Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 16, 2014

Why Anti-Zionist Jews Are a Minority

It is a principle of journalism that news consists of those events that are out of the ordinary. The old cliché is that when man bites dog, it’s news. A dog biting a man is not. Thus, the conceit of the New York Times Beliefs column feature on Friday met that basic standard for newsworthiness. A story about religious Jews who actively oppose the existence of the State of Israel is one in which it must be conceded that the subjects are unusual.

The Pew Research Center of U.S. Jews published in October reported that 91 percent of Orthodox Jews, 88 percent of Conservative Jews, and even 70 percent of those who identified themselves as Reform Jews are either very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel. That means any discussion about observant Jews who are anti-Zionists is, by definition, one about a very tiny minority. But considering that three of the five Jews whose views are featured in the piece seem to fall into the category of Modern Orthodox, of whom 99 percent told Pew they were very or somewhat attached to Israel with one percent saying “not very attached” and zero percent “not at all attached,” the trio constitute a sample of a group that is not merely a minority but one so small that it is statistically insignificant.

Once that is understood, it becomes clear that one of the main failings of the article is not only the fact that its author has no interest in challenging their views but that it fails to put that fact in proper perspective. The Orthodox trio and the one Conservative Jew and one Reconstructionist movement rabbi (whose views may not be all that out of the ordinary among that small left-leaning demographic) highlighted are a peculiar minority. But the willingness of the paper to give them such favorable attention illustrates once again the falsity of the notion that it takes courage for Jews to oppose Israel. To the contrary, as was made clear last week by the controversy over two Manhattan rabbis who defied many of the congregants by signing a letter denouncing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), those Jews who publicly denounce Israel can always look forward to the applause of the mainstream media.

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It is a principle of journalism that news consists of those events that are out of the ordinary. The old cliché is that when man bites dog, it’s news. A dog biting a man is not. Thus, the conceit of the New York Times Beliefs column feature on Friday met that basic standard for newsworthiness. A story about religious Jews who actively oppose the existence of the State of Israel is one in which it must be conceded that the subjects are unusual.

The Pew Research Center of U.S. Jews published in October reported that 91 percent of Orthodox Jews, 88 percent of Conservative Jews, and even 70 percent of those who identified themselves as Reform Jews are either very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel. That means any discussion about observant Jews who are anti-Zionists is, by definition, one about a very tiny minority. But considering that three of the five Jews whose views are featured in the piece seem to fall into the category of Modern Orthodox, of whom 99 percent told Pew they were very or somewhat attached to Israel with one percent saying “not very attached” and zero percent “not at all attached,” the trio constitute a sample of a group that is not merely a minority but one so small that it is statistically insignificant.

Once that is understood, it becomes clear that one of the main failings of the article is not only the fact that its author has no interest in challenging their views but that it fails to put that fact in proper perspective. The Orthodox trio and the one Conservative Jew and one Reconstructionist movement rabbi (whose views may not be all that out of the ordinary among that small left-leaning demographic) highlighted are a peculiar minority. But the willingness of the paper to give them such favorable attention illustrates once again the falsity of the notion that it takes courage for Jews to oppose Israel. To the contrary, as was made clear last week by the controversy over two Manhattan rabbis who defied many of the congregants by signing a letter denouncing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), those Jews who publicly denounce Israel can always look forward to the applause of the mainstream media.

While this quintet are entitled to their views about Israel and appear to be none the worse for wear for being so determined to flout the views of their co-religionists, two aspects of the article are particularly objectionable. One is the article’s assumption that there is something remarkable about the fact that they are able to go about their business while living in a Jewish community and attending synagogue without much trouble. The second is the failure of the piece to acknowledge that the views their subjects express are inherently bigoted.

It should be acknowledged that the article is correct when it states that prior to 1948, support for Zionism was not universal among American Jews. Many Jews, especially those affiliated with “classic” Reform temples, viewed it as a threat to the rights of American Jews to be treated as equal citizens in the United States. The reason the adherents of that view declined from minority status to statistical insignificance is that Israel’s creation did no such thing. To the contrary, the creation of a Jewish state only a few years after the Nazis and their collaborators had killed nearly one third of the Jews on the planet engendered the respect of other Americans as well as enhancing the self-esteem of every Jew in the world whether he or she was religious or a Zionist.

Israel gained its independence because the Jews had a right to sovereignty in their ancient homeland and not as compensation for the Holocaust. The sweat and the blood of the Jews who built Israel and fought to defend it earned that independence. But the Holocaust made it abundantly clear, even to those who had never previously given the idea their support, that without a Jewish state to defend them, Diaspora Jews who had not been lucky enough to make it the United States or the other English-speaking countries that had not succumbed to the Nazis would always be at the mercy of violent anti-Semitism. That was just as true of Jews who lived in Muslim and Arab countries (who were forced to flee their homes after 1948) as it was of the Jews of Europe. Theodor Herzl’s understanding of the inevitable fate of a homeless Jewry—a thesis that he adopted after seeing Alfred Dreyfus being degraded in Paris as a mob shouted, “Death to the Jews”—was sadly vindicated by the events of the first half of the 20th century.

Though their neighbors and fellow congregants treat them with the toleration that Israel’s foes do not extend to the Jewish state, the common failing of the five anti-Zionist Jews in the Times story is their failure to account for this basic historical lesson that the rest of their community understands. One need not support every action of the government of the State of Israel or have no sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians to understand that not only does Israel have a right to exist but that its fall would endanger the lives of its people and, by extension, Jews everywhere. The notion put forward by one of the subjects that “non-statist Zionism” would succeed was exploded several decades ago by the refusal of Arab opponents of the Jewish presence in Israel/Palestine to accept Jews on any terms.

Nor does the article ask its subjects why the Jews, of all peoples, should be asked to forgo the right to their own country when no other nation is required to do so. Cynthia Ozick famously wrote that universalism is the parochialism of the Jews. But it takes a particularly perverse kind of universalism to say that Jews should have fewer rights than other peoples.

But what is particularly disingenuous about the Times article is the unwillingness to hold its subjects accountable for the thinly veiled anti-Semitism that often masquerades as anti-Zionism in contemporary debates. Groups like Jewish Voices for Peace—which is supported by one of the quintet—aren’t content to support liberal Israelis or to criticize Israel’s government. Instead it seeks to wage economic warfare on Israel in order to destroy it. If the only imperfect state that is seen as worthy of such a fate is the one Jewish one—rather than the many others founded on national or religious principles—then it is clear that the driving force behind anti-Zionism is prejudice and not concern about human rights. Websites like Mondoweiss, to which one of the five contributes, similarly trades in anti-Jewish stereotypes in its campaign against Zionism.

What the overwhelming majority of Jews know that these five people and their adoring audience at the Times don’t is that opposition to Israel’s existence—as opposed to criticism of it—is taking a stand against the right of the Jewish people to life. While there is a portion of the ultra-Orthodox community that also holds to anti-Zionism because of their own bizarre interpretation of Judaism (which strangely goes unmentioned in the article), non-Haredim who do so are fighting common sense, history, and the basic principles of fairness. If those who adopt such positions are a minority, it is not due to any resistance on the part of the majority to ethics or concern for others but because of the implausibility of their beliefs.

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It’s Not Just Regime vs. Al-Qaeda in Syria

A false assumption that too often permeates Washington policy deliberation is that debate can continue endlessly without regard to the situation on the ground. Take Syria: There are two poles to the Syria debate. The first—most vocally represented by Sen. John McCain—seeks to support the opposition materially, while the second prefers to do nothing. The sides have not altered their positions over the past three years despite a radically changing situation on the ground. Three years ago it might have made sense to support the Syrian opposition, but that was before the influx of foreign jihadis radicalized the opposition. Those meeting U.S. diplomats in Istanbul or Geneva simply do not represent the power on the ground. To provide the Syrian opposition with a qualitative military edge would be to risk such capabilities falling into the hands of al-Qaeda. (That does not mean doing nothing, but rather considering direct action against Syrian air power, if neutralizing Syria’s Air Force becomes the goal of U.S. policy.)

The situation on the ground has changed in other ways. The violence in Syria has not been random; much has been conducted in pursuit of ethnic and sectarian cleansing. Three years into its civil war, Syria is as different from its pre-war self as Yugoslavia was three years into its civil war in the 1990s. Jamestown Foundation’s Nicholas Heras, for example, has published a study examining a potential Assad statelet in Syria.

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A false assumption that too often permeates Washington policy deliberation is that debate can continue endlessly without regard to the situation on the ground. Take Syria: There are two poles to the Syria debate. The first—most vocally represented by Sen. John McCain—seeks to support the opposition materially, while the second prefers to do nothing. The sides have not altered their positions over the past three years despite a radically changing situation on the ground. Three years ago it might have made sense to support the Syrian opposition, but that was before the influx of foreign jihadis radicalized the opposition. Those meeting U.S. diplomats in Istanbul or Geneva simply do not represent the power on the ground. To provide the Syrian opposition with a qualitative military edge would be to risk such capabilities falling into the hands of al-Qaeda. (That does not mean doing nothing, but rather considering direct action against Syrian air power, if neutralizing Syria’s Air Force becomes the goal of U.S. policy.)

The situation on the ground has changed in other ways. The violence in Syria has not been random; much has been conducted in pursuit of ethnic and sectarian cleansing. Three years into its civil war, Syria is as different from its pre-war self as Yugoslavia was three years into its civil war in the 1990s. Jamestown Foundation’s Nicholas Heras, for example, has published a study examining a potential Assad statelet in Syria.

Other changes provide new opportunities not recognized in a policy debate that seems stuck on repeat. Last month, I spent several days in Syria’s northeastern Hasakah province, home to Syria’s Kurdish minority, thousands of Syriac Christians, and many Arabs as well. While the United States refuses to deal with the multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian administration set up in this region largely out of deference to Turkey, which does not like the idea of another federal Kurdish region on its borders, the Kurds, Arabs, and Christians of Rojava have done a remarkable job ousting al-Qaeda-affiliated elements and other radicals, and putting in place a functioning administration. I described some of this in a Wall Street Journal piece last Friday.

It seems remarkable that with the disaster that is Syria today, the White House would not jump at a chance to support a stable, secular, and secure region that is relative pro-American. But that is exactly what President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have decided to do. The residents of Hasakah, or Rojava as Kurds call the region, don’t ask for much: just an end to the blockade imposed not only by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but also by Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan (whose president, Masud Barzani, sees Rojava as potential political competition) so that they can received donated medicine and rice. The region’s Popular Protection Units (YPG) and their Syriac Christian and Arab corollaries have successfully neutralized the regime and pushed by radical Islamist elements without international assistance. Should the West decide to support Syria’s secular elements even further, they might stabilize portions of Syria under a federal model, much like in Iraq. That isn’t a magic formula but, as in Iraq, perhaps embracing stability in some provinces can be a useful first step if achieving stability in all provinces is not immediately possible. Rather than simply regurgitate three-year-old talking points about arming the opposition, perhaps it would be more productive to look at the current situation on the ground and support Rojava.

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The UAW’s Waterloo

The United Auto Workers Union suffered a devastating defeat on Friday, when its attempt to organize the workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga failed on a vote of 712-626 (53-47 percent). The company had agreed not to resist the organizing effort and gave the union access to the plant and its workers. If the union couldn’t win an election under those conditions, it is a powerful sign of how weak, indeed toxic, unions have become in recent years. If the UAW couldn’t win this election, it seems doubtful it can win any election.

To be sure, unions have always been weak in the South where all the states in the old Confederacy have right-to-work laws in place. That, of course, is precisely the reason why most plants built by foreign automobile manufacturers in this country in recent years have been built there. (Low taxes and mild winters are two other powerful reasons, of course.)

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The United Auto Workers Union suffered a devastating defeat on Friday, when its attempt to organize the workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga failed on a vote of 712-626 (53-47 percent). The company had agreed not to resist the organizing effort and gave the union access to the plant and its workers. If the union couldn’t win an election under those conditions, it is a powerful sign of how weak, indeed toxic, unions have become in recent years. If the UAW couldn’t win this election, it seems doubtful it can win any election.

To be sure, unions have always been weak in the South where all the states in the old Confederacy have right-to-work laws in place. That, of course, is precisely the reason why most plants built by foreign automobile manufacturers in this country in recent years have been built there. (Low taxes and mild winters are two other powerful reasons, of course.)

But they have become increasingly weak everywhere. In the early 1950s union membership in the private sector peaked at about 35 percent of the work force. Today it is about 6 percent. Manufacturing, the heart and soul of the union movement, has become much more efficient, and therefore less labor-intensive. And much of the unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, such as in garment manufacturing, have moved offshore. The UAW membership peaked at 1.5 million in the 1970s. Today it is 338,000.

Only in the public sector, which should never have been made subject to collective bargaining under the Wagner and Taft-Hartley Acts, is union membership increasing. And right-to-work laws are spreading. In 2012 both Indiana and even Michigan—the home of the UAW—became right-to-work states.

But as the American economy has undergone profound change in the last sixty years, labor law has not kept pace. The Wagner Act dates to 1935 and the Taft-Hartley Act to 1947. Like the unions themselves they are dinosaurs. So why do the unions continue to have such a large place in American politics while they have an ever-shrinking place in the American economy? The answer, of course, is the “mother’s milk of politics,” money. Unions are the single biggest source of funds for Democratic causes and candidates.

According to Opensecrets.org, of the top ten political donors in the last 25 years, six are unions. And they all overwhelmingly donated to Democratic causes and candidates. The UAW, for instance, has donated $41.7 million over the last 25 years. That’s well over twice what the infamous Koch brothers have donated, mostly to Republican causes. (The Koch brothers actually gave 8 percent of their money to Democratic causes and candidates.)

Of the UAW’s donations, 71 percent went to Democrats and zero percent went to Republicans. The other 29 percent went to organizations not formally affiliated with either party but it’s a safe bet they are left-leaning. Unions can also mobilize large numbers of “volunteers” for phone banks and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Thus, unions have such a disproportionate influence over the Democratic Party for the simplest of reasons: they buy it. How much longer that will continue is a good question. There is no reason to think that the long-term decline in the private sector will not continue. And in places where union dues are no longer collected by governments (such as in Wisconsin), public sector union members have been leaving in droves. Obviously, they don’t think they have been getting value for their money. That is also a trend that is likely to spread.

The days of the union movement, it seems, are numbered. But it’s not likely to go quietly.

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Dissolve the Congressional Turkey Caucus

Any congressman who remains in the “Caucus on U.S. Turkey Relations and Turkish Americans,” is either asleep at the switch or does not mind using their position as a shield for a government that:

  • Supports Hamas
  • Helps Iran evade sanctions
  • Turns a blind eye to jihadis transiting its territory
  • Finances and perhaps supplies al-Qaeda affiliates inside Syria
  • Peddles cheap anti-American and anti-Semitic conspiracies
  • Systematically eviscerates the free press and seeks China-style censorship over the Internet
  • Undercuts NATO security by threatening to compromise software to the Chinese

The cherry on top now is a recording (start at 0:30) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that emerged on Friday that appears to show Erdoğan interceding with the mayor of Istanbul on behalf of the business interests of Yasin al-Qadi. Al-Qadi, of course, is designated by the U.S. government as an al-Qaeda financier. After reports suggested that both Cuneyt Zapsu, a top advisor to Erdoğan, and Zapsu’s mother had made donations to al-Qadi, Erdoğan shrugged off the matter saying he believed in al-Qadi as he believed in himself. Now, it seems that Erdoğan’s partnership with this apparent al-Qaeda-financier went much deeper.

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Any congressman who remains in the “Caucus on U.S. Turkey Relations and Turkish Americans,” is either asleep at the switch or does not mind using their position as a shield for a government that:

  • Supports Hamas
  • Helps Iran evade sanctions
  • Turns a blind eye to jihadis transiting its territory
  • Finances and perhaps supplies al-Qaeda affiliates inside Syria
  • Peddles cheap anti-American and anti-Semitic conspiracies
  • Systematically eviscerates the free press and seeks China-style censorship over the Internet
  • Undercuts NATO security by threatening to compromise software to the Chinese

The cherry on top now is a recording (start at 0:30) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that emerged on Friday that appears to show Erdoğan interceding with the mayor of Istanbul on behalf of the business interests of Yasin al-Qadi. Al-Qadi, of course, is designated by the U.S. government as an al-Qaeda financier. After reports suggested that both Cuneyt Zapsu, a top advisor to Erdoğan, and Zapsu’s mother had made donations to al-Qadi, Erdoğan shrugged off the matter saying he believed in al-Qadi as he believed in himself. Now, it seems that Erdoğan’s partnership with this apparent al-Qaeda-financier went much deeper.

Many congressmen joining the Congressional Turkey Caucus are well-meaning. They may believe Turkey to be a strong ally, a NATO partner, and a force for stability. They are wrong: that was the Turkey of a decade ago, not Turkey today. Given the Pakistani government’s support for terror groups, flirtation with China, and anti-American incitement, few congressmen would affix their names to a Congressional Pakistan Caucus, yet continuing in the Turkey Caucus has the same impact. If congressmen want to support a secular, pro-Western, Muslim majority state that seeks partnership with the United States, they might join the Azerbaijan caucus instead. But to remain in the Turkey Caucus affirms the worst behavior of Erdoğan and his cronies and ultimately undercuts U.S. national security.

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Middle Eastern Studies Association Mocks Academic Freedom

When the American Studies Association and the professional organizations of other ethnic studies associations moved recently to boycott Israeli academic organizations for various political reasons, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the professional organization of academics studying and teaching about the Middle East from its ancient empires to the present day, was silent–never mind that such a boycott would go to the heart of a field in which academic discourse and debate about the Middle East is crucial.

But now that various politicians—Maryland State Senator Joan Carter Conway, Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver, and Peter Roskam and Dan Lipinski in the U.S. House of Representatives—have introduced a bill to prevent public money from funding academic participation in organizations participating in the boycott, MESA is crying foul.

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When the American Studies Association and the professional organizations of other ethnic studies associations moved recently to boycott Israeli academic organizations for various political reasons, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the professional organization of academics studying and teaching about the Middle East from its ancient empires to the present day, was silent–never mind that such a boycott would go to the heart of a field in which academic discourse and debate about the Middle East is crucial.

But now that various politicians—Maryland State Senator Joan Carter Conway, Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver, and Peter Roskam and Dan Lipinski in the U.S. House of Representatives—have introduced a bill to prevent public money from funding academic participation in organizations participating in the boycott, MESA is crying foul.

Here are letters that MESA President Nathan Brown sent to the politicians mentioned above. In each case, he wrote, “It is clear to us that whatever one’s opinion of the campaign to boycott Israeli academic institutions, the principles of academic freedom protect the right of faculty and students to speak and act for, as well as against, such boycotts.”

What arrogance. Public money dedicated to education isn’t meant to be a slush fund for professors’ pet political causes. The American Studies Association is supposed to be about American studies. If it evolves from its academic purpose to focus more on academic grandstanding than on exchange of knowledge, then professors should not be able to use taxpayer funds for a trip to Los Angeles. Likewise, if the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association isn’t going to focus on Native American and indigenous studies, then why should any professor operating out of the public dole attend its annual shindig in Austin? They can pay out of pocket if it’s that important to them, just as I pay out of pocket with my own money when I make a charitable contribution or should I wish to make a political donation. The same holds true for the Association of Asian American Studies, which will hold its next conference in San Francisco.

If Nathan Brown and MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom are serious about academic freedom and scholarly discourse, then perhaps they might consider that they should not be in the business of political boycotts to begin with, regardless of target.

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The Predictable Consequences of Retreat

It’s pretty predictable: When the U.S. leaves a power vacuum, other states rush to fill it. We just may not be happy with the results.

Case in point: Syria.

The Obama administration has not been willing to do much to help the rebels, pointedly ignoring their pleas for anti-aircraft missiles and no-fly zones to shut down Bashar Assad’s murderous air force. So enter the Saudis to provide “manpads” (i.e., portable anti-aircraft weapons) to the rebels.

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It’s pretty predictable: When the U.S. leaves a power vacuum, other states rush to fill it. We just may not be happy with the results.

Case in point: Syria.

The Obama administration has not been willing to do much to help the rebels, pointedly ignoring their pleas for anti-aircraft missiles and no-fly zones to shut down Bashar Assad’s murderous air force. So enter the Saudis to provide “manpads” (i.e., portable anti-aircraft weapons) to the rebels.

Although the Saudis claim to be providing these weapons only to secular elements of the Free Syrian Army, it’s hard to have much confidence in their track record. Recall how they armed the most extreme jihadists in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Even if the missiles in question go only to “moderate” rebel fighters, the danger that they will fall into the wrong hands goes up. And that could be a catastrophe in the making, given what an enticing target civil airliners, such as those that land at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, are for terrorists armed with manpads.

That is why the Obama administration has been warning against supplying these portable and deadly missiles to the rebels. But if it had really wanted to stop the arms flow, the U.S. should have offered an alternative method of taking down Assad’s airpower–most likely in the form of a no-fly zone enforced by the U.S. and its allies. Failing that, the Saudis are taking matters into their own hands–yet another reason to be concerned about the consequences of American retreat.

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An Intellectually Honest Liberal Academic

During the period of the impeachment of Bill Clinton, there were few intellectually honest liberals to be found. George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley was one of them.

Professor Turley is a liberal who was deeply troubled by President Clinton’s abuse of power and violations of federal law. I recall having had lunch with Professor Turley and William Bennett during that period, and being mightily impressed with Turley’s independence of judgment.

Some 15 years later, I still am.

Professor Turley appeared on FNC’s The Kelly File to discuss his concerns about President Obama’s willingness, even eagerness, to “rewrite or ignore or negate federal law.” Mr. Obama’s repeated and unilateral actions amount to “the usurpation of authority that’s unprecedented in this country.” The liberal “cult of personality” that has grown up around the president worries Professor Turley, who says we are “turning a blind eye to a fundamental change in our system.”

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During the period of the impeachment of Bill Clinton, there were few intellectually honest liberals to be found. George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley was one of them.

Professor Turley is a liberal who was deeply troubled by President Clinton’s abuse of power and violations of federal law. I recall having had lunch with Professor Turley and William Bennett during that period, and being mightily impressed with Turley’s independence of judgment.

Some 15 years later, I still am.

Professor Turley appeared on FNC’s The Kelly File to discuss his concerns about President Obama’s willingness, even eagerness, to “rewrite or ignore or negate federal law.” Mr. Obama’s repeated and unilateral actions amount to “the usurpation of authority that’s unprecedented in this country.” The liberal “cult of personality” that has grown up around the president worries Professor Turley, who says we are “turning a blind eye to a fundamental change in our system.”

“I think many people will come to loathe that they remained silent during this period,” according to Turley.

For now I don’t want to go into the merits of what Turley is arguing (which are certainly important). I simply want to point out that he is someone who is willing to make arguments that cut against his political predilections. In that sense, he’s an impressive exception to those who engage in “confirmation bias” (a topic that Jonathan Haidt has written about often and eloquently). He is not blind to the failures of those whose politics he’s in agreement with. Rather than simply pushing a partisan political agenda, Professor Turley is willing to call out his own side for violations of basic constitutional principles–and to do so in a thoughtful, informed, and civilized manner.

In that sense, Jonathan Turley is a model for the rest of us.  

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Is Now the Time to Punish Egypt?

An experts’ Working Group on Egypt comprised of serious and, indeed, quite distinguished foreign-policy practitioners have released an open letter to President Obama advising a tougher line toward Egypt’s provisional government. They write:

The idea that there will be a trade-off between democracy and stability in Egypt is false. A realistic assessment of what is happening in Egypt—a massive crackdown on members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, mounting repression of peaceful critics of the coup, societal polarization and troubling vigilante violence, persistent demonstrations, escalating militant attacks on police and military targets—shows that repressive, security-dominated rule will not produce long-, medium-, or even short-term stability. Especially since the events of 2011, the populace is more mobilized, more involved in politics, and more divided than ever. In these circumstances, pluralistic democratic institutions, and an opportunity for freedom of speech and assembly, will be necessary to allow citizens to struggle peacefully to resolve those divisions through compromise and democratic decision-making.

They also suggest that U.S. assistance be contingent on Egypt “end[ing] the broad security and media campaign against those who peacefully oppose the actions of the interim government and the military, releas[ing] the thousands of opposition group members, supporters, and activists now detained on questionable charges and with disregard for their due-process rights, and allow[ing] all citizens not implicated in violence to participate fully in political life,” as well as Egyptian authorities ending the use of live ammunition against protestors, a cessation of repression against peaceful dissidents, and the dropping of investigations into young activists, former parliamentarians, journalists, and academics, as well as an end to the media campaigns fanning the flames of anti-Americanism.

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An experts’ Working Group on Egypt comprised of serious and, indeed, quite distinguished foreign-policy practitioners have released an open letter to President Obama advising a tougher line toward Egypt’s provisional government. They write:

The idea that there will be a trade-off between democracy and stability in Egypt is false. A realistic assessment of what is happening in Egypt—a massive crackdown on members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, mounting repression of peaceful critics of the coup, societal polarization and troubling vigilante violence, persistent demonstrations, escalating militant attacks on police and military targets—shows that repressive, security-dominated rule will not produce long-, medium-, or even short-term stability. Especially since the events of 2011, the populace is more mobilized, more involved in politics, and more divided than ever. In these circumstances, pluralistic democratic institutions, and an opportunity for freedom of speech and assembly, will be necessary to allow citizens to struggle peacefully to resolve those divisions through compromise and democratic decision-making.

They also suggest that U.S. assistance be contingent on Egypt “end[ing] the broad security and media campaign against those who peacefully oppose the actions of the interim government and the military, releas[ing] the thousands of opposition group members, supporters, and activists now detained on questionable charges and with disregard for their due-process rights, and allow[ing] all citizens not implicated in violence to participate fully in political life,” as well as Egyptian authorities ending the use of live ammunition against protestors, a cessation of repression against peaceful dissidents, and the dropping of investigations into young activists, former parliamentarians, journalists, and academics, as well as an end to the media campaigns fanning the flames of anti-Americanism.

It’s hard to argue with some of the recommendations, although why such recommendations should be limited to Egypt is another question. After all, while Egyptian incitement against the United States is acute, this was also the case under Hosni Mubarak. It is a fact of life in the Palestinian Authority and in Turkey and in Jordan. Perhaps it is time simply to make state incitement a factor more broadly in U.S. aid, which should never be considered an entitlement.

There is a logical problem in calling for a cessation of investigations into activists—whether they are young or not should be beside the point—and then calling on full participation for citizens not implicated in violence. As U.S. authorities know from investigating terror in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it is not enough to catch the person carrying a bomb; it is far more important to uproot the network of the person who is carrying that explosive, and that requires extensive investigation.

In the run-up to the Iraq war and then during the time of the Coalition Provisional Authority, there was a constant debate—though many policymakers did not see it in such terms—between those who believed democracy in the process should trump democracy in the end result, versus those who prioritized democracy in the end result.

A superficial reading of events in Egypt gives great reason for sympathy toward the Muslim Brotherhood. After all, Mohamed Morsi won a democratic election but the Egyptian military ousted him before he could serve out his full term. The real situation is more complex: Morsi dispensed with democratic checks and balances shortly after taking power and, in November 2012, sought to place himself and his decrees above judicial review. Behind the scenes, the Brotherhood also worked to coordinate with terrorist groups like Hamas and, perhaps in the Sinai, even some al-Qaeda-affiliated groups which had taken root.

While the initial Tahrir Square protests had targeted first Egypt’s interior minister and, as the Mubarak regime bungled its response, ultimately Mubarak himself, Morsi’s dictatorial tendencies had antagonized the broad swatch of the Egyptian public to the point that when the military acted—after Morsi ignored their calls to compromise—they moved in.

Morsi is gone, and much of the Muslim Brotherhood is underground. They should be. In the year they wielded real power rather than simply the rhetorical power of opposition they demonstrated that they had lied not only to Western diplomats and journalists but also their own members. They had not evolved, either in ideology or structure, and so young Egyptians who had flocked to them seeking an alternative to the corrupt and dictatorial Mubarak discovered that their input was not welcome, and that they were expected only to listen and obey.

In addition, the Egyptian constitution that Morsi imposed—also in a less-than-democratic fashion by claiming he would not abandon autocratic powers until it passed—was noxious toward women, minorities, and others.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi could prove to be as corrosive a figure toward democracy as was Morsi. It is unclear whether he is prepared to reverse the crony capitalism that was the hallmark of the Mubarak regime or whether he will cut deals with the army in exchange for their continued support. Rather than simply shout into the wind and try to turn back time, however, it would be far more productive to focus on the transition moving forward. It is not productive for the United States to focus its diplomatic pressure on restoring power to a movement like the Muslim Brotherhood that is as hostile to the United States as it is to democracy. Rather than restore American credibility in the region, the continued floundering support for the Muslim Brotherhood is antagonizing the few allies the United States has left in the region, from the United Arab Emirates to Morocco.

Democracy is important, and for too long successive administrations and almost everyone in the State Department treated it as a throwaway line rather than something to really prioritize. Rather than treat the provisional government and all that comes after it as illegitimate, U.S. pressure would be far better spent ensuring that elections are free and fair, not only on election day but in the campaign that precedes it. At the same time, it is long past time that the United States recognizes that there are two faces to the Muslim Brotherhood: That which it presents to diplomats and journalists, and that by which it operates. A choice between democracy in the process or democracy as a result may seem unfortunate to make, but reality intrudes. Faced with such a decision, democracy as the result should be the ultimate goal. It is unfortunate that the signatories of the Egypt Working Group letter seem not to think so.

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