Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 11, 2014

Why Shouldn’t We Defund the Boycotters?

When the American Studies Association joined the ranks of those supporting boycotts of the state of Israel, it probably never occurred to members of the group that someone might turn the tables on them. But they underestimated the ingenuity of pro-Israel activists and their friends in various state legislatures who decided that if the academic group wanted to play the boycott game, they ought to see how felt being on the other side of the table. Thus, legislators in New York, Maryland as well as some members of the U.S. House of Representatives have presented bills that would cut off or reduce funds for institutions of higher learning that used the money they get from the state to finance attendance at conferences sponsored by boycotters like the ASA or participated directly in boycott efforts.

But an interesting thing has happened on the way to passage of these common sense bills. As JTA reports, Jewish groups that are leaders in the effort to fight against the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement against Israel are opposing them. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee say such bills are a potential violation of academic freedom. Others, like the New York State United Teachers Union go further and make the argument that using the state money that goes to colleges to penalize institutions that are, albeit indirectly, supporting boycotters is an attack on freedom of speech. These protests led the New York legislature to shelve the original version of the bill and replace it with one that would essentially give schools a pass for subsidizing the ASA since it would allow them to use non-state money to support the boycott-related activity.

 I don’t doubt the commitment of either ADL or the AJC to the fight against BDS and I understand their reluctance to associate themselves with any measure that would potentially limit the ability of academics to express themselves or to penalize schools for the activities of what might only be a few radicals on their faculties. But I believe they’re wrong to have weighed in on this issue this manner. The problem is not just that the opposition of the ADL and the AJC to these bills makes their passage extremely unlikely. But they are also wrong on the merits. Defunding those who aid boycotts is both legal and morally correct.

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When the American Studies Association joined the ranks of those supporting boycotts of the state of Israel, it probably never occurred to members of the group that someone might turn the tables on them. But they underestimated the ingenuity of pro-Israel activists and their friends in various state legislatures who decided that if the academic group wanted to play the boycott game, they ought to see how felt being on the other side of the table. Thus, legislators in New York, Maryland as well as some members of the U.S. House of Representatives have presented bills that would cut off or reduce funds for institutions of higher learning that used the money they get from the state to finance attendance at conferences sponsored by boycotters like the ASA or participated directly in boycott efforts.

But an interesting thing has happened on the way to passage of these common sense bills. As JTA reports, Jewish groups that are leaders in the effort to fight against the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement against Israel are opposing them. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee say such bills are a potential violation of academic freedom. Others, like the New York State United Teachers Union go further and make the argument that using the state money that goes to colleges to penalize institutions that are, albeit indirectly, supporting boycotters is an attack on freedom of speech. These protests led the New York legislature to shelve the original version of the bill and replace it with one that would essentially give schools a pass for subsidizing the ASA since it would allow them to use non-state money to support the boycott-related activity.

 I don’t doubt the commitment of either ADL or the AJC to the fight against BDS and I understand their reluctance to associate themselves with any measure that would potentially limit the ability of academics to express themselves or to penalize schools for the activities of what might only be a few radicals on their faculties. But I believe they’re wrong to have weighed in on this issue this manner. The problem is not just that the opposition of the ADL and the AJC to these bills makes their passage extremely unlikely. But they are also wrong on the merits. Defunding those who aid boycotts is both legal and morally correct.

Both the federal government and states routinely put all sorts of conditions on any entity that takes their money. Some of those terms involve bureaucratic or legal obligations. But some are rooted in the basic concept that the state is under no obligation to fund activities that are immoral or discriminatory. Aiding BDS groups and those, like the ASA, who endorse and actively support Israel boycotts, fall into that latter category. Simply put, it is outrageous for schools or any institution to expect the taxpayers to stand by and let them use their hard-earned dollars to support activities that are inherently discriminatory.

Is this is a violation of academic freedom?

If the state were to mandate penalties for schools that taught courses that were deemed insufficiently supportive of Israel or requiring them to fire professors that were anti-Zionists, that would constitute unethical interference in academic activity. But no one is proposing that anti-Zionists be fired or that curricula be vetted for hostility to Israel in order for a school to be eligible for state money. What is at stake here is the question of whether schools will use their budgets to subsidize outside groups that support BDS or sponsor such activities on their own. Doing so would not restrict academic freedom but it would prevent the haters from being funded on backs of the taxpayers.

At the heart of this question is some confusion about the nature of the BDS movement. Reasonable people can differ on many issues including many of the elements of the Middle East conflict including borders, settlements and refugees. But the question of whether the one Jewish state in the world should be singled out for discriminatory treatment and marked for extinction is not just one more academic debate. It’s a matter of life and death as well as whether Jew-hatred should be treated as a matter of opinion.

Just as no one would question whether state funds should be used, even indirectly, to subsidize the Ku Klux Klan or any other racist group, neither should federal or state dollars go to institutions that are willing to underwrite the BDS movement and those that officially support its discriminatory policies.

Jewish groups like the ADL and the AJC are right to be cautious about bills that could be represented as unconscionable state interference with higher education or the freedom of academics to express their theories and beliefs. Part of being in a democracy means the obligation to tolerate opposing and even obnoxious or hateful views. But toleration of haters is not the same thing as a stance that deems such groups to be entitled as a matter of right to state money no matter what they do. Colleges and universities are forced to jump through innumerable hoops in order to get research grants or aid money of any kind. Asking them not to use their budgets to support a hate campaign against Israel is neither onerous nor a threat to academic freedom. Defunding the boycotters is not only legal and moral. It’s the right thing to do.

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The Danger of Ignoring Iran’s Threats

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed some understandable frustration yesterday about the international press’ lack of interest in last week’s capture of the Iranian arms ship Klos-C. As the Times of Israel reported:

He termed the prevailing lack of interest in Israel’s arms catch, a stark departure from the impact of the seizure of the PLO’s Karine-A in January 2002, “an additional testament to the age of hypocrisy in which we live.” Netanyahu, speaking in English to several dozen rather incredulous foreign reporters, called the international condemnations “feeble” and “few and far between.”

Netanyahu may have thought this tangible proof of not only Iran’s support for terrorism but also its active plotting to thwart peace negotiations would have an impact on the debate about the nuclear talks with Tehran. But anyone who thought this would cause the West to think seriously about the wisdom of a diplomatic process whose premise is a belief in the Islamist regime’s willingness to change or to moderate its policies was mistaken. The commitment of the Obama administration and its European allies to talks that seem at times to be more about an attempt to create a new détente with Iran than preventing them from obtaining nuclear capability is no longer in question. No matter how many missiles Iran ships to Gaza, there doesn’t seem to be any chance that the U.S. will be distracted from this purpose. And if the Klos-C didn’t change any minds about Iran, no one in Israel should be under any illusions about the latest comments from the head of Iran’s Revolutionary guard about Israel doing it either. As Iran’s English language FARS news agency reported today in a story headlined: “IRGC Commander: Iran’s Finger on Trigger to Destroy Zionist Regime:”

Lieutenant Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Hossein Salami underlined that Iranian military commanders are prepared to attack and destroy the Zionist regime of Israel as soon as they receive such an order.

“Today, we can destroy every spot which is under the Zionist regime’s control with any volume of fire power (that we want) right from here,” Salami said, addressing a conference in Tehran on Tuesday dubbed ‘the Islamic World’s Role in the Geometry of the World Power’.

“Islam has given us this wish, capacity and power to destroy the Zionist regime so that our hands will remain on the trigger from 1,400km away for the day when such an incident (confrontation with Israel) takes place,” he added.

Salami reminded that Iran is not the only country that enjoys such a capability, as even the artilleries of a number of other (Muslim) countries can also target and attack the Zionist regime today.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed some understandable frustration yesterday about the international press’ lack of interest in last week’s capture of the Iranian arms ship Klos-C. As the Times of Israel reported:

He termed the prevailing lack of interest in Israel’s arms catch, a stark departure from the impact of the seizure of the PLO’s Karine-A in January 2002, “an additional testament to the age of hypocrisy in which we live.” Netanyahu, speaking in English to several dozen rather incredulous foreign reporters, called the international condemnations “feeble” and “few and far between.”

Netanyahu may have thought this tangible proof of not only Iran’s support for terrorism but also its active plotting to thwart peace negotiations would have an impact on the debate about the nuclear talks with Tehran. But anyone who thought this would cause the West to think seriously about the wisdom of a diplomatic process whose premise is a belief in the Islamist regime’s willingness to change or to moderate its policies was mistaken. The commitment of the Obama administration and its European allies to talks that seem at times to be more about an attempt to create a new détente with Iran than preventing them from obtaining nuclear capability is no longer in question. No matter how many missiles Iran ships to Gaza, there doesn’t seem to be any chance that the U.S. will be distracted from this purpose. And if the Klos-C didn’t change any minds about Iran, no one in Israel should be under any illusions about the latest comments from the head of Iran’s Revolutionary guard about Israel doing it either. As Iran’s English language FARS news agency reported today in a story headlined: “IRGC Commander: Iran’s Finger on Trigger to Destroy Zionist Regime:”

Lieutenant Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Hossein Salami underlined that Iranian military commanders are prepared to attack and destroy the Zionist regime of Israel as soon as they receive such an order.

“Today, we can destroy every spot which is under the Zionist regime’s control with any volume of fire power (that we want) right from here,” Salami said, addressing a conference in Tehran on Tuesday dubbed ‘the Islamic World’s Role in the Geometry of the World Power’.

“Islam has given us this wish, capacity and power to destroy the Zionist regime so that our hands will remain on the trigger from 1,400km away for the day when such an incident (confrontation with Israel) takes place,” he added.

Salami reminded that Iran is not the only country that enjoys such a capability, as even the artilleries of a number of other (Muslim) countries can also target and attack the Zionist regime today.

While this statement, like many other similar threats issued by Iranian leaders will be ignored or rationalized by those who are uninterested in the truth about the intentions of the Islamist regime, Salami’s comments tell us a lot about the thinking in Tehran.

First of all, Salami’s remarks should refocus the P5+1 negotiators on the threat that an Iran with nuclear capability poses not just to Israel but also to moderate Arab nations and the West. While Iran’s apologists keep reminding us about how rational its theocratic leaders are and how even a nuclear weapon would not be used for genocidal purposes, the regime’s ambition to destroy the Jewish state is not a secret. It’s been a constant theme in Iranian rhetoric and is so entrenched as a staple of their political culture that it is impossible to seriously argue that they don’t mean what they say.

Nor can Iran’s threats be dismissed as empty braggadocio or as defensive in nature. As their arms smuggling venture proved, they are not waiting for the day when their nuclear project reaches its goal to utilize their considerable military resources to threaten Israel. The point of the missiles that were headed to Gaza wasn’t to serve as an annoyance like the small-scale weapons that were shipped to Hamas during the second intifada. Rather, they were intended to give Islamists in Gaza a strategic threat against Israeli cities in the center of the country. Combined with the formidable weaponry they have given their Hezbollah auxiliaries in Lebanon as well as the still-intact Assad government in Syria that owes its existence to Tehran, Iran’s bid for regional hegemony poses a direct threat to the peace of the world.

But when presented with proof of Iran’s malevolent intentions and behavior, all the international press can muster is a yawn or cynical and misleading remarks comparing Israel’s display of the captured arms to George W. Bush’s “mission accomplished” moment. Few seemed to grasp that Iran’s attempt to put advanced missiles in Gaza should be connected to the issue of Tehran’s ballistic missile program and nuclear military research that Western negotiators have done nothing to halt. Though the White House insists it can negotiate a satisfactory nuclear deal with Iran even as it condemns its support for terrorism, these two issues are connected.

Even more important, every time Iran issues a statement like the one from IRGC commander or gets caught shipping arms to Gaza, the lack of Western outrage can only serve to convince the ayatollahs that they have nothing to fear from President Obama or the West. That will make it less likely that they will ever agree to give up their nuclear ambition or their drive to control the region. And that should make Israelis as well as everyone else in Iran’s cross hairs very afraid.

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Obama, Tibi and the Apartheid Canard

That Desmond Tutu once again accused Israel of apartheid yesterday is nothing new; he’s one of several Nobel Peace laureates who have made second careers out of Israel-bashing (think Jimmy Carter or Mairead Maguire). But it’s far more worrying when similar rhetoric is used by a sitting U.S. president – as Barack Obama did in the most outrageous but widely overlooked line of his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this month. Culminating a series of rhetorical questions about what Israel would do if no Palestinian state arises, he asked, “Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”

As Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid noted, “There is not much distance between this statement and an explicit warning that Israel is liable to turn into an apartheid state.” In short, even if Israel isn’t an apartheid state today, the U.S. president considers it perfectly reasonable to assume it will be someday soon – that instead of a democracy where all citizens are equal before the law, it will become the kind of state that imposes legal restrictions on certain citizens because of their ethnicity. But since Israeli Arabs haven’t been subject to special restrictions since Israel abolished its military administration in 1966, and no subsequent Israeli government has ever contemplated reinstating such restrictions, on what exactly does Obama base this assumption?

The logical conclusion is that he got it from the Israeli Arab leadership and radical Jewish leftists, both of which accuse Israel of apartheid ad nauseam. Yet believing these accusations requires willfully ignoring the facts.

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That Desmond Tutu once again accused Israel of apartheid yesterday is nothing new; he’s one of several Nobel Peace laureates who have made second careers out of Israel-bashing (think Jimmy Carter or Mairead Maguire). But it’s far more worrying when similar rhetoric is used by a sitting U.S. president – as Barack Obama did in the most outrageous but widely overlooked line of his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this month. Culminating a series of rhetorical questions about what Israel would do if no Palestinian state arises, he asked, “Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”

As Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid noted, “There is not much distance between this statement and an explicit warning that Israel is liable to turn into an apartheid state.” In short, even if Israel isn’t an apartheid state today, the U.S. president considers it perfectly reasonable to assume it will be someday soon – that instead of a democracy where all citizens are equal before the law, it will become the kind of state that imposes legal restrictions on certain citizens because of their ethnicity. But since Israeli Arabs haven’t been subject to special restrictions since Israel abolished its military administration in 1966, and no subsequent Israeli government has ever contemplated reinstating such restrictions, on what exactly does Obama base this assumption?

The logical conclusion is that he got it from the Israeli Arab leadership and radical Jewish leftists, both of which accuse Israel of apartheid ad nauseam. Yet believing these accusations requires willfully ignoring the facts.

This past December, for instance, one Ahmed Tibi wrote an article for The Hill accusing Israel of treating its Arab citizens like southerners treated blacks in the Jim Crow era. The analogy was a trifle marred by the tagline at the end, in which Tibi admitted he is currently deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset: Blacks didn’t occupy prominent positions in southern legislatures under Jim Crow, much less in South Africa under apartheid. It was further undermined when another Arab deputy Knesset speaker, Hamad Amar, wrote a riposte in The Hill the next week terming Tibi’s claims arrant nonsense. The spectacle of two Arab deputy speakers of parliament publicly dueling, without any fear of consequences, over whether their country discriminates against Arabs isn’t exactly an example of proto-apartheid behavior. But hey, who you gonna believe: Tibi or your lying eyes?

Then there are all the other Arabs in prominent positions – college presidents, hospital directors, ambassadors, army officers, Supreme Court justices and more. The Elder of Ziyon blog has a must-see poster collection featuring these and many other examples that are the very antithesis of apartheid. But hey, who you gonna believe: Haaretz’s Gideon Levy or your lying eyes?

Indeed, on the issue that seems to concern Obama most – freedom of movement, which he highlighted in the rhetorical question immediately preceding the one on Arab Israelis – Arab citizens and permanent residents arguably have greater rights than Israeli Jews: For instance, they can freely visit the Temple Mount, which Israeli Jews can’t; they can also visit the Palestinian Authority, which Israeli law bars Jews from doing. In fact, their freedom of movement is precisely why terrorist organizations consider them prize recruits. It’s a sad day when Palestinian terrorists have a better grasp of Israel’s true nature than the U.S. president.

Obama, of course, is just a symptom of a much larger problem: Too many Western liberals willfully close their eyes to the truth when it comes to Israel, preferring to parrot the current bon ton. But for an administration that explicitly pledged to pursue “evidence-based policy,” a little more attention to the evidence on Israel would be a nice place to start.

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Snowden’s Hypocritical Show

Imagine a prominent foe of Vladimir Putin—someone who had been forced to flee Russia for fear of a jail sentence—appearing via video hookup from abroad to address a large audience in St. Petersburg to deliver withering criticisms of Putin’s attacks on civil liberties. Imagine, moreover, this personage receiving raucous applause from the Russian audience.

Hard to imagine, no? Precisely because there are no civil liberties in Russia, such a spectacle would be unlikely to occur, and if it did, everyone involved would face the danger of jail time.

Yet Edward Snowden has no problem speaking from an undisclosed location in Russian to address the South by Southwest Festival in Austin—and receiving a standing ovation from the audience and softball questions from his ACLU questioners on stage. What’s wrong with this picture?

No one apparently asked Snowden about the obvious hypocrisy involved of defending Internet freedom—with a copy of the Constitution superimposed behind him—even as he enjoys the hospitality of a despot who tramples on every freedom the Founding Fathers held dear. Instead the audience seemed to treat Snowden as if he were just another libertarian professor or writer—rather than one of the most damaging traitors in our country’s long history.

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Imagine a prominent foe of Vladimir Putin—someone who had been forced to flee Russia for fear of a jail sentence—appearing via video hookup from abroad to address a large audience in St. Petersburg to deliver withering criticisms of Putin’s attacks on civil liberties. Imagine, moreover, this personage receiving raucous applause from the Russian audience.

Hard to imagine, no? Precisely because there are no civil liberties in Russia, such a spectacle would be unlikely to occur, and if it did, everyone involved would face the danger of jail time.

Yet Edward Snowden has no problem speaking from an undisclosed location in Russian to address the South by Southwest Festival in Austin—and receiving a standing ovation from the audience and softball questions from his ACLU questioners on stage. What’s wrong with this picture?

No one apparently asked Snowden about the obvious hypocrisy involved of defending Internet freedom—with a copy of the Constitution superimposed behind him—even as he enjoys the hospitality of a despot who tramples on every freedom the Founding Fathers held dear. Instead the audience seemed to treat Snowden as if he were just another libertarian professor or writer—rather than one of the most damaging traitors in our country’s long history.

Too bad none of Snowden’s questioners had the wit or courage to ask him what he thinks about Internet controls in Russia or Putin’s power grab in Crimea. The answer would expose him either as a craven lackey of a dictator or leave him in danger of being booted out of his gilded exile.

It is hard to know what is more revolting: Snowden’s hubris in delivering his self-righteous lecture or his audience’s gullibility in according him oracular status that he earned by doing dire damage to the government which protects them, and the rest of us, from threats like al-Qaeda and, for that matter, Vladimir Putin.

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Note to Senate Democrats: We’ve Already Heard About Climate Change

Conservatives who avoid MSNBC like the plague missed a rare moment of clarity about our political culture this morning when his liberal partner Mika Brzezinksi fed Joe Scarborough one of the great straight lines of all time. While discussing last night’s Senate Democrats’ all-night talkathon devoted to climate change, Mika praised it by saying how glad she was that, “they’re trying to have a conversation.” That allowed the man who sometimes plays the role of the network’s token Republican while at others is its resident GOP critic of conservatives, to launch into a comic rant mocking both Brzezinski’s platitudes and the Democrats’ stunt.

Hollywood won’t talk about climate change. The media won’t talk about climate Nobody will talk about climate change. Thank God. Thank God, these brave Democratic senators are risking the wrath of the mainstream media and the Hollywood elites to talk about climate change …Damn the New York Times! They will not talk about climate change. It’s up to these men and women. This is 2014’s version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Scarborough’s sarcasm was, of course, right on target. No matter what you think about the question of human involvement in possible shifts in global temperatures, the idea that it was up to a few dozen Senate Democrats to get the issue on the national agenda is a joke. The mainstream media has spent the last decade or more highlighting the topic at every possible moment and treating the most extreme conclusions produced by alarmist environmentalists as unquestioned truth while popular culture has embraced the global warming agenda with a religious fervor that brooks no dissent.

The problem the Democrats were addressing was not a lack of information about the subject but the fact that while a majority may believe humans are involved with warming, they are either skeptical of the extremists’ claims or don’t care that much about it. That was one of the main conclusions to be drawn from a Pew Research Center poll published in January that showed that global warming ranked 19th on the list of top policy priorities for Americans. Indeed, even the amorphous concern about “dealing with moral breakdown” ranked higher than warming, which was embraced by only 29 percent of those polled as something that demanded immediate action. A separate NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that came out the same week in January showed that addressing climate change ranked dead last among the 13 topics listed with only 27 percent saying it was a priority.

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Conservatives who avoid MSNBC like the plague missed a rare moment of clarity about our political culture this morning when his liberal partner Mika Brzezinksi fed Joe Scarborough one of the great straight lines of all time. While discussing last night’s Senate Democrats’ all-night talkathon devoted to climate change, Mika praised it by saying how glad she was that, “they’re trying to have a conversation.” That allowed the man who sometimes plays the role of the network’s token Republican while at others is its resident GOP critic of conservatives, to launch into a comic rant mocking both Brzezinski’s platitudes and the Democrats’ stunt.

Hollywood won’t talk about climate change. The media won’t talk about climate Nobody will talk about climate change. Thank God. Thank God, these brave Democratic senators are risking the wrath of the mainstream media and the Hollywood elites to talk about climate change …Damn the New York Times! They will not talk about climate change. It’s up to these men and women. This is 2014’s version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Scarborough’s sarcasm was, of course, right on target. No matter what you think about the question of human involvement in possible shifts in global temperatures, the idea that it was up to a few dozen Senate Democrats to get the issue on the national agenda is a joke. The mainstream media has spent the last decade or more highlighting the topic at every possible moment and treating the most extreme conclusions produced by alarmist environmentalists as unquestioned truth while popular culture has embraced the global warming agenda with a religious fervor that brooks no dissent.

The problem the Democrats were addressing was not a lack of information about the subject but the fact that while a majority may believe humans are involved with warming, they are either skeptical of the extremists’ claims or don’t care that much about it. That was one of the main conclusions to be drawn from a Pew Research Center poll published in January that showed that global warming ranked 19th on the list of top policy priorities for Americans. Indeed, even the amorphous concern about “dealing with moral breakdown” ranked higher than warming, which was embraced by only 29 percent of those polled as something that demanded immediate action. A separate NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that came out the same week in January showed that addressing climate change ranked dead last among the 13 topics listed with only 27 percent saying it was a priority.

Why do Americans feel that way? Perhaps its because, as Scarborough noted, they’ve been having the Al Gore party line about the world on the verge of melting incessantly drilled into them for a decade and, even if they agree about the role of human activity, are sensibly skeptical about claims about Florida and Manhattan being under water in 20 years. Perhaps they also find a scientific theory championed by advocates who are unwilling to debate their findings and hell bent on silencing critics as members of the Flat Earth Society or worse to be somewhat suspicious. They also don’t like the fact that the discussion about the topic has taken on a theological rather than a scientific tone in which every conceivable weather event involving heat, cold, wind or precipitation is used to justify a preconceived conclusion about the climate that brooks no opposition rooted in reason or statistics.

Many also understand that some of the most popular measures associated with the climate change caucus would have a devastating impact on the American economy, particularly in states where coal is a major source of employment. Just as important, they have understandably come to associate this movement with Luddite objections to sensible projects like the Keystone XL pipeline that don’t hurt the environment but produce jobs and more energy to allow this country to become less dependent on oil from outside North America. That’s why the most Democratic senators up for re-election this year — Alaska’s Mark Begich, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, Arkansas’ Mark Pryor and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan — wanted no part of the show.

It should also be noted that the hours of talk and carefully prepared visual aids were unrelated to any upcoming legislative purpose. In other words, what the Democrat were doing was playing to their base without having to defend a specific proposal or to pretend that what they were about wouldn’t cost Americans dearly in exchange for vague and unproven promises about their future.

But whatever it is that they were doing, the most risible aspect of this spectacle was the notion that it was needed to raise awareness about climate change. As Scarborough’s sarcastic rant made clear, there are few topics on which Americans have heard more in recent years than this one. Their children are inculcated with the global warming catechism in schools. Their movies, plays and television shows are also peppered with references to what is considered right thinking on the issue and abuse for those who dissent.

Americans are smart enough to know that whatever might be slowing happening to the climate, it is a far less pressing matter than issues relating to the health of our economy, jobs, terrorism, education, ensuring the survival of entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, the budget deficit, health care, taxes and crime (to note the top 10 in the Pew poll).

If Senate Democrats want to devote their energies to something useful, they might try their hand at working just as hard on those issues (on most of which they have done nothing as part of their main task of thwarting all legislation passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives) rather than pulling an all-nighter to talk nonstop about an issue that Americans have had shoved down their throats for years.

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Big Tents and Ideological Purity

The United States, like almost all English-speaking countries, has a two-party political system. That means we have big-tent parties, with a variety of competing political strains under each of the two tents. In other countries, such as Italy and Israel, they have small-tent parties, far more ideologically unified and, indeed, often based on a single political idea. Because the small-tent political system seldom if ever produces a parliamentary majority, the parties must broker a deal to become part of the governing coalition.

In other words, in English-speaking countries, political negotiation takes place before the election while in small-tent countries it takes place afterwards. The very names of the two mainstream American political parties—the Democrats and the Republicans—bespeak their big-tent nature. After all, all Americans not on the lunatic fringe advocate both democracy and a republican form of government. The two parties might just as well be called the Red and the Blue parties.

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The United States, like almost all English-speaking countries, has a two-party political system. That means we have big-tent parties, with a variety of competing political strains under each of the two tents. In other countries, such as Italy and Israel, they have small-tent parties, far more ideologically unified and, indeed, often based on a single political idea. Because the small-tent political system seldom if ever produces a parliamentary majority, the parties must broker a deal to become part of the governing coalition.

In other words, in English-speaking countries, political negotiation takes place before the election while in small-tent countries it takes place afterwards. The very names of the two mainstream American political parties—the Democrats and the Republicans—bespeak their big-tent nature. After all, all Americans not on the lunatic fringe advocate both democracy and a republican form of government. The two parties might just as well be called the Red and the Blue parties.

The recent CPAC conference certainly displayed a variety of political opinions under the Republican tent, from Rick Perry’s clarion call to unleash the genius of American enterprise, to Chris Christie’s moderate approach, to Rick Santorum’s down-the-line social conservatism, to Rand Paul’s libertarian concern with civil liberties and distaste for foreign entanglements.

They are all legitimate concerns for the right half of American politics. And it’s perfectly legitimate for the various factions to fight for their points of view. But it’s important for Republicans to remember that they belong to a big-tent party, not an ideologically pure one. To anathematize other Republicans in the name of one’s own view of “true conservatism” is, at best, politically stupid. You don’t win elections in this country by seeking to make your own tent smaller. To quote Lyndon Johnson’s famous reason for not firing J. Edgar Hoover—spoken with typical Johnsonian delicacy of phrase—it’s better to “have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in.”

In their own self-interest, all Republicans should vow to obey Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican. They need the biggest possible tent to win in 2014 and, especially, in 2016.

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Perry’s Deconstructive Governing Agenda

In his speech at CPAC, Texas Governor Rick Perry brought the crowd to its feet by saying this:

Nowhere does the Constitution say we should federalize classrooms. Nowhere does it give federal officials primary responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm, the water we drink. And nowhere does it say Congress has the right to federalize health care… It is time for Washington to focus on the few things the Constitution establishes as the federal government’s role: defend our country, provide a cogent foreign policy, and – what the heck – deliver the mail, preferably on time and on Saturdays. Get out of the health care business! Get out of the education business!

This points to a concern of mine and which Michael Gerson and I wrote about recently in an essay for National Affairs. For starters, Governor Perry’s interpretation of enumerated powers is more restrictive than what many of the Federalist Founders believed. (See the essay and here  for more.) As for Governor Perry’s line of argument: He says the Constitution doesn’t give “primary” responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm and the water we drink. But in fact, the Constitution doesn’t affirm even a secondary role for the areas mentioned by Perry. Is it really his position, then, that the federal government should have no role in education, health care, and clean air and water? What about child immunization? Support for the National Institutes of Health? Pell grants? The GI Bill? All of the New Deal? Bans on child labor? The Second National Bank (signed into law by the “father” of the Constitution, James Madison)? After all, the Constitution says nothing about establishing a national bank.

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In his speech at CPAC, Texas Governor Rick Perry brought the crowd to its feet by saying this:

Nowhere does the Constitution say we should federalize classrooms. Nowhere does it give federal officials primary responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm, the water we drink. And nowhere does it say Congress has the right to federalize health care… It is time for Washington to focus on the few things the Constitution establishes as the federal government’s role: defend our country, provide a cogent foreign policy, and – what the heck – deliver the mail, preferably on time and on Saturdays. Get out of the health care business! Get out of the education business!

This points to a concern of mine and which Michael Gerson and I wrote about recently in an essay for National Affairs. For starters, Governor Perry’s interpretation of enumerated powers is more restrictive than what many of the Federalist Founders believed. (See the essay and here  for more.) As for Governor Perry’s line of argument: He says the Constitution doesn’t give “primary” responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm and the water we drink. But in fact, the Constitution doesn’t affirm even a secondary role for the areas mentioned by Perry. Is it really his position, then, that the federal government should have no role in education, health care, and clean air and water? What about child immunization? Support for the National Institutes of Health? Pell grants? The GI Bill? All of the New Deal? Bans on child labor? The Second National Bank (signed into law by the “father” of the Constitution, James Madison)? After all, the Constitution says nothing about establishing a national bank.

It’s worth quoting here, as I have before, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who made this observation:

Perhaps the most important act of the Continental Congress was the Northwest Ordinance which provided a direct federal subsidy for education. Almost the first act of the Congress established by the present Constitution was to reaffirm this grant. A plaque on the Sub-Treasury on Wall Street commemorates both actions. This does not invalidate the view that the federal government ought not to exercise any responsibility, but it does make nonsense of the view that the Constitution – presumably because it does not mention the subject – somehow bars such an exercise.

It is one thing – and I think very much the right thing – to argue for a more limited role for the federal government and conservative reforms of everything from entitlement programs to education, from our tax code to our immigration system to much else. It’s quite another when we have the kind of loose talk from the governor of the second most populous state in America.

I realize that some people will argue that what Perry is offering up is simply “red meat” for a conservative audience. It’s a (lazy) default language those on the right sometimes resort to in order to express their unhappiness with the size of the federal government. But words matter, Governor Perry is actually putting forth (albeit in a simplified version) a governing philosophy, and most Americans who hear it will be alarmed by it.

As a political matter, running under the banner of “Get out of the health care business! Get out of the education business!” hardly strikes me as the best way to rally people who are not now voting for the GOP in presidential elections. I’m reminded of the words of the distinguished political scientist James Q. Wilson: “Telling people who want clean air, a safe environment, fewer drug dealers, a decent retirement, and protection against catastrophic medical bills that the government ought not to do these things is wishful or suicidal politics.”

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll, only 33 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the Republican Party while 61 percent had an unfavorable view. Having a prominent GOP figure give a speech in which he insists that virtually the entire modern state is unconstitutional and therefore illegitimate probably won’t help matters. Then again, neither does having the 2008 vice presidential nominee give a speech in which she takes great delight in re-writing Dr. Seuss.

This is not what the Republican Party or the conservative cause needs just now.

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France’s Problem Bigger Than One Comic

Back in January, we reported here on the way a heretofore-obscure French comedian had popularized the quenelle — a downward facing Nazi salute — had become the symbol of a crucial shift in European culture in which anti-Semitism had become fashionable in some segments of popular culture. Months after Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala had started making international headlines, he has finally made the front page of the New York Times today with a feature that ponders whether efforts by French authorities to crack own on his activities have helped make him even more popular. As Seth Mandell previously noted, efforts to restrict free speech in this manner — even the sort of hateful, Holocaust-denying speech practiced by Dieudonné — are bound to backfire and this is exactly what has happened in France. Dieudonné’s audience hasn’t just increased as a result of rulings banning his performances and fining him for Holocaust denial have enabled him to bridge the vast gap between Muslim immigrants and right-wing French nationalists who share their hatred for Jews.

This is bad news for France and Europe. But the problem here goes deeper than the way the measures employed by government authorities and Jewish groups to punish Dieudonné have predictably boomeranged on them and turned him into a counter-cultural hero. This depressing spectacle can be represented as something new in which social media and the Internet have provided a forum for disgruntled people looking for a spokesman for their desire to use the Jews as a convenient scapegoat for their troubles. But Dieudonné is merely the latest outbreak of the same old European sickness that produced the very Holocaust that the comedian has tried to deny.

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Back in January, we reported here on the way a heretofore-obscure French comedian had popularized the quenelle — a downward facing Nazi salute — had become the symbol of a crucial shift in European culture in which anti-Semitism had become fashionable in some segments of popular culture. Months after Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala had started making international headlines, he has finally made the front page of the New York Times today with a feature that ponders whether efforts by French authorities to crack own on his activities have helped make him even more popular. As Seth Mandell previously noted, efforts to restrict free speech in this manner — even the sort of hateful, Holocaust-denying speech practiced by Dieudonné — are bound to backfire and this is exactly what has happened in France. Dieudonné’s audience hasn’t just increased as a result of rulings banning his performances and fining him for Holocaust denial have enabled him to bridge the vast gap between Muslim immigrants and right-wing French nationalists who share their hatred for Jews.

This is bad news for France and Europe. But the problem here goes deeper than the way the measures employed by government authorities and Jewish groups to punish Dieudonné have predictably boomeranged on them and turned him into a counter-cultural hero. This depressing spectacle can be represented as something new in which social media and the Internet have provided a forum for disgruntled people looking for a spokesman for their desire to use the Jews as a convenient scapegoat for their troubles. But Dieudonné is merely the latest outbreak of the same old European sickness that produced the very Holocaust that the comedian has tried to deny.

This episode demonstrates the problems that stem from the lack of American-style First Amendment free speech protections. Though France’s history of anti-Semitism in which both governments and the official church have played major roles is cited as a reason why hate speech an Holocaust denial are treated as criminal acts, Dieudonné illustrates the pitfalls of taking a marginal figure and elevating him to the status of a public menace. That had the perverse effect of justifying the anti-Semitic narrative in which Jews are falsely accused of manipulating society rather than defending it against hate.

But the real story here isn’t the failure of those who care about anti-Semitism to do something to derail Dieudonné’s popularity. It’s the fact that there is such a large audience in France and elsewhere in Europe for humor that is based on resentment of Jews. Though his appeal has been enhanced by the government’s decision to give him all this free publicity, the reason why his videos have gone viral on the Internet is that he has given a fresh voice to old prejudices.

Muslim immigrants brought their own brand of Jew-hatred to France where it found a home alongside the other variations on the same theme voiced by Jean-Marie and Marine Le Pen’s Front National Party. The result is a toxic brew of prejudice that seeks to channel the resentments of the poor and the working class against Jews. This is exacerbated by the same trends that prevail around Europe in which elite and academic attacks on Israel have merged with traditional anti-Semitism to create an even broader base for Jew-hatred.

But, as the Times points out, the most dangerous aspect of Dieudonné’s impact is the way he is seeking to mainstream hate. The troubling rise in anti-Semitic violence in France isn’t taking place in a vacuum or merely the result of one man’s weak attempts at satire. It is well understood that the post-Holocaust reticence about expressions of open anti-Semitism has faded in recent decades in Europe. The combination of intellectual Jew-hatred which masquerading as anti-Zionism with Dieudonné’s jokes about the Holocaust can “connect with the masses” in the same way that pervious waves of anti-Semitism swept France at the turn of the 20th century during the Dreyfus Affair as well as in the 1930s.

Rather than focus all their energy on one rogue entertainer, Europeans who care about stamping out hate need to ask whether his ability to tap into old hatreds says something about other aspects of their society. Anti-Semitism isn’t merely the product of the banlieues — working class suburbs — where immigrant families live but a factor that has played a role in politics and culture for centuries. What they need are not more laws restricting anti-Semitic speech but a nationwide soul-searching about the way Jew-hatred has been enabled by a broader group than those laughing at Dieudonné’s jokes.

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Peace and the Palestinian We Do Not Know

In his now-famous interview with President Obama, Jeffrey Goldberg asked if he agreed with Secretary Kerry’s June 2013 statement to the American Jewish Committee that “we’re running out of time … [and] if we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.” Obama added his own window-is-closing pressure on Israel, but the last sentence of his answer – which he intended as an argument for speed – actually argues for the opposite. Here is what he said:

I think [Kerry] has been simply stating what observers inside of Israel and outside of Israel recognize, which is that with each successive year, the window is closing for a peace deal that both the Israelis can accept and the Palestinians can accept — in part because of changes in demographics; in part because of what’s been happening with settlements; in part because Abbas is getting older, and I think nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue. We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.

Before signing an agreement with an aging “president” more than five years past the end of his stated term — someone with no known successor, no process for choosing one, no institutions for holding elections, no capacity to implement any agreement in half his putative state (controlled by the terrorist group he promised to dismantle under the Road Map and didn’t), presiding over a society steeped in anti-Semitic incitement, unwilling to endorse even the concept of “two states for two peoples” (much less explicitly recognize a Jewish state) – we should put aside the perennial argument that time is running out, the over-hyped demographics, and “what’s happening in the settlements” (since what’s happening in the settlements is mostly construction in areas Israel will retain in any conceivable peace agreement), and pause to reflect on President Obama’s last sentence: “We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.”

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In his now-famous interview with President Obama, Jeffrey Goldberg asked if he agreed with Secretary Kerry’s June 2013 statement to the American Jewish Committee that “we’re running out of time … [and] if we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.” Obama added his own window-is-closing pressure on Israel, but the last sentence of his answer – which he intended as an argument for speed – actually argues for the opposite. Here is what he said:

I think [Kerry] has been simply stating what observers inside of Israel and outside of Israel recognize, which is that with each successive year, the window is closing for a peace deal that both the Israelis can accept and the Palestinians can accept — in part because of changes in demographics; in part because of what’s been happening with settlements; in part because Abbas is getting older, and I think nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue. We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.

Before signing an agreement with an aging “president” more than five years past the end of his stated term — someone with no known successor, no process for choosing one, no institutions for holding elections, no capacity to implement any agreement in half his putative state (controlled by the terrorist group he promised to dismantle under the Road Map and didn’t), presiding over a society steeped in anti-Semitic incitement, unwilling to endorse even the concept of “two states for two peoples” (much less explicitly recognize a Jewish state) – we should put aside the perennial argument that time is running out, the over-hyped demographics, and “what’s happening in the settlements” (since what’s happening in the settlements is mostly construction in areas Israel will retain in any conceivable peace agreement), and pause to reflect on President Obama’s last sentence: “We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.”

We do not know, in other words, who will be implementing the agreement Israel is being rushed to sign. We do not know whether it will be Hamas, taking over a Palestinian state in an election or coup (both have happened before); or perhaps the guy next in line in Abbas’s corrupt ruling party; or perhaps the charismatic terrorist currently serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli jail, who would undoubtedly be released as part of a “peace agreement” but is not likely to be the next Nelson Mandela. We do not know because the Palestinian Authority has demonstrated multiple times that if converted to a state it will be a failed one, lacking the basic institutions of a successful state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one. Yesterday the Fatah leadership unanimously endorsed Abbas’s rejection of any recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, without which the “two-state solution” is simply a two-stage plan.

If it is in fact urgent to sign an agreement while President-for-Life Abbas is still around, it is even more urgent for him to give his long overdue Bir Zeit speech, telling his people in Arabic that the price of a Palestinian state is recognition of a Jewish one, and that the conflict will not end with the “return” of the descendants of refugees from the 1948 war the Arabs started to a place where those descendants have never lived. It will end with their resettlement in the Arab states that started the war, where those descendants have lived their entire lives, deprived of basic civil and human rights by the countries of their birth.

If Abbas cannot give his Bir Zeit speech, it is not likely he can preside over a peaceful state. Moreover, as President Obama noted, we do not even know what the successor to Abbas will look like. Perhaps it is time to rethink a Palestinian state, not rush to create one.

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Does Kerry Think Al-Qaeda is a Human Rights Organization?

The State Department annual human rights report is a valuable tool but if compiled carelessly, it hemorrhages credibility. Alas, such is the case with the State Department most recent human rights report.  

In its most recent report on the United Arab Emirates, for example, diplomats are either on autopilot, simply cutting-and-pasting from previous reports without regard to new information, or they are purposely ignoring U.S. government designation both that some of their source material derives from an al-Qaeda front and that one of those whom they identify as an oppressed human rights activist is actually an Al Qaeda sympathizer if not activist.

The problem relates to Alkarama, a self-described human rights organization whose reporting the State Department, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have uncritically incorporated into their reporting.  The problem is that the founder of Alkarama, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, is also an al-Qaeda financier. Most recently, Mourad Dhina, executive director of Alkarama, signed a letter of support for Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who has since returned to terrorism.

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The State Department annual human rights report is a valuable tool but if compiled carelessly, it hemorrhages credibility. Alas, such is the case with the State Department most recent human rights report.  

In its most recent report on the United Arab Emirates, for example, diplomats are either on autopilot, simply cutting-and-pasting from previous reports without regard to new information, or they are purposely ignoring U.S. government designation both that some of their source material derives from an al-Qaeda front and that one of those whom they identify as an oppressed human rights activist is actually an Al Qaeda sympathizer if not activist.

The problem relates to Alkarama, a self-described human rights organization whose reporting the State Department, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have uncritically incorporated into their reporting.  The problem is that the founder of Alkarama, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, is also an al-Qaeda financier. Most recently, Mourad Dhina, executive director of Alkarama, signed a letter of support for Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who has since returned to terrorism.

Alas, Kerry (and the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi) chose to ignore the U.S. Treasury Department terror designation of Alkarama founder Abdul Rahman Bin Umair Al Nuaimi’s and take information provided by him uncritically to castigate the United Arab Emirates, a reliable U.S. ally. The latest human rights report, for example, continues to lend credence to Alkarama’s accusation that the detention in the United Arab Emirates of Ummah Conference founder Hassan al-Diqqi is without merit. It is a case I previously blogged about, here, in the context of some Human Rights Watch report. Diqqi is no political dissident, as the State Department suggests; he is a full-fledged terror supporter, as worthy of life in prison as American Taliban John Walker Lindh or blind sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman. Make no mistakes: There are human rights problems in the United Arab Emirates, but to cast Diqqi as a victim simply tarnishes any legitimate criticism.

Perhaps it’s time that Secretary of State John Kerry stops considering miles flown as a metric of success and actually pay attention to what is going on in his home office unless, of course, he actually believes that his organization should consider Al Qaeda-affiliated groups to be impartial and credible sources of human rights criticism.

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A Lesson in How to Embolden Aggressors

Yesterday morning on Fox’s America’s Newsroom, Sen. John McCain echoed comments made over the weekend by former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates that Crimea is essentially lost. Even after ticking off a list of things the Obama Administration could do to pressure Vladimir Putin, McCain had to answer in the negative to anchor Bill Hemmer’s question about whether any such actions could reverse the Crimean invasion.

Both McCain and Gates are probably right. They are old-fashioned realists who have incurred the ire of more interventionist conservatives and multilateralist liberals alike. They know that only Putin can unwind the takeover of Crimea, and they are certainly right that there is almost no force that can make him do so, short of a massive military operation by U.S. forces, which is never going to happen. Further, McCain echoed numerous analysts who have warned that Putin is almost certainly setting his eyes on expanding Russian control over eastern Ukraine in due time. Such salami-slicing tactics are a time-honored approach to making aggression seem less threatening that it really is.

Yet while facing such facts may be the only realistic response, it also validates the actions of aggressors and indeed may encourage further opportunism. It is less than two weeks since Russian forces invaded Crimea and the world’s most powerful nation is, in essence, saying, “It’s time to move on.” There are the expected protestations that Washington will do everything possible to ensure that such aggression does not happen again, but such rhetoric is inevitably undercut by the quick acceptance of the fait accompli.

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Yesterday morning on Fox’s America’s Newsroom, Sen. John McCain echoed comments made over the weekend by former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates that Crimea is essentially lost. Even after ticking off a list of things the Obama Administration could do to pressure Vladimir Putin, McCain had to answer in the negative to anchor Bill Hemmer’s question about whether any such actions could reverse the Crimean invasion.

Both McCain and Gates are probably right. They are old-fashioned realists who have incurred the ire of more interventionist conservatives and multilateralist liberals alike. They know that only Putin can unwind the takeover of Crimea, and they are certainly right that there is almost no force that can make him do so, short of a massive military operation by U.S. forces, which is never going to happen. Further, McCain echoed numerous analysts who have warned that Putin is almost certainly setting his eyes on expanding Russian control over eastern Ukraine in due time. Such salami-slicing tactics are a time-honored approach to making aggression seem less threatening that it really is.

Yet while facing such facts may be the only realistic response, it also validates the actions of aggressors and indeed may encourage further opportunism. It is less than two weeks since Russian forces invaded Crimea and the world’s most powerful nation is, in essence, saying, “It’s time to move on.” There are the expected protestations that Washington will do everything possible to ensure that such aggression does not happen again, but such rhetoric is inevitably undercut by the quick acceptance of the fait accompli.

The alternative is just as unpalatable: refusing to acknowledge reality. That is the approach successive administrations have taken in regard to North Korea. By now, it should be obvious that North Korea is a nuclear power. While Pyongyang may not have yet perfected making a weapon out of its nuclear capability, there seems little doubt that it will eventually do so, and then mate a weapon to its intercontinental ballistic missile capability. Yet Washington steadfastly refuses to admit that the North is a nuclear state, since that would open up a Pandora’s box of containment and arms control negotiations that no U.S. administration wants to engage in.

How can it be right to both acknowledge reality and also to refuse to accept it? A risk-averse status quo power, which describes the United States today, has little other choice. Its own track record (Georgia in 2008, Syria since 2012, East China Sea in 2013) proves that it believes it must accommodate itself to unpalatable realities, while pretending that it continues to uphold international order. That is today’s real grand strategy, shared largely by Democrats and Republicans alike. Self-inflicted wounds, like meaningless defense cuts, only exacerbate the fear of over extending itself, of committing to a cause that may charge too high a price.

Perhaps that is indeed the more prudent course of action. But it must inevitably lead to a changed world, one in which the fig leaf of international law can no longer cover the nakedness of great power ambition. It is happening in the world’s three most important regions: Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. It is a slow process, one that moves in fits and starts, but one that will continue uninterruptedly absent a turn around or collapse of the challenging power. China, Russia, and Iran may all face such a day soon, but until then, they will continue to chip and bite away at the supports of the post-1945 liberal international order. It will alter the international system, most likely in malignant ways, if for no other reason than that no one is prepared seriously to stop it.

 Emboldening such aggressive opportunism seems to be the only coherent policy the liberal world has in this decade.

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