its knees by economic warfare.

Israel’s enemies have always underestimated its resiliency and this time is no exception. But the problem with many of the discussions about such boycotts is that they invariably ignore some basic facts about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. If, in fact, Israel is willing to give up almost all of the West Bank and allow the Palestinians their independence, that renders moot Kerry’s condescending advice echoed by his supporters in the media. The majority of Israelis are rightly concerned about the consequences of a West Bank withdrawal and the very real possibility that the Hamas terror state in Gaza will be replicated in any other land that the Jewish state surrenders.

But the key question that those, like Kerry, who are urging the Netanyahu government to do just that is not about the merits of a pact that would make the Jewish state more vulnerable. Rather, it is about what Kerry and his minions will do after the Palestinians once again say, “no.” After all, they’ve already done it three times. And, if news reports are correct, they may be on the verge of a fourth rejection of American-imposed terms in the wake of Israel putting an offer of 90 percent of the West Bank while being compensated for the remaining ten percent with land swaps inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, or other exchanges.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to orchestrate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has breathed new life into old arguments about West Bank settlements and the need for Israel to take risks for peace. Kerry’s clear advice to the Israelis that they must give the Palestinians what they want or find themselves boycotted and isolated is widely accepted as conventional wisdom by the foreign-policy establishment. The movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel assumes Israel’s foes will ultimately win because in the absence of peace, frustration about failed negotiations will cause the Jewish state to be portrayed as the new South Africa, a crumbling nation that will be brought to its knees by economic warfare.

Israel’s enemies have always underestimated its resiliency and this time is no exception. But the problem with many of the discussions about such boycotts is that they invariably ignore some basic facts about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. If, in fact, Israel is willing to give up almost all of the West Bank and allow the Palestinians their independence, that renders moot Kerry’s condescending advice echoed by his supporters in the media. The majority of Israelis are rightly concerned about the consequences of a West Bank withdrawal and the very real possibility that the Hamas terror state in Gaza will be replicated in any other land that the Jewish state surrenders.

But the key question that those, like Kerry, who are urging the Netanyahu government to do just that is not about the merits of a pact that would make the Jewish state more vulnerable. Rather, it is about what Kerry and his minions will do after the Palestinians once again say, “no.” After all, they’ve already done it three times. And, if news reports are correct, they may be on the verge of a fourth rejection of American-imposed terms in the wake of Israel putting an offer of 90 percent of the West Bank while being compensated for the remaining ten percent with land swaps inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, or other exchanges.

Though most in the news media treat this information as being only slightly more arcane than the details of the Peloponnesian Wars, the fact is, Israel has already offered the Palestinians an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem three times. And three times they refused to say yes to Israel. The first two refusals were straightforward “no’s” from Yasir Arafat in 2000 and 2001, who answered Ehud Barak’s peace offers with a terrorist war of attrition called the second intifada. The third time, Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas was so worried about being forced to say no again that he fled the U.S.-sponsored negotiations with Israel in 2008 as soon as the Israelis made their offer in order to avoid giving an answer at all.

If Abbas finds another reason to avoid accepting a generous deal that would give the Palestinians the independence they claim is their goal, it raises the question of how Israel’s critics will justify the BDS campaign that Kerry threatened the Jewish state’s punishment if an agreement is not reached. Will they dismiss Israel’s offers as insignificant or not worthy of an answer? Or will they claim the difference between 90 percent of the West Bank plus swaps and every inch of the territories that Israel won in a defensive war in 1967 is so significant that it justifies an economic war on the Jewish state, terrorism, or both?

The answer to those questions is yes to all. As was the case after 2000 and each time since then, apologists for the Palestinians will find a way to justify the indefensible and to rationalize the Palestinians’ inevitable resort to violence, in addition to international campaign bent on Israel’s delegitimization. But for the most part they will do what they have done since 2000 and merely ignore Israel’s offers of peace and consider the absence of an agreement as proof of the Jewish state’s sole responsibility for the continuation of the conflict.

The first time Israel sought to give the Palestinians the West Bank, Arafat’s answer confused the Israeli left-wing that staked its political life on the transaction. The government of Ehud Barak went to Camp David in the summer of 2000 determined to give the Palestinians an offer they couldn’t refuse. But when Arafat did refuse it, they hardly knew what to think. At a press event I covered in the fall of 2000, Shlomo Ben Ami, Israel’s foreign minister conveyed his shock at the way his effort to satisfy the Palestinian desire for independence had somehow led to yet another bloody conflict. Yet he said there was a silver lining to these tragic events since at least the world would now know which side wanted peace and which had chosen war. More than 13 years later, I still don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at his naive faith in international public opinion.

As we now know, rather than undermine the Palestinian narrative of victimization those events only increased international support for their position and criticism of Israel. That was repeated after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 when, again, an Israeli effort to make peace was repaid in blood as the evacuated territory was transformed into a launching pad for Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli civilians.

The prime obstacle to peace remains the Palestinian political culture that continues to view Israel’s existence as a crime and considers Tel Aviv, let alone the blocs of communities along the old border or in Jerusalem’s suburbs, to be as much of an “illegal settlement” as the most remote hilltop holdout of Jewish extremists in the West Bank. In the absence of a change in that culture that will allow Abbas to sign a peace treaty without a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees and recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state, there is little chance that the Netanyahu government’s offer of 90 percent of the West Bank will be accepted. Nor is a slightly more generous formula likely to do the trick. As they did in 2000, 2001, and 2008, the Palestinian leadership seems to be preparing their public for continued conflict rather than for an acceptance of an accord that would force them to give up their dream of Israel’s complete annihilation.

Rather than twisting Netanyahu’s arm to do what it his country has already tried to accomplish in the past—trade land for the non-credible promise of peace—Israel’s critics should be thinking about how they will react to the fourth Palestinian “no.” Unfortunately, the odds are that most will barely notice it when it  happens and will simply continue blaming Israel. Indeed, that’s exactly what the Palestinians—who know that’s what happened the first three times they rejected Israeli offers of peace—are counting on.

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Drones Should Follow the Threat

The news from the Wall Street Journal that the Obama administration is looking to end drone strikes in Pakistan by 2018–the end of Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif’s current term in office–is not terribly surprising. President Obama has spoken often, most recently in his State of the Union address, about his desire to shift away from a “permanent war footing” and, as part of that shift, to reduce the use of drone strikes, which hit new highs during the early years of his administration.

If only our enemies were moving off a war footing too. But they’re not. In Pakistan groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Pakistani Taliban remain more threatening than ever, even if al-Qaeda central has been weakened, and there is scant cause to think that the Pakistani state is interested in, or capable of, dealing with them on its own. Indeed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency is in cahoots with many of these organizations, so it is more foe than friend in this struggle against terror. Drone strikes are certainly not a cure-all for the terrorist threat, as I have written in the past, but they are a valuable tool–and one that the U.S. should not give up lightly.

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The news from the Wall Street Journal that the Obama administration is looking to end drone strikes in Pakistan by 2018–the end of Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif’s current term in office–is not terribly surprising. President Obama has spoken often, most recently in his State of the Union address, about his desire to shift away from a “permanent war footing” and, as part of that shift, to reduce the use of drone strikes, which hit new highs during the early years of his administration.

If only our enemies were moving off a war footing too. But they’re not. In Pakistan groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Pakistani Taliban remain more threatening than ever, even if al-Qaeda central has been weakened, and there is scant cause to think that the Pakistani state is interested in, or capable of, dealing with them on its own. Indeed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency is in cahoots with many of these organizations, so it is more foe than friend in this struggle against terror. Drone strikes are certainly not a cure-all for the terrorist threat, as I have written in the past, but they are a valuable tool–and one that the U.S. should not give up lightly.

Especially when we are dramatically reducing our troop levels in Afghanistan, drones remain one of the few effective ways to strike at our enemies and those of our allies. Indeed the administration would be well advised to expand drone strikes, at least temporarily, within Pakistan to target the Quetta Shura of the Afghan Taliban which, for fear of offending Pakistani sensibilities, has been exempt from drone strikes before. With the Quetta Shura facing less military pressure in Afghanistan, following our troop drawdown, this would be one way to keep this organization off balance.

The question the administration should be addressing is not how quickly it can eliminate drone strikes in Pakistan but how quickly it can expand drone strikes to other areas where al-Qaeda has taken root–in particular western Iraq and northern and eastern Syria. This area, which crosses the Iraq-Syria border, has become a jihadist stronghold in the past year and it is a threat not just to regional governments but to the U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has just testified that there are 26,000 jihadist fighters in Syria alone, including 7,000 foreigners, and that some of them are plotting against the American homeland.

Neither the Syrian nor the Iraqi government has shown much ability to address the problem. In fact, we don’t want the Syrian government to address the problem because Bashar Assad’s preferred approach to counterinsurgency is to perpetuate war crimes. The Iraqi government isn’t as bad but it, too, favors a blunt force approach that usually backfires.

That is why I am so concerned about the administration’s plan to sell Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles to Baghdad. Those weapons are as likely to be used against Sunni political foes of Prime Minister Maliki as they are against true al-Qaeda terrorists. I would have more confidence in U.S.-operated drones, although there is a question of where they would be based–Iraq? Turkey? Jordan? Israel? Liberated parts of Syria? Saudi Arabia?

Whatever the case, there is an urgent need for action to stop al-Qaeda from developing secure sanctuaries in Syria and Iraq, and drone strikes, assuming that local bases could be established, could be an effective tool in this fight if they are based on good intelligence. If the U.S. is going to shift part of its drone infrastructure out of Afghanistan–and, for the next few years anyway, this is probably a mistake–it should be shifted to the Middle East where the threat is growing every day.

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The Administration’s Tangled Web on Jerusalem

The State Department has condemned plans by the Jerusalem municipality to issue building permits for 558 new homes in Jewish neighborhoods of the city. This reaction only highlights the administration’s confused and messy policy on Jerusalem, which has become a tangled web of inconsistencies, inaccuracies, double standards, and even outright hostility to Jewish rights in Jerusalem, or indeed such basic things as Israel’s right to enforce the law in its own capital.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said of the building plans, “Our position on Jerusalem is clear. We oppose any unilateral actions by either party that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem.” This of course is untrue, both in regards to the claim that the administration opposes equally moves by “either party” and in relation to the suggestion that these building plans somehow pertain to an attempt to “prejudge final status issues.”

First, it’s far from true that the State Department opposes unilateral moves by both sides. When it comes to claims in Jerusalem, they only condemn one side, the Jewish side. The municipality issues housing permits in east Jerusalem all the time, for both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Yet, it is only the permits for the Jewish neighborhoods that provoke any kind of reaction from the Obama administration. Furthermore, illegal Arab building is rife throughout many parts of Jerusalem. As in any municipality, the law must be upheld and construction without planning permission cannot go on unabated. Yet, in the past when the law has been enforced and illegal structures have been demolished, the State Department has protested Israel’s right to uphold the law. In this way the same State Department that claims to oppose unilateral actions by both sides has actively supported unilateral building by the Arab side, while opposing building homes for Jews–in Jerusalem.

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The State Department has condemned plans by the Jerusalem municipality to issue building permits for 558 new homes in Jewish neighborhoods of the city. This reaction only highlights the administration’s confused and messy policy on Jerusalem, which has become a tangled web of inconsistencies, inaccuracies, double standards, and even outright hostility to Jewish rights in Jerusalem, or indeed such basic things as Israel’s right to enforce the law in its own capital.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said of the building plans, “Our position on Jerusalem is clear. We oppose any unilateral actions by either party that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem.” This of course is untrue, both in regards to the claim that the administration opposes equally moves by “either party” and in relation to the suggestion that these building plans somehow pertain to an attempt to “prejudge final status issues.”

First, it’s far from true that the State Department opposes unilateral moves by both sides. When it comes to claims in Jerusalem, they only condemn one side, the Jewish side. The municipality issues housing permits in east Jerusalem all the time, for both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Yet, it is only the permits for the Jewish neighborhoods that provoke any kind of reaction from the Obama administration. Furthermore, illegal Arab building is rife throughout many parts of Jerusalem. As in any municipality, the law must be upheld and construction without planning permission cannot go on unabated. Yet, in the past when the law has been enforced and illegal structures have been demolished, the State Department has protested Israel’s right to uphold the law. In this way the same State Department that claims to oppose unilateral actions by both sides has actively supported unilateral building by the Arab side, while opposing building homes for Jews–in Jerusalem.

Second, the very notion that this is somehow about “prejudging final status issues” is absurd. All of the building permits are for housing in existing Jewish neighborhoods. This isn’t about placing new neighborhoods in otherwise Arab areas of Jerusalem. More importantly, the WikiLeaks documents revealed that in 2008 the Palestinians already accepted that the “final status” of these neighborhoods would be Israeli. Its not as if the people at the State Department aren’t aware of this, so why they would insist on picking a fight over this while supposedly trying to play the role of evenhanded mediator is no minor question.

Besides, even when the Israelis agreed to a ten-month building freeze for the last round of fruitless negotiations in 2009, that freeze was never supposed to extend to Jerusalem. This time around, rather than freeze building in West bank Jewish communities, Israel has been forced to release a cohort of terrorists just to get the Palestinians to the negotiating table. Now the U.S. government seems to be demanding a building freeze as well.

There is one other noteworthy point here about the final status of Jerusalem. Last week both John Kerry and Martin Indyk were treating everyone to a tantalizing sneak-peek of Kerry’s glittering proposals for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These, we were being told, were about to be put to the two parties for them to either accept or reject as part of Kerry’s negotiation deadline due in April. Then it became apparent that that the Palestinians really weren’t joking when they said they were never going to accept the Jewish state. (Who could have guessed?) Now Psaki is denying that these same proposals even exist. Speaking yesterday Psaki asserted “nobody knows what is in the framework (agreement), there is not a final framework.”

Anyway, in the framework that now never existed, we were told that the aspect relating to Jerusalem would be vague, but that the Palestinians were going to have part of Jerusalem for a capital, although by all accounts not enough of it for Abbas’s liking. So it seems that Kerry has been sent back to the drawing board to come up with something better on that. Meanwhile the State Department would appear to be trying to create a smokescreen and a distraction by condemning Israeli building in Israeli neighborhoods that even the Palestinians say will remain part of Israel.   

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Christie Hamstrung By Incumbency

The contradiction at the heart of Chris Christie’s successful reelection campaign was that he needed a convincing victory (or at least a victory) to keep his 2016 hopes going strong, yet an actual second term as governor was bound to be an obstacle to those same presidential aspirations in a host of predictable ways. One example was the fact that as governor, he would be restricted in raising much-needed campaign funds from Wall Street due to pay-to-play rules. This had local media speculating, with some justification, that even if Christie won he would be forced to resign to run for president.

Another, more prosaic obstacle would be the traditional second-term blues that term-limited political executives deal with routinely. The irony of Christie’s popularity in a blue state was that being on the ballot for governor made his ideas and policies more attractive than they might otherwise be in New Jersey. That precipitated a certain amount of cooperation from state Democrats, who were no match for Christie. But without him on the ballot anymore, Democrats in the state legislature could much more easily bog the governor down in every conceivable funding fight since lame-duck status drains politicians of at least some of their political capital.

Even before “bridgegate,” that is, Christie’s second term was likely to be a slog. The bridge-closing scandal, however, is not only adding to it but exacerbating the general weakness of his being in office while the Democrats’ most likely nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, isn’t. The headline of the New York Times piece detailing these efforts is a bit obvious: “Democrats Grab for a Chance to Halt Christie’s Rise.” Yes, well, no kidding. But the extent of the effort is illuminating:

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The contradiction at the heart of Chris Christie’s successful reelection campaign was that he needed a convincing victory (or at least a victory) to keep his 2016 hopes going strong, yet an actual second term as governor was bound to be an obstacle to those same presidential aspirations in a host of predictable ways. One example was the fact that as governor, he would be restricted in raising much-needed campaign funds from Wall Street due to pay-to-play rules. This had local media speculating, with some justification, that even if Christie won he would be forced to resign to run for president.

Another, more prosaic obstacle would be the traditional second-term blues that term-limited political executives deal with routinely. The irony of Christie’s popularity in a blue state was that being on the ballot for governor made his ideas and policies more attractive than they might otherwise be in New Jersey. That precipitated a certain amount of cooperation from state Democrats, who were no match for Christie. But without him on the ballot anymore, Democrats in the state legislature could much more easily bog the governor down in every conceivable funding fight since lame-duck status drains politicians of at least some of their political capital.

Even before “bridgegate,” that is, Christie’s second term was likely to be a slog. The bridge-closing scandal, however, is not only adding to it but exacerbating the general weakness of his being in office while the Democrats’ most likely nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, isn’t. The headline of the New York Times piece detailing these efforts is a bit obvious: “Democrats Grab for a Chance to Halt Christie’s Rise.” Yes, well, no kidding. But the extent of the effort is illuminating:

Democratic Party operatives have churned out 11 different videos depicting Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey as a revenge-happy gridlock maker who cannot keep his story straight.

They are unleashing attacks on any Republican in the country who dares to defend him publicly, from a potential Senate candidate in New Hampshire to a New York congressman.

And they are coordinating strategy at the highest levels of the party with a new standing agenda item on conference calls: how to undermine Mr. Christie, a top Republican prospect for reclaiming the White House.

As much as Mr. Christie’s current troubles are about the stumbling of a rising star in the Republican Party, they are driven, too, by emboldened Democrats who rue their passivity four months ago as Mr. Christie scored a landslide re-election victory, startling the party by securing support from traditionally left-leaning voter blocs.

Now, sensing a chance to redefine Mr. Christie for a national audience, those Democrats are determined to transform him into a toxic figure, whose name is synonymous with the ugliest elements of politics: partisan bullying and backslapping cronyism.

Christie was long seen by Democrats as the most formidable GOPer in 2016, so this is no surprise. But they’ve made clear that they aren’t taking the scandal’s recent toll on his presidential hopes for granted. Democrats seem to be betting that the scandal’s timing–at the beginning of the term–is giving the attention span-deprived public ample opportunity to forget about it two years from now.

They are also hoping to use it as a national distraction for the upcoming elections. ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout and constant stream of bad news means the Democrats will, for the most part, want to talk about anything else (aside from those who want to tout “fixes” to the law). Some of that will be transparently fabricated and tiresome, like the White House’s manufactured war on women. But in case voters are smarter than Democrats give them credit for, the left will need a backup plan. The bridgegate fiasco is a genuine scandal, as well as one that could still produce revelations.

But the specific focus on 2016 is yet another example of the permanent campaign. Or, as I wrote last month, the “end of the presidential campaign.” I was arguing that the possibility that Hillary Clinton might announce her intentions after this year’s midterm elections means there is no longer any real break in the process. That has relevance to the Christie story as well, because not only are the Democrats seeking to make the Christie scandal about 2016 (understandable, since their localized accusations are falling to pieces), but the fact that the Democrats’ preferred candidate is out of office and being supported by a “shadow campaign” gives them time and flexibility Christie simply doesn’t have as a sitting governor.

Whether they can succeed in making Christie toxic in other states’ races remains to be seen. But it’s no surprise they are exploiting his constraints as a sitting governor to try to prevent him from holding even higher office.

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Demographics and the GOP

At a recent lunch, several friends and I discussed the future of the Republican Party. I argued that the challenges facing the Republican Party, at least at the presidential level, are significant and fairly fundamental. 

After our conversation, I cobbled together some data that underscore my concern–data based on previously published works, including an essay in COMMENTARY I co-authored with Michael Gerson, articles by Jeffrey Bell in the Weekly Standard and Ron Brownstein in National Journal, an essay by my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Henry Olsen in National Affairs, and portions of the book Double Down by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Below are the data points along with links to the sources (note: the paragraphs are taken from the original sources, in some cases with very minor changes for the purposes of clarification). Readers might find this of interest.

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At a recent lunch, several friends and I discussed the future of the Republican Party. I argued that the challenges facing the Republican Party, at least at the presidential level, are significant and fairly fundamental. 

After our conversation, I cobbled together some data that underscore my concern–data based on previously published works, including an essay in COMMENTARY I co-authored with Michael Gerson, articles by Jeffrey Bell in the Weekly Standard and Ron Brownstein in National Journal, an essay by my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Henry Olsen in National Affairs, and portions of the book Double Down by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Below are the data points along with links to the sources (note: the paragraphs are taken from the original sources, in some cases with very minor changes for the purposes of clarification). Readers might find this of interest.

Barack Obama v. Mitt Romney

  • In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by 126 electoral votes (332 to Romney’s 206) and won the popular vote by nearly 5 million. Mr. Obama is the first president to achieve the 51 percent mark in two elections since President Eisenhower and the first Democrat to do so since Franklin Roosevelt. He did this despite losing white voters by a larger margin than any winning presidential candidate in American history.
  • Of the 12 “battleground” states, Obama won 11—eight of them by a margin of more than 5 percentage points. Remarkably, this meant that if there had been a uniform 5 point swing toward the Republicans in the national popular vote margin—that is, had Romney won the popular vote by 1.1 percentage points instead of losing it by 3.9—Obama would still have prevailed in the Electoral College, winning 23 states and 272 electoral votes. (Source: Jeffrey Bell)
  • Neil Newhouse, Mitt Romney’s pollster, ran through the exit poll data, explaining that Chicago had dramatically pulled off its coalition-of-the-ascendant play–turning out an electorate even more diverse than in 2008, not less, as Newhouse assumed would be the case. Nationally, the white vote fell from 74 to 72 percent, while the black proportion held stead at 13. Participation among Hispanics rose from 8 to 10 percent, among women from 53 to 54 percent, and among young voters from 18 to 19 percent. Obama’s share of each of those blocs ranged from commanding to overwhelming: 93 percent of African Americans, 71 percent of Latinos, 55 percent of women (and 67 percent of unmarried women), and 60 percent of young voters. (Source: Mark Halperin and John Heilemann)
  • In 2012 the minority share of the vote rose to 28 percent, 2 percentage points above 2008 and more than double the 12 percent level for Bill Clinton’s first victory in 1992. (Source: Ron Brownstein

Historic/Demographic Trends

  • In the last two decades of Democratic dominance, 18 states and the District of Columbia have voted Democratic six out of six times. These currently have 242 electoral votes, which is quite close to the 270 needed to win the presidency. There are 13 states that have voted Republican in every election since 1992, but they total just 102 electoral votes. (Source: Jeffrey Bell)
  • Out of the last six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 210 for the Republican. During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to the Democrats’ 113. In three of those contests, the Democrats failed to muster even 50 electoral votes. (Source: Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner)
  • White voters, who traditionally and reliably favor the GOP, have gone from 89 percent of the electorate in 1976 to 72 percent in 2012. (This decline is partially an artifact of a change in the way the Census Bureau classifies Hispanics, who used to be counted among whites before being placed in a separate category.) Mitt Romney carried the white vote by 20 points. If the country’s demographic composition were still the same in 2012 as it was in 2000, he would now be president. If it were still the same as it was in 1992, he would have won in a rout. (Source: Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner)
  • The 2012 election was clearly decided by the non-white vote for the first time in American history. About 72 percent of the electorate in the 2012 election was white, according to the exit poll. Romney carried the white vote 59 percent to 39 percent, a 20-point lead and the fourth highest for a Republican since the advent of exit polling. No presidential candidate in American history had ever carried 59 percent of the white vote and lost. Yet Romney lost the election by four points because he lost the non-white vote by 63 points. (Source: Henry Olsen)
  • From 1996 to 2012, according to census figures, the white share of the eligible voting population (citizens who are older than 18) has dropped about 2 percentage points every four years, from 79.2 percent to 71.1 percent; over that same period, whites have declined as a share of actual voters from 83 percent to 74 percent (according to census figures) or even 72 percent (according to the exit polls). With minorities expected to make up a majority of America’s 18 and younger population in this decade, all signs point toward a continued decline in the white share of the eligible voter population—which suggests the GOP would have to marshal heroic turnout efforts to avoid further decline in the white vote share. If the electorate’s composition follows the trend over the past two decades, minorities would likely constitute 30 percent of the vote in 2016. (Source: Ron Brownstein
  • If minorities reach 30 percent of the vote next time, and the 2016 Democratic nominee again attracts support from roughly 80 percent of them, he or she would need to capture only 37 percent of whites to win a majority of the popular vote. In that scenario, to win a national majority, the GOP would need almost 63 percent of whites. Since 1976, the only Republican who has reached even 60 percent among whites was Reagan (with his 64 percent in 1984). Since Reagan’s peak, the Democratic share of the white vote has varied only between 39 percent (Obama in 2012 and Clinton in the three-way election of 1992), and 43 percent (Obama in 2008 and Clinton in 1996). (Source: Ron Brownstein)
  • In 2016, if there is not a dramatic reduction in African-American turnout, a Republican presidential candidate will need to get 60 percent of the white vote, plus a record-high share among each portion of the non-white vote (African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and others) to win a bare 50.1 percent of the vote. (Source: Henry Olsen)
  • Every Democratic nominee since 1980 has run better among single than married whites. In 1984, married couples represented 70 percent of all white voters; by 2012, that number slipped to 65 percent. (The decline has been especially sharp among married white men, who have voted more Republican than married women in each election since 1984.) Another trend steepening the grade for the GOP is growing secularization. Since 2000, Democrats have averaged a 32-point advantage among whites who identify with no religious tradition, and the share of them has increased from 15 percent in 2007 to 20 percent by 2012, according to studies by the Pew Research Center. (Source: Ron Brownstein)

My purpose with this post is to present the empirical data, not to interpret it, except to say this: Republican problems are not superficial, transient, or cyclical. The trends speak for themselves. The GOP therefore needs to articulate a governing vision and develop a governing agenda that can reach groups that have not traditionally been supportive of it. Republicans, at least when it comes to presidential elections, have a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists.

For the GOP to revivify itself and enlarge its appeal, Republicans at every level will have to think creatively even as they remain within the boundaries of their core principles. It isn’t an easy task, but it’s certainly not an impossible one. (Bill Clinton did this for the Democratic Party in 1992 and Tony Blair did this for the Labour Party in 1997.) It would of course help if those speaking for the party were themselves irenic rather than angry, inviting rather than off-putting, individuals of conviction who also possess the gift of persuasion and a certain grace. “You know what charm is,” Albert Camus wrote in The Fall, “a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question.”

Whether Republicans understand the nature of the challenges they face–and if they do how they intend to deal with them and who will emerge from their ranks to lead them–will go a long way toward determining the future of their party and their country.

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The PA’s Self-Inflicted Financial Wounds

Since writing last week’s post on the hypocrisy of trying to “help the Palestinians” by throwing actual Palestinians out of work, I’ve discovered more support for my claim that ordinary Palestinians agree with me on this issue. The Forward and the Christian Science Monitor both interviewed Palestinian employees of SodaStream, the now-famous Israeli company with a plant in a West Bank settlement, and were told emphatically that these employees opposed a boycott of the company that might cost them their jobs. The Monitor also spoke with Palestinians not employed by SodaStream, who said that far from wanting the company boycotted, they wished they could trade their own jobs for SodaStream’s better pay and shorter commute.

BDS supporters have a simple answer to this: Israel, they charge, is strangling the Palestinian economy; just force it out of the West Bank, and Palestinians will create plenty of jobs to replace Israeli companies. The problem with this argument is that the real impediment to Palestinian job creation isn’t Israel, but the Palestinians’ own government. And nothing better illustrates this than the case of Palestinian-Canadian investor Mohamed Al Sabawi. 

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Since writing last week’s post on the hypocrisy of trying to “help the Palestinians” by throwing actual Palestinians out of work, I’ve discovered more support for my claim that ordinary Palestinians agree with me on this issue. The Forward and the Christian Science Monitor both interviewed Palestinian employees of SodaStream, the now-famous Israeli company with a plant in a West Bank settlement, and were told emphatically that these employees opposed a boycott of the company that might cost them their jobs. The Monitor also spoke with Palestinians not employed by SodaStream, who said that far from wanting the company boycotted, they wished they could trade their own jobs for SodaStream’s better pay and shorter commute.

BDS supporters have a simple answer to this: Israel, they charge, is strangling the Palestinian economy; just force it out of the West Bank, and Palestinians will create plenty of jobs to replace Israeli companies. The problem with this argument is that the real impediment to Palestinian job creation isn’t Israel, but the Palestinians’ own government. And nothing better illustrates this than the case of Palestinian-Canadian investor Mohamed Al Sabawi. 

In December, the Palestinian Authority summarily arrested Sabawi and held him for eight hours. Two weeks earlier, on November 18, he had publicly called for ousting PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and his arrest stemmed from a complaint about this criticism filed by a member of Abbas’s Presidential Guard.

Moreover, immediately after Sabawi publicly criticized Abbas, the Palestinian Land Authority mysteriously stopped registering and parceling a large amount of land that a Sabawi-owned company had bought for resale. The company was told, unofficially, that this was on direct orders from Abbas’s bureau. As a further penalty, Abbas’s Presidential Guard canceled all the insurance policies it had purchased for its members from another Sabawi company.

Sabawi is the kind of investor one would think the PA would court. His Ahlia Insurance Group employs hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank, while the land resale project was arguably even more valuable to the PA. That project, run by Sabawi’s Union Construction Investment company, had three goals: making it easier and cheaper for ordinary Palestinians to buy land by sparing them the byzantine registration process (which can take years); developing parts of the West Bank distant from Ramallah, where housing has become very expensive; and putting unregistered land out of Israel’s reach by registering it as private property. The idea was to buy up large tracts of land and shepherd it through the registration process–which the company could do more cheaply thanks to economies of scale–draft master plans for construction and obtain the requisite PA permits, then parcel the land into quarter-acre lots and sell them to ordinary Palestinians. But with the registration process indefinitely suspended, nobody wants to buy from UCI anymore, and the company has suffered heavy losses.

Sabawi’s son Khaled also owns a company, Mena Geothermal, whose “green energy” air conditioners won an international prize last year. But Khaled has now transferred his firm from the West Bank to Jordan, and says his father is gradually liquidating his West Bank assets as well.

In short, with its own two hands, the PA has driven lucrative businesses out of the West Bank–businesses that would have provided it with much-needed jobs and tax revenue. As Khaled said bitterly, any talk about bolstering the Palestinian economy under such circumstances is “nonsense.”

Such self-inflicted disasters have nothing to do with Israel, and ordinary Palestinians are honest enough to admit it: As one of SodaStream’s Palestinian employees told the Forward when asked about the claim that “the occupation” thwarts Palestinian development, “I think we have to stop putting all our faults on the Israeli side.”

It’s long past time for the West to be equally honest. If well-meaning Westerners really want to improve conditions in the PA, they need to finally put the onus where it belongs: not on Israel, but on the Palestinians’ own dysfunctional government.

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Friedman’s Immoral Intifada

After the publication earlier this week of the New York Observer’s scathing feature about the New York Times opinion section, the focus of much of the behind-the-scenes dishing in the piece—foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman—as if on cue, produced another vivid illustration of why his reputation is in tatters, both in his own newsroom and beyond. Friedman’s cliché-ridden postulations of the conventional wisdom have become a bi-weekly self-parody and an embarrassment not only to liberalism but also to journalism. But yesterday’s column is a particularly good example of why it’s now officially open season for critics of his work and the paper’s opinion section that he calls home.

The column, entitled “The Third Intifada,” is but his latest iteration of an all-too-familiar Friedman rant on why Israeli settlements in the West Bank are wrong and will ultimately undermine support for the Jewish state. He claims the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel is, in effect, the third uprising against the Jewish state, and one that will have a better chance of succeeding than the earlier two, perpetrated by the Palestinians alone. Speaking up in support of Secretary of State John Kerry’s threats of more boycotts should the Netanyahu government fail to satisfy the Palestinians, Friedman says the reason this intifada will succeed where the others failed is that this one, supported by leftists in Europe and in academic swamps in the United States, makes Israelis feel “morally insecure.”

There is an argument that can be made to support the proposition that Israel’s policy of building Jewish communities throughout the territories was a mistake. But Friedman does not make this argument. Friedman’s column falls apart because of two basic flaws that are typical of his work whenever he writes on Israel. One is that he perennially ignores or dismisses the Palestinian role in the equation. The other is that even as he gives the boycotters the moral high ground he concedes—albeit buried at the bottom of his column—that many of them are not motivated by morality or even by concern for the plight of the Palestinians but by simple anti-Semitism. That single point renders his entire column both self-contradictory and patently illogical. In other words, you needn’t be a supporter of settlements or even of Israel to understand that this column—like so many others he has written—is a jumble of clichés that sheds no light on the subject other than to highlight the author’s unfailing anti-Israel bias and utter moral confusion.

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After the publication earlier this week of the New York Observer’s scathing feature about the New York Times opinion section, the focus of much of the behind-the-scenes dishing in the piece—foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman—as if on cue, produced another vivid illustration of why his reputation is in tatters, both in his own newsroom and beyond. Friedman’s cliché-ridden postulations of the conventional wisdom have become a bi-weekly self-parody and an embarrassment not only to liberalism but also to journalism. But yesterday’s column is a particularly good example of why it’s now officially open season for critics of his work and the paper’s opinion section that he calls home.

The column, entitled “The Third Intifada,” is but his latest iteration of an all-too-familiar Friedman rant on why Israeli settlements in the West Bank are wrong and will ultimately undermine support for the Jewish state. He claims the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel is, in effect, the third uprising against the Jewish state, and one that will have a better chance of succeeding than the earlier two, perpetrated by the Palestinians alone. Speaking up in support of Secretary of State John Kerry’s threats of more boycotts should the Netanyahu government fail to satisfy the Palestinians, Friedman says the reason this intifada will succeed where the others failed is that this one, supported by leftists in Europe and in academic swamps in the United States, makes Israelis feel “morally insecure.”

There is an argument that can be made to support the proposition that Israel’s policy of building Jewish communities throughout the territories was a mistake. But Friedman does not make this argument. Friedman’s column falls apart because of two basic flaws that are typical of his work whenever he writes on Israel. One is that he perennially ignores or dismisses the Palestinian role in the equation. The other is that even as he gives the boycotters the moral high ground he concedes—albeit buried at the bottom of his column—that many of them are not motivated by morality or even by concern for the plight of the Palestinians but by simple anti-Semitism. That single point renders his entire column both self-contradictory and patently illogical. In other words, you needn’t be a supporter of settlements or even of Israel to understand that this column—like so many others he has written—is a jumble of clichés that sheds no light on the subject other than to highlight the author’s unfailing anti-Israel bias and utter moral confusion.

Friedman is right about one thing. The BDS movement must be seen in the same historic context as the previous intifadas and, indeed, all the other Arab wars waged against Israel since its birth in 1948. The purpose of BDS is not to shame Israelis into giving up a bit more land than they’ve already offered the Palestinians, who refused three offers of an independent state including almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Like mainstream Palestinian nationalism, BDS seeks Israel’s total destruction.

Anti-Semitism isn’t merely an aspect of BDS: it is its essence. Those who single out the one Jewish state in the world for moral opprobrium that they choose not to impose on any other country—including those with monstrous rights violations—is nothing but an expression of bigotry. Those who would deny the Jews what they grant to all others—the right to sovereignty in their homeland and the right to self-defense—are bigots, not human-rights activists. To grant such a movement, as Friedman does, the mantle of the late Nelson Mandela, as the cutting edge of human-rights activism isn’t merely obtuse; it’s an abomination.

The sinister motives of the BDS movement ought to have been a red flag to Kerry and his sidekick Friedman that its actions are beyond the pale. Instead, they offer their tacit support in the unconscionable belief that an American threat of isolation will weaken Israel’s resolve to drive a hard bargain with the Palestinians. Also like Kerry, who regards Palestinian incitement and murderous attacks on Israelis as not worthy of his attention, Friedman treats the behavior and the demands of the Palestinian Authority in this conflict as beneath his notice. Yet as long as the Palestinians continue to demand a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees and refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn—measures that would signify their willingness to end rather than to merely pause the conflict—any discussion of settlement freezes are pointless.

Friedman’s latest demand for a freeze in building in the settlements is all the more deceitful because he knows that previous freezes have failed to persuade the Palestinians either to negotiate in good faith or to reduce their deadly violence. The focus on the building is also disingenuous because Friedman is well aware that almost all new building is taking place either in Jerusalem or within settlement blocs that he knows perfectly well Israel will retain in the event of a peace treaty. Rather than encouraging peace, columns such as Friedman’s that focus on such freezes merely encourage the Palestinians to think they can get the U.S. to back their demand for the eviction of hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, most of whom are living in Jewish neighborhoods or in suburbs of Jerusalem that have existed for decades.

Treating such building or the anger of many Israelis at Kerry’s presumptions as the moral equivalent of the Palestinian Authority’s honoring terrorist murderers or broadcasting hate speech is merely further proof of the profundity of the columnist’s moral confusion. Unlike Friedman, Israelis have been forced to pay the closest, daily attention to what the Palestinians have been doing and saying during the past 20 years of peace processing. That’s why serious-minded Israelis pay no attention to the Times‘s foreign-policy guru. Unfortunately for his newspaper, as the Observer noted, the rest of the world, not to mention his New York Times colleagues, have also caught on to him.

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How China Undercuts International Order in East Asia

Since Beijing established its controversial air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over a large part of the East China Sea last November, the Obama administration has done everything possible to avoid a political confrontation. While U.S. military jets are reported to have ignored the ADIZ and continued regular flights, Vice President Biden very conspicuously refused during his December visit to Beijing to demand that China roll back the zone. Moreover, the State Department advised U.S. civilian airliners to comply with Beijing’s demands. Washington’s actions are part of a larger trend of failing to uphold international order in East Asia.

This week, America’s top commander in the Pacific, Admiral Samuel Locklear, told reporters that the Chinese military has been “acting professionally” in the skies near the disputed Senkaku Islands. Unfortunately, news reports provided little clarity as to just what the Chinese are doing, professionally or otherwise, and where and how often U.S. jets are flying. This is a problem because the Obama administration has consistently refused to explain just why China’s particular ADIZ both conflicts with international law and is highly destabilizing.

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Since Beijing established its controversial air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over a large part of the East China Sea last November, the Obama administration has done everything possible to avoid a political confrontation. While U.S. military jets are reported to have ignored the ADIZ and continued regular flights, Vice President Biden very conspicuously refused during his December visit to Beijing to demand that China roll back the zone. Moreover, the State Department advised U.S. civilian airliners to comply with Beijing’s demands. Washington’s actions are part of a larger trend of failing to uphold international order in East Asia.

This week, America’s top commander in the Pacific, Admiral Samuel Locklear, told reporters that the Chinese military has been “acting professionally” in the skies near the disputed Senkaku Islands. Unfortunately, news reports provided little clarity as to just what the Chinese are doing, professionally or otherwise, and where and how often U.S. jets are flying. This is a problem because the Obama administration has consistently refused to explain just why China’s particular ADIZ both conflicts with international law and is highly destabilizing.

First, China’s ADIZ is ostensibly applied to both civilian and military flights for purposes of identification, filing of flight plans, and the like. All other ADIZ’s, such as those of the United States, apply only to civilian flights, and only in the case that there is a valid concern that they are acting in a threatening manner towards U.S. territorial airspace. As pointed out by James Kraska, formerly of the U.S. Naval War College, among others, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which China is a signatory, allows “freedom of overflight” on the high seas, including through exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

Beijing is thus trying to change the status quo by warping the commonly accepted definition of an ADIZ. The U.S. has never fully explained that only China is attempting to control the activities of both civilian and foreign military aircraft by expanding the scope of an air defense zone. This is a prime example of what analysts mean when they talk about international “norms” and the danger to them of revisionist states like China.

Second, China’s ADIZ conflicts with the 1947 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, which states that interception of civilian aircraft over sovereign territory is permissible only if “reasonable grounds” exist to assume that such flight was not innocent, and that states “must refrain from resorting to the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight.”

Yet in announcing its ADIZ, Beijing said that “emergency defensive measures” would be taken against any aircraft that did not comply with its demands for identification in the international airspace that happened to fall within the ADIZ, regardless of the innocence of the flight. Beijing is thus both conflating sovereign and international airspace and violating the spirit of international law by pre-justifying the use of force. A State Department full of lawyers might have enjoyed pounding this point home, but little if anything has been said about it.

In addition, Beijing is ignoring the fact that all airspace is already divided into “Flight Identification Regions” for the management of civilian flights and is agreed to through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Beijing’s demand that innocent civilian airliners provide information when traveling through its ADIZ violates air traffic practice established more than 50 years ago. Again, Washington has been silent on this point.

Third, Washington should have repeatedly pointed out that only China has established an ADIZ that overlaps with those of other countries. Indeed, a primary reason for China’s zone is to extend its ownership claims over the contested Senkaku Islands, which are controlled by Japan. Thus, Beijing set up its ADIZ over Japan’s own zone, which was established decades ago. In addition, China overlapped territory claimed by South Korea. In response, Seoul also extended its ADIZ, so that the East China Sea now has three overlapping air defense zones.

The Obama administration has refused to provide the specifics about how destabilizing this is. Instead, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel merely lamented that what the U.S. was most concerned about was that China established its ADIZ in a precipitous manner without preconsultation. While U.S. military leaders have talked about the potential for accidental confrontation, the real dangers are much broader. In refusing to defend customary practice, international law, and common sense, the administration is playing its part in undermining all of them. It is a steep price to pay for not wanting to antagonize an already antagonistic competitor.

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