Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 2014

Breaking Faith Is No “Profile In Courage”

John F. Kennedy may well be, as syndicated columnist Drew Pearson famously asserted back in 1957, the only person to win a Pulitzer Prize for a ghostwritten book. But the memory of his (or Ted Sorenson’s, assuming you don’t believe that faithful JFK courtier’s steadfast denials of authorship) Profiles in Courage is kept alive every year by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which hands out an award to a politician they deem to be in the tradition of the book’s celebration of U.S. senators that bucked the tide of public opinion to do what they thought was right. Their latest choice—former President George H.W. Bush—is one that ought to appeal to both sides of the political aisle. Bush 41 is probably the closest thing we have these days to a consensus beloved elder statesman. Unlike every other living president, the elder Bush stopped being a lightening rod soon after leaving office. Given the hyper-partisanship of our times and the way that every president that followed him has spawned a derangement syndrome named in their honor, he may well be the last such figure to be viewed this way for the foreseeable future.

But the Foundation’s award has nevertheless spawned a rather spirited argument. The notion that Bush deserves to be honored for violating his “read my lips: no new taxes” pledge is one that ought to be fiercely disputed. At stake here is not so much the 41st president’s honor, but the sanctity of political promises as well as the principle of fiscal prudence that was at the heart of his shameless and ultimately self-destructive decision to repudiate that famous promise. To claim, as does the Foundation, that Bush was right to abandon conservative principles isn’t merely a liberal cheer to a GOP leader’s choice to frustrate the voters who put him in office. It is a celebration of a longstanding tradition in which those who hold office are supposed to disregard the views of the mob in favor of the public interest.

That’s the sort of view with which many of our Founders might have sympathized (not to mention British parliamentarian and conservative icon Edmund Burke), but as often as not it is also the refuge of scoundrels. The point about Bush’s “courage” in raising taxes as well as the decisions taken by many, if not most of the examples cited in Profiles, is that they were dead wrong.

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John F. Kennedy may well be, as syndicated columnist Drew Pearson famously asserted back in 1957, the only person to win a Pulitzer Prize for a ghostwritten book. But the memory of his (or Ted Sorenson’s, assuming you don’t believe that faithful JFK courtier’s steadfast denials of authorship) Profiles in Courage is kept alive every year by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which hands out an award to a politician they deem to be in the tradition of the book’s celebration of U.S. senators that bucked the tide of public opinion to do what they thought was right. Their latest choice—former President George H.W. Bush—is one that ought to appeal to both sides of the political aisle. Bush 41 is probably the closest thing we have these days to a consensus beloved elder statesman. Unlike every other living president, the elder Bush stopped being a lightening rod soon after leaving office. Given the hyper-partisanship of our times and the way that every president that followed him has spawned a derangement syndrome named in their honor, he may well be the last such figure to be viewed this way for the foreseeable future.

But the Foundation’s award has nevertheless spawned a rather spirited argument. The notion that Bush deserves to be honored for violating his “read my lips: no new taxes” pledge is one that ought to be fiercely disputed. At stake here is not so much the 41st president’s honor, but the sanctity of political promises as well as the principle of fiscal prudence that was at the heart of his shameless and ultimately self-destructive decision to repudiate that famous promise. To claim, as does the Foundation, that Bush was right to abandon conservative principles isn’t merely a liberal cheer to a GOP leader’s choice to frustrate the voters who put him in office. It is a celebration of a longstanding tradition in which those who hold office are supposed to disregard the views of the mob in favor of the public interest.

That’s the sort of view with which many of our Founders might have sympathized (not to mention British parliamentarian and conservative icon Edmund Burke), but as often as not it is also the refuge of scoundrels. The point about Bush’s “courage” in raising taxes as well as the decisions taken by many, if not most of the examples cited in Profiles, is that they were dead wrong.

The choice of Bush was cheered in particular by New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal, whose piece about it not only sought to perpetuate the myth that raising taxes ensured the country’s subsequent prosperity but also engaged in snark at the expense of the younger President Bush and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. But in this case Norquist had the better argument. Having been elected on a pledge to fight back against the tax and spend inertia of the federal leviathan, Bush 41’s spineless surrender to the conventional wisdom imposed on him by the liberal media establishment and a Democratic-controlled Congress dedicated to opposing any reform was more than just your everyday political betrayal. It was an act of contempt for not only his party’s core political constituency but also for the whole point of the Reagan Revolution on which he had hitched a ride in 1980. By raising taxes Bush didn’t ensure the nation’s well being, but he did postpone the day of reckoning for the political establishment that was unable to see that the system had to be changed. The betrayal of the pledge he made when accepting his party’s nomination for the presidency was a low point in his career.

But it bears pointing out that in that sense he is no different from many of the senators lauded by JKF/Sorenson in the book. While a few of their examples are inarguably praiseworthy—Thomas Hart Benton for opposing the extension of slavery, Sam Houston for opposing secession, and Lucius Lamar for promoting post Civil War reconciliation—most of its subjects actually merited the abuse they received for their “courageous” decisions.

In it they laud Daniel Webster for embracing the Compromise of 1850 which sacrificed the right of free states to shelter runaway slaves. In essence Webster traded his honor and his principles for a measure that didn’t so much postpone the Civil War as to ensure it would tear the country apart. They also praise John Quincy Adams for leaving the Federalists in what was an act of intelligent if not particularly principled opportunism; George Norris for undermining U.S. preparedness before World War One and for later supporting a corrupt Democrat for president; and Robert A. Taft for opposing the Nuremberg Trials as ex post facto law rather than an effort to create international standards for human rights.

I might add Kansas Senator Edmund Ross—the Republican who cast the deciding vote not to convict Andrew Johnson after his impeachment—to the list of bad choices. I think Lincoln’s successor richly deserved eviction from office for his obstruction of reconstruction policies that might have granted some justice to freed slaves and avoided much of the harm that restoring the south to white rule did in the century that followed. But I also understand that there was some value to not creating a precedent that would have led to the impeachment of every president who displeased two-thirds of the Senate.

But the point here is that while there is something to be said for a politician that puts his principles above his political future, most of the subjects in Profiles did nothing of the sort. Most, like Webster and Ross, discarded their principles and took what they considered to be the pragmatic move and were rightly reviled for it. That’s what Bush did too, only perhaps in embracing an unnecessary tax increase he demonstrated that he never really had any principles on the issue of the size of government and taxation in the first place. Like the senators in the famous book, Bush paid for it with his political career. But there was nothing particularly courageous about his actions. To the contrary, standing for your principles against the force of conventional wisdom rather than caving in to it is the hardest thing you can do in Washington. Sometimes doing so is right and sometimes it is a mistake (see Cruz, Ted; government shutdown) but betraying your principles is almost always an act of craven cowardice. That the New York Times applauded such behavior should surprise no one.

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Kerry’s “Last Chance” Diplomacy Implodes

Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel today attempting to breath life into the peace talks that he initiated last year. With the Palestinians refusing to accept the framework for further talks the secretary tried to broker, and the Israelis seeing little purpose in releasing more Palestinian terrorist murderers to bribe Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas if the PA won’t keep negotiating, the whole scheme is on the brink of collapse. Thus, Kerry is working furiously to try and come up with a way to entice the Israelis to give Abbas what he wants in terms of either more prisoner releases or a settlement freeze.

The latest idea on the table, which has now been publicly confirmed by U.S. officials speaking off the record, is for the U.S. to hand convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to the Israelis in exchange for the last batch of terrorists already scheduled for release from Israeli jails as well as a further group to be let go after that. Presumably this latest batch of terrorist prisoners would be enough to bribe Abbas to keep talking even though he has already signaled that he isn’t that interested in the discussions, especially if they require him to agree to measures that herald an end to the conflict with Israel. As I wrote last week, the idea of trading Pollard for murderers is a bad deal for Israel. If Prime Minister Netanyahu is to keep making concessions to Abbas then he should expect something of substance in return from the Palestinians that would bring peace closer. Doing so for the sake of Pollard makes no sense for anyone.

But the real problem here isn’t the unbalanced nature of such a deal that is not likely to be carried out anyway. Rather, it is the sense of hysteria that has been invested in the latest iteration of the Middle East peace process. Having decided to try to succeed where all of his predecessors have failed, Kerry did so by claiming that it was the region’s last chance for peace even though there was no reason to believe the conflict was in danger of re-igniting or there were reasonable prospects for success. But now that he appears to be failing, his frequent predictions of doom have become self-fulfilling prophecies.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel today attempting to breath life into the peace talks that he initiated last year. With the Palestinians refusing to accept the framework for further talks the secretary tried to broker, and the Israelis seeing little purpose in releasing more Palestinian terrorist murderers to bribe Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas if the PA won’t keep negotiating, the whole scheme is on the brink of collapse. Thus, Kerry is working furiously to try and come up with a way to entice the Israelis to give Abbas what he wants in terms of either more prisoner releases or a settlement freeze.

The latest idea on the table, which has now been publicly confirmed by U.S. officials speaking off the record, is for the U.S. to hand convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to the Israelis in exchange for the last batch of terrorists already scheduled for release from Israeli jails as well as a further group to be let go after that. Presumably this latest batch of terrorist prisoners would be enough to bribe Abbas to keep talking even though he has already signaled that he isn’t that interested in the discussions, especially if they require him to agree to measures that herald an end to the conflict with Israel. As I wrote last week, the idea of trading Pollard for murderers is a bad deal for Israel. If Prime Minister Netanyahu is to keep making concessions to Abbas then he should expect something of substance in return from the Palestinians that would bring peace closer. Doing so for the sake of Pollard makes no sense for anyone.

But the real problem here isn’t the unbalanced nature of such a deal that is not likely to be carried out anyway. Rather, it is the sense of hysteria that has been invested in the latest iteration of the Middle East peace process. Having decided to try to succeed where all of his predecessors have failed, Kerry did so by claiming that it was the region’s last chance for peace even though there was no reason to believe the conflict was in danger of re-igniting or there were reasonable prospects for success. But now that he appears to be failing, his frequent predictions of doom have become self-fulfilling prophecies.

The secretary invested time, energy, and the prestige of the United States on a negotiation that few thought had a chance because he was convinced there was no alternative and that a failure to advance a peace process that has been stuck in neutral ever since the Palestinians rejected the third Israeli offer of independence and statehood would lead to disaster. But as Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl aptly noted today, prior to the start of Kerry’s talks, “Israel and the Palestinian territories” were “an island of tranquility in a blood-drenched Middle East.” If the Palestinians preferred meaningless symbolic victories at the United Nations to statehood, such folly was rooted in Abbas’s belief that his people were not ready to give up their century-long war to destroy Israel.

Though Netanyahu has reluctantly agreed to a framework that is based on the 1967 lines, the Palestinians are still not ready to give up their “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants or to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, thereby signaling an end to the conflict. But by raising the stakes in the conflict and repeatedly warning the Israelis that they would suffer violence in the form of a third intifada and increased boycott efforts if they did not agree to peace, Kerry has raised the stakes for the Palestinians. In a foolish repeat of earlier mistakes made by the Obama administration, the Palestinian leadership is being put in a position of having to match Kerry’s warnings with provocative actions of their own. And since a resolution of these disputes is beyond Abbas’s power or will to achieve, the collapse of Kerry’s diplomacy may spiral out of control.

Continually crying that this is the “last chance” for peace is not only inaccurate—diplomats have been saying the same thing for decades and have always been wrong, since peace will come the day the Palestinians give up their illusions about re-writing history and not one day sooner—it is also the sort of sentiment that rationalizes the actions of extremists who don’t want peace on any terms. 

It is true that many Israelis worry about the long-term consequences of the current impasse which leaves the West Bank in limbo while Hamas-ruled Gaza functions as the independent Palestinian state in all but name. But as Diehl says, the alternative to Kerry’s apocalyptic warnings was an embrace of the reality of a conflict that couldn’t be solved but might be managed. Measures aimed at giving the Palestinians a bigger stake in an improved economy and better governance wouldn’t have cut the Gordian knot of Middle East peace but would have provided Abbas and his Fatah Party a reason to keep a lid on the territories as well as more of an incentive to think about preparing the way for eventual peace. Instead, Kerry has brought Abbas to the brink where he feels he has no alternative but to give the back of his hand to a negotiation that he never wanted to be part of in the first place. If violence in the form of a third intifada (perhaps funded in part by Iran via aid to Islamic Jihad or Hamas) follows, then it should be remembered that it was Kerry who set a potentially tragic series of events in motion.

What the secretary is learning is that as bad as a situation seems, it can only be made worse by hubris and naïveté, qualities Kerry possesses in abundance. Whether or not he manages to bribe either the Israelis or the Palestinians to keep talking in the coming days, the most important point to be gleaned from this chapter is that stoking fear in order to build support for peace isn’t merely counter-productive. It’s a recipe for disaster.

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Kochs Shouldn’t Sink to Reid’s Level

I have made no secret of my disdain for Harry Reid’s continued unraveling. Reid’s practice of leveling false charges about other politicians and even private citizens–calling cancer patients liars, for example, because they have been hurt by ObamaCare–from the floor of the Senate is assuredly a new low for the upper chamber. And his demonization of his fellow citizens with whom he disagrees on policy as “un-American” for participating in the electoral process has shown him to be both a proper heir to the vengeful, debased politics of Ted Kennedy as well as a particularly odious opponent of the democratic process.

And so it is precisely because I find his loathsome attacks on the Koch brothers so contemptible that I think the Kochs’ attempt to hit back, however clever, misses the mark. It’s not that the Kochs shouldn’t hit back–they can handle this as they choose, and are certainly entitled to respond to Reid’s mindless demagoguery. But in the ad they apparently released today, they fight fire with fire, taking aim at Reid’s relationship with liberal billionaire donors. National Review’s Eliana Johnson has the video of the ad as well as a brief write-up on it, and it’s clear that the Kochs have decided two can play this game. It would be far preferable if neither did so:

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I have made no secret of my disdain for Harry Reid’s continued unraveling. Reid’s practice of leveling false charges about other politicians and even private citizens–calling cancer patients liars, for example, because they have been hurt by ObamaCare–from the floor of the Senate is assuredly a new low for the upper chamber. And his demonization of his fellow citizens with whom he disagrees on policy as “un-American” for participating in the electoral process has shown him to be both a proper heir to the vengeful, debased politics of Ted Kennedy as well as a particularly odious opponent of the democratic process.

And so it is precisely because I find his loathsome attacks on the Koch brothers so contemptible that I think the Kochs’ attempt to hit back, however clever, misses the mark. It’s not that the Kochs shouldn’t hit back–they can handle this as they choose, and are certainly entitled to respond to Reid’s mindless demagoguery. But in the ad they apparently released today, they fight fire with fire, taking aim at Reid’s relationship with liberal billionaire donors. National Review’s Eliana Johnson has the video of the ad as well as a brief write-up on it, and it’s clear that the Kochs have decided two can play this game. It would be far preferable if neither did so:

The ad, “Steyer Infection,” juxtaposes Harry Reid’s denunciation of the Koch brothers with a narrative about Reid’s relationship with billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and his brother Jim, who runs a ratings service for children’s products.

“This is about two very wealthy brothers who intend to buy their own Congress,” it shows Reid saying in a speech earlier this month on the Senate floor. “You see when you make billions of dollars a year, you can be I guess as immoral and dishonest as your money will allow you to be.”​

The narrator says, “Billionaires like Tom Steyer, who just hosted Reid and other Senate Democrats at his San Francisco mansion? Steyer has a history of ‘environmentally destructive business ventures.’ And he wants regulators to strangle energy opportunities here in America, even though he helped finance the second-largest coal company in Indonesia.”

Here’s the ad itself:

Again, it is rational to respond to allegations and to push back on Reid. There’s no question Reid’s a hypocrite, though that’s far from his worst quality. As Johnson’s report notes, the Kochs are apparently being targeted as “out-of-state billionaires” in ads funded in part by Michael Bloomberg–in other words, an out-of-state billionaire. And Reid’s unseemly brand of crony capitalism is certainly worth addressing.

But the Kochs’ ad doesn’t merely explain that Reid accepts support from prominent billionaires while slamming those who are supported by other, conservative billionaires. It turns into an attack ad on the Steyers. If the Kochs and Steyers take this game to its logical conclusion, the airwaves would be blanketed during election season by wealthy philanthropists attacking each other. No thank you.

Such a development would reinforce the notion–pushed by Reid, among others–that what is important in these statewide elections is not who is running for office but who is funding them. It actually embraces the stereotype of politicians as bought-and-paid-for agents of powerful moneyed interests. The Kochs presumably think this is a caricature–otherwise why take it so personally–but this would bring the caricature to life.

The national media’s lack of outrage, with rare notable exceptions, toward Reid’s McCarthyism is certainly dispiriting. The silver lining, I suppose, is that the next time the mainstream papers complain about a lack of civility in American politics the only appropriate response would be to laugh them out of the room. Indeed, the New York Times editorial board even gave its endorsement to this abuse of power. Apparently the problem with Joe McCarthy, in the Times’s estimation, was that he was simply working for the wrong political party.

Nonetheless, two wrongs don’t make a right. The ad attacking the Steyers attempts to prove Reid’s hypocrisy by applying Reid’s own floor speeches to the Steyers’ political and economic activity, implying the path of attack is fair game. Reid’s example is one that should not be followed. It would be quite troublesome if it instead became standard.

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Europe Tilts Right on Immigration

Last night riot police had to be dispatched to disperse angry crowds in some of the French towns where the far-right National Front has been voted into power. While FN leader Marine Le Pen claims to have gone to considerable lengths to rid her party of the open anti-Semitism and xenophobia that marred its image under her father’s leadership, many remain skeptical about how much of an integral change has really taken place within the FN.

Yet for the first time since 1995 Le Pen’s party has mayors back in office, having won control of 11 towns in the local elections held this weekend. Indeed, from having just 60 councilors the party has jumped to some 12,000 as of the latest elections. This surge may become a familiar pattern in Europe, for amidst worsening economic conditions throughout many European countries, observers acknowledge a revival of far-right and neo-fascist forces, most notably with parties such as Jobbik in Hungary or Golden Dawn in Greece.

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Last night riot police had to be dispatched to disperse angry crowds in some of the French towns where the far-right National Front has been voted into power. While FN leader Marine Le Pen claims to have gone to considerable lengths to rid her party of the open anti-Semitism and xenophobia that marred its image under her father’s leadership, many remain skeptical about how much of an integral change has really taken place within the FN.

Yet for the first time since 1995 Le Pen’s party has mayors back in office, having won control of 11 towns in the local elections held this weekend. Indeed, from having just 60 councilors the party has jumped to some 12,000 as of the latest elections. This surge may become a familiar pattern in Europe, for amidst worsening economic conditions throughout many European countries, observers acknowledge a revival of far-right and neo-fascist forces, most notably with parties such as Jobbik in Hungary or Golden Dawn in Greece.

In with this evident rise of nationalistic and anti-immigration parties some choose to include the improving fortunes of the United Kingdom Independence Party in Britain. Writing for the Gatestone Institute, Peter Martino draws a direct comparison between Le Pen’s FN and Nigel Farage’s UKIP, noting that in both cases these parties have been able to exploit growing public dissatisfaction with the liberal ruling elite and the lackluster politics of the governing class. While UKIP is certainly an expression of a populist conservative backlash, it would be wrong to group it in with the far-right parties on the march in mainland Europe.

As with the first time that Europe was convulsed by the rallying of far-right and fascist movements, the impetus has been primarily economic. No doubt today’s far-right parties feed on general dissatisfaction with the multiculturalist policies promoted by Europe’s metropolitan politicians, but much of the anti-immigrant animus is undoubtedly being driven by dizzying levels of unemployment. In France unemployment exceeds three million where just 40 percent of the population has work. Socialist France has not run a surplus since 1974; it is unsurprising, then, that President Hollande, with his 75 percent top tax rate, is disliked by a record three-quarters of voters.

The New Yorker’s Alexander Stille has implied that the weekend’s election results stem from a failure of Hollande’s party to reform its socialist ways. Yet in casting their votes for the National Front, those who did so were hardly going for a more free-market option. Just like the populist right-wing parties of the past, Le Pen claims that her party is neither left nor right. When it comes to economic matters the FN is both undeniably protectionist and essentially anti-capitalist. Le Pen has actually called for still higher state investment and backs government control over everything from energy to financial services. And like other far-right European parties, such as Austria’s Freedom Party, the French National Front is vocally hostile to globalization.

Peter Martino does give recognition to the differing stance that FN and UKIP take on economic matters, but this difference is far more fundamental than might be initially apparent. UKIP has increasingly been stressing itself as the party of liberty, perhaps seeking to imitate at least some of the sentiments popular in the Tea Party. Its primary quarrel with the EU appears to be a democracy-oriented one; that Brussels’s bureaucracy is draining sovereignty from the British parliament and its electorate. More so than even the Conservative party, UKIP is presenting itself as the party of private enterprise and small business. Many in both the UKIP leadership and the rank and file have taken to describing themselves as libertarian–although one gets the impression that they don’t quite understand the term in the same way that Americans do. In many respects UKIP is the most socially conservative political grouping in Britain, the only major party to take a stand against the recent implementation of gay marriage. 

While UKIP has voiced opposition to multicultualism, as well as to the political correctness that surrounds it, the party’s calls for reducing immigration levels seem not to be motivated by the xenophobia that its detractors allege. UKIP has won voters by condemning the mass flow of immigrants brought by the EU’s open border policy, but party spokespeople have emphasized that this isn’t a matter of race, claiming that they would much prefer to see highly skilled immigrants coming to Britain from other parts of the world than unskilled workers from Eastern and Southern Europe. Indeed, Farage has advocated leaving the EU on the grounds that Britain could then become more engaged with the global economy, a far cry from Le Pen’s protectionist anti-globalization.

Of course, both UKIP and the National Front expect significant wins in the upcoming EU elections, and both hope to expand their representation to their respective national parliaments at the first opportunity. Yet whereas anti-immigrant racism and anti-Semitism was very much the FN’s raison d’etre under Jean Marie Le Pen, it is not clear that this was ever the case for UKIP. As Martino also noted, UKIP refuses to ally with the FN so long as it has anti-Semites in its midst. Furthermore, in those instances where its own candidates have been exposed as racist they have been rapidly and unceremoniously ejected from the party. Across Europe the far-right may be benefiting from the economic difficulties currently marring the continent, but it would be wrong to throw Britain’s more liberty-oriented UKIP in with those parading neo-fascist tendencies.   

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The Obama Doctrine of Selective Memory

On June 17, 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said something strange. On the topic of a deal struck on settlement construction between George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon, Clinton said: “In looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility.”

It’s important to clarify what is “strange” about this comment. It was a strange thing to say because it is flatly untrue: the agreement most certainly existed, and was put to writing. But it was not strange that Clinton was the one to say it: as Omri Ceren meticulously explained for the magazine in May 2012, the Obama administration’s disastrous policies toward Israel were predicated on ignoring, and at times outright falsifying, history.

Sharon made real strategic concessions to boost the peace process at great political and personal cost because he knew he had America’s support. When Obama came into office, American allies learned the hard way that the White House was no longer bound by such agreements, regardless of the danger it put those allies in. Ukrainian leaders now appear to be running into the same problem.

According to the Budapest memorandum of 1994, Ukraine would give up its nukes in return for the recognition and maintenance of its territorial integrity. That ship has very clearly sailed, since the United States is now asking Vladimir Putin’s Russia to please only take from Ukraine that which they have already pilfered. Putin is considering this request–which is exactly what it is: a request. Thus, Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” does not, at the moment, exist in any meaningful sense.

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On June 17, 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said something strange. On the topic of a deal struck on settlement construction between George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon, Clinton said: “In looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility.”

It’s important to clarify what is “strange” about this comment. It was a strange thing to say because it is flatly untrue: the agreement most certainly existed, and was put to writing. But it was not strange that Clinton was the one to say it: as Omri Ceren meticulously explained for the magazine in May 2012, the Obama administration’s disastrous policies toward Israel were predicated on ignoring, and at times outright falsifying, history.

Sharon made real strategic concessions to boost the peace process at great political and personal cost because he knew he had America’s support. When Obama came into office, American allies learned the hard way that the White House was no longer bound by such agreements, regardless of the danger it put those allies in. Ukrainian leaders now appear to be running into the same problem.

According to the Budapest memorandum of 1994, Ukraine would give up its nukes in return for the recognition and maintenance of its territorial integrity. That ship has very clearly sailed, since the United States is now asking Vladimir Putin’s Russia to please only take from Ukraine that which they have already pilfered. Putin is considering this request–which is exactly what it is: a request. Thus, Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” does not, at the moment, exist in any meaningful sense.

Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, has taken to the Daily Beast to describe the Budapest memorandum in terms nearly identical to the way the Bush-Sharon letter was described by those who wanted Obama to respect the promises of the White House. When Clinton denied an agreement that plainly existed, she tried to hedge, in part by saying she found no “enforceable” deals. As Elliott Abrams noted in the Wall Street Journal at the time: “How exactly would Israel enforce any agreement against an American decision to renege on it? Take it to the International Court in The Hague?”

Gelb acknowledges that the Budapest deal does not specifically obligate America to use force against Russia to repel its Ukrainian adventure. But Gelb wants the administration to stop insulting the intelligence of the Ukrainians:

The Budapest document makes sense historically only as a quid pro quo agreement resting upon American credibility to act. The United States cannot simply walk away from the plain meaning of the Budapest Memorandum and leave Ukraine in the lurch. And how would this complete washing of U.S. hands affect U.S. efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, supposedly a top national priority? Why should any nation forego nukes or give them away like Ukraine, if other nations, and especially the U.S., feel zero responsibility for their defense? It’s not that Washington has to send ground troops or start using its nuclear weapons; it’s just that potential aggressors have to see some potential military cost.

And that’s the consequence of the administration’s penchant for selective memory in foreign affairs that Obama brushed aside when it came to Israel. It’s not about whether Obama would or would not have signed such a deal himself. It’s about whether American promises evaporate every four or eight years.

The obvious rejoinder is that presidential administrations cannot be bound by every political or strategic principle of their predecessors–otherwise why have elections? True, but the question is one of written agreements, “memoranda,” and understandings, especially those offered as the American side of a deal that has been otherwise fulfilled. Sharon pulled out not just of Gaza but also parts of the West Bank and made concessions on security in both territories he was hesitant to offer. He held up his end of the bargain, and Israelis were only asking that the administration hold up Washington’s.

That’s the point Gelb is making on Ukraine, and it’s an important one. He is saying that the United States’ decision on how to respond to Russia’s aggression should not be made in a vacuum. This may bind Obama’s hands a bit, but there is danger in reneging on this agreement. It’s a danger that was mostly ignored when it came to Israel. But now it’s clear that this is a pattern with Obama, and that American promises are suspended on his watch. It’s no surprise that the world is acting accordingly.

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Deadline Is ObamaCare’s “Mission Accomplished” Moment

It was, perhaps, fitting that the same website that debuted to the scorn of the nation last fall would crash on the last day of the six-month period for enrollment in ObamaCare. Just as the administration and its media cheerleaders were declaring victory in their effort to reach the goal of seven million enrolled in the scheme, the HealthCare.gov website was down for six hours this morning due to what we are told was a software bug that caused a crash rather than a surge in traffic. Though the site was supposedly back up and running, the event was an appropriate metaphor for a flawed law’s implementation. Having overpromised throughout this process, the government couldn’t even keep its website up during the last day of its self-imposed deadline.

Yet the real problem with the White House’s triumphant spin on the enrollment figures isn’t that “glitchy” website. It’s the fact that the numbers that are being cited as proof that, despite all its travails, more than six and perhaps even seven million people have signed up for ObamaCare are thoroughly unreliable. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that the books are being cooked. With as many as 20 percent of those being counted as enrolled yet to pay a premium and thus not actually covered, the talk about success is mere hot air.

So, too, are the claims that the scheme has met or exceeded its goal of expanding the pool of insured Americans. Since the overwhelming majority of those participating were already covered by insurance and are being forced onto ObamaCare by the new law’s regulations, the accomplishment being touted today is more one of bureaucratic bookkeeping than a meaningful expansion of health care. Nor is there any sign that the flood of young and healthy Americans into the ranks of those participating is occurring, meaning that what will follow today’s great victory will be a gradual recognition that what the country has been saddled with is a mess that will cause insurance costs to skyrocket rather than go down.

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It was, perhaps, fitting that the same website that debuted to the scorn of the nation last fall would crash on the last day of the six-month period for enrollment in ObamaCare. Just as the administration and its media cheerleaders were declaring victory in their effort to reach the goal of seven million enrolled in the scheme, the HealthCare.gov website was down for six hours this morning due to what we are told was a software bug that caused a crash rather than a surge in traffic. Though the site was supposedly back up and running, the event was an appropriate metaphor for a flawed law’s implementation. Having overpromised throughout this process, the government couldn’t even keep its website up during the last day of its self-imposed deadline.

Yet the real problem with the White House’s triumphant spin on the enrollment figures isn’t that “glitchy” website. It’s the fact that the numbers that are being cited as proof that, despite all its travails, more than six and perhaps even seven million people have signed up for ObamaCare are thoroughly unreliable. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that the books are being cooked. With as many as 20 percent of those being counted as enrolled yet to pay a premium and thus not actually covered, the talk about success is mere hot air.

So, too, are the claims that the scheme has met or exceeded its goal of expanding the pool of insured Americans. Since the overwhelming majority of those participating were already covered by insurance and are being forced onto ObamaCare by the new law’s regulations, the accomplishment being touted today is more one of bureaucratic bookkeeping than a meaningful expansion of health care. Nor is there any sign that the flood of young and healthy Americans into the ranks of those participating is occurring, meaning that what will follow today’s great victory will be a gradual recognition that what the country has been saddled with is a mess that will cause insurance costs to skyrocket rather than go down.

It should be acknowledged that the pictures of people standing on line waiting to talk about getting ObamaCare and the reports of large numbers visiting the website or trying to call in to get the insurance sounds like a vindication of the law or at least of the all-out enrollment push being conducted by the president and the rest of his administration. But the fact remains that merely signing onto the website and creating an account is not the same thing as actually buying the product. If by the end of the day, the administration is claiming that they have met or come close to the seven million enrollments it wanted, it must be remembered that this number must be reduced by at least 20 percent to account for the vast numbers who haven’t completed the purchase and may never do so.

Just as deceptive is the fact that among the millions being counted as happy ObamaCare customers are a huge number of Americans who already had health insurance they liked but lost it as a result of the passage of the misnamed Affordable Care Act. They are now stuck with coverage that is likely more expensive and which contains provisions they didn’t want. As a New York Times front-page feature that was, no doubt, intended to tout the law’s benefits in Kentucky—a rare example where a state exchange appears to be working well—illustrated, administration triumphalism has little connection to the reality faced by many of those affected by the president’s signature health-care law. Including those Americans who are the big losers in the passage of this law as being part of the supposed flood of those who need and want ObamaCare is the ultimate in double counting.

No matter what the numbers of those enrolled actually turn out to be, without millions more young and healthy Americans included in the plan, it will be a financial disaster and force the government to bail out the insurance companies. That will be unfortunate. But if those more profitable young and healthy customers don’t listen to the president’s pleas, who can blame them? The product that is being shoved down their throats is inferior, costly, and a bad deal to boot. With pre-existing conditions no longer a bar to insurance coverage there is no longer much reason for those who are less likely to get sick to enroll before they are placed in the position of needing insurance. And with much of the plan’s provisions being postponed or otherwise delayed in order to lessen the pain to the nation and increase the Democrats’ chances of success in November, there is no way of knowing just how unpopular this law will be when all is said and done.

It is entirely possible that we will look back on today’s deadline and administration celebrations about enrollment as Obama’s version of George W. Bush’s infamous “mission accomplished” moment after Iraq. Democrats who dream that today’s numbers will get them off the hook in the midterms should think again.

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Environmentalists to the Peasants: Drop Dead

California is going through a terrible drought and 2013 was the driest on record in the state. So who is suffering, financially and otherwise, from its effects?

Hint: it is not the coastal elite. The water still flows to the upscale neighborhoods of La Jolla, Malibu, and Marin County. Their lawns are watered, their BMW’s washed and polished, their swimming pools full.

No, it’s the farmers in the Central Valley and the agricultural workers who are idled as 500,000 acres of the best farmland on the planet lies fallow. Where is their water going? To save the environment. It’s better, according to the coastal elite, that Juan and José should wonder how they are going to feed their families, since there are no strawberries to pick, than that the delta smelt should be inconvenienced in a drought.

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California is going through a terrible drought and 2013 was the driest on record in the state. So who is suffering, financially and otherwise, from its effects?

Hint: it is not the coastal elite. The water still flows to the upscale neighborhoods of La Jolla, Malibu, and Marin County. Their lawns are watered, their BMW’s washed and polished, their swimming pools full.

No, it’s the farmers in the Central Valley and the agricultural workers who are idled as 500,000 acres of the best farmland on the planet lies fallow. Where is their water going? To save the environment. It’s better, according to the coastal elite, that Juan and José should wonder how they are going to feed their families, since there are no strawberries to pick, than that the delta smelt should be inconvenienced in a drought.

And, of course, the heart and soul of the environmental movement in California is the coastal elite, insulated from its consequences by their six- and seven-figure incomes. As Victor Davis Hanson points out in a devastating “j’accuse,” there seems to be few limits to the amount of suffering the California aristocracy is willing to impose on the peasants so that they can pat themselves on the back for their environmental stewardship.

As Hanson explains, while California’s population grew from 23 million in 1976 to 40 million today, the water projects needed to supply that 79 percent increase, such as the state California Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project, were cancelled in the name of the environment:

At some fateful moment in the 1970s, the other California on the coast, drunk with the globalized wealth that poured into Napa Valley, the Silicon Valley, the great coastal university nexuses at Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, and Caltech, the entertainment industry, the defense industry, and the financial industry decided that they had transcended the old warnings of more Californians needing far more water to survive more droughts. When you are rich, you can afford for the first time in your life to favor a newt with spots on his toes over someone else that lacks your money, clout, and sensitivities.

They are equally indifferent to the effects that rising fuel and electricity costs have on people of limited incomes. If the price of a year’s worth of gasoline were to rise from $3,000 to $6,000 (i.e. from $4 to $8 a gallon), it wouldn’t affect the lifestyle of someone earning $1 million one bit, a mere 3/10ths of one percent. For someone living on $50,000, it’s a devastating six percent hit.

But, as Marie Antoinette never actually said, they can always eat cake.

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The Silver Lining in Israel’s Legal Dramas

The conviction of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert on corruption charges, stemming from his tenure as mayor of Jerusalem, no doubt dismays his supporters who were hoping he would stage a political comeback. It also, no doubt, dismays many Israelis who must be wondering about the quality of their political leaders.

Olmert is, of course, just the latest senior Israeli figure to be convicted of crimes. Former president Moshe Katsav is now serving a prison sentence for rape. Former finance minister Abraham Hirschson was sent to jail for five years in 2009 for “stealing more than $500,000 from a trade union he led before becoming a cabinet member.” Another former cabinet minister, Shlomo Benizri, was sentenced the same year for taking tribes. Former defense minister and general Yitzhak Mordechai was convicted in 2001 of two counts of sexual assault. Others, such as former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, have been tried and acquitted.

So should Israelis be worried that they are being governed by a pack of crooks and predators? Undoubtedly corruption is a problem in Israeli politics–as it is everywhere. But Israel still ranks head and shoulders above its neighbors on any measure of governance and (no coincidence) on economic performance.

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The conviction of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert on corruption charges, stemming from his tenure as mayor of Jerusalem, no doubt dismays his supporters who were hoping he would stage a political comeback. It also, no doubt, dismays many Israelis who must be wondering about the quality of their political leaders.

Olmert is, of course, just the latest senior Israeli figure to be convicted of crimes. Former president Moshe Katsav is now serving a prison sentence for rape. Former finance minister Abraham Hirschson was sent to jail for five years in 2009 for “stealing more than $500,000 from a trade union he led before becoming a cabinet member.” Another former cabinet minister, Shlomo Benizri, was sentenced the same year for taking tribes. Former defense minister and general Yitzhak Mordechai was convicted in 2001 of two counts of sexual assault. Others, such as former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, have been tried and acquitted.

So should Israelis be worried that they are being governed by a pack of crooks and predators? Undoubtedly corruption is a problem in Israeli politics–as it is everywhere. But Israel still ranks head and shoulders above its neighbors on any measure of governance and (no coincidence) on economic performance.

The latest Transparency International survey of global corruption puts Israel at No. 36 out of 177 countries. It is far behind clean government leaders Denmark and New Zealand, but it is ahead of every other country in the Middle East except for UAE and Qatar, where corruption is a lot more difficult to measure because it is hard to know where public revenues end and royal family income begins.

The fact that Israel is actually able to prosecute and convict former prime ministers and presidents is a stunning achievement which would be unthinkable in most countries where leaders wind up in the dock only when their regime is overthrown. (Think Egypt.) While Israelis do have some cause for concern about the quality of their politics, on the whole, I would argue that they should take pride in their ability to hold political leaders to account. While the neighboring Arab states may well crow over Olmert’s conviction–there is no love lost for him because of his role in directing the 2006 war against Hezbollah–their populations, reading the news, may well wonder why their own politicians aren’t being exposed for their far greater thievery.

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On Peace Talks and Prisoner Releases

We have come a long way from the days when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu used to call for negotiations without preconditions. Now it has simply become expected that Israel must demonstrate “good will” by purchasing the presence of the Palestinians at the negotiating table with round after round of painful concessions. And few things must be more painful for Israelis than having to see those who murdered their loved ones walk free. It flies in the face of the most basic notions about justice and, of course, it’s tactically suicidal: those well-schooled in terror go free to resume their activities; those contemplating the path of terrorism know that in the event they are captured they will likely be released in a prisoner exchange eventually. Yet, the Israeli government has set a dangerous precedent and throwing on the breaks now may prove easier said than done.

The Palestinians have recently issued a new demand. Either Israel lets 1,000 Palestinian prisoners walk free or Palestinian negotiators will walk from the current round of peace talks. The previous nine months of fruitless negotiations were paid for by the Israelis agreeing to release 104 Palestinian security prisoners. These were to be released in stages so as to ensure that the Palestinians wouldn’t simply take the prisoners and run. At each stage the Palestinians would be obliged to continue with the negotiations and the next batch of terrorists would be released. But the deadline for the final installment of convicted criminals came and went this weekend. With Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas refusing to carry on with the talks, Israel announced that this last prisoner release would not be made.

This was hardly an unfair decision. With the Palestinians insisting the talks were over and that they were going back to the United Nations to pursue statehood there, the Israelis had nothing to gain from setting more terrorists loose. Yet, not releasing the prisoners was only ever going to invite more condemnation, despite the fact that threatening not to do so is arguably Israel’s way of attempting to keep talks open.

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We have come a long way from the days when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu used to call for negotiations without preconditions. Now it has simply become expected that Israel must demonstrate “good will” by purchasing the presence of the Palestinians at the negotiating table with round after round of painful concessions. And few things must be more painful for Israelis than having to see those who murdered their loved ones walk free. It flies in the face of the most basic notions about justice and, of course, it’s tactically suicidal: those well-schooled in terror go free to resume their activities; those contemplating the path of terrorism know that in the event they are captured they will likely be released in a prisoner exchange eventually. Yet, the Israeli government has set a dangerous precedent and throwing on the breaks now may prove easier said than done.

The Palestinians have recently issued a new demand. Either Israel lets 1,000 Palestinian prisoners walk free or Palestinian negotiators will walk from the current round of peace talks. The previous nine months of fruitless negotiations were paid for by the Israelis agreeing to release 104 Palestinian security prisoners. These were to be released in stages so as to ensure that the Palestinians wouldn’t simply take the prisoners and run. At each stage the Palestinians would be obliged to continue with the negotiations and the next batch of terrorists would be released. But the deadline for the final installment of convicted criminals came and went this weekend. With Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas refusing to carry on with the talks, Israel announced that this last prisoner release would not be made.

This was hardly an unfair decision. With the Palestinians insisting the talks were over and that they were going back to the United Nations to pursue statehood there, the Israelis had nothing to gain from setting more terrorists loose. Yet, not releasing the prisoners was only ever going to invite more condemnation, despite the fact that threatening not to do so is arguably Israel’s way of attempting to keep talks open.

Indeed, it has been reported that the State Department was not at all pleased about the prospect of Israel backing out on the prisoner release. By all accounts U.S. officials have warned Israel that if the Palestinians leave talks then America will not be able to stop them from going to the UN. In reality there is much that the U.S. could do to keep Abbas from leaving the talks in the first place, if only it chose to. The Palestinian Authority is in a dire financial mess; the threat of withholding the large amounts of U.S. funding the PA relies on to function would be one way of tying the Palestinians to the peace table.

Yet remarkably, it seems that the Israeli government has actually come forward with still more concessions of its own. This time the Israelis are offering 400 Palestinian terrorists in return for six more months of negotiations. That’s quite an inflation from the 104 terrorists agreed upon for nine months of talks. No doubt sensing that he is gaining the upper hand in all of this, Abbas has now done what tyrants always do when they sense they’re being appeased: he has demanded more. This time, says Abbas, Israel will have to release 1,000 prisoners to renew Palestinian participation in peace talks.

That last demand should be a signal to America and the world that the Palestinians are not remotely serious about the negotiation process. Not that any such signal should be needed by now. Perhaps the international community would be forced to note this if the Israelis weren’t sending out their own signal, one that only serves to undermine their ability to hold out against such unreasonableness on the part of the Palestinians. By upping the offer to 400, Israel is indicating that it is perfectly reasonable that large numbers of murderers should be released in return for halfhearted Palestinian participation in talks. All that has to be haggled over now is how many.

But this is a disastrous message to send to the world. It gives the impression that a negotiated peace is not in the Palestinians’ interest–that they would indeed be better off taking unilateral moves, and that all these talks are primarily for Israel’s benefit. That last point is the line that Obama pushes too.

Oh, but there is just one other small thing that Abbas is asking for along with that minor matter of the 1,000 terrorists going free. Abbas is now saying that Israel must agree to transfer parts of Israeli controlled Area C of the West Bank into PA control. But this demand may give a clue about where Abbas is weak and what he most fears from Israel. He has been threatening that the Palestinians will go back to the UN to continue pushing for unilateral recognition there. Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has suggested that Israel should simply let Abbas go. But Bennett and his party, along with much of the Likud, have also been calling for the annexation of Area C to Israel. It is possible that Abbas is demanding a reduction in the size of Area C precisely because he fears an Israeli annexation. That should tell Israel something about where it has some leverage.    

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A Murderer’s Life and the Chances of Peace

The New York Times did a valuable public service today by profiling the life of Muqdad Salah. But the story, which demonstrated how unlikely peace between Israelis and the Palestinians is, wasn’t intended as an indictment of Palestinian society. Salah, 47, is, as the Times reported, doing his best to make up for lost time. You see, he lost 20 years of his life to a prison sentence in an Israeli jail from which he was liberated last year. To help ease his transition back to society, the resident of Burqa in the West Bank got a generous settlement from the Palestinian Authority, an honorary rank of brigadier general in the PA military, and praise from his neighbors and fellow Palestinians. In the seven months since he got out, he has married a much younger woman, remodeled a family home, and bought a business. He’s now the picture of a successful Palestinian, but he’s got a couple of problems. One is that the no-show salary of $1,800 a month he’s collecting from the PA (which gave him $100,000 at his release) isn’t enough to live the life of ease he craves. The other is that his travel is restricted. And oh, yes: some Israelis are really mad about the fact that a terrorist with blood on his hands like Salah is walking around free and enjoying life.

Although his profile would seem to be similar to the stories of those Americans who were wrongly convicted of murder but who are then released many years later because the courts have discovered that they are actually innocent, Salah wasn’t sprung from jail because of new DNA evidence or a witness who has recanted their testimony. There’s no doubt that it was he who took an iron bar and struck a 72-year-old Holocaust survivor over the head and murdered him in cold blood in 1993. The only change in the story is that while Salah claimed at his trial that he killed Israel Tenenbaum while he was sleeping, now he boasts that he had a grudge against the aged hotel security guard and killed him while he was awake.

Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren does a good job of amassing a lot of interesting detail about Salah’s life after prison and the way he and the dozens of other Palestinian terrorists who were released last year as part of the price Israel paid to get PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to return to peace negotiations. But she gives away the game when she attempts to strike a note of Olympian objectivity about the story when she notes that they have been “demonized as terrorists by Israelis and lionized as freedom fighters by Palestinians” but are just ordinary guys looking to “build apartments or start businesses, searching for wives and struggling to start families.” The problem here is not that these ordinary people are caught in the middle of a national struggle in which both sides distort the meaning of their actions. To the contrary, that most Palestinians consider a guy who brutally killed an elderly Jew is a hero worthy of a public subsidy (actually paid for by the PA’s foreign donors) tells us all we need to know about the chances for peace.

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The New York Times did a valuable public service today by profiling the life of Muqdad Salah. But the story, which demonstrated how unlikely peace between Israelis and the Palestinians is, wasn’t intended as an indictment of Palestinian society. Salah, 47, is, as the Times reported, doing his best to make up for lost time. You see, he lost 20 years of his life to a prison sentence in an Israeli jail from which he was liberated last year. To help ease his transition back to society, the resident of Burqa in the West Bank got a generous settlement from the Palestinian Authority, an honorary rank of brigadier general in the PA military, and praise from his neighbors and fellow Palestinians. In the seven months since he got out, he has married a much younger woman, remodeled a family home, and bought a business. He’s now the picture of a successful Palestinian, but he’s got a couple of problems. One is that the no-show salary of $1,800 a month he’s collecting from the PA (which gave him $100,000 at his release) isn’t enough to live the life of ease he craves. The other is that his travel is restricted. And oh, yes: some Israelis are really mad about the fact that a terrorist with blood on his hands like Salah is walking around free and enjoying life.

Although his profile would seem to be similar to the stories of those Americans who were wrongly convicted of murder but who are then released many years later because the courts have discovered that they are actually innocent, Salah wasn’t sprung from jail because of new DNA evidence or a witness who has recanted their testimony. There’s no doubt that it was he who took an iron bar and struck a 72-year-old Holocaust survivor over the head and murdered him in cold blood in 1993. The only change in the story is that while Salah claimed at his trial that he killed Israel Tenenbaum while he was sleeping, now he boasts that he had a grudge against the aged hotel security guard and killed him while he was awake.

Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren does a good job of amassing a lot of interesting detail about Salah’s life after prison and the way he and the dozens of other Palestinian terrorists who were released last year as part of the price Israel paid to get PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to return to peace negotiations. But she gives away the game when she attempts to strike a note of Olympian objectivity about the story when she notes that they have been “demonized as terrorists by Israelis and lionized as freedom fighters by Palestinians” but are just ordinary guys looking to “build apartments or start businesses, searching for wives and struggling to start families.” The problem here is not that these ordinary people are caught in the middle of a national struggle in which both sides distort the meaning of their actions. To the contrary, that most Palestinians consider a guy who brutally killed an elderly Jew is a hero worthy of a public subsidy (actually paid for by the PA’s foreign donors) tells us all we need to know about the chances for peace.

The story of the re-entry of Salah and his fellow killers into Palestinian society is one that is ripe for the usual sociological examination of the problems of ex-prisoners. Though they are showered with love, their lives are not a bed of roses. As one concerned Palestinian bureaucrat notes to Rudoren:

“We receive them as national heroes, we give them awards and medals, and then we leave them to face their problems alone,” said Munqeth Abu Atwan, who works at the ministry. “Can you tell a hero that you need a psychiatrist, you need to participate in a rehabilitation program?”

Alas, not. Pity poor Salah and his colleagues who are trapped in a Garry Cooper-style silence about their problems and can’t unwind to a therapist because of their stature as heroes.

The problem here isn’t so much the manner with which Rudoren reports the extraordinary spectacle of a government that is praised by the United States as a good partner for peace for Israel treating Salah as a hero. She interviews the family of his victim who still mourn the man who was born in Poland and evaded death at the hands of the Nazis only to be felled by an Arab who thought it was an appropriate protest to slaughter him. Tenenbaum’s daughter even says that she wouldn’t mind her father’s murderer going free—a stance that is rare among families of Israeli victims of terror and probably the reason why Rudoren chose Salah as her subject rather than some other killer—if it would lead to peace.

But the fallacy at the core of such thinking—which is the basis of the U.S. pressure on Israel to release even more such killers—is that the very fact that Palestinians treat men with Jewish blood on their hands as heroes illustrates that theirs is a culture which is not ready for peace with Israel. Only when such people are regarded as relics of an age of unreason rather than lionized by Palestinians will it be possible to imagine that they are prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and live in peace beside it. Until then, gestures such as Salah’s release only make it likely that Palestinian society will produce and honor more such killers, making peace a distant dream.

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Media Bias and the Real Opportunists

Politico’s savvy and generally reliable media news columnist Dylan Byers wrote about Sharyl Attkisson’s forced departure from CBS news. In a piece published shortly after Attkisson expressed worries about her computer being tapped—at a time when we learned about government spying on Fox News’s James Rosen and several other journalists at the Associated Press—Byers broke the story about the antipathy for the investigative reporter’s work uncovering information about Obama administration scandals on the part of most of the CBS staff. It was clear, Byers wrote, that many of her colleagues thought that her fearless reporting was out of line. The majority of those working in the mainstream press think that giving Barack Obama the same aggressive scrutiny that had been directed at George W. Bush is unacceptable or even partisan. Thus, Attkisson’s departure earlier this month came as little surprise to Byers or anyone else.

But now that Attkisson is writing a book about her experiences and thinking about the next chapter in her career, Byers is taking a cynical tone about her struggles. In a piece published on Friday titled “Media career path: Cry media bias,” Byers seems to be saying that the same person he had previously praised as a “dogged reporter” who had not played political favorites with her coverage is merely doing what is necessary to get a big payoff and perhaps even land a gig at Fox News:

It’s an increasingly well-traveled path: Over the course of the past two decades, a handful of journalists have left mainstream media jobs while decrying what they saw as an inherent bias in their own industry. Among them: Bernie Goldberg, John Stossel, and Doug McKelway — all of whom found a home at Fox News, a cable news channel that markets itself on the premise that the media is unfair and unbalanced.

To those who don’t believe there is bias in the media, such criticisms can seem like a self-promotional stunt. Various national surveys show that a majority of the population doesn’t trust the media. So if you’re going to leave it, why not fashion yourself as a martyr, pick up a loyal following in the process, and prove your bona fides to Fox News chief Roger Ailes in the hope that he’ll offer you a contract?

While Byers finds sources to support and oppose this thesis, it is a preposterous argument. While it is true a few outliers have gone public with their complaints about the monolithic political culture of most mainstream broadcast and print outlets and eventually found their way to Fox, what happened to them is the exception that proves the rule. There’s a reason why people like that wind up at Fox. By breaking the code of silence about the supposed objectivity of newsrooms like the one at CBS, they have nowhere else to go.

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Politico’s savvy and generally reliable media news columnist Dylan Byers wrote about Sharyl Attkisson’s forced departure from CBS news. In a piece published shortly after Attkisson expressed worries about her computer being tapped—at a time when we learned about government spying on Fox News’s James Rosen and several other journalists at the Associated Press—Byers broke the story about the antipathy for the investigative reporter’s work uncovering information about Obama administration scandals on the part of most of the CBS staff. It was clear, Byers wrote, that many of her colleagues thought that her fearless reporting was out of line. The majority of those working in the mainstream press think that giving Barack Obama the same aggressive scrutiny that had been directed at George W. Bush is unacceptable or even partisan. Thus, Attkisson’s departure earlier this month came as little surprise to Byers or anyone else.

But now that Attkisson is writing a book about her experiences and thinking about the next chapter in her career, Byers is taking a cynical tone about her struggles. In a piece published on Friday titled “Media career path: Cry media bias,” Byers seems to be saying that the same person he had previously praised as a “dogged reporter” who had not played political favorites with her coverage is merely doing what is necessary to get a big payoff and perhaps even land a gig at Fox News:

It’s an increasingly well-traveled path: Over the course of the past two decades, a handful of journalists have left mainstream media jobs while decrying what they saw as an inherent bias in their own industry. Among them: Bernie Goldberg, John Stossel, and Doug McKelway — all of whom found a home at Fox News, a cable news channel that markets itself on the premise that the media is unfair and unbalanced.

To those who don’t believe there is bias in the media, such criticisms can seem like a self-promotional stunt. Various national surveys show that a majority of the population doesn’t trust the media. So if you’re going to leave it, why not fashion yourself as a martyr, pick up a loyal following in the process, and prove your bona fides to Fox News chief Roger Ailes in the hope that he’ll offer you a contract?

While Byers finds sources to support and oppose this thesis, it is a preposterous argument. While it is true a few outliers have gone public with their complaints about the monolithic political culture of most mainstream broadcast and print outlets and eventually found their way to Fox, what happened to them is the exception that proves the rule. There’s a reason why people like that wind up at Fox. By breaking the code of silence about the supposed objectivity of newsrooms like the one at CBS, they have nowhere else to go.

Labeling those who call out media bias as opportunists turns truth on its head. While Goldberg and Stossel (and perhaps now Attkisson) did not suffer for their candor the fact is the media practices de facto segregation when it comes to politics.

Anyone who wants to stay on the mainstream media gravy train either agrees with the industry’s liberal groupthink or keeps their mouth shut. Those few who do speak out about it are more or less ostracized and forced to seek employment elsewhere. Meanwhile the vast majority of those who continue to work at the big broadcast networks and most of the influential dailies are so biased they actually think critical reporting about a liberal president they personally support is somehow wrong and those who pursue such stories are worthy of suspicion rather than praise. The chattering classes may actually believe their pose of objectivity is based on the truth, but that is just an illustration of how distorted their viewpoint has become. It is they who are the real opportunists, not Goldberg, Stossel, or Attkisson.

Liberals—including the ones who currently work at the White House—look down their noses at Fox and dismiss the stories and the opinions it broadcasts. But it bears repeating that the reason it was created and for its astounding success is that it provided a much needed and long-delayed alternative to the stultifying and uniform liberalism broadcast elsewhere on the dial. The genius of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes was in addressing the needs of an underserved market niche composed of almost half the American public.

Sharyl Attkisson’s fate at CBS wasn’t an illustration of opportunism but rather one that showed what happens to those who dissent from the liberal party line. Let’s hope she lands on her feet. But the bias problem she leaves behind at CBS and that at other liberal mainstream papers and broadcast outlets remains a glaring indictment of the American press.

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Putin and Pyrrhic Victories

Of the attempts to take a more optimistic view of Vladimir Putin’s shoplifting spree on Ukrainian territory, two stand out. One is the idea that Putin is, as President Obama said, acting “out of weakness,” not strength. The other is that Russia’s annexation of Crimea will be something of a Pyrrhic victory by slow bleed–that Putin has taken on an economic albatross.

To the first, the general response is: Who cares? Either international laws and norms must be followed, or they don’t. Psychoanalysis is far more useful to those seeking to predict future behavior, because putting Putin on the couch will not give Ukraine back its territory. The second one has a corollary, voiced today by Owen Matthews in the Spectator–that just as gaining Crimea will weigh down Russia’s budget, losing Crimea will unburden Ukrainian domestic politics. Here’s the crux of his argument:

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Of the attempts to take a more optimistic view of Vladimir Putin’s shoplifting spree on Ukrainian territory, two stand out. One is the idea that Putin is, as President Obama said, acting “out of weakness,” not strength. The other is that Russia’s annexation of Crimea will be something of a Pyrrhic victory by slow bleed–that Putin has taken on an economic albatross.

To the first, the general response is: Who cares? Either international laws and norms must be followed, or they don’t. Psychoanalysis is far more useful to those seeking to predict future behavior, because putting Putin on the couch will not give Ukraine back its territory. The second one has a corollary, voiced today by Owen Matthews in the Spectator–that just as gaining Crimea will weigh down Russia’s budget, losing Crimea will unburden Ukrainian domestic politics. Here’s the crux of his argument:

With Crimea gone, Ukrainian politics will no longer be a tug of war between the Ukrainian west and the Russian east: the balance of power tips irrevocably west.

Thanks to Putin’s rash decision to occupy Crimea, not just the EU but its most powerful members — notably Germany, the UK, France and Poland — realise that supporting Ukraine is no longer about handouts but principle. Countries that strive towards European values — and suffer for it — should be rewarded and protected. Angela Merkel, the European leader who knows Putin best and is usually the most conciliatory towards Russia, told the Bundestag last week that he was ‘on a different planet’. Brussels has hurried to offer an amended Association Agreement; the US has backed a generous bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

That’s what Ukraine and the West stand to gain. Here’s what Russia stands to lose:

Doubtless Putin will pour money into his acquisition, as he has done into Chechnya, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But making Crimea a viable part of the Russian Federation will be cripplingly expensive. ‘Today, our Crimea looks no better than Palestine’ — not the words of a EuroMaidan enthusiast in Kiev but of Russia’s regional development minister, Igor Slyunayev, speaking to the Russian business daily Kommersant just before Putin’s Anschluss. …

But Putin’s biggest problem is not that annexing Crimea will be expensive for the treasury — it is that it will be expensive for Russia’s elite. On the face of it, US and EU sanctions amount to a mere pinprick. But the cost to Russia’s business class will be deep, and come in subtler ways — higher borrowing costs, evaporated international enthusiasm for their share offerings, a sliding stock market, a weak ruble, bad credit ratings. With energy prices sliding too, and Europe pushing hard to find alternatives to Gazprom, Putin is strangling the goose that laid golden eggs in pursuit of an incoherent imperial vision. Russia’s moneyed class will not forgive him.

Perhaps, but one is tempted to once again respond, at least to that last point: Who cares? Is Putin in need of the forgiveness of “Russia’s moneyed class?” When Putin instituted his so-called national champions policy of raiding the private sector and bringing important economic industries under Moscow’s thumb, he did a great many things that were both antidemocratic and bad for business. When Boris Berezovsky fled and Mikhail Khodorkovsky was thrown in prison, Russia’s “moneyed class” did not demand an apology from Putin.

His past displays of raw power have had economic downsides–and quite predictable ones at that. They have not been followed by Putin begging for forgiveness; in fact, they often boost his approval with the Russian public. Long term, of course, this might not be the case. There is a very strong argument that what Putin is doing is ultimately unsustainable, that eventually the bottom will fall out. The crucial question for the West will be to figure out what this means until then.

So if Matthews is right that Putin is accelerating a downward spiral, and Obama is right that Putin orders the invasions of other sovereign states out of weakness, doesn’t that suggest that the West ought to be prepared for more Russian adventurism? That, as the Wall Street Journal reports, appears to be the case: “Russian troops massing near Ukraine are actively concealing their positions and establishing supply lines that could be used in a prolonged deployment, ratcheting up concerns that Moscow is preparing for another major incursion and not conducting exercises as it claims, U.S. officials said.”

The incursion could be done “without warning” because the pieces are in place. It’s easy, from a certain distance, to say that Putin is foolishly bringing about the decline of his own power structure. And it may even be true. But the complacency with which Putin’s repeated invasions are being treated in the West suggests a lack of both resolve and urgency where more of both are needed.

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“J-Streetophobia” and Shutting Down the Debate

A documentary simply titled The J Street Challenge has been stirring up much debate and controversy in recent weeks. I wrote about it here when it was first released, but since then the debate surrounding it has only grown louder. Most recently a dispute arose as supporters of the left-wing lobby group J Street protested the showing of the documentary at Greater Philadelphia Hillel as part of an event discussing what it means to be pro-Israel. With J Street bidding to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, it seems this is not a debate J Streeters want to be the focus of right now. But for years J Street and those who share its views have been calling for just such a debate. This documentary, featuring such figures as Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz and Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens, is the most concerted effort yet by mainstream Zionism to answer J Street’s claims with clear counterarguments.

This is what “Liberal Zionists” on the Jewish left have been demanding, they must be so pleased that someone finally took them seriously enough to reply, right? Wrong. As ever, rather than take on any of these accusations directly, they have simply gone for that tried and tested method of shutting down debate by demonizing anyone who criticizes their views. The most recent, and indeed most astonishing example of this comes from Bradley Burston writing in Haaretz. In his piece J-Streetophobia, and the U.S. Jewish right’s hatred for American Jews Burston argues that this documentary is a window into the minds of what he calls “the Jewish right,” exposing how this seething faction is driven by its resentment of the rest of the Jewish community. In fact most of the voices in this film seem broadly in line with the pro-Israel consensus.

What is perhaps most striking about this line of argument is the one-directional set of standards that it operates on. When Jewish liberals in America criticize, condemn, and yes at times demonize Israelis, they tell us they do it out of love. Yet when those with a more “hawkish” perspective have the temerity to try and pick holes in liberal arguments, well then it must obviously be motivated by hate. It’s not a particularly sophisticated worldview: liberals are innately nice and conservatives are by their very definition nasty.

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A documentary simply titled The J Street Challenge has been stirring up much debate and controversy in recent weeks. I wrote about it here when it was first released, but since then the debate surrounding it has only grown louder. Most recently a dispute arose as supporters of the left-wing lobby group J Street protested the showing of the documentary at Greater Philadelphia Hillel as part of an event discussing what it means to be pro-Israel. With J Street bidding to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, it seems this is not a debate J Streeters want to be the focus of right now. But for years J Street and those who share its views have been calling for just such a debate. This documentary, featuring such figures as Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz and Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens, is the most concerted effort yet by mainstream Zionism to answer J Street’s claims with clear counterarguments.

This is what “Liberal Zionists” on the Jewish left have been demanding, they must be so pleased that someone finally took them seriously enough to reply, right? Wrong. As ever, rather than take on any of these accusations directly, they have simply gone for that tried and tested method of shutting down debate by demonizing anyone who criticizes their views. The most recent, and indeed most astonishing example of this comes from Bradley Burston writing in Haaretz. In his piece J-Streetophobia, and the U.S. Jewish right’s hatred for American Jews Burston argues that this documentary is a window into the minds of what he calls “the Jewish right,” exposing how this seething faction is driven by its resentment of the rest of the Jewish community. In fact most of the voices in this film seem broadly in line with the pro-Israel consensus.

What is perhaps most striking about this line of argument is the one-directional set of standards that it operates on. When Jewish liberals in America criticize, condemn, and yes at times demonize Israelis, they tell us they do it out of love. Yet when those with a more “hawkish” perspective have the temerity to try and pick holes in liberal arguments, well then it must obviously be motivated by hate. It’s not a particularly sophisticated worldview: liberals are innately nice and conservatives are by their very definition nasty.

Of course Burston is arguing nothing new here; the view he promotes is simply that of Peter Beinart, the movement’s would-be theorist in chief. In his manifesto for liberal Zionism The Crisis of Zionism, Beinart even claims that, contrary to popular belief, it is actually Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who has the problem with President Obama. This, explains Beinart, is because Obama, as a liberal and thus a “Jewish President,” reminds Netanyahu of what he most dislikes about Jews. Presumably all of this is supposed to be profound, yet reading these lines many will have felt as if they were entering some kind of Alice-through-the-looking-glass inversion of reality.

The liberal Zionist argument regularly portrays the Likud-led Israeli right as little more than a fascist gang hell-bent on transforming Israel into a banana republic. The settlers are portrayed as still more frightful, ultra-religious crazies whose shadowy influence pulls unseen strings in the corridors of the Israeli government so as to keep the rest of Israel hostage in an imperialist conflict. Those speaking in The J Street Challenge on the other hand at no point try to frame Jewish liberals as even remotely ill willed. They simply seek to show how a well-meaning worldview has become quite precariously misguided and how the leadership of this movement has demonstrated a tendency toward dishonesty at times. Yet, Burston describes the film as “odd-man-out bitterness and the burning, bully pulpit venom of marquee personalities in the American Jewish right.” That description itself might sound pretty venomous to most observers.

Of course, there is no such thing as J-Streetophobia, although there is plenty of critique of those J Street activities that run directly counter to the mainstream view. Yet one cannot help but reflect on the familiar pattern of how liberals have also been known to try and deflect comment on extremist Islam by labeling it Islamophobia. If in doubt, shut down the debate with cries of bigotry. Since liberal Zionists keep calling for an open discussion within the American Jewish community about Israeli policies, why don’t they stop demonizing and start debating? Could it be that they suspect that in fair fight they wouldn’t win?

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An Alternative Model for Pro-Israel Liberals

Alan Dershowitz has a blistering column in Haaretz today explaining why no self-respecting pro-Israel liberal should support J Street. Yet many genuinely pro-Israel liberals will likely continue doing so, for the same reason they continue giving to the New Israel Fund despite its track record of funding political warfare against Israel: They want an outlet for pro-Israel sentiment that also allows them to try to alter Israeli policies, whether foreign or domestic, with which they disagree. And absent a genuine outlet, it’s human nature to cling instead to groups that falsely purport to fill this niche, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Hence an alternative model for pro-Israel liberalism is desperately needed.

The good news is that such a model exists. The bad news is that few people know about it–which is why Haaretz’s profile of philanthropist Robert Price earlier this month ought to be required reading for pro-Israel liberals. Price, who self-identifies as “toward the J Street side of things,” is a major donor to Israel, but on principle, he refuses to give to any Jewish Israeli institution: He focuses exclusively on the most disadvantaged fifth of Israeli society–the Arab community. Yet unlike, say, the NIF, Price doesn’t seek to “empower” Israeli Arabs by financing their leadership’s political war on Israel. Instead, he tries to promote Israeli Arabs’ integration, by focusing on educational initiatives that will ultimately improve their job prospects and earning power: early-childhood community centers in Arab towns and, more recently, an Arabic-language version of PJ Library. As he put it, “Arabs represent 20 percent of the population and have an opportunity, we think, to be productive citizens and to actually enrich the fabric of life in Israel if provided reasonable opportunities.”

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Alan Dershowitz has a blistering column in Haaretz today explaining why no self-respecting pro-Israel liberal should support J Street. Yet many genuinely pro-Israel liberals will likely continue doing so, for the same reason they continue giving to the New Israel Fund despite its track record of funding political warfare against Israel: They want an outlet for pro-Israel sentiment that also allows them to try to alter Israeli policies, whether foreign or domestic, with which they disagree. And absent a genuine outlet, it’s human nature to cling instead to groups that falsely purport to fill this niche, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Hence an alternative model for pro-Israel liberalism is desperately needed.

The good news is that such a model exists. The bad news is that few people know about it–which is why Haaretz’s profile of philanthropist Robert Price earlier this month ought to be required reading for pro-Israel liberals. Price, who self-identifies as “toward the J Street side of things,” is a major donor to Israel, but on principle, he refuses to give to any Jewish Israeli institution: He focuses exclusively on the most disadvantaged fifth of Israeli society–the Arab community. Yet unlike, say, the NIF, Price doesn’t seek to “empower” Israeli Arabs by financing their leadership’s political war on Israel. Instead, he tries to promote Israeli Arabs’ integration, by focusing on educational initiatives that will ultimately improve their job prospects and earning power: early-childhood community centers in Arab towns and, more recently, an Arabic-language version of PJ Library. As he put it, “Arabs represent 20 percent of the population and have an opportunity, we think, to be productive citizens and to actually enrich the fabric of life in Israel if provided reasonable opportunities.”

This is a radical contrast to the NIF, which claims to promote integration but actually promotes Arab separatism. For instance, it’s a major funder of Adalah, an Israeli Arab NGO that actively promotes boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, terms Israel an “apartheid state,” and demands a “right of return” for millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees. It was also a major funder of Mada al-Carmel, another Israeli Arab NGO, whose flagship project was the infamous Haifa Declaration. This document, compiled by dozens of Israeli Arab intellectuals, terms Zionism a “colonial-settler project” that, “in concert with world imperialism,” succeeded in 1948 “in occupying our homeland and transforming it into a state for the Jews,” partly by committing “massacres.” Israel, it adds, can atone for this sin only by transforming itself into a binational state with an Arab majority (via an influx of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees).

Needless to say, such activities by Israeli Arab NGOs not only undermine Israel, but also worsen Jewish-Arab tensions and exacerbate anti-Arab discrimination: Why would any Israeli Jew want to help or even associate with a community whose leadership actively seeks the Jewish state’s annihilation? Thus by funding such activities, NIF hurts both Israel and the Arab minority it ostensibly seeks to help.

By promoting integration, in contrast, Price is helping both Israel and its Arab minority, and working to reduce discrimination–which is precisely what one would expect a pro-Israel liberal to want to do.

There are numerous ways to promote liberal goals while also genuinely helping Israel. Examples include programs that help ultra-Orthodox Jews acquire secular educations and enter the workplace, or that promote the integration of Ethiopian-Israelis, or that foster Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. But by clinging instead to groups like J Street and NIF, while turning a blind eye to their reality, liberals aren’t just harming Israel. They’re also missing precious opportunities to genuinely make Israel a better, more equal, and more just society.

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The Odious Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough interviewed Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, asking him about the charge by Majority Leader Harry Reid that the conservative philanthropist David Koch is “un-American.” Scarborough asked Schumer whether he associated himself with Reid’s statement. 

Senator Schumer began his answer by ducking and weaving, shifting attention from Reid’s claim to Schumer’s disagreement with the Kochs’ preferred policies.

“But, senator, can’t we have a disagreement about how charity is funded without calling somebody un-American?” Scarborough countered. He continued to press Schumer to answer his question. “Do you think David Koch is un-American?”

Schumer finally said, “The commercials he runs are not part of the American mainstream. No two people [David Koch and his brother Charles] should have such a huge influence on our politics. That’s not First Amendment … I think the commercials he is running are against the American grain and un-American, yes …. I think what Harry Reid was saying was the actions are un-American. And they are, and they should change.”

I wonder if people quite appreciate how disgusting this all is. Here we have two Democratic senators labeling a private citizen as being “un-American” because that citizen is vocally advocating public policies they disagree with.

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MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough interviewed Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, asking him about the charge by Majority Leader Harry Reid that the conservative philanthropist David Koch is “un-American.” Scarborough asked Schumer whether he associated himself with Reid’s statement. 

Senator Schumer began his answer by ducking and weaving, shifting attention from Reid’s claim to Schumer’s disagreement with the Kochs’ preferred policies.

“But, senator, can’t we have a disagreement about how charity is funded without calling somebody un-American?” Scarborough countered. He continued to press Schumer to answer his question. “Do you think David Koch is un-American?”

Schumer finally said, “The commercials he runs are not part of the American mainstream. No two people [David Koch and his brother Charles] should have such a huge influence on our politics. That’s not First Amendment … I think the commercials he is running are against the American grain and un-American, yes …. I think what Harry Reid was saying was the actions are un-American. And they are, and they should change.”

I wonder if people quite appreciate how disgusting this all is. Here we have two Democratic senators labeling a private citizen as being “un-American” because that citizen is vocally advocating public policies they disagree with.

Can you imagine the media (and Hollywood) firestorm if Senator Ted Cruz went to the Senate floor and repeatedly accused, say, Jeffrey Katzenberg of being “un-American”–and Mike Lee echoed the charge?

It’s worth considering, too, the corrupting effect on language these charges have. If advocating cuts in record-high federal spending and running ads opposing the Affordable Care Act are deemed to be “un-American,” where exactly does this all end? Allowing powerful senators like Reid and Schumer to smear private citizens in this way further undermines our political and civic life. You might think members of the political class would speak out against such things. But you would be wrong (apart from honorable exceptions like Scarborough).

For the record, the definition of McCarthyism is “the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.” Speaking of which, here is what Edward R. Murrow said of Senator Joseph McCarthy:

His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind … We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men …

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities.

Senators Reid and Schumer, small and mean men, are trying to usher in a new age of unreason. This is no time for those who oppose them to keep silent. Because we cannot escape responsibility for the result.

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The Other Refugees and the Path to Peace

Today Canada’s foreign minister proved once again why the Great White North is one of the world’s outliers with regard to the Middle East. Foreign Minister John Baird said that the Canadian government stated that the fate of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries should be both recognized and taken into account in discussions about Middle East peace. The statement followed Canada’s parliament adopting a report on the subject and though Baird was careful to say that he didn’t want the issue to become a point of contention in the talks between Israel and the Palestinians sponsored by the United States, the mere raising of the topic is enough to cause some of Israel’s critics to claim the Canadians are trying to sabotage the negotiations. While the Israelis have repeatedly raised the issue of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled or were forced to flee their homes throughout the Arab world in the months and years following Israel’s birth in 1948, the Palestinians not only refuse to discuss the matter, they regard it as a distraction from the “nakba”—or disaster, as they refer to Israel’s creation. But in doing so they make it plain that this issue is central to understanding why peace has eluded the region.

The argument about competing sets of refugees is not an abstract historical puzzle. To even talk about Jewish refugees with their own history of suffering undermines the narrative that the only result of Israel’s War of Independence was the dispossession of a Palestinian refugee population whose descendants continue to demand a “right of return” to the homes they left 66 years ago. For the same reason that the Palestinian Authority refuses absolutely to recognize that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, so, too, do they and their supporters close their ears to any discussion about Jewish refugees. Palestinians fear that both subjects undermine their sense of themselves as victims who must be compensated by the world. But while they believe that any diminution of that victimhood, either to recognize the claims of other refugees or the state where most of dispossessed Jews found a home, would deprive them of their identity as a people, the truth is just the opposite. Discarding this mindset is the only way that they—or the Israelis—will ever find peace.

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Today Canada’s foreign minister proved once again why the Great White North is one of the world’s outliers with regard to the Middle East. Foreign Minister John Baird said that the Canadian government stated that the fate of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries should be both recognized and taken into account in discussions about Middle East peace. The statement followed Canada’s parliament adopting a report on the subject and though Baird was careful to say that he didn’t want the issue to become a point of contention in the talks between Israel and the Palestinians sponsored by the United States, the mere raising of the topic is enough to cause some of Israel’s critics to claim the Canadians are trying to sabotage the negotiations. While the Israelis have repeatedly raised the issue of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled or were forced to flee their homes throughout the Arab world in the months and years following Israel’s birth in 1948, the Palestinians not only refuse to discuss the matter, they regard it as a distraction from the “nakba”—or disaster, as they refer to Israel’s creation. But in doing so they make it plain that this issue is central to understanding why peace has eluded the region.

The argument about competing sets of refugees is not an abstract historical puzzle. To even talk about Jewish refugees with their own history of suffering undermines the narrative that the only result of Israel’s War of Independence was the dispossession of a Palestinian refugee population whose descendants continue to demand a “right of return” to the homes they left 66 years ago. For the same reason that the Palestinian Authority refuses absolutely to recognize that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, so, too, do they and their supporters close their ears to any discussion about Jewish refugees. Palestinians fear that both subjects undermine their sense of themselves as victims who must be compensated by the world. But while they believe that any diminution of that victimhood, either to recognize the claims of other refugees or the state where most of dispossessed Jews found a home, would deprive them of their identity as a people, the truth is just the opposite. Discarding this mindset is the only way that they—or the Israelis—will ever find peace.

The Canadian report will undoubtedly be ignored by the international press that tends to treat any mention of Jewish refugees as somehow an illustration of Israel’s lack of contrition about the suffering of the Palestinians. But the more that one learns about the topic, the easier it is to understand that there was no monopoly on suffering in this conflict. Just as hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or, in a few cases, were told to leave their homes in the former British Mandate for Palestine, almost an equal number of Jews throughout the Arab and Muslim world experienced the same fate.

The difference between the two populations was that the Jews were taken in and resettled by their brethren, either in the newborn state of Israel or in Western countries. Though their journeys and adjustment to their new homes was not always easy, none were allowed to languish in limbo. Today, they and their descendants in Israel or in the United States and other Western countries are members of successful communities where they enjoy equal rights.

By contrast, the Arabs who left the territory that would become the State of Israel were deliberately kept in camps to this day and denied any resettlement or citizenship in the countries where they found themselves. The reason for this was that they were useful props in the Arab world’s ongoing war to reverse the verdict of that war. Their future was held hostage to the struggle to destroy Israel, and the refugees and their numerous progeny have been kept apart and in squalor in order to further that effort. Their plight merits the sympathy of the world. So, too, does the way they have been exploited and abused by their own leaders and other Arab countries.

Unfortunately, many of those who wish the Palestinians well, including many Jews, have accommodated their nakba narrative demands and sought to pressure Israel to apologize for winning the war of survival in 1948. But the Palestinian decision to cling to this narrative of suffering rather than embracing one of nation building in the West Bank and Gaza, where Israel has repeatedly offered them an independent state, is the primary obstacle to peace. As Rick Richman noted earlier this week, the point of insisting on the so-called “right of return” is not really the refugees but to keep the war against Israel’s existence alive. Not until they realize that they were not the only ones who suffered and that the war that led to their dispossession was the result of their own unwillingness to compromise and share the land will the Palestinians be prepared to accept the current compromise that has been on the table from Israel for many years, and finally move on.

Far from harming the cause of peace, the best thing those who wish to promote a resolution of the Middle East conflict can do is to remind the Palestinians that they were not the only ones who lost their homes and that the Arab world has as much apologizing to do as the Israelis. If one group of refugees must be compensated, so must the other. Just as two states for two peoples is the only possible formula for peace, let the Palestinians recognize that they aren’t the only 1948 refugees. Until they do and acknowledge the legitimacy of a state for those Jewish refugees, peace will be impossible.

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Another Netanyahu Rival Eliminated

Today brought another piece of bad news for Israelis and Americans who have been desperately searching for someone, anyone, to pose a credible challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The plea bargain agreed to by a top aide to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seems to put a bow on the case that state prosecutors have been trying to build against him for years. Shula Zaken, who ran Olmert’s office when he was mayor of Jerusalem as well as prime minister, has reportedly agreed to tell all about his corrupt dealings, both in the Holyland affair, which is currently being tried, and on other charges, including those on which the former PM had either drawn a slap on the wrist or been acquitted. Even worse than detailing the way he diverted money illegally into his own accounts, Zaken allegedly has a tape of Olmert pressuring her to clam up about his crimes in exchange for money that will undoubtedly lead to an obstruction of justice charge.

This is hardly good news for Israelis who have already seen a president sent to jail for rape (Moshe Katsav) and a leading candidate for that largely symbolic office (Silvan Shalom, a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet), disqualified by similar charges just this month. But aside from the dismal spectacle of someone who is protected by the Shin Bet much in the way former U.S. presidents are guarded by the Secret Service being hauled off to jail, Olmert’s fate also makes it just a little more difficult to imagine anyone mounting an effective challenge to Netanyahu in 2017 when he will be up for reelection.

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Today brought another piece of bad news for Israelis and Americans who have been desperately searching for someone, anyone, to pose a credible challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The plea bargain agreed to by a top aide to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seems to put a bow on the case that state prosecutors have been trying to build against him for years. Shula Zaken, who ran Olmert’s office when he was mayor of Jerusalem as well as prime minister, has reportedly agreed to tell all about his corrupt dealings, both in the Holyland affair, which is currently being tried, and on other charges, including those on which the former PM had either drawn a slap on the wrist or been acquitted. Even worse than detailing the way he diverted money illegally into his own accounts, Zaken allegedly has a tape of Olmert pressuring her to clam up about his crimes in exchange for money that will undoubtedly lead to an obstruction of justice charge.

This is hardly good news for Israelis who have already seen a president sent to jail for rape (Moshe Katsav) and a leading candidate for that largely symbolic office (Silvan Shalom, a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet), disqualified by similar charges just this month. But aside from the dismal spectacle of someone who is protected by the Shin Bet much in the way former U.S. presidents are guarded by the Secret Service being hauled off to jail, Olmert’s fate also makes it just a little more difficult to imagine anyone mounting an effective challenge to Netanyahu in 2017 when he will be up for reelection.

I have always been skeptical about the notion that Olmert had any chance to return to the prime minister’s office or even a leading role in the Knesset. Even if you assumed, as many Israelis did, that state prosecutors would never be able to secure a conviction on any of the many corruption charges lodged against Olmert, the main problem he faced was the public’s memory of his inglorious record as prime minister.

Like most of the leading opportunists of both the Likud and Labor who joined the late Ariel Sharon’s Kadima Party in 2005, Olmert thought it was a ticket to office. But few Israelis were thinking that the creation of the centrist group (formed to back Sharon’s disastrous Gaza withdrawal plan) would lead to Olmert’s becoming prime minister. But that’s what happened when Sharon was felled by a cerebral hemorrhage in January 2006. Olmert won the election that followed on the basis of Sharon’s memory. But within months the outbreak of a war with Hezbollah along Israel’s northern border exposed him as unready for power.

His weak leadership contributed to the disastrous outcome of that conflict as well as the worsening of the situation along the border with Gaza as Gilad Shalit’s kidnapping and the ceaseless bombardment of southern Israel by Hamas missiles showed. In the waning months of his three-year administration (he chose not to seek reelection because of the pending corruption cases against him) Olmert redeemed his reputation somewhat by ordering the Cast Lead offensive into Gaza to stop the rockets. He also gained applause in the U.S. and among Israeli left-wingers by making a peace offer to the Palestinians of independence and statehood that exceeded even the ones made by Ehud Barak to Yasir Arafat. But Mahmoud Abbas fled the negotiations rather than give him an answer.

Nevertheless, Olmert was deeply unpopular for almost his entire term in office. At one point his favorability ratings were actually in the single digits and overlapped with the pollsters’ margin of error, opening up the possibility that almost no one in the country approved of his job performance. Nevertheless, Olmert’s ability to escape punishment on the first charges on which he was tried led some to believe he could mount a comeback. With none of the heads of Israel’s various parties other than Netanyahu thought to be ready for the post of prime minister, Olmert’s experience made him a possibility to lead a center-left coalition against the Likud leader. Frequent speaking engagements where liberal American Jews applauded him for his criticisms of Netanyahu convinced some that he had a political future as a peace candidate.

That’s all over now. Left-wing critics of Netanyahu must hope that one of the PM’s rivals, such as Labor Party head Isaac Herzog, will emerge as a genuine competitor in the next three years. But whatever happens in the coming months and years—and Israeli politics will remain deeply influenced by the refusal of the Palestinians to make peace—Netanyahu needn’t worry about Olmert anymore.  

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Not All Political Gaffes Are Created Equal

With this year’s Senate races starting to heat up, the media (and opposition research trackers from the campaigns) are going over anything said or released by anyone running for the kind of gaffe that can turn a race around. Examples, like former Senator George Allen’s weird “macaca” insult thrown at a Democratic operative in 2006 or Todd Akin’s obtuse comments about rape and pregnancy, keep staffers searching for mistakes like ’49ers panning for gold.

This week, we had two major gaffes by senatorial campaigns that left the candidates—Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley—with egg on their faces. But while both got considerable and deserved coverage, a close look at the two demonstrates that not all political gaffes are created equal. While McConnell was embarrassed by the error made by the people who produced a campaign video, Braley’s taped comments dismissing Iowa Senator Charles Grassley as a mere “farmer from Iowa” may well rank with Allen or Akin’s gaffes. Even worse, like Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” line, also made at a fundraiser to what he presumed was a friendly audience, Braley’s indiscretion may transform him from a likely winner to a candidate who may turn a blue seat into a red one in November.

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With this year’s Senate races starting to heat up, the media (and opposition research trackers from the campaigns) are going over anything said or released by anyone running for the kind of gaffe that can turn a race around. Examples, like former Senator George Allen’s weird “macaca” insult thrown at a Democratic operative in 2006 or Todd Akin’s obtuse comments about rape and pregnancy, keep staffers searching for mistakes like ’49ers panning for gold.

This week, we had two major gaffes by senatorial campaigns that left the candidates—Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley—with egg on their faces. But while both got considerable and deserved coverage, a close look at the two demonstrates that not all political gaffes are created equal. While McConnell was embarrassed by the error made by the people who produced a campaign video, Braley’s taped comments dismissing Iowa Senator Charles Grassley as a mere “farmer from Iowa” may well rank with Allen or Akin’s gaffes. Even worse, like Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” line, also made at a fundraiser to what he presumed was a friendly audience, Braley’s indiscretion may transform him from a likely winner to a candidate who may turn a blue seat into a red one in November.

The two mistakes in question were the kind designed to generate coverage. In the case of McConnell, it concerned a campaign video posted on the Internet that featured a montage of images while the voice of the candidate is heard promising what he will do if he takes over as majority leader of the Senate next year, something that requires not only major Republican gains around the country, but also his reelection in what promises to be a tough race against Alison Lundergan Grimes. One of the final images seen is a brief glimpse of basketball players wearing blue and white jerseys celebrating a victory. But unfortunately for McConnell, the players on the court are not members of the University of Kentucky’s 2012 NCAA champions but those of Duke University’s 2010 winners of the same title (who wear the same colors but with a different name on their shirts). Suffice it to say that McConnell will never hear the end of this in basketball-mad Kentucky.

But there is a difference between a video montage created by a staff—and which appears for approximately two seconds on the screen—and the sort of elitist contempt displayed by Braley. As Tom Bevan wrote on RealClearPolitics about the incident, it’s hard to understand why a candidate in this day and age doesn’t assume that the “camera is on” no matter where they are and to whom they are speaking. It is also astonishing that someone running for office in an agricultural state would disparage a farmer in any context.

The context in question, which Democratic apologists have cited, is that he was discussing the fact that if the Republicans take control of the Senate, Grassley, the state’s senior senator, will become the chair of the Judiciary Committee. This is something that Braley, a trial lawyer by profession who was speaking to a group of trial lawyers at a Dallas fundraiser, regards with horror not only because Grassley is a Republican but because he isn’t a lawyer. Perhaps most lawyers feel the same way, but the odds are, most voters in any state view the matter differently. If anything, the fact that Grassley isn’t a lawyer would probably be an argument in favor of the GOP since most Americans think lawyers already have too much influence in Congress. And it’s probably a given that most Iowans think there’s nothing wrong with having a farmer—even one that’s served on the Judiciary Committee for many years—telling the lawyers what to do.

Thus, rather than just an embarrassing gaffe that could be viewed as an insult to the honor of Iowa and made up for by enough groveling tributes to agriculture by Braley, the video of him showing disrespect for Grassley’s qualifications is the kind of mistake that voters understand gives them an insight into the candidate’s character. That’s something the Republican candidate will take full advantage of, especially if it turns out to be State Senator Joni Ernst, who has been stumping the state bragging that she will make Washington squeal the same way that the pigs she castrated back on her family farm did. Interestingly, that line seems to have Ernst, who was widely seen as more a favorite of establishment Republicans than Tea Partiers or social conservatives, Sarah Palin’s endorsement this week.

Unlike McConnell’s blooper, Braley’s mistake could help cost the Democrats a seat (currently held by the retiring Tom Harkin) they can ill afford to lose.

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RE: GOP Playing to Win in 2014

I certainly agree with Jonathan that it’s nice to see Republicans this time around apparently keeping their eye on the ball (which is victory in November) rather than demanding an ideological purity that results in a candidate who couldn’t get elected dog catcher because he says dumb things. The dumb statement is then turned into a 30-second attack ad, endlessly repeated, and the candidate sinks without a bubble.

But maybe this year it is the turn of Democratic candidates to say dumb things. National Journal reported the other day that the likely Democratic candidate to replace Senator Tom Harkin in Iowa this year, Rep. Bruce Braley, came up with a beaut.

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I certainly agree with Jonathan that it’s nice to see Republicans this time around apparently keeping their eye on the ball (which is victory in November) rather than demanding an ideological purity that results in a candidate who couldn’t get elected dog catcher because he says dumb things. The dumb statement is then turned into a 30-second attack ad, endlessly repeated, and the candidate sinks without a bubble.

But maybe this year it is the turn of Democratic candidates to say dumb things. National Journal reported the other day that the likely Democratic candidate to replace Senator Tom Harkin in Iowa this year, Rep. Bruce Braley, came up with a beaut.

Talking to a group of lawyers at a Texas fundraiser that was supposed to be off the record—but was video recorded on someone’s cell phone—Braley managed to insult both Iowa’s other senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, in particular and farmers in general. With 97,000 farms in Iowa, that is probably not a good idea in a race for an Iowa senate seat.

Braley, noting that Senator Grassley is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that if there is a Republican majority in the Senate next year, “You might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

He then compounded the felony by noting that he was not a farmer but a lawyer, and that if he were on the Judiciary Committee there would be someone on the committee with,  “your background, your experience, your voice, someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years.” In other words, on the committee he wouldn’t represent the interests of the people of Iowa, he would instead represent the interests of lawyers.

This was also not too smart. As James Taranto pointed out yesterday, a Google search on “lawyer jokes” turns up 28 million matches. Lawyers, in other words are about as unpopular as members of Congress. Nearly the only people in the country who are against tort reform (and legal reform generally, for that matter) are lawyers and their very well-funded water bearers in Congress and state legislatures, like Rep. Braley.

The video should make a great attack ad.

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Siemens CEO’s Craven Photo-Op with Putin

The giant German engineering firm Siemens AG has, in common with other large German companies that have been around a long time, a deplorable history of having cooperated with the Nazi regime. The Anti-Defamation League notes:

Siemens ran factories at Ravensbrück and in the Auschwitz subcamp of Bobrek, among others, and the company supplied electrical parts to other concentration and death camps. In the camp factories, abysmal living and working conditions were ubiquitous: malnutrition and death were not uncommon. Recent scholarship has established how, despite German industry’s repeated denials, these camp factories were created, run, and supplied by the SS in conjunction with company officials — sometimes high-level employees.

So one would think that the current management of Siemens would have some sensitivity about embracing a modern-day dictator whose aggression has been compared to that of 1930s Germany. Apparently not. Even as the leaders of the West are struggling to isolate and punish Vladimir Putin for his illegal declaration of Anschluss with Crimea, the CEO of Siemens AG, Joe Kaeser, was meeting with Putin at his official residence outside Moscow.

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The giant German engineering firm Siemens AG has, in common with other large German companies that have been around a long time, a deplorable history of having cooperated with the Nazi regime. The Anti-Defamation League notes:

Siemens ran factories at Ravensbrück and in the Auschwitz subcamp of Bobrek, among others, and the company supplied electrical parts to other concentration and death camps. In the camp factories, abysmal living and working conditions were ubiquitous: malnutrition and death were not uncommon. Recent scholarship has established how, despite German industry’s repeated denials, these camp factories were created, run, and supplied by the SS in conjunction with company officials — sometimes high-level employees.

So one would think that the current management of Siemens would have some sensitivity about embracing a modern-day dictator whose aggression has been compared to that of 1930s Germany. Apparently not. Even as the leaders of the West are struggling to isolate and punish Vladimir Putin for his illegal declaration of Anschluss with Crimea, the CEO of Siemens AG, Joe Kaeser, was meeting with Putin at his official residence outside Moscow.

In a visit that was billed by newspapers as a “vote of confidence” in Putin, Kaeser posed alongside Putin and declared: “Siemens has been present in Russia since 1853—a presence that has survived many highs and low. We want to maintain the conversation even in today’s politically difficult times. For us, dialogue is a crucial part of a long-term relationship.”

It’s obvious what Kaeser is up to: He is trying to protect $2.99 billion in sales that his company had in Russia last year. Yet it is hard to make the case that Russia is a make-or-break market for this industrial giant since it accounts for only 2.9 percent of Siemens’ revenues. In short, Kaeser’s reprehensible embrace of an international outlaw who has violated Ukrainian sovereignty and routinely violates the civil liberties of his own people is not even compelled by the bottom line. It is completely craven toadying of the kind that Siemens may well regret some day–just as so many companies, including his own, came to regret the public-relations damage of having done business with Hitler or, in more recent times, with despots like Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein.

Alas, the fact that Kaeser feels so free to almost literally embrace Putin shows how little will Europe has to confront the predator on its doorstep. Instead of reprimanding Kaeser, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who as a former citizen of East Germany should be more sensitive to dealing with ex-KGB thugs, simply said: “Business contacts are still taking place and I am not interested in seeing the situation escalate, but rather among towards a de-escalation.”

With such cravenness being displayed by the most powerful state in Europe, Putin must be getting the message loud and clear that his aggression is essentially cost-free.

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