Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 2014

Did J Street Win by Losing?

J Street’s application to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations failed today. According to JTA, the vote was 22-17 against with three abstentions. This will, no doubt, be represented by J Street as proof that the mainstream community is trying to stifle dissent. But, as the Conference noted in a subsequent statement, there is already no shortage of liberal and left-wing groups among its members. If J Street has alienated so many other Jewish organizations by its strident criticism of Israel’s democratically-elected government and efforts to include anti-Zionist groups in the community, it should not be surprised that many want no part of it. Indeed, the willingness of so many groups to say no to them is a heartening sign that many American Jews have grown tired of its shrill one-note act.

Yet as I noted earlier, a negative vote is probably on balance a good thing for J Street. This rejection will give it material with which it can continue its already flagging efforts to delegitimize mainstream groups like AIPAC and to masquerade as the true voice of American Jewry. Gaining admission would have deprived it of that talking point and relegated it to being just one more among dozens of groups that call themselves “major” but are, in fact, nothing of the sort.

Read More

J Street’s application to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations failed today. According to JTA, the vote was 22-17 against with three abstentions. This will, no doubt, be represented by J Street as proof that the mainstream community is trying to stifle dissent. But, as the Conference noted in a subsequent statement, there is already no shortage of liberal and left-wing groups among its members. If J Street has alienated so many other Jewish organizations by its strident criticism of Israel’s democratically-elected government and efforts to include anti-Zionist groups in the community, it should not be surprised that many want no part of it. Indeed, the willingness of so many groups to say no to them is a heartening sign that many American Jews have grown tired of its shrill one-note act.

Yet as I noted earlier, a negative vote is probably on balance a good thing for J Street. This rejection will give it material with which it can continue its already flagging efforts to delegitimize mainstream groups like AIPAC and to masquerade as the true voice of American Jewry. Gaining admission would have deprived it of that talking point and relegated it to being just one more among dozens of groups that call themselves “major” but are, in fact, nothing of the sort.

Nevertheless, no one should be under the impression that J Street is either a significant player in Washington or speaks for an under-represented constituency. J Street has failed in its effort to supplant or even significantly challenge AIPAC. That it is not even able to gain admission in what is one of American Jewry’s least exclusive clubs is one more indication that it is a dismal failure.

Read Less

Museum is Ground Zero Mosque Rerun

In 2010, a Muslim developer initiated a bitter controversy when he sought to build a Muslim community center and mosque on the site of one of the buildings that had been struck by the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Those plans divided New Yorkers and people of faith as those who rightly asserted that this was, at best, an insensitive gesture were assailed as bigots who were part of a post 9/11 backlash against Muslims. As it turned out the entire dustup was all for nothing since the developer, Sharif El-Gamal, was all hot air and construction of the planned $100 million center and mosque at 45-51 Park Place never materialized. But though the money to build the center was a figment of El-Gamal’s imagination, he’s not finished trying to have a say about the Ground Zero area. As the New York Times reported today, he’s back with another, albeit more modest plan to build a Muslim institution at the site:

Sharif El-Gamal, the developer, said through a spokesman that instead of a $100 million, 15-story community center and prayer space, he now planned a smaller, three-story museum “dedicated to exploring the faith of Islam and its arts and culture.” The building would also include a sanctuary for prayer services and community programs.

To make the plan more attractive to neighbors, he said in a statement, he had commissioned a French architect, Jean Nouvel, winner of the 2008 Prizker Prize, to design the building at 45-51 Park Place, about two blocks from the former World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, and had included plans for a public green space.

It is entirely possible that El-Gamal is once again blowing smoke about this scheme since he may not have the funds needed to build this building anymore than he did of the previous plan. No timetable for construction exists and El-Gamal has yet to take down the existing building that was damaged by the debris from the Trade Center attack. But though the Times, which was a major editorial supporter of the center/mosque plan, takes it as a given that there will be less opposition to this plan, it is just as deserving of criticism.

Read More

In 2010, a Muslim developer initiated a bitter controversy when he sought to build a Muslim community center and mosque on the site of one of the buildings that had been struck by the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Those plans divided New Yorkers and people of faith as those who rightly asserted that this was, at best, an insensitive gesture were assailed as bigots who were part of a post 9/11 backlash against Muslims. As it turned out the entire dustup was all for nothing since the developer, Sharif El-Gamal, was all hot air and construction of the planned $100 million center and mosque at 45-51 Park Place never materialized. But though the money to build the center was a figment of El-Gamal’s imagination, he’s not finished trying to have a say about the Ground Zero area. As the New York Times reported today, he’s back with another, albeit more modest plan to build a Muslim institution at the site:

Sharif El-Gamal, the developer, said through a spokesman that instead of a $100 million, 15-story community center and prayer space, he now planned a smaller, three-story museum “dedicated to exploring the faith of Islam and its arts and culture.” The building would also include a sanctuary for prayer services and community programs.

To make the plan more attractive to neighbors, he said in a statement, he had commissioned a French architect, Jean Nouvel, winner of the 2008 Prizker Prize, to design the building at 45-51 Park Place, about two blocks from the former World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, and had included plans for a public green space.

It is entirely possible that El-Gamal is once again blowing smoke about this scheme since he may not have the funds needed to build this building anymore than he did of the previous plan. No timetable for construction exists and El-Gamal has yet to take down the existing building that was damaged by the debris from the Trade Center attack. But though the Times, which was a major editorial supporter of the center/mosque plan, takes it as a given that there will be less opposition to this plan, it is just as deserving of criticism.

Let’s specify that, as with the earlier project, there is nothing wrong with building another mosque in Manhattan or in the creation of a museum devoted to Islam. New York City has countless houses of worship and nearly as many institutions devoted to the arts and history and one more would probably be welcome. But the same objections that greeted the Ground Zero mosque plan apply here.

Why, we must ask, is it necessary to build such a museum in the shadow of the footprint of the 9/11 attacks? Is there no other place in New York with a vacant lot to be procured for this project?

The obvious answer to these questions is that the purpose of both projects was to alter the why Americans thought about 9/11. The goal is to shift it from being seen as a murderous attack on America motivated by variant of Islam to one that sought to disassociate the religion from this act of mass murder. In its place would be a different and false narrative that depicted American Muslims as the primary victims of the event because they were subjected to a post 9/11 backlash against Muslims.

As I wrote in the fall of 2010 when the mosque plan was first debated, the notion of a post-9/11 backlash is a myth. No credible study or set of statistics has ever been produced to back up this idea, which was been promoted by extremist Muslim groups and recycled by a credulous mainstream media. Far from victimizing American Muslims, both the U.S. government and the institutions of popular culture have gone out of their way to avoid not only falsely blaming innocent Muslims for 9/11 but have backed up the notion that Islam should not be tied to al-Qaeda. American Muslims were left in peace and spared, as they should have been, from any repercussions from this crime.

While the original mosque was put forward as a monument to tolerance, it was not clear for whom tolerance was being sought. The interfaith group supporting the plan seemed to be telling us that the real point of remembering 9/11 wasn’t so much to memorialize the victims of this act of Islamist terror but to stand as a warning to Americans not to think ill of any Muslims, including the substantial group that cheered the attack abroad.

We heard an echo of that sentiment last week when the group of interfaith clergy that supported the mosque rose up in protest against the soon-to-be opened National September 11 Memorial and Museum because of a film to be shown there about the rise of al-Qaeda that mentioned Islamists and the role of jihad in the attacks. No doubt those same clergy will be heard again praising the new plans for planting a Muslim institution in the Ground Zero neighborhood.

But there should be no mistake about what this is all about. Those seeking to impose a Muslim institution in this specific area are not interested in memorializing 9/11 or even providing New York with one more museum or mosque. They seek to alter the narrative of an unambiguous meaning of an unambiguous event. They wish to paint the United States and the American people as the perpetrators of a great wrong and to cast Muslims as the true victims.

No one should deny the right of Muslims to build a mosque or a museum but the campaign to impose one in the Ground Zero neighborhood is as insensitive as it is motivated by motives that have little to do with the needs of the community or genuine tolerance. Honoring the memory of the victims or business activity that shows that al-Qaeda failed to beat America is the only proper purpose of building in this area. The new plan is just as much of an insult to the families of the 9/11 victims, the people of New York, and the United States as the previous effort.

Read Less

Check Your Privilege

If there is anything more obnoxious than a liberal on his or her high moral horse I can’t imagine what it might be.

Lately, apparently, they have been using the phrase “check your privilege” in order to shut up any white male who dares to have an opinion not in sync with the approved thoughts of the left. It is, of course, sheer bigotry, presuming to know someone purely on the basis of his skin color and his gender.

Well a Princeton freshman named Tal Fortgang decided he had had enough of being told to shut up because he happens to be male and white. He wrote a beautiful essay for the Princeton Tory that deserves wide attention. (H/T Instapundit).

If there is anything more obnoxious than a liberal on his or her high moral horse I can’t imagine what it might be.

Lately, apparently, they have been using the phrase “check your privilege” in order to shut up any white male who dares to have an opinion not in sync with the approved thoughts of the left. It is, of course, sheer bigotry, presuming to know someone purely on the basis of his skin color and his gender.

Well a Princeton freshman named Tal Fortgang decided he had had enough of being told to shut up because he happens to be male and white. He wrote a beautiful essay for the Princeton Tory that deserves wide attention. (H/T Instapundit).

Read Less

Ronald Asmus’s Extraordinary Legacy

Three years ago today, Ronald Asmus died at the very young age of 53 from cancer-related illnesses. Asmus was NATO’s champion in the Clinton administration, where his ideas about expanding NATO to eventually include a broad array of European countries but especially, as soon as was feasible, the trio of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, were heterodox. The story of how he accomplished it holds immediate relevance to the current conflict in Ukraine and lessons for American officials debating our role in fostering European stability.

Perhaps most of all, it’s worth recalling simply because history has vindicated Asmus. It is easy to forget just how unthinkable Asmus’s ideas were less than a decade before they came to fruition. Asmus was undeterred in part because his ideas about European unity and Western alliances had been pooh-poohed before. As he wrote in his book, Opening NATO’s Door:

I was part of a generation of Western academics raised with the conventional wisdom that a divided Germany and continent was a more or less permanent feature of Europe’s geopolitical landscape. When I opted to write my doctoral dissertation on overcoming the division of Germany in the mid-1980s, several colleagues suggested that I consider a less esoteric and more topical issue. No one imagined that by the time I had completed my thesis that division would be no more. Conventional wisdom not only underestimated Moscow’s willingness to let go of its satellites. It also misjudged the strong desire among the people of what was then still called Eastern Europe to liberate themselves and become part of the West. It was a lesson I would remember in the years ahead as the NATO enlargement debate raged and cautious diplomats argued that fulfilling Central and East European aspirations to join the Alliance was simply not politically or strategically feasible.

Asmus’s crucial insight into NATO enlargement was that independent states should be treated as just that–independent. It’s common to think of the postwar order as consisting, at a simplified level, of large states and small states. That’s certainly how the great powers spoke when drawing lines after the Second World War. But it would be more helpful to think of them as power states and peripheral states. Asmus thought the peripheral states–though he doesn’t use that term–deserved the right to chart their own path.

After the Cold War, the very reasonable desire on behalf of first the Bush administration then the Clinton administration was to maintain stability in Europe. But the system that underpinned that stability was outdated and, in some respects, unjust. Asmus realized that. In Central and Eastern Europe, he noted, “Yalta” was a watchword not only for Western abandonment of Poland but the relegation of peripheral states to second-class status. He even writes of working with allies at one point to formulate “a strategy to overcome Yalta.” That chapter is titled “Dismantling Yalta.” It’s an indication of just how much conventional wisdom Asmus was seeking to subvert.

Read More

Three years ago today, Ronald Asmus died at the very young age of 53 from cancer-related illnesses. Asmus was NATO’s champion in the Clinton administration, where his ideas about expanding NATO to eventually include a broad array of European countries but especially, as soon as was feasible, the trio of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, were heterodox. The story of how he accomplished it holds immediate relevance to the current conflict in Ukraine and lessons for American officials debating our role in fostering European stability.

Perhaps most of all, it’s worth recalling simply because history has vindicated Asmus. It is easy to forget just how unthinkable Asmus’s ideas were less than a decade before they came to fruition. Asmus was undeterred in part because his ideas about European unity and Western alliances had been pooh-poohed before. As he wrote in his book, Opening NATO’s Door:

I was part of a generation of Western academics raised with the conventional wisdom that a divided Germany and continent was a more or less permanent feature of Europe’s geopolitical landscape. When I opted to write my doctoral dissertation on overcoming the division of Germany in the mid-1980s, several colleagues suggested that I consider a less esoteric and more topical issue. No one imagined that by the time I had completed my thesis that division would be no more. Conventional wisdom not only underestimated Moscow’s willingness to let go of its satellites. It also misjudged the strong desire among the people of what was then still called Eastern Europe to liberate themselves and become part of the West. It was a lesson I would remember in the years ahead as the NATO enlargement debate raged and cautious diplomats argued that fulfilling Central and East European aspirations to join the Alliance was simply not politically or strategically feasible.

Asmus’s crucial insight into NATO enlargement was that independent states should be treated as just that–independent. It’s common to think of the postwar order as consisting, at a simplified level, of large states and small states. That’s certainly how the great powers spoke when drawing lines after the Second World War. But it would be more helpful to think of them as power states and peripheral states. Asmus thought the peripheral states–though he doesn’t use that term–deserved the right to chart their own path.

After the Cold War, the very reasonable desire on behalf of first the Bush administration then the Clinton administration was to maintain stability in Europe. But the system that underpinned that stability was outdated and, in some respects, unjust. Asmus realized that. In Central and Eastern Europe, he noted, “Yalta” was a watchword not only for Western abandonment of Poland but the relegation of peripheral states to second-class status. He even writes of working with allies at one point to formulate “a strategy to overcome Yalta.” That chapter is titled “Dismantling Yalta.” It’s an indication of just how much conventional wisdom Asmus was seeking to subvert.

Part of the reason NATO was an option at all in the early days was that the existing European structures were simply not up to the task of integrating and protecting the post-Soviet states. Initial hopes were that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could take stewardship of such an integration. But it was heavy on the cooperation and light on the security. Then there was the European Union, but France was opposed to opening its doors to full membership. “That left NATO,” Asmus writes.

There were a few turning points in NATO’s favor, some more famous than others. For Asmus, it was the Foreign Affairs article he authored along with two other colleagues at RAND in 1993 making the case for NATO enlargement. Another was a speech given around that time by Volker Ruehe, an up-and-coming German politician who had taken the defense portfolio in the German governing coalition. Ruehe, apparently without even telling the country’s foreign minister, gave a speech calling for NATO and the EU to put Central and Eastern European countries on the path to full membership. Asmus writes:

On the plane during the flight back to Cologne, one of Ruehe’s top military advisors remarked that it had been a mistake to give the speech and it would take Germany years to recover from the damage caused by the Minister’s comments. He was mistaken. Within several years every one of Ruehe’s core ideas would be embraced by the U.S. and would become official Alliance policy.

It was one of many examples that showed support for the alliance was always higher than it appeared, but also that the West (especially Europe) needed a good shove in the right direction every so often. The rest is, as they say, history.

Bill Clinton, too, deserves a fair amount of credit. Not only was he receptive to the ideas that led to NATO expansion, but he was a compelling spokesman for the cause. As the events in Ukraine this year and Georgia a few years ago showed, the countries most likely to be attacked by Russia are those without security guarantees from the West. Clinton made this point repeatedly. In 1997, Asmus notes, Clinton gave a speech to West Point graduates and declared that he wanted to expand NATO “to make it less likely that you will ever be called to fight in another war across the Atlantic.” Later that year Clinton met privately with a group of senators to gauge their support. “Extending a security guarantee is important,” Clinton told them. “No NATO member has ever been attacked.”

Joe Biden, too, made a powerful argument, telling skeptics like Jack Matlock and Michael Mandelbaum that not to enlarge NATO simply because there was no immediate threat from Russia was “a prescription for paralysis.” As we’ve seen in recent years, such complacency does indeed set in and grind progress to a halt.

And that is key to truly grasping the significance of what Asmus accomplished. Letting opportunities slip by, when it comes to European integration, often means there will be no second chance. Asmus saw an opportunity, made his case, and accomplished something historic before it was buried in bureaucratic inertia.

After the Senate overwhelmingly approved the expansion, Jan Nowak, the famed courier between the Polish underground resistance and Allied governments who was 84 years old at the time of the vote, approached Asmus from the Senate’s visitor’s galley. “I never thought,” he said with broad smile, “that I would live to see the day when Poland is not only free—but safe.” That was Asmus’s monumental achievement, and thanks to his determination it is America’s legacy.

Read Less

Why the Benghazi Email Still Matters

The release of a new batch of White House emails relating to the September 11, 2012 Benghazi terror attack is a problem for the Obama administration. The emails, specifically one from Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes, indicates that the White House was attempting to orchestrate responses to the attack in such a way as to promulgate the message that “these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” Coming as it does a day after the murder of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, the communication appears to be clear proof that the false story that the attack was a case of film criticism run amok can be traced directly to high-ranking officials with clear political motivations.

This email was, according to the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake, provided to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform only two weeks ago, although Congress requested them back in August 2013. Judicial Watch published it Tuesday after it forced the government to release them via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. This raises serious questions about what Lake aptly termed a White House “slow walk” of the release of information as well as the original concerns as to why the administration was putting out a false story about the attack that senior officials already knew was incorrect. Rhodes’s email seems to confirm the suspicions of many Republicans and other administration critics that the White House was behind the false story that then National Security Council director Susan Rice spouted repeatedly the following weekend on the Sunday news shows.

But as damning as Rhodes’s email seems to be, Democrats don’t seem too worried. The story is being largely ignored or downplayed by most of the same mainstream media that helped foster the narrative that Republicans were nuts to claim the White House was covering something up. Indeed, many on the left and perhaps even some on the right think that the email controversy is a trap for the GOP because it will motivate them to waste more time hammering the administration on an issue that the public doesn’t care about. But while this may not be an issue that will be decisive in the midterm elections, Congress should not let the administration bury this episode. The American people still have a right to know why the White House lied about the origin of the attack and why it covered that lie up for more than a year.

Read More

The release of a new batch of White House emails relating to the September 11, 2012 Benghazi terror attack is a problem for the Obama administration. The emails, specifically one from Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes, indicates that the White House was attempting to orchestrate responses to the attack in such a way as to promulgate the message that “these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” Coming as it does a day after the murder of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, the communication appears to be clear proof that the false story that the attack was a case of film criticism run amok can be traced directly to high-ranking officials with clear political motivations.

This email was, according to the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake, provided to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform only two weeks ago, although Congress requested them back in August 2013. Judicial Watch published it Tuesday after it forced the government to release them via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. This raises serious questions about what Lake aptly termed a White House “slow walk” of the release of information as well as the original concerns as to why the administration was putting out a false story about the attack that senior officials already knew was incorrect. Rhodes’s email seems to confirm the suspicions of many Republicans and other administration critics that the White House was behind the false story that then National Security Council director Susan Rice spouted repeatedly the following weekend on the Sunday news shows.

But as damning as Rhodes’s email seems to be, Democrats don’t seem too worried. The story is being largely ignored or downplayed by most of the same mainstream media that helped foster the narrative that Republicans were nuts to claim the White House was covering something up. Indeed, many on the left and perhaps even some on the right think that the email controversy is a trap for the GOP because it will motivate them to waste more time hammering the administration on an issue that the public doesn’t care about. But while this may not be an issue that will be decisive in the midterm elections, Congress should not let the administration bury this episode. The American people still have a right to know why the White House lied about the origin of the attack and why it covered that lie up for more than a year.

In response, administration defenders claim that this is still much ado about nothing. Does it, as Hillary Clinton asked last year, matter who said what about Benghazi that weekend when the real issue is the fact that terrorists killed four Americans?

There is some truth to this line of reasoning. A much bigger scandal than the lies told about the attack is the fact that to this day not a single one of the murderers has been captured, let alone tried and punished.

But the reason the lie still sticks in the collective craw of the American people is that the falsehoods helped reelect President Obama. As Rhodes’s communication makes clear, the White House’s No. 1 concern at that moment seemed to be more about the American people thinking that al-Qaeda was reviving than the fact that the terror group and its affiliates had done it. The attempt to convince Americans that a video was at fault (for which the administration wrongly issued a profuse apology to the Muslim world) was no innocent mistake. With the assistance of the mainstream media (remember CNN Candy Crowley intervening on behalf of the president when he was pressed on the issue by Mitt Romney?), Obama was able to maintain his stance that al-Qaeda was as dead as Osama bin Laden.

The point is Rhodes’s email reveals that Rice’s false story was not an innocent mistake. It was a cynical attempt to divert public attention from the revival of Islamist terrorism at a moment during a competitive reelection when the president was basing his reelection in no small part on the notion that he was a strong leader who had vanquished that movement.

The lie may not have changed the outcome of an election that Obama was probably fated to win anyway. Nor is it as outrageous as the subsequent failure of the United States to find the terrorists responsible for the murders. But as with so many other scandals, the coverup is in some ways worse than the original lie. As much as liberals have tired of the discussion, it should not be buried along with the four Benghazi victims.

Read Less

Conference Vote Demonstrates J Street’s Irrelevance

Today, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will vote on the J Street lobby’s application for membership. The question has split the Conference with more conservative pro-Israel groups expressing opposition and left-wingers and centrists seeming to favor it. If, as some expect, J Street wins the vote, it will probably be interpreted as a victory for “diversity” of thought about Israeli politics. More to the point, the group and its allies will spin the ballot as proof that its brand of left-wing politics and support for U.S. pressure on the State of Israel to “save it from itself” has gained legitimacy in the American Jewish organizational world.

But both celebrating J Streeters and opponents who will mourn its growing acceptance should calm down. The fact is, joining the Conference as just one more not particularly influential member among a long roster of generally well meaning but politically insignificant groups is actually a huge step down for J Street from where it started a few years ago. The best thing that could happen to J Street would actually be to lose this vote.

Here’s why:

Read More

Today, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will vote on the J Street lobby’s application for membership. The question has split the Conference with more conservative pro-Israel groups expressing opposition and left-wingers and centrists seeming to favor it. If, as some expect, J Street wins the vote, it will probably be interpreted as a victory for “diversity” of thought about Israeli politics. More to the point, the group and its allies will spin the ballot as proof that its brand of left-wing politics and support for U.S. pressure on the State of Israel to “save it from itself” has gained legitimacy in the American Jewish organizational world.

But both celebrating J Streeters and opponents who will mourn its growing acceptance should calm down. The fact is, joining the Conference as just one more not particularly influential member among a long roster of generally well meaning but politically insignificant groups is actually a huge step down for J Street from where it started a few years ago. The best thing that could happen to J Street would actually be to lose this vote.

Here’s why:

J Street burst upon the public scene at the end of 2008 hoping to capitalize on the victory of Barack Obama. At that point J Street’s ambitions soared as high as the new president’s popularity. Its goal was nothing less than to challenge and then replace AIPAC as the voice of American Jewry on Israel. More sober observers always thought this was a pipe dream and today it seems not so much over-ambitious as it does ridiculous. But at the time the J Street crowd was drunk on the Obama victory and convinced that the traditional overwhelming support in the community for the Democratic candidate meant that most American Jews shared Obama’s desire for pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to achieve peace. Since they wrongly believed AIPAC to be a right-wing dominated clique rather than a bipartisan consensus-driven umbrella coalition, J Street thought its appearance on the scene would shove the older group aside and establish the newcomers as the go-to organization for American Jews on Israel. It was, they thought, the perfect opportunity at the perfect time for a group whose raison d’être was to take Obama’s side against the Israelis.

To say that these hopes were quickly dashed is the understatement of the 21st century. AIPAC shrugged off the J Street challenge without missing a step. The left-wing group quickly proved that it was out of step with even most liberal supporters of Israel by opposing its counter-attack against the Hamas terrorist base in Gaza and went downhill from there. Not only did J Street soon find that it had little influence in Congress in comparison to AIPAC’s across-the-board support but it also rapidly began to comprehend that even its friends in the Obama administration were not interested in boosting it at the expense of its mainstream rival. Even worse, every time Obama picked a fight with Israel’s government to the cheers of his J Street fans, he eventually always disappointed him by backing down. By the time of his 2012 election-year Jewish charm offensive, the president was not only seeking to please the very people J Street despised, he was appearing at AIPAC and taking a tough stand on Iran that left-wingers opposed.

Though J Street has survived these disappointments and has enjoyed some moments of triumph during Obama’s second term as the president once again found himself at odds with Israel on both Iran and the peace process, it remains a noisy but marginal group. While it can count on support from the New York Times, it is still out of step with mainstream Jewish opinion (as its support for engagement with the Hamas terrorists proved again last week) and its positions are completely at odds with the views of a majority of Israelis.

The arguments against J Street’s acceptance are not without merit. The group’s positions are, at best, unhelpful to Israel and by seeking to undermine efforts to isolate anti-Zionist organizations like Jewish Voices for Peace it has hurt rather than helped the fight against the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on the Jewish state. But so long as J Street adheres to a position of support for Israel’s existence and opposition to BDS, the rationale for keeping them out of such a non-exclusive and diverse group like the Conference is a tough sell.

Were J Street to be denied entry to the Conference it would, however, be a huge public-relations coup and allow it to milk the situation for sympathy and depict its critics as seeking to silence a voice for peace. But its potential entry into the Conference would be confirmation that rather than a significant force on the Jewish scene, J Street is just one more insignificant Jewish group among a welter of such organizations whose infrastructure consist of little more than a staff and a mailing list.

To say this is not to criticize the Conference which, under the leadership of Malcolm Hoenlein, has done great service to the community by helping to mobilize support for consensus positions on the issues. But joining it will be proof that rather than challenging AIPAC, all J Street has accomplished is to attain the dubious distinction of being the leading left-wing sparring partner for the Zionist Organization of America and its leader Mort Klein.

The point here is that rather than signifying its acceptance, today’s vote is merely a sign that J Street failed in its mission to overturn the Jewish consensus on Israel. A seat in what is, for all intents and purposes, a debating society–most of whose members are little known even among American Jews–strikes me as a poor consolation prize for such a defeat.

UPDATE:

J Street’s application to join the Conference was rejected. My take on the vote can be read here.

Read Less

Why Americans Seem So Torn on Foreign Policy

Though comparisons between Russian leaders today and 20th century monsters like Hitler and Stalin are generally–and rightfully–resisted or corrected when used in the U.S., it’s impossible to understand the conflict in Ukraine without making room for the sense of history that hangs over Europe. Der Spiegel reports on German veterans who recognize too much of the scenes in Ukraine from their own time serving there seventy years ago (though the Germans were the invaders that time). And the New York Times notices a once-forgotten Moscow Cold War museum now swamped by visitors “drawn as much by history as by the sense that the combustible, post-World War II conflict between East and West has come roaring back to life.”

This also makes it easier to understand European nerves over American inaction. If they see the possibility of a massive war engulfing Europe’s major powers, they must also see American war-weariness and retrenchment chic as distinct but not tangibly different, for their own purposes, from the American isolationism they remember as well. So in one sense, they could be heartened by the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll which, as Max notes, shows an American public confused and hesitant about America’s role in the world but not isolationist. But that optimism is based on the sense that Americans are open to persuasion on foreign involvement, which leads to the crucial question: who is doing the persuading?

Read More

Though comparisons between Russian leaders today and 20th century monsters like Hitler and Stalin are generally–and rightfully–resisted or corrected when used in the U.S., it’s impossible to understand the conflict in Ukraine without making room for the sense of history that hangs over Europe. Der Spiegel reports on German veterans who recognize too much of the scenes in Ukraine from their own time serving there seventy years ago (though the Germans were the invaders that time). And the New York Times notices a once-forgotten Moscow Cold War museum now swamped by visitors “drawn as much by history as by the sense that the combustible, post-World War II conflict between East and West has come roaring back to life.”

This also makes it easier to understand European nerves over American inaction. If they see the possibility of a massive war engulfing Europe’s major powers, they must also see American war-weariness and retrenchment chic as distinct but not tangibly different, for their own purposes, from the American isolationism they remember as well. So in one sense, they could be heartened by the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll which, as Max notes, shows an American public confused and hesitant about America’s role in the world but not isolationist. But that optimism is based on the sense that Americans are open to persuasion on foreign involvement, which leads to the crucial question: who is doing the persuading?

Max notes the central contradiction in the results: the pollsters asked Americans what they thought (in addition to a bevy of other issues) about foreign policy, and Americans responded, essentially, that they have no idea. They succumbed to a kind of magical thinking on foreign policy in which they want the U.S. to pull back from the world without creating a vacuum–a logical impossibility. They appear frustrated that when America plays a reduced role in world affairs its influence is replaced by Vladimir Putin instead of unicorns and labradoodles (I’m paraphrasing slightly).

But on some level that confusion is understandable because the president of the United States is arguing out loud with the straw men in his head, claiming that the alternative to toothless sanctions is total world war. Americans at home may see this as the amusing inanity of an ideologue who is losing an argument, but it’s doubtful the Europeans are laughing. It turns out there is some middle ground between treating Putin like Gilly from Saturday Night Live and nuking Moscow, though you wouldn’t know it from the commander in chief.

The fact of the matter is, as I’ve noted from time to time, the president has a unique ability to shape public opinion on foreign policy, more so than on domestic policy. Americans have internalized the president as both the leader of the free world and the commander in chief of the armed forces of the planet’s only superpower. So the public is not going to be easily persuaded on the goodness of American power projection by this administration.

Looking forward, again, Europeans are probably not too encouraged. The Democrats are seeking to succeed Obama with Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state who presided over the failed Russian “reset,” chewed out allies like Israel, and expressed regret to Pakistan–which cooperates with anti-American terrorists and sheltered Osama bin Laden–for past American policy. On the right, the debate looks to be more interesting, not least because unlike the Democrats the Republicans do want to have an actual debate, not a coronation.

Sentiments like those expressed in the poll are reflected in the way the Republican race for the nomination has taken shape so far. The president’s abject failures have opened space for those who can present a serious alternative. That means that Republicans with the most success so far have been those like Scott Walker and Rand Paul, with the former proving conservative governance can fix even deep and costly liberal mismanagement and the latter making a thoughtful case for individual liberty in the face of liberal attacks on basic freedoms.

But the effect on the foreign-policy debate has been muted. Paul advocates retrenchment (though without the apology tour, one suspects) and has warned not to “tweak Russia.” Others like Walker seem to disagree with Paul on foreign policy but as the governor of a Midwestern state locked in a battle with government unions in the midst of the dismal Obama economy, the issue doesn’t exactly come up very often. Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who possesses one of the stronger resumes of the potential 2016 class, has started branching out a bit more into foreign affairs but remains mired in a debate over education policy back home. Others are facing similar circumstances, with the high-profile exception of Marco Rubio. The Florida senator has dropped a bit in the polls recently, but he has not shied away from displaying his fluency in foreign affairs or striking a contrast to Paul’s perspective.

So yes, Americans are inclined toward the maintenance of a peaceable world order, and they are persuadable on the need for America to protect that order with a robust presence on the world stage. But they’re not going to get there on their own.

Read Less

Americans’ Foreign-Policy Contradictions

There is an interesting anomaly in the new Wall Street Journal poll. The headline finding is that most Americans want to pull away from the world: “The 47% of respondents who called for a less-active role in world affairs marked a larger share than in similar polling in 2001, 1997 and 1995.” On the other hand respondents disapprove of President Obama’s foreign policy by a margin of 53 percent to 38 percent, making the president’s approval rating in foreign policy worse than in economic policy (where 42 percent approve of his conduct). 

How can this be, given that Obama’s foreign policy is all about having America take a less-active role in the world? Isn’t Obama giving the public what it wants? The answer, I believe, is that most Americans are ambivalent. On the one hand, they like the idea of doing less, and that impulse has been reinforced by five years of presidential rhetoric about “nation building begins at home” and “the tide of war is receding.” On the other hand, most Americans also want a vigorous defense of American interests abroad and they are uneasy about the image of weakness we currently project. 

Read More

There is an interesting anomaly in the new Wall Street Journal poll. The headline finding is that most Americans want to pull away from the world: “The 47% of respondents who called for a less-active role in world affairs marked a larger share than in similar polling in 2001, 1997 and 1995.” On the other hand respondents disapprove of President Obama’s foreign policy by a margin of 53 percent to 38 percent, making the president’s approval rating in foreign policy worse than in economic policy (where 42 percent approve of his conduct). 

How can this be, given that Obama’s foreign policy is all about having America take a less-active role in the world? Isn’t Obama giving the public what it wants? The answer, I believe, is that most Americans are ambivalent. On the one hand, they like the idea of doing less, and that impulse has been reinforced by five years of presidential rhetoric about “nation building begins at home” and “the tide of war is receding.” On the other hand, most Americans also want a vigorous defense of American interests abroad and they are uneasy about the image of weakness we currently project. 

The pollsters read two questions to those surveyed and asked them which one more closely reflected their view of the world. “Statement A: We need a president who will present an image that America has a more open approach and is willing to negotiate with friends and foes alike. Statement B: We need a president who will present an image of strength that shows America’s willingness to confront our enemies and stand up for our principles.” It turns out that Statement B–reflecting a desire to show strength–won 55 percent support, whereas Statement A–calling for a more “open approach,” whatever that means–won the support of only 39 percent. The number opting for strength actually increased by five points since the question was asked in 2008 at the conclusion of the Bush presidency. 

Further buttressing the impression that Americans respond to strength, respondents disapproved of Obama’s weak handling of the Ukraine crisis by a margin of 45 percent to 37 percent. 

My takeaway? Americans may have mixed impulses in foreign policy but they are not dedicated isolationists. In fact they are ready to be led toward a stronger and more active foreign policy–a project that is likely to await Obama’s successor, whoever he or she may be.

Read Less

The Growth Figures

New gross domestic product figures for the first quarter of 2014 were released this morning by the Commerce Department and they are dismal, a mere 0.1 percent growth. This was way below what economists had been expecting (the Wall Street Journal’s survey of economists had predicted a less-than-stellar 1.1 percent) and even more below the pace of the last half of 2013, which was 3.4 percent.

To be sure, it was a brutal winter in much of the country this year, but these figures are seasonally adjusted, to reflect normal winter slowdown in such industries as construction. Had it not been for considerably above normal spending on energy to heat homes, which caused consumer spending to rise by 3 percent (it rose 3.3 percent in the last quarter of 2013), the figures would have been worse.

Read More

New gross domestic product figures for the first quarter of 2014 were released this morning by the Commerce Department and they are dismal, a mere 0.1 percent growth. This was way below what economists had been expecting (the Wall Street Journal’s survey of economists had predicted a less-than-stellar 1.1 percent) and even more below the pace of the last half of 2013, which was 3.4 percent.

To be sure, it was a brutal winter in much of the country this year, but these figures are seasonally adjusted, to reflect normal winter slowdown in such industries as construction. Had it not been for considerably above normal spending on energy to heat homes, which caused consumer spending to rise by 3 percent (it rose 3.3 percent in the last quarter of 2013), the figures would have been worse.

Business investment in such things as equipment and buildings fell 2.1 percent from the last quarter. Exports fell a startling 7.6 percent, the largest drop since the recession officially ended in June 2009 and reflecting lackluster economic growth abroad. Imports fell much less, only 1.4 percent.

To be sure, economists expect GDP growth to pick up next quarter, in part because the spending that was delayed this winter by the awful weather will be made up this spring and summer. But this continues a worrying pattern of not only lackluster growth overall, but very erratic growth, as can be seen in this chart from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. This is not at all typical of a recovery from a deep recession, which usually shows strong and steady growth.

Democrats had better pray that this is a blip in the statistics. Two more quarters like this and November will be an ugly political month for them.

Read Less

Assad Owes His Survival to Obama

With so much attention being focused on Russian aggression in Ukraine and the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East peace talks, the ongoing disaster in Syria hasn’t gotten much attention lately. That’s good news for President Obama because as much as Ukraine and the peace talks are genuine defeats for the administration, it’s possible to argue that his retreat on Syria was far more humiliating than either of those other situations. By backing down from his threats to bomb Syria once the Bashar Assad regime crossed the “red line” personally imposed by Obama on the use of chemical weapons, the president’s international standing and credibility as a world leader to be reckoned with sunk to a new low.

In punting on Syria, President Obama helped set the stage for future problems because of his decision to basically hand the issue of chemical-weapons disposal to Russia. In doing so, he inflated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sense of invulnerability that made aggression in Ukraine more likely. But there was another more direct result of the White House’s shameful flight from principle: the preservation of the Assad regime. The American willingness to back down on threats of intervention and the increased cooperation with Assad’s Russian ally more or less guaranteed the survival of the very regime whose fall President Obama had repeatedly demanded.

But now, several months after Obama’s demarche on chemical weapons, the proof that Obama had preserved Assad is unmistakable. When the Syrian government announced on Monday that the country would hold a presidential election, it was one more confirmation that Assad believes he has won the civil war. Though it will be a travesty, we can expect that the dictator will be reelected with a total that is somewhere north of 95 percent of the votes cast. Assad will have many people to thank for being able to pull this off: Iran, Hezbollah, and Vladimir Putin. But he will be remiss if he doesn’t also express gratitude to Barack Obama.

Read More

With so much attention being focused on Russian aggression in Ukraine and the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East peace talks, the ongoing disaster in Syria hasn’t gotten much attention lately. That’s good news for President Obama because as much as Ukraine and the peace talks are genuine defeats for the administration, it’s possible to argue that his retreat on Syria was far more humiliating than either of those other situations. By backing down from his threats to bomb Syria once the Bashar Assad regime crossed the “red line” personally imposed by Obama on the use of chemical weapons, the president’s international standing and credibility as a world leader to be reckoned with sunk to a new low.

In punting on Syria, President Obama helped set the stage for future problems because of his decision to basically hand the issue of chemical-weapons disposal to Russia. In doing so, he inflated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sense of invulnerability that made aggression in Ukraine more likely. But there was another more direct result of the White House’s shameful flight from principle: the preservation of the Assad regime. The American willingness to back down on threats of intervention and the increased cooperation with Assad’s Russian ally more or less guaranteed the survival of the very regime whose fall President Obama had repeatedly demanded.

But now, several months after Obama’s demarche on chemical weapons, the proof that Obama had preserved Assad is unmistakable. When the Syrian government announced on Monday that the country would hold a presidential election, it was one more confirmation that Assad believes he has won the civil war. Though it will be a travesty, we can expect that the dictator will be reelected with a total that is somewhere north of 95 percent of the votes cast. Assad will have many people to thank for being able to pull this off: Iran, Hezbollah, and Vladimir Putin. But he will be remiss if he doesn’t also express gratitude to Barack Obama.

As his rant at a news conference in the Philippines illustrated, Syria is a sore point for Obama. But rather than vent his spleen on the critics who have the temerity to point out his weakness by calling them trigger-happy warmongers, the president would do better to search his own conscience and wonder just how many of the more than 100,000 people slaughtered in that country might have been saved had he decided to act in the early stages of the unrest there.

The initial demonstrations in the wake of the Arab Spring protests showed just how weak Bashar Assad was in 2011. The second-generation dictator was deeply unpopular and the people of Syria were clearly begging for change, if not something approaching democracy. As was the case with Libya’s Qaddafi, a swift and limited intervention in Syria could have easily toppled Assad with little cost to the West. While the aftermath might, like that in Libya, have been messy, the cost of inaction turned out to be even worse than some of Obama’s sternest critics feared. Not only did the indifference of the West embolden Assad to use any and all means to preserve his regime, but weakened opposition forces were soon infiltrated and arguably dominated by radical Islamists. This could have been avoided had Obama done something more useful than spout empty predictions of Assad’s imminent demise.

This “lead from behind” strategy created the worst of all possible outcomes: a human-rights catastrophe in which Assad was allowed to slaughter tens of thousands with impunity and the growth of an Islamist faction that rallied many of those who hated the regime to its ranks.

What has happened in Syria over the past three years gives the lie to all of the administration’s pronouncements about its concern for human rights. But it also demonstrates how a feckless foreign policy motivated by fear of involving America in foreign tangles can make a bad situation worse. As much as Assad owes his life to his Iranian, Hezbollah, and Russian allies, his faux reelection this year would not have been possible had Obama shown resolve early on in the crisis when a decent outcome was still possible and the costs of intervention were lower. That’s a sobering commentary on Obama’s lack of leadership. But when one considers how many tens of thousands of lives might have been saved had America had a leader with the courage of his convictions, it is a disgrace that all the accolades given him by the liberal press will never be able to erase.

Read Less

A Bad Metaphor, But an Even Worse Excuse

Apparently the criticism of his foreign policy is beginning to sting President Obama. But he is not going to convince any skeptics with the tortuous defense of his record that he and his spinmeister, Ben Rhodes, put forth on their Asian trip.

“You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run,” Obama said at a news conference. “But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.”

Thank you, Mr. President, for setting up every late night comedian for jokes about how you’re shanking balls or whiffing strikeouts.

To further defend the indefensible–namely his foreign-policy record–Obama reverted to the old caricature of himself as the peacemaker and his critics as warmongers:

“Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force,” Mr. Obama said, “after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and to our budget. And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?”

Read More

Apparently the criticism of his foreign policy is beginning to sting President Obama. But he is not going to convince any skeptics with the tortuous defense of his record that he and his spinmeister, Ben Rhodes, put forth on their Asian trip.

“You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run,” Obama said at a news conference. “But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.”

Thank you, Mr. President, for setting up every late night comedian for jokes about how you’re shanking balls or whiffing strikeouts.

To further defend the indefensible–namely his foreign-policy record–Obama reverted to the old caricature of himself as the peacemaker and his critics as warmongers:

“Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force,” Mr. Obama said, “after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and to our budget. And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?”

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser who no doubt helped formulate the above attack line, chimed in with a line of his own: “If we took all of the actions that our critics have demanded, we’d lose count of the number of military conflicts that America would be engaged in.”

Talk about swinging–and missing–at a straw man! (Yes those are the kinds of mixed metaphors that Obama’s baseball analogy elicits.) This is a pretty poor excuse for the drift of the world on Obama’s watch.

There hasn’t been a substantial foreign-policy victory since Osama bin Laden and Moammar Gaddafi were killed in 2011. As I note in the Wall Street Journal today, “Hopes for a peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians have been dashed, the civil war continues to rage in Syria, chaos engulfs Libya, Russia has invaded Ukraine and China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea has leaders in Japan and the Philippines drawing analogies to the 1930s.”

That’s actually only a partial listing of the setbacks we have suffered. I had no room to list other bad news: the emergence of a new military dictatorship in Egypt, a crackdown on civil liberties in Turkey, growing instability in Lebanon, new reports of chemical-weapons use in Syria, advances of Islamic insurgents in Pakistan, crumbling economic sanctions on Iran in return for empty promises to slow down their nuclear program, new North Korean belligerence, and declining American credibility from allowing red lines to be crossed from Syria to Crimea and (an overlooked issue) from allowing our defense budget to be slashed precipitously.

Perhaps worst of all is the resurgence of al-Qaeda. As the New York Times notes today: “Experts and officials are beginning to speak of a vast territory that stretches from Aleppo in Syria through Anbar Province and up to the doorstep of Baghdad that is controlled by Islamist extremists.”

To be sure, not all of this can be laid at Obama’s doorstep. Some of it would have happened no matter who was president–although it’s hard to imagine despots like Putin and Assad taking advantage of a President McCain the way they have taken advantage of President Obama.

The downward spiral of Iraq and Syria is  a particularly avoidable and inter-related tragedy that might well have been avoided if (a) we had kept troops in Iraq after 2011 and (b) if we had done more to provide arms and air power to the secular Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime. This would not have embroiled America in any new ground wars and in fact it would have prevented wars from getting much worse in both countries, to the detriment of America’s interests and those of our allies.

In other countries–such as Ukraine and Egypt–not even Obama can accuse his critics of advocating the use of military force. What those of us who are critical of the administration’s foreign policy advocate is the robust use of all the levers at America’s disposal, which in the case of Ukraine means we should have imposed much more wide-ranging economic sanctions on Russia and in the case of Egypt that we should have done a much more principled and robust job of defending civil liberties whether they were threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood or the military.

Perhaps the most unconvincing defense that Ben Rhodes offered was this: “There is a tendency to view all of American foreign policy through the prism of the most difficult crisis of the day, rather than taking the longer view.”

Sorry, Mr. Rhodes: U.S. presidents are judged on how they handle crises. FDR was judged on his record after Pearl Harbor, Truman on his record after the start of the Cold War, JFK on his record in the Cuban Missile Crisis, LBJ on Vietnam, Carter on the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the invasion of Afghanistan, George H.W. Bush on the invasion of Kuwait, George W. Bush on 9/11, and so on.

Obama has been judged and found wanting and lame baseball metaphors are not going to save his record from the critical scrutiny it is now rightly receiving.

Read Less

Sterling Blowback Proves Sotomayor Wrong

If there is a more unpopular man in America, or anywhere else, today than Donald Sterling, I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes. The opprobrium that has rained down on the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers in the wake of the publicizing of his racist rant has transcended the world of sports or even that of politics. In the space of a week Sterling has become a living, breathing symbol of hate. No one is lining up to rationalize, let alone defend, his disgusting comments about African-Americans. The universal disdain for Sterling is the reason why the National Basketball Association is not only punishing him with a fine and suspension but seeks to force him to give up a franchise that is estimated to be worth more than half a billion dollars.

And yet much of the commentary about Sterling as well as the less earthshaking dustup about the racial comments made by tax scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy last week is focused on trying to sell us on just how bad things are. Many liberal voices are being raised today amid the Sterling furor to claim that not only is Sterling-like racism endemic but that his hate was of a piece with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. Such sentiments were heard today not only in the leftist echo chamber that is MSNBC but in the New Yorker, where legal writer Jeffrey Toobin claimed that Sterling proved that Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action was correct. Sotomayor asserted that racism in the U.S. was real and pervasive and justified, seemingly indefinitely, a regime of racial preferences in school admissions. Such a response is not only transparently cynical in terms of its attempt to exploit a controversy to further the liberal political agenda; it misreads what this episode tells us about the United States in 2014.

Read More

If there is a more unpopular man in America, or anywhere else, today than Donald Sterling, I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes. The opprobrium that has rained down on the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers in the wake of the publicizing of his racist rant has transcended the world of sports or even that of politics. In the space of a week Sterling has become a living, breathing symbol of hate. No one is lining up to rationalize, let alone defend, his disgusting comments about African-Americans. The universal disdain for Sterling is the reason why the National Basketball Association is not only punishing him with a fine and suspension but seeks to force him to give up a franchise that is estimated to be worth more than half a billion dollars.

And yet much of the commentary about Sterling as well as the less earthshaking dustup about the racial comments made by tax scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy last week is focused on trying to sell us on just how bad things are. Many liberal voices are being raised today amid the Sterling furor to claim that not only is Sterling-like racism endemic but that his hate was of a piece with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. Such sentiments were heard today not only in the leftist echo chamber that is MSNBC but in the New Yorker, where legal writer Jeffrey Toobin claimed that Sterling proved that Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action was correct. Sotomayor asserted that racism in the U.S. was real and pervasive and justified, seemingly indefinitely, a regime of racial preferences in school admissions. Such a response is not only transparently cynical in terms of its attempt to exploit a controversy to further the liberal political agenda; it misreads what this episode tells us about the United States in 2014.

Toobin takes Chief Justice John Roberts to task for a now oft-quoted statement in which he rightly asserted, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” In his view, more racial discrimination in the form of affirmative action quotas is necessary because people like Sterling and Bundy still exist. That two such figures would utter prejudicial statements is therefore enough to render Sotomayor’s vision of an America torn by racial strife and thus in need of permanent measures to correct the injustices of the Jim Crow era.

But surely even Toobin has noticed that far from being universally held or backed up by the institutions of society or government, recent events have proved just how right Roberts was. Sterling and Bundy have showed that anyone who dares to speak in this manner is not only scolded but also effectively shunned in a manner more reminiscent of closed religious societies dealing with public sinners than someone expressing an outlier view in a 24/7 news cycle.

While we can all join in the condemnation of Sterling, Americans ought to be celebrating the fact that the expression of open racism in this manner isn’t merely controversial but is enough to render a wealthy and powerful man beyond the pale of decent society. Far from a commentary about how far we have yet to go to achieve equality, the Sterling brouhaha demonstrates just the opposite. That America has become a place where it is not possible to disdain associating with the likes of Magic Johnson and keep your frontcourt seats at NBA games shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. After all, this is a country that elected and then reelected a black man to the White House. If there is anything to learn from this story it is that the America that tolerated institutionalized racism only a half-century ago has become an entirely different and much better country.

The real lesson here is that while Sterling and Bundy may have thought lots of people agreed with them, the reaction to their statements has illustrated just how isolated racists are on the American public square. Though the 50 years of progress since the death of Jim Crow and even the election of Barack Obama does not mean we are a perfect, color-blind society, it does demonstrate that ours is a country in which racism has become the worst possible offense to public sensibilities. The racial quotas Sotomayor and Toobin advocate are not only as unnecessary as they are counter-productive; they are also rooted in a clearly outdated evaluation of American society. A place where Donald Sterling is the most hated man is not compatible with Sotomayor’s vision of a land where racial discrimination is rampant. As much as we may lament Sterling and Bundy as vestiges of a bygone era of hate, we should be grateful that they are treated with such general disdain and draw the appropriate conclusions.

Read Less

Will Latest Russia Revelation Prompt Tougher Response from Obama?

Now they know that we know that they know. That’s the takeaway from Josh Rogin’s follow-up scoop on John Kerry’s address to the Trilateral Commission (this one co-authored with Eli Lake), in which Kerry reveals the administration has proof Russian officials are closely involved in fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine. The question is, will it impact the administration’s policy now that the White House knows that the public knows that the White House knows Russia is involved?

Of course, Russia’s involvement is not a surprise; everyone “knew,” on some level, precisely what Vladimir Putin was up to. But having proof is different, and having that proof in the hands of the administration is different as well, and so is the public knowing that the proof is in the hands of the administration, and that any policy recommendations are made with the full knowledge of Russian interventionism in Ukraine. Here’s Rogin with the crux of Kerry’s condemnation of Russia:

Read More

Now they know that we know that they know. That’s the takeaway from Josh Rogin’s follow-up scoop on John Kerry’s address to the Trilateral Commission (this one co-authored with Eli Lake), in which Kerry reveals the administration has proof Russian officials are closely involved in fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine. The question is, will it impact the administration’s policy now that the White House knows that the public knows that the White House knows Russia is involved?

Of course, Russia’s involvement is not a surprise; everyone “knew,” on some level, precisely what Vladimir Putin was up to. But having proof is different, and having that proof in the hands of the administration is different as well, and so is the public knowing that the proof is in the hands of the administration, and that any policy recommendations are made with the full knowledge of Russian interventionism in Ukraine. Here’s Rogin with the crux of Kerry’s condemnation of Russia:

“Intel is producing taped conversations of intelligence operatives taking their orders from Moscow and everybody can tell the difference in the accents, in the idioms, in the language. We know exactly who’s giving those orders, we know where they are coming from,” Kerry said at a private meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Washington. A recording of Kerry’s remarks was obtained by The Daily Beast.

Kerry didn’t name specific Russian officials implicated in the recordings. But he claimed that the intercepts provided proof of the Russians deliberately fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine—and lying about it to U.S. officials and the public.

“It’s not an accident that you have some of the same people identified who were in Crimea and in Georgia and who are now in east Ukraine,” said Kerry. “This is insulting to everybody’s intelligence, let alone to our notions about how we ought to be behaving in the 21st century. It’s thuggism, it’s rogue state-ism. It’s the worst order of behavior.”

The proof, as Kerry describes it, is helpful in a strategic sense since it would be easier to identify Russian troublemakers elsewhere in Moscow’s near abroad–Moldova, say–if they move on to other targets the way they did in invading Georgia and then Ukraine. And that latter point raises another issue here. This is about more than dueling protests and raising voices.

The New York Times illustrates the escalation of the conflict in a tale of two Ukrainian cities–Kharkiv, where the mayor was left in critical condition after an assassination attempt, and Konstantinovka, where power seemingly switched hands. The disturbing aspect to this is that neither of these two cities is a locus of violence compared to other parts of eastern Ukraine. The Times reports:

The crisis in eastern Ukraine took dark turns on Monday as the mayor of the country’s second-largest city was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt and masked antigovernment militants seized control of this city almost effortlessly, laying bare the limits of the interim government’s control.

The violence was followed by a pro-government rally in the eastern city of Donetsk that was broken up by a rival pro-Russian crowd that beat and scattered the demonstrators shortly after they gathered, while the police stepped aside and looked on.

One Ukrainian soldier was killed by an explosion in the Donetsk region and another wounded as they cleared an obstacle, the Defense Ministry said, in a statement suggesting its troops may have for the first time been struck by an improvised roadside bomb.

Taken together, the events pointed to the further enfeeblement of the interim government in Kiev, which came to power after chasing President Viktor F. Yanukovych from office in February.

They also provided further evidence of the near irrelevance of a diplomatic agreement reached in Geneva this month aimed at defusing what remains a still escalating crisis.

As Jonathan wrote earlier, the situation in Ukraine seems to be a drag on President Obama’s approval ratings, with his handling of the crisis finding fewer takers than his handling of the ObamaCare fiasco. The Times story offers a clue why that is. The president has taken to insisting he has neither the time nor the inclination to explain himself before launching into bizarre rants accusing his critics of being warmongers. The alternative to total war, according to the president and his allies, is the administration’s “smart diplomacy.”

But even his fellow antiwar voices in the press are ridiculing the deal his administration struck in Ukraine as being of “near irrelevance” and the government the White House is supposedly helping to stand up showing signs of “further enfeeblement.” The whole thing is a very sad, very dangerous, and increasingly bloody saga of American diffidence.

And Kerry’s comments (should) complicate this further for the White House because the Post/ABC poll was conducted before Rogin’s latest scoop. The public was already dissatisfied with the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s provocations, but now they’ve been told that the administration knew how much of this Moscow was directly responsible for.

Read Less

Hamas Decision Overshadows Kerry’s Slur

Secretary of State John Kerry’s apology for his use of the word apartheid to describe Israel’s future in the absence of peace has done nothing to lessen the impact of this slur. The secretary’s attempt to walk back his remarks was long on umbrage about anyone questioning his dubious pro-Israel bona fides and short on actual contrition. The aftermath of a taped speech in which he uses a misleading attempt to cast blame for the failure of his peace initiative equally between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is not the most appropriate moment to boast of his commitment to the Jewish state, especially when he has damned it as heading inevitably to racist tyranny if it doesn’t do as he says.

But though the Daily Beast’s scoop about Kerry’s speech to the Trilateral Commission has put the administration on the defensive for the moment, the statement has served the purpose of Israel’s critics since it has given them the opportunity to defend his assertion even as the secretary distanced himself from it. The notion that what he said is an unpalatable truth has become a piece of liberal conventional wisdom even though its premise is demographically dubious and rendered nonsensical when one considers that unless one includes the population of Gaza—which is already an independent Palestinian state in all but name—the day will probably never dawn when Arabs outnumber Jews in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel not only, as Kerry conceded in his apology, is not now and has no intention of ever becoming an apartheid state. The entire discussion is specious and tells us more about the effort to delegitimize the Jewish state than it does about Israel’s character. The real damage here is that Kerry has breathed new life into an old canard that neither facts nor logic seems to have the power to extinguish.

But for all the effort expended on this controversy, an even more important one is looming over Obama administration’s Middle East policy in the wake of the collapse of the peace talks. By entering into a unity coalition with the Hamas terrorist movement, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas put President Obama on the spot. The president has repeatedly pledged that the U.S., like Israel, will not deal with Hamas, at least until it repudiates its genocidal charter, recognizes Israel, and commits itself to peace. That ought to mean the end of all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (something mandated by law) as well as putting an end to negotiations that are aimed at empowering the PA. But no one in Israel should be taking the fulfillment of that pledge for granted.

Read More

Secretary of State John Kerry’s apology for his use of the word apartheid to describe Israel’s future in the absence of peace has done nothing to lessen the impact of this slur. The secretary’s attempt to walk back his remarks was long on umbrage about anyone questioning his dubious pro-Israel bona fides and short on actual contrition. The aftermath of a taped speech in which he uses a misleading attempt to cast blame for the failure of his peace initiative equally between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is not the most appropriate moment to boast of his commitment to the Jewish state, especially when he has damned it as heading inevitably to racist tyranny if it doesn’t do as he says.

But though the Daily Beast’s scoop about Kerry’s speech to the Trilateral Commission has put the administration on the defensive for the moment, the statement has served the purpose of Israel’s critics since it has given them the opportunity to defend his assertion even as the secretary distanced himself from it. The notion that what he said is an unpalatable truth has become a piece of liberal conventional wisdom even though its premise is demographically dubious and rendered nonsensical when one considers that unless one includes the population of Gaza—which is already an independent Palestinian state in all but name—the day will probably never dawn when Arabs outnumber Jews in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel not only, as Kerry conceded in his apology, is not now and has no intention of ever becoming an apartheid state. The entire discussion is specious and tells us more about the effort to delegitimize the Jewish state than it does about Israel’s character. The real damage here is that Kerry has breathed new life into an old canard that neither facts nor logic seems to have the power to extinguish.

But for all the effort expended on this controversy, an even more important one is looming over Obama administration’s Middle East policy in the wake of the collapse of the peace talks. By entering into a unity coalition with the Hamas terrorist movement, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas put President Obama on the spot. The president has repeatedly pledged that the U.S., like Israel, will not deal with Hamas, at least until it repudiates its genocidal charter, recognizes Israel, and commits itself to peace. That ought to mean the end of all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (something mandated by law) as well as putting an end to negotiations that are aimed at empowering the PA. But no one in Israel should be taking the fulfillment of that pledge for granted.

It is theoretically possible that Hamas might renounce its charter or pass some sort of measure that will be falsely interpreted by peace advocates as a sign of its new moderation. But since Hamas’s political capital within Palestinian society rests primarily on its ability to pose as a more rabidly anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish force than Abbas’s Fatah, the chances of them being willing to engage in this sort of ruse are fairly slim. But so long as Abbas is the front man for this coalition, the administration may be tempted to stick to its characterization of him as a man of peace despite the fact that he deliberately chose to make peace with Hamas rather than with Israel. Thus, it is entirely possible that President Obama and Kerry may choose to treat the unity deal as irrelevant to the peace process.

If the administration does violate its long-held principles about working with an entity compromised by its terrorist connection, it will mark a clear turning point not only in the U.S.-Israel relationship but also in America’s attempts to combat Islamist terrorism. Though its apologists sometimes speak of Hamas as having evolved into a government in Gaza and being ready for peace, the U.S. has always rightly drawn a bright line between even the most dubious of governments in the Middle East and open practitioners of terror. Erasing or even blurring that line will render Obama’s avowed hard line against terrorism meaningless.

If the administration should choose to walk down this road toward recognition of Hamas, it will do so to the cheers of the foreign-policy establishment and liberal mainstream media that have always chafed against the idea that Hamas was beyond the pale. But if it does, it should also expect that Congress as well as a united pro-Israel community would make them pay a high political price for this betrayal. This is not a battle Obama wants to be fighting in an already difficult midterm elections year. If Abbas is counting on the president to risk some of his scarce political capital on such a cause, then both he and Kerry may have badly miscalculated. But should the Palestinian alliance last into 2015 with a lame duck president already feeling he has little left to lose, then it is entirely possible that Obama could make Kerry’s apartheid flap look like a picnic compared to a decision to recognize Hamas.

Read Less

Sinking Poll Results Debunk Dem Optimism

Earlier this month Democrats were sounding more optimistic about their political prospects than they had been in more than a year. Though their credibility was doubtful, the ObamaCare enrollment figures were enough to cause the president to do not one, but two separate touchdown dances over the fact that the government had managed to cajole several million Americans to sign up on the Healthcare.gov website. All this was enough to cause many left-leaning pundits to rethink their pessimism about the Democrats’ chances of retaining control of the Senate. But, like the upbeat stories about ObamaCare that will look pretty silly once the delayed unpopular mandates are put into place and insurance costs start skyrocketing, the liberal happy talk about 2014 was always bound to crash and burn sooner rather than later. As the new Washington Post/ABC News poll published today illustrates, the administration is actually more unpopular than ever.

The Post/ABC poll shows President Obama’s approval rating sinking to a new low—41 percent—and a clear majority of voters stating that they believe Republicans should control Congress to act as a check on the administration’s agenda. This is a significant blow to Democratic hopes of building some momentum to derail a big midterm victory for the GOP. But what is truly interesting about the numbers is that they show that it is not just ObamaCare that is hurting the Democrats. The president’s foreign-policy failures are now starting to impact his standing with the public in a manner they haven’t done before.

Read More

Earlier this month Democrats were sounding more optimistic about their political prospects than they had been in more than a year. Though their credibility was doubtful, the ObamaCare enrollment figures were enough to cause the president to do not one, but two separate touchdown dances over the fact that the government had managed to cajole several million Americans to sign up on the Healthcare.gov website. All this was enough to cause many left-leaning pundits to rethink their pessimism about the Democrats’ chances of retaining control of the Senate. But, like the upbeat stories about ObamaCare that will look pretty silly once the delayed unpopular mandates are put into place and insurance costs start skyrocketing, the liberal happy talk about 2014 was always bound to crash and burn sooner rather than later. As the new Washington Post/ABC News poll published today illustrates, the administration is actually more unpopular than ever.

The Post/ABC poll shows President Obama’s approval rating sinking to a new low—41 percent—and a clear majority of voters stating that they believe Republicans should control Congress to act as a check on the administration’s agenda. This is a significant blow to Democratic hopes of building some momentum to derail a big midterm victory for the GOP. But what is truly interesting about the numbers is that they show that it is not just ObamaCare that is hurting the Democrats. The president’s foreign-policy failures are now starting to impact his standing with the public in a manner they haven’t done before.

Breaking the numbers down on an issue-by-issue analysis, it’s clear that the country’s chronic problems are still damaging the president’s poll numbers. The 54-42 percent margin of disapproval for Obama’s handling of the economy remains the Democrats’ big problem heading into a congressional election where they are already at a disadvantage because of the need to defend so many of the Senate seats won in the president’s 2008 victory. The 57-37 percent result with respect to disapproval of the way Obama handled the rollout of the misnamed Affordable Care Act is also, despite the early April happy talk, an impenetrable obstacle to Democrats seeking votes in non-blue states. Given that the poll was conducted in the aftermath of the administration’s efforts to hype what they considered to be the success of the health-care law, this is a staggering blow to those liberals who have been insisting that its popularity would finally begin to grow after years of the majority of Americans opposing the measure.

Nor can Democrats take their usual solace from the unpopularity of Congress and their faith that House Republicans will always be blamed more for the country’s problems than the administration. When asked to apportion responsibility for the country not being on the right track (respondents said the country was heading in the wrong direction by a staggering 66-30 percent margin), 40 percent said it was both parties’ fault with 18 percent blaming the president and the Democrats and only six percent saying it was the fault of the Republicans in Congress. This dovetails with the answers to the question about whether it was necessary to have the Congress in the hands of Obama’s opponents so as to put a brake on his agenda.

The poll also should dispel Democratic optimism about ObamaCare’s popularity growing.  As the Post’s Dan Balz and Peyton M. Craighill report:

The Post-ABC poll found that 44 percent say they support the law while 48 percent say they oppose it, which is about where it was at the end of last year and in January. Half of all Americans also say they think implementation is worse than expected.

Last month, a Post-ABC poll found 49 percent of Americans saying they supported the new law compared with 48 percent who opposed it. That finding was more positive for the administration than most other polls at the time. Democrats saw it as a possible leading indicator of a shift in public opinion, but that has not materialized.

But what is also interesting is that foreign and defense policy—issues that have been a source of strength for the president—may now be a distinct liability. Whereas the president was able to portray himself as tougher than Mitt Romney in 2012 by reminding voters who was the one who ordered Osama bin Laden’s killing, the humiliations he has suffered on Syria and now Ukraine have undermined that narrative. Indeed, fewer Americans approve of the president’s handling of the Ukraine crisis (34 percent) than of the way he managed the ObamaCare rollout (37 percent) with large majorities disapproving of both.

The Democrats are not without assets heading into November. Their dominance on social issues as they beat the drums for their faux “war on women” campaign against the GOP is something they hope to exploit. Their embrace of a populist message on income inequality may be economic snake oil but it also has traction with much of the public. But, as the Post points out, Obama’s popularity is now roughly comparable to that of George W. Bush at the same point in his presidency. That is a depressing reminder for Democrats who have been seeking a reason to believe that they would somehow beat the odds and history and not suffer the usual walloping that the party in power gets during the midterm election of a second-term presidency. Despite the early April optimism about the Democrats that the administration’s media cheerleaders have been feeding the public, the outlook remains grim for a president sinking inevitably into lame duck irrelevance.

Read Less

Democrats and the Forever (Culture) War

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll is quite miserable for Democrats, and party strategists will no doubt mine the data for clues as to how to recover their standing before the midterms. There are two obvious choices: reinforce the party’s strengths–that is, where they best Republicans in the minds of the voters–or seek to improve their numbers on issues weighing them down. Unfortunately for those hoping for a more substantive debate on the issues this fall, the they are likely to choose the former.

That means, in a nutshell: get ready for an aggressive escalation in the “war on women.” Here’s the Post’s summary of the issues that favor Democrats and those that favor Republicans:

Democrats have a significant advantage on eight issues, from health care to climate change to abortion and same-sex marriage. Democrats have a smaller advantage on immigration, and the two parties are roughly equal on the economy. Republicans have the edge on three — guns, the deficit and striking the right balance on which government programs to cut.

Where Democrats have the biggest advantages are on the same contrasts that helped Obama win reelection in 2012 — indicators of which party voters believe is on their side. By 52 to 32 percent, those surveyed say they trust Democrats to do a better job helping the middle class, and by 55 to 25 percent, they trust Democrats on issues that are especially important to women.

Read More

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll is quite miserable for Democrats, and party strategists will no doubt mine the data for clues as to how to recover their standing before the midterms. There are two obvious choices: reinforce the party’s strengths–that is, where they best Republicans in the minds of the voters–or seek to improve their numbers on issues weighing them down. Unfortunately for those hoping for a more substantive debate on the issues this fall, the they are likely to choose the former.

That means, in a nutshell: get ready for an aggressive escalation in the “war on women.” Here’s the Post’s summary of the issues that favor Democrats and those that favor Republicans:

Democrats have a significant advantage on eight issues, from health care to climate change to abortion and same-sex marriage. Democrats have a smaller advantage on immigration, and the two parties are roughly equal on the economy. Republicans have the edge on three — guns, the deficit and striking the right balance on which government programs to cut.

Where Democrats have the biggest advantages are on the same contrasts that helped Obama win reelection in 2012 — indicators of which party voters believe is on their side. By 52 to 32 percent, those surveyed say they trust Democrats to do a better job helping the middle class, and by 55 to 25 percent, they trust Democrats on issues that are especially important to women.

The Post notes that there isn’t much evidence that such issues could turn the Democrats’ electoral momentum around. They tend to be base issues, but the usual drop in turnout for non-presidential years means Democrats are likely to need a broader coalition. To do that, they would need to make headway on ObamaCare. The Post details the split on the left on how to do that, shining some light the fact that the Obama White House might be a more significant obstacle for them than Republicans:

The Affordable Care Act is expected to be a major issue in the midterm elections. Obama recently urged Democrats to defend the law energetically, particularly after the administration announced that 8 million people signed up for it during the initial enrollment period. …

A number of Democratic strategists are urging their candidates to campaign on a message that calls for continued implementation of the law, with some fixes. These strategists say that message is more popular than the “repeal and replace” theme of the Republicans.

Democrats want to be able to offer legislative fixes to ObamaCare. This is perfectly logical; even if Republicans are correct about all the damage the law is doing, it’s easy to see why an argument that rolling “fixes” to correct the immediate ObamaCare-caused crises would appeal to those currently experiencing those crises. Republicans in Congress are amenable to this, having supported legislation to unburden the public with some of the more damaging aspects of ObamaCare.

But Obama doesn’t want such legislative fixes, for two reasons. First, he’s not exactly Mr. Humility. He tends, instead, to live in a bubble and simply ignore the facts that conflict with his ideological inflexibility. He prefers “the debate is over” and “the Affordable Care Act is working” to something more nuanced and self-critical. Second, the changes he does make to ObamaCare are done quietly (see reason No. 1) and lawlessly, by executive discretion. He doesn’t see a reason to pass new legislation when he’s ignoring the legislation it’s built on. You have to admit, there’s a certain calculated rationality to it.

But Democrats are united on the “war on women” they’ve invented, and will thus seek new ways to press this delusion. At times, this produces some unintentional comedy, as when male Democrats use this playbook against female Republicans. Male Democrats running on the “women hate women” platform are probably going to struggle to connect to any voters not already in their camp. One example of this was Michigan Democrat Gary Peters, who is running against Terri Lynn Land. Land’s response was priceless, and appropriate.

More broadly, Democrats use the “war on women” construct to argue for unlimited abortion, one of the more divisive social issues of the day. And the Post notes they possess an advantage on the issue of gay marriage, which, along with the Obama administration’s insistence on taxpayer funded birth control, has become a centerpiece of the left’s efforts to punish thought-outliers and erode religious liberty. If the Democrats are going to double down on their perceived strengths for the midterms, that will likely mean firing many more shots in the culture war. And with the party prepared to anoint Hillary Clinton two years later, don’t expect it to let up any time soon.

Read Less

Global Anti-Semitism Continues to Surge

“Anti-Semitism is on the rise,” declares the latest annual survey of global anti-Semitic incidents and expressions from Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute. True, that much we know already, but the Institute’s report for 2013, the latest in a series stretching back more than twenty years, offers some compelling insights as to how this has come about.

Utilizing a methodology that is explained in the report, the Institute determined that there were 554 “violent anti-Semitic acts, perpetrated with weapons or without” in 2013. The highest number of these, 116, occurred in France, where the Jewish community, despite amounting to only one percent of the population, was the target of an astonishing 40 percent of racist assaults the previous year. Additionally, other countries noted a rise in incidents in 2013 when compared with 2012, including Canada (83 compared with 74) and Germany (36 compared with 23.)

Significantly, a rise in incidents was also reported in Russia (15 compared with 11) and Ukraine (23 compared to 15.) Given Vladimir Putin’s cynical exploitation of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, a phenomenon he has subsumed beneath a previously little-known form of prejudice defined as “Russophobia,” the report provides valuable documentation of the persistence of anti-Semitism within those circles loyal to Putin.

Last April, for example, a regime loyalist in the Duma, Irina Yarovaya, fingered television presenter Vladimir Pozner’s Jewish origin as the reason he opposes Putin. The report also quotes Putin himself as having made the blatantly false claim, in June 2013, that 85 percent of Soviet government officials were Jews who had harmed not only their own people, but the entire mosaic of religions and ethnicities in Russia.

Read More

“Anti-Semitism is on the rise,” declares the latest annual survey of global anti-Semitic incidents and expressions from Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute. True, that much we know already, but the Institute’s report for 2013, the latest in a series stretching back more than twenty years, offers some compelling insights as to how this has come about.

Utilizing a methodology that is explained in the report, the Institute determined that there were 554 “violent anti-Semitic acts, perpetrated with weapons or without” in 2013. The highest number of these, 116, occurred in France, where the Jewish community, despite amounting to only one percent of the population, was the target of an astonishing 40 percent of racist assaults the previous year. Additionally, other countries noted a rise in incidents in 2013 when compared with 2012, including Canada (83 compared with 74) and Germany (36 compared with 23.)

Significantly, a rise in incidents was also reported in Russia (15 compared with 11) and Ukraine (23 compared to 15.) Given Vladimir Putin’s cynical exploitation of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, a phenomenon he has subsumed beneath a previously little-known form of prejudice defined as “Russophobia,” the report provides valuable documentation of the persistence of anti-Semitism within those circles loyal to Putin.

Last April, for example, a regime loyalist in the Duma, Irina Yarovaya, fingered television presenter Vladimir Pozner’s Jewish origin as the reason he opposes Putin. The report also quotes Putin himself as having made the blatantly false claim, in June 2013, that 85 percent of Soviet government officials were Jews who had harmed not only their own people, but the entire mosaic of religions and ethnicities in Russia.

Such views feed the growing tendency among nationalist groups to portray the outrages of the Soviet era as “Jewish” crimes. They also fuel the already widespread predilection in Russian society to view Jewish political influence in conspiratorial terms, as evidenced most recently by the assertion of Rory Suchet, an anchor with Russian mouthpiece RT, that “Jewish money controls a huge amount of foreign policy in Washington.” With such enlightened individuals also making the case for Russia’s seizure of Crimea, it beggars belief that anyone could take at face value Putin’s insistence that he is defending Jewish rights, even if anti-Semitism does remain a real and worrying phenomenon in Ukraine.

The surge of anti-Semitism in Europe’s post-Communist states is particularly pronounced in Hungary. Alongside France and Belgium, the report points out, Hungary is the country where “the situation seems to be the worst.” While the recent election in which one in five Hungarians voted for the neo-Nazi Jobbik party falls outside the report’s timeframe, the analysis here contributes a great deal to our understanding of that outcome.

Physical attacks on Hungary’s approximately 100,000 Jews are, says the report, still rare. However, the discourse of anti-Semitism has swelled to such an extent that the prominent Hungarian rabbi Shlomo Koves says “you can feel it” in the street. Jobbik is not the only culprit; anti-Semites are visible among the entourage of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who condemned anti-Semitism in general terms when addressing the World Jewish Congress plenary in Budapest, but studiously avoided any mention of Jobbik specifically.

Jobbik is important because, in many ways, the party represents the future of anti-Semitism in Europe. Classified as a far right party, Jobbik is not dissimilar from other racist organizations in Eastern Europe insofar as it operates a uniformed paramilitary arm and glorifies the country’s collaborationist leadership during the Second World War. However, in its strident attacks against Zionism and Israel, Jobbik sounds like it could belong to the far left just as easily. The anti-Zionist statements that Jobbik leader Gabor Vona has uttered publicly include the line that “Israel operates the world’s largest concentration camp,” a theme that is common in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States and Western Europe.

As the Roth Institute report makes clear, this merging of far left and far right expressions of anti-Semitism is visible elsewhere in Europe. In France especially, the popularization of the quenelle, an inverted Nazi salute pioneered by Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a notorious comedian and rabble rouser, has encouraged what the report calls a “cultural code” of European anti-Semitism, whereby the participation of black and Muslim communities in Jew-hatred is encouraged, and at the same time identification of such incidents as being “anti-Semitic” is willfully denied. As with Jobbik, Dieudonné’s aim is to target Jews while simultaneously denying that we should be concerned by this thing called “anti-Semitism.” The implications of this are enormous, not least for Holocaust commemoration, which Dieudonne tellingly demonizes as “pornography for the memory.” 

The principal impression left by the 2013 report is that the hoary myth of an international Judeo-Zionist conspiracy is what animates anti-Semitism today, and takes it well beyond its traditional white, European heartland. As Professor Robert Wistrich, the world’s leading scholar of anti-Semitism, argues on Israel’s Midah website, the idea of “global Jewish power” has “provided an additional bond between the radical Right in the West, the far Left and militant Muslims from the Middle East.” If current trends continue–and there is, sadly, no reason to expect them not to–those bonds will tighten even further. So will the most disturbing aspect of the report’s findings: the reluctance of most Jews victimized by anti-Semitism to report their experiences in the first place, which suggests that the total number of incidents we know about is merely a shadow of the true figure.

Read Less

Farewell Mahmoud, Mon Amour

Today marks the official end of the Kerry Process–initiated July 30, 2013 with a White House meeting and State Department press conference proclaiming an effort to achieve a “final status agreement” in nine months; then simply a non-binding “framework”; then just an agreement to talk beyond nine months. The end result: no agreement, no framework, no talks.

The concept of a peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas was always a romantic idea, featuring the triumph of hope over experience, the repeated pursuit of a “peace partner” who kept saying “no,” and the failure of peace processors to understand every part of that answer. If there has been any benefit from the Kerry Process, it’s that it has made it clear that the Palestinians do not want a state–not if it requires recognizing a Jewish one, or releasing the specious “right” of “return” to the state they repeatedly tried to destroy, or an end-of-claims agreement that would actually resolve the conflict. You can’t have a “two state solution” when one of the parties refuses to acknowledge “two states for two peoples” as the goal. 

Read More

Today marks the official end of the Kerry Process–initiated July 30, 2013 with a White House meeting and State Department press conference proclaiming an effort to achieve a “final status agreement” in nine months; then simply a non-binding “framework”; then just an agreement to talk beyond nine months. The end result: no agreement, no framework, no talks.

The concept of a peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas was always a romantic idea, featuring the triumph of hope over experience, the repeated pursuit of a “peace partner” who kept saying “no,” and the failure of peace processors to understand every part of that answer. If there has been any benefit from the Kerry Process, it’s that it has made it clear that the Palestinians do not want a state–not if it requires recognizing a Jewish one, or releasing the specious “right” of “return” to the state they repeatedly tried to destroy, or an end-of-claims agreement that would actually resolve the conflict. You can’t have a “two state solution” when one of the parties refuses to acknowledge “two states for two peoples” as the goal. 

The romance has been a bad romance not just for nine months but ten years. In 2003, Abbas accepted the Roadmap and then later that year bragged to the Palestinian Legislative Council about refusing to dismantle terrorist groups, as the Roadmap required. In 2005, he was given Gaza without a single settler or soldier remaining, announced “from this day forward, there will be no more security turmoil and weapons chaos and abductions, which are not characteristic of our culture”and then did nothing as Gaza turned into Hamastan in one week.

In 2006, after his corrupt party lost the election, he cancelled all future ones, including his own. In 2007, after Hamas took over half of the putative state, he was reduced to being the mayor of Ramallah. In 2008, he was offered a state on land equivalent to all of the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem, and he walked away. In 2010, after Netanyahu became the fourth Israeli prime minister to endorse a Palestinian state and implemented an unprecedented ten-month construction freeze, Abbas did nothing for nine months, had to be dragged to the negotiating table in the tenth, and then simply demanded the freeze be continued.

In 2013, he demanded pre-negotiation concessions to return to the table to discuss the Palestinian state that is purportedly his goal, got a promise of prisoner releases as long as he stayed at the table, and made it clear he would leave the table as soon as he finished collecting them. Now he has come full circle, agreeing again to form a government with the terrorist group he promised to dismantle in 2003.

You don’t have to have been a Jewish mother to know this guy was not going to be the guy.

President Obama recently suggested that Israel transfer more land to him, because the next Palestinian leader could be worse. The larger question is why the United States should continue to support creation of a Palestinian state if this is the best leader the Palestinians can present. He has essentially been a concession-reception device–a receptacle for concessions from those with the romantic belief that concessions would produce peace–while never making any concessions himself. In Ari Shavit’s words in Haaretz last week, “There is no document that contains any real Palestinian concession with Abbas’ signature. None. There never was, and there never will be.” 

Lost in the process over the past ten years has been the recognition that American support for a Palestinian state was, at least at the beginning, conditional. When President Bush announced U.S. support for a Palestinian state in 2002, he made it contingent on the Palestinians first building “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty,” with democratically elected leaders and “new institutions” that would promise a peaceful state. A Palestinian state, from an American standpoint, was intended as a means to an end, not as an end in itself.

Somewhere along the line, the means and the end got confused. Perhaps it was after the Gaza disengagement produced not peace but new rocket wars. Perhaps it was after the Palestinian failure to complete even Phase I of the three-phase Roadmap, when Condoleezza Rice responded by deciding to “accelerate” it and skip the first two phases. Perhaps it was after President Obama ignored the written and oral promises to Israel from prior peace processes and made new demands on Israel, but none on the Palestinians. Perhaps it was when Kerry decided that, notwithstanding the refusal of Mahmoud Abbas even to endorse a Jewish state as one of the two states in the “solution,” the U.S. should proceed with the process anyway. In any event, as Ari Shavit’s article last week indicated, the affair is over.

Read Less

The Iraqi Military’s Downward Spiral

The best article on Afghanistan that I have read recently is an article about Iraq. Specifically, this article in the Wall Street Journal on the travails of the Iraqi military in facing an insurgency spearheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (as al-Qaeda in Iraq is now called). 

The “nut” graph: “More than two years after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, as the country prepares for its first post-occupation parliamentary elections on Wednesday, its demoralized, underequipped military is losing the fight against Islamist militants, who are better armed, better trained, and better motivated, according to Iraqi and American generals, politicians and analysts.”

Further down, reporters Matt Bradley and Ali Nabhan expand on some of the Iraqi security forces’ problems. They write:

Read More

The best article on Afghanistan that I have read recently is an article about Iraq. Specifically, this article in the Wall Street Journal on the travails of the Iraqi military in facing an insurgency spearheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (as al-Qaeda in Iraq is now called). 

The “nut” graph: “More than two years after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, as the country prepares for its first post-occupation parliamentary elections on Wednesday, its demoralized, underequipped military is losing the fight against Islamist militants, who are better armed, better trained, and better motivated, according to Iraqi and American generals, politicians and analysts.”

Further down, reporters Matt Bradley and Ali Nabhan expand on some of the Iraqi security forces’ problems. They write:

Even the most basic maneuvers can stymie the Iraqi military. Regional commanders who lack basic knowledge of military logistics often are clumsy when transporting food for soldiers on the move, leaving many enlistees to scrounge for themselves or go hungry, say officers and observers. 

Without meals, some soldiers simply leave. Though there are no official statistics, military personnel cite desertion as a persistent and growing problem, particularly for troops deployed in Anbar and other areas to the north where ISIS is active.

This is dismaying considering how much time and effort the United States spent in standing up the Iraqi security forces. By the time that U.S. troops pulled out at the end of 2011, the Iraqi security forces numbered more than 600,000 and appeared, at least on paper, to be more than capable of safeguarding their country.

Appearances, it turned out, were illusory. The Iraqi troops are perfectly capable of fighting if well-supplied, -supported, and -led. But supplying them–much less planning their operations and providing the kind of integrated intelligence and fire support they need–is beyond the rudimentary abilities of the Iraqi military. U.S. advisers filled in the gaps, but now they are gone and Iraq is spiraling downward.

This is a warning of what could happen in Afghanistan. As I learned on a visit to Kabul and Kandahar last week, the Afghan Security Forces, which now number 370,000 (counting the local police), are more capable than ever. They can take the fight to the Taliban but they lack the ability to execute their own logistics, planning, budgeting, intelligence, and other important tasks. Those gaps are currently being filled by American advisers, but no one knows what will happen after this year. 

Both the leading candidates for president–Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani–have pledged to sign the Bilateral Security Accord, which would allow U.S. forces to remain. But it is far from clear how many troops we are willing to leave behind. U.S. commanders want at least 10,000, but the White House is leaking figures of 5,000 or fewer. 

As I note in the Wall Street Journal today, it would be disastrous to leave fewer than 10,000 behind. However solid the Afghan National Security Forces look today, coming off their safeguarding of the first round of presidential balloting, the experience of Iraq shows how quickly even a much bigger army can crumble if American support is withdrawn.

Read Less

John Kerry’s Calumny Against Israel

After having said to a closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission that Israel could become an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement saying he “would have chosen a different word” if he had to do it all over again.

In fact, Kerry’s initial comments clearly reflect his unvarnished views; his backtracking is merely the result of the criticisms he’s received. Remember, just a few weeks ago Secretary Kerry testified before Congress and falsely placed all of the blame for the collapse of the most recent negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on Israel. 

As for the calumny against Israel by the secretary of state, let’s start out with a few observations, the first of which is that Israel is the only country in the region that permits citizens of all faiths to worship freely and openly. A few facts: Around 20 percent of Israeli citizens are not Jewish, with most of them being Arab. And while Jews are not permitted to live in many Arab countries, Arabs are granted full citizenship, have the right to vote in Israel, and have served in the Knesset. Consider this: Arabs living in Israel have more rights and are freer than most Arabs living in Arab countries, with Arab women in Israel enjoying the same rights and status as men.

Read More

After having said to a closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission that Israel could become an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement saying he “would have chosen a different word” if he had to do it all over again.

In fact, Kerry’s initial comments clearly reflect his unvarnished views; his backtracking is merely the result of the criticisms he’s received. Remember, just a few weeks ago Secretary Kerry testified before Congress and falsely placed all of the blame for the collapse of the most recent negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on Israel. 

As for the calumny against Israel by the secretary of state, let’s start out with a few observations, the first of which is that Israel is the only country in the region that permits citizens of all faiths to worship freely and openly. A few facts: Around 20 percent of Israeli citizens are not Jewish, with most of them being Arab. And while Jews are not permitted to live in many Arab countries, Arabs are granted full citizenship, have the right to vote in Israel, and have served in the Knesset. Consider this: Arabs living in Israel have more rights and are freer than most Arabs living in Arab countries, with Arab women in Israel enjoying the same rights and status as men.

As for a two-state solution: Israel, bone-weary of war, has repeatedly offered the Palestinians their own homeland–at Camp David in 2000, in Taba in 2001, and again (from Ehud Olmert) in 2008. The offers were enormously generous: Palestinian statehood, the West Bank, Gaza, the division of Jerusalem, and more. The reaction? Palestinian rejectionism, followed in some cases by a new intifada. (For a more expansive discussion of this matter, see this definitive column by Charles Krauthammer.) That rejectionism still exists to this day.

But there’s still more.

On the matter of “land for peace,” Israel has shown its good faith repeatedly. For example, Israel offered to return all the land it captured during the 1967 war in exchange for peace and normal relations. The offer was rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three no’s”: no peace with Israel, no negotiation with Israel, and no recognition of Israel. (For the record, the PLO, which was committed to the destruction of Israel, was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. The 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel happened before the so-called occupied territories and settlements ever became an issue.)

In 1978, under the leadership of Likud’s Menachem Begin, Israel returned to Egypt the Sinai Desert in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations.

In 1994, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan, which involved compromise on territory, water rights, and border crossings.

In 2000, Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon.

In Gaza in 2005, Israel did what no Arab nation (when it controlled the West Bank and Gaza) had ever done: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks. Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

John Kerry is part of an administration that has a very troubling reflex against Israel, a nation whose sacrifices for peace exceed those of any other country and whose achievements and moral accomplishments are staggering. I will leave it to others to speculate what could possibly motivate them. Suffice it to say that enemies of the Jewish state will latch on to Kerry’s invocation of apartheid.

In reflecting on Kerry’s incendiary language, I was reminded of another Democrat. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan was serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a resolution declaring that “Zionism is racism” was adopted. A majority of the world’s nations condemned Israel, claiming there was an “unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism.” Ambassador Moynihan rose to speak, declaring that the “United States … does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.”

It was a luminous and proud moment. It’s a travesty that almost 40 years later, another Democrat, John Kerry, has himself committed an infamous act.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.