Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 23, 2014

The Myth at the Heart of the 9/11 Museum Film Backlash

Can you tell the story of the 9/11 attacks without frequent mention of the words “Islamist” and “jihad?” To anyone even remotely familiar with the history of the war being waged on the United States and the West by al-Qaeda, such a suggestion is as absurd as it is unthinkable. The 9/11 terrorists were part of a movement that embarked on a campaign aimed at mass murder because of their religious beliefs. Those beliefs are not shared by all Muslims, but to edit them out of the story or to portray them as either incidental to the attacks or an inconvenient detail that must be minimized, if it is to be mentioned at all, does a disservice to the truth as well as to the public-policy aspects of 9/11 memorials. But, as the New York Times reports, that is exactly what the members of an interfaith advisory group to the soon-to-be-opened National September 11 Memorial Museum are demanding.

After a preview of a film that will be part of the museum’s permanent exhibit titled “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” the interfaith group is demanding the movie be changed to eliminate the use of terms like Islamist and jihad and to alter the depiction of the terrorists so as to avoid prejudicing its audience against them. They believe that the film, which is narrated by NBC’s Brian Williams, will exacerbate interfaith tensions and cause those who visit the museum to come away with the impression that will associate all Muslims with the crimes of 9/11. They even believe that having the statements of the 9/11 terrorists read in Arab-accented English is an act of prejudice that will promote hate.

Yet the impulse driving this protest has little to do with the truth about 9/11. In fact, it is just the opposite. Their agenda is one that regards the need to understand what drove the terrorists to their crimes as less important than a desire to absolve Islam of any connection with al-Qaeda. At the heart of this controversy is the myth about a post-9/11 backlash against American Muslims that is utterly disconnected from the facts. But by promoting the idea that the nation’s primary duty in the wake of the atrocity was to protect the good name of Islam rather than to root out Islamist extremism, interfaith advocates are not only telling lies about al-Qaeda; they are undermining any hope of genuine reconciliation in the wake of 9/11.

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Can you tell the story of the 9/11 attacks without frequent mention of the words “Islamist” and “jihad?” To anyone even remotely familiar with the history of the war being waged on the United States and the West by al-Qaeda, such a suggestion is as absurd as it is unthinkable. The 9/11 terrorists were part of a movement that embarked on a campaign aimed at mass murder because of their religious beliefs. Those beliefs are not shared by all Muslims, but to edit them out of the story or to portray them as either incidental to the attacks or an inconvenient detail that must be minimized, if it is to be mentioned at all, does a disservice to the truth as well as to the public-policy aspects of 9/11 memorials. But, as the New York Times reports, that is exactly what the members of an interfaith advisory group to the soon-to-be-opened National September 11 Memorial Museum are demanding.

After a preview of a film that will be part of the museum’s permanent exhibit titled “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” the interfaith group is demanding the movie be changed to eliminate the use of terms like Islamist and jihad and to alter the depiction of the terrorists so as to avoid prejudicing its audience against them. They believe that the film, which is narrated by NBC’s Brian Williams, will exacerbate interfaith tensions and cause those who visit the museum to come away with the impression that will associate all Muslims with the crimes of 9/11. They even believe that having the statements of the 9/11 terrorists read in Arab-accented English is an act of prejudice that will promote hate.

Yet the impulse driving this protest has little to do with the truth about 9/11. In fact, it is just the opposite. Their agenda is one that regards the need to understand what drove the terrorists to their crimes as less important than a desire to absolve Islam of any connection with al-Qaeda. At the heart of this controversy is the myth about a post-9/11 backlash against American Muslims that is utterly disconnected from the facts. But by promoting the idea that the nation’s primary duty in the wake of the atrocity was to protect the good name of Islam rather than to root out Islamist extremism, interfaith advocates are not only telling lies about al-Qaeda; they are undermining any hope of genuine reconciliation in the wake of 9/11.

As I first wrote in COMMENTARY in 2010 at the height of the debate about the plans to build a mosque in the shadow of the remains of the World Trade Center, the media-driven narrative about a wave of discrimination against Muslims after 9/11 is largely made up out of whole cloth. No credible study of any kind has demonstrated that there was an increase in bias in this country. Each subsequent year since then, FBI statistics about religion-based hate crimes have demonstrated that anti-Muslim attacks are statistically insignificant and are but a fraction of those committed against Jews in the United States. But driven by the media as well as by a pop culture establishment that largely treated any mention of Muslim connections to terror as an expression of prejudice, the notion that 9/11 created such a backlash has become entrenched in the public consciousness.

While the Ground Zero mosque was never built in spite of the support that the idea drew from most of New York’s elites and political leadership, the narrative that emerged from the controversy in which the need to absolve Islam from any ties to the terrorists or al-Qaeda has prevailed. And it is on that basis that the interfaith group protesting the 9/11 museum film may hope to force the institution to surrender.

But the argument about the museum film goes deeper than just the question of whether a group of Lower Manhattan clerics have the political pull to force the museum to pull the film. As 9/11 recedes further into our historical memory, the desire to treat the events of that day as a singular crime disconnected from history or from an international conflict that began long before it and will continue long after it has become more pronounced. Part of this is rooted in a desire to return to the world of September 10, 2011, when Americans could ignore the Islamist threat–a sentiment that has gained traction in the wake of the long and inconclusive wars fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But rather than think seriously about the implications of a significant segment of the adherents of a major world faith regarding themselves as being at war with the West and the United States, many Americans prefer to simply pretend it isn’t true. They tell us that jihad is an internal struggle for self-improvement, not a duty to wage holy war against non-Muslims that is integral to the history of that faith’s interactions with the rest of the world. They wish to pretend that the radical Islam that motivated al-Qaeda on 9/11 and continues to drive its adherents to terror attacks on Westerners and Americans to this day is marginal when we know that in much of the Islamic world, it is those who preach peace with the West who are the outliers.

In promoting this sanitized version of 9/11 in which Islam was not the primary motivation for the attackers, they hope to spare Muslims from the taint of the crime. But what they are really doing is disarming Americans against a potent threat that continues to simmer abroad and even at home as the homegrown extremists who have perpetrated several attacks since then, including the Boston Marathon bombing whose anniversary we just commemorated, have shown.

Rather than seek to edit Islam out of the 9/11 story, those who truly wish to promote better interfaith relations must continue to point out the dangers of these beliefs and the peril of either tolerating them or pretending that they are no longer a threat. As I wrote in October 2010:

Unlike planned memorials at Ground Zero that should serve to perpetuate the memory of the thousands of victims of 9/11 who perished at the hands of Islamist fanatics determined to pursue their war against the West, Park51’s ultimate purpose will be to reinterpret that national tragedy in a way that will fundamentally distort that memory. The shift in the debate threatens to transmute 9/11 into a story of a strange one-off event that led to a mythical reign of domestic terror in which Muslims and their faith came under siege. It exempts every major branch of Islam from even the most remote connection to al-Qaeda and it casts the adherents of that faith as the ultimate sufferers of 9/11.

This account is an effort to redirect, redefine, and rewrite the unambiguous meaning of an unambiguous event. To achieve this aim, those who propound it are painting a vicious and libelous portrait of the United States and its citizens as hostile to and violent toward a minority population that was almost entirely left in peace and protected from any implication of involvement in the 9/11 crimes.

It now appears that in the absence of the proposed Muslim community center, interfaith advocates seek to transform the official September 11 memorial into a place where that false narrative and misleading mission may be pursued. Those who care about the memory of 9/11 and those who regard the need to defend Americans of all faiths against the Islamist threat must see to it that they don’t succeed.

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Running on OCare: the Landrieu Test Case

Testing conventional wisdom at the ballot box is often tougher than it looks, and that’s likely to be the case in this year’s congressional midterms, when Democrats either run on or away from ObamaCare. It was widely assumed that Democrats would run away from the unpopular mess of arbitrarily applied regulations, and that it would be a millstone around the necks of Democrats across the country, especially those who voted for it.

Mary Landrieu, however, would appear to be bucking that trend. The Louisiana Democratic senator is, on paper, a perfect candidate to test ObamaCare’s drag on congressional Democrats. Not only did she vote for it, but as a senator her vote took the bill farther than an individual vote in the House, where the bill had a larger margin for error than in the Senate. On top of that, Landrieu was one of the last to throw her support behind the law, magnifying her apparent impact. And if that weren’t enough, there’s the reason she voted for it: the so-called Louisiana purchase, which appeared to put an official price on her vote.

Landrieu, then, can’t exactly avoid her support for it, especially in a year when Republicans won’t let the law’s congressional enablers off the hook. So Landrieu is doing something that should make Democrats pleased, for a few counterintuitive reasons: she’s running on ObamaCare:

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Testing conventional wisdom at the ballot box is often tougher than it looks, and that’s likely to be the case in this year’s congressional midterms, when Democrats either run on or away from ObamaCare. It was widely assumed that Democrats would run away from the unpopular mess of arbitrarily applied regulations, and that it would be a millstone around the necks of Democrats across the country, especially those who voted for it.

Mary Landrieu, however, would appear to be bucking that trend. The Louisiana Democratic senator is, on paper, a perfect candidate to test ObamaCare’s drag on congressional Democrats. Not only did she vote for it, but as a senator her vote took the bill farther than an individual vote in the House, where the bill had a larger margin for error than in the Senate. On top of that, Landrieu was one of the last to throw her support behind the law, magnifying her apparent impact. And if that weren’t enough, there’s the reason she voted for it: the so-called Louisiana purchase, which appeared to put an official price on her vote.

Landrieu, then, can’t exactly avoid her support for it, especially in a year when Republicans won’t let the law’s congressional enablers off the hook. So Landrieu is doing something that should make Democrats pleased, for a few counterintuitive reasons: she’s running on ObamaCare:

Senator Mary Landrieu is one of the most vulnerable of red state Democratic incumbents, and her reelection challenges — like those of other red state Dems — are said to be all about Obamacare.

But in an interview today, Landrieu vowed to campaign aggressively against GOP foe Bill Cassidy’s opposition to the Medicaid expansion in the state, offered a spirited defense of the law — while acknowledging it has some problems — and even insisted he’d be at a “disadvantage” over the issue. …

Landrieu has been a vocal proponent of a “keep and fix” message on Obamacare. But Republicans have argued Dems aren’t actually offering any fixes. Landrieu noted she’s advocating for making the provision of coverage voluntary for businesses with fewer than 100 employees and adding a more affordable “copper” plan. She reiterated her support for the law’s goals — and said Cassidy’s embrace of repeal would be politically problematic for him.

“It’s a solid law that needs improvement,” Landrieu said. “My opponent offers nothing but repeal, repeal, and repeal. And even with all the law’s setbacks, we’re seeing benefits for thousands of people in Louisiana.”

Democrats are probably cheering this decision. Since Landrieu can’t escape her support of the law, she’s going to at least be a loud voice proclaiming the benefits of ObamaCare. If she loses anyway, she’d have infused the debate with pro-ObamaCare talking points that other Democratic candidates, who would rather pretend not to have heard of ObamaCare, would be too timid to use but whose voters might hear them from Landrieu.

Additionally, Landrieu has a lead in the polls. It’s not enough, as it stands, for her to avoid a run-off, but it gives her an early boost. If Landrieu runs on ObamaCare and wins, Democrats will have avoided a major pitfall both in trying to keep the Senate and in pushing back on the narrative that ObamaCare is, broadly, a political loser. Beyond that, Democrats have some reason to be confident: as Jonathan detailed earlier this month, Landrieu is using her access to federal funds to lavish benefits on key voting demographics, which gets her extra votes and prevents local Republican officials in those districts from organizing opposition to her candidacy.

And that aspect of the race is also a good reminder of the difficulty of grading individual state-level elections on national issues. Republicans, however, won’t have much room to back out of their insistence on ObamaCare’s potency if Landrieu wins. Democrats will (accurately) assert that Republicans were the ones who wanted that particular fight, and they’ll be able to argue she ran on ObamaCare and won. If she loses, Republicans will have that argument in their corner, having thus defined the race.

But Democrats will certainly be paying close attention, because Landrieu is setting out the model on how to run on ObamaCare: “Will I defend the good parts of the Affordable Care Act? Yes. Will I urge improvements to parts that can be fixed? Absolutely.” If Democrats can notch a win ostensibly on ObamaCare in what many expect to have been the toughest year for the law since the 2010 midterms, they’ll almost surely export that strategy to future elections. But if it turns out voters merely liked their recently granted federal goodies more than they hated ObamaCare, the unpopular reform law will continue to follow them around election after election, when the goodies stop coming but the bills for their constituents’ insurance premiums don’t.

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Bashing Morocco Won’t Help U.S. or Israel

In recent weeks, some conservative analysts have pointed out supposed international hypocrisy in the treatment of Morocco’s possession of and presence in Western Sahara. After the Wall Street Journal reported on African migrants seeking to transit Morocco to reach Europe, Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor who has taken his excellent blog brand “The Volokh Conspiracy” to the website of the Washington Post, wrote:

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story today on African migrants attempting to get into Spanish enclaves in Morocco. However, it makes a major factual error [when it writes] “Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said during a visit to Ceuta in February that 80,000 migrants were waiting in Morocco or along its border with Mauritania for a chance to reach the enclaves.”

The problem, of course, is that Morocco has no border with Mauritania. Rather, in between the two countries is Western Sahara, currently illegally occupied by Morocco and inundated with Moroccan settlers, but not recognized by any country as Moroccan territory.

Mistakes happen of course – and it is possible the journalist is reporting without qualification the Spanish minister’s words, which itself would be interesting. What is more surprising is the lack of outraged reaction from international law professors, experts, NGOs, and other peace-loving types (according to my quick Google search). If someone suggested in the Journal that the West Bank was within Israel’s borders, it would lead to an immediate outcry, and a rain of derision from learned people….

Similarly, one could imagine the international law outrage if the Congress authorized U.S. aid to Israel to go support its presence in the West Bank. Yet in the 2014 Omnibus Spending Bill, this is exactly what happened with Western Sahara.

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In recent weeks, some conservative analysts have pointed out supposed international hypocrisy in the treatment of Morocco’s possession of and presence in Western Sahara. After the Wall Street Journal reported on African migrants seeking to transit Morocco to reach Europe, Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor who has taken his excellent blog brand “The Volokh Conspiracy” to the website of the Washington Post, wrote:

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story today on African migrants attempting to get into Spanish enclaves in Morocco. However, it makes a major factual error [when it writes] “Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said during a visit to Ceuta in February that 80,000 migrants were waiting in Morocco or along its border with Mauritania for a chance to reach the enclaves.”

The problem, of course, is that Morocco has no border with Mauritania. Rather, in between the two countries is Western Sahara, currently illegally occupied by Morocco and inundated with Moroccan settlers, but not recognized by any country as Moroccan territory.

Mistakes happen of course – and it is possible the journalist is reporting without qualification the Spanish minister’s words, which itself would be interesting. What is more surprising is the lack of outraged reaction from international law professors, experts, NGOs, and other peace-loving types (according to my quick Google search). If someone suggested in the Journal that the West Bank was within Israel’s borders, it would lead to an immediate outcry, and a rain of derision from learned people….

Similarly, one could imagine the international law outrage if the Congress authorized U.S. aid to Israel to go support its presence in the West Bank. Yet in the 2014 Omnibus Spending Bill, this is exactly what happened with Western Sahara.

And, over at UN Watch, the fantastic organization which monitors and exposes UN hypocrisy, Hillel Neuer takes the French government to task for agreeing to cancel a human-rights monitoring mechanism in the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).

Both authors make certain assumptions which may not be fully warranted. Western Sahara is less occupied than disputed. The Spanish had seized it in their own colonial scramble but, historically, Morocco has deep roots in the territory. Indeed, several Moroccan dynasties have roots in the region which is now in Western Sahara. Many Sahrawi are and always have been Moroccan, and many have never embraced the separatism that the authoritarian Polisario Front promotes. The dispute itself is more a relic of the Cold War, with both Cuba and Algeria sponsoring the Polisario and using it as a tool in the broader struggle against, respectively, world capitalism and the Western-leaning Morocco.

The policy of the United States is to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. The idea that Western Sahara isn’t recognized as Moroccan is questionable. First, Morocco has given the territory autonomy. Second, only 45 states (and South Ossetia) recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which claims ownership of the territory.

And as for MINURSO, it is worth asking why anyone would want a UN organization dedicated to holding a referendum—and failing to do that for decades—to expand its mission into human-rights monitoring, especially given the inability of the UN to address human rights anywhere with credibility. MINURSO has become the North African equivalent of UNRWA—an organization that was created as a temporary mechanism to fulfill a specific mission in but which subsequently became a monster of politics. That France and the United States have decided not to enable MINURSO to be used as a weapon against Morocco, the most stable, moderate, and responsible state, is good news.

It is easy to lament how Israel is singled out for its occupation of disputed territory and point out the hypocrisy of the world not treating Morocco the same way. Indeed, there are additional parallels that neither Kontorovich nor Neuer consider. To punish Morocco, however, simply justifies the absurdity of so many Palestinian claims and the insanity which consideration of Israel brings to the international community. Indeed, when it comes to the international law surrounding the status of Western Sahara, it may be more productive, from the standpoint of American national security and positive precedents to be applied elsewhere in the Middle East, to consider Samuel J. Spector’s argument that “from a legal perspective, national self-determination does not necessarily offer a one-size-fits-all remedy, let alone a helpful framework, for the settlement of conflicting claims and grievances over disputed territories.”

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Finish the Sentence, Mr. Vice President

With Russian provocations raising the temperature in eastern Ukraine, the Obama administration rightly felt it was time to brush back Moscow with a gesture that would reinforce the American determination not to acquiesce in further attacks on the former Soviet republic. But with Russian officials and their shock troops on the ground in Ukraine increasing pressure on Kiev to surrender and blaming any resistance to this aggression on the United States, it appears that Vice President Biden’s trip to the area and his stern warnings were in vain.

Biden was completely in the right when he declared, “no nation has the right to simply grab land from another” as well as when he denounced Russia’s “illegal occupation” of Crimea and said Moscow should curb the activities of its armed operatives inside Ukraine.

But the administration’s problem—and that of beleaguered Ukraine—is that it’s too late for Washington to talk its way out of this mess. After spending years working hard to appease the Russians and to give them effective vetoes over various U.S. foreign-policy initiatives such as stopping Iran’s nuclear program and the Syrian civil war, the idea that having Biden, of all people, go to Kiev and deliver a few characteristically bombastic statements will do anything to restrain Moscow is absurd. As Senator John McCain has noted, though Biden’s warnings are correct, they lacked an “or else” clause to make them effective. If Russian President Vladimir Putin knows that there is literally nothing that the U.S. will do stop him from seizing eastern Ukraine or any other former Soviet territory, what’s the point of having Biden say anything?

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With Russian provocations raising the temperature in eastern Ukraine, the Obama administration rightly felt it was time to brush back Moscow with a gesture that would reinforce the American determination not to acquiesce in further attacks on the former Soviet republic. But with Russian officials and their shock troops on the ground in Ukraine increasing pressure on Kiev to surrender and blaming any resistance to this aggression on the United States, it appears that Vice President Biden’s trip to the area and his stern warnings were in vain.

Biden was completely in the right when he declared, “no nation has the right to simply grab land from another” as well as when he denounced Russia’s “illegal occupation” of Crimea and said Moscow should curb the activities of its armed operatives inside Ukraine.

But the administration’s problem—and that of beleaguered Ukraine—is that it’s too late for Washington to talk its way out of this mess. After spending years working hard to appease the Russians and to give them effective vetoes over various U.S. foreign-policy initiatives such as stopping Iran’s nuclear program and the Syrian civil war, the idea that having Biden, of all people, go to Kiev and deliver a few characteristically bombastic statements will do anything to restrain Moscow is absurd. As Senator John McCain has noted, though Biden’s warnings are correct, they lacked an “or else” clause to make them effective. If Russian President Vladimir Putin knows that there is literally nothing that the U.S. will do stop him from seizing eastern Ukraine or any other former Soviet territory, what’s the point of having Biden say anything?

If the substance of Biden’s remarks was to encourage the Ukrainians to defend their territory against Russian aggression, as they have every right to do, the most important question facing the West now is: what exactly is President Obama prepared to do to back them up if, as seems entirely possible, Putin responds by sending in troops to seize whatever parts of Ukraine he covets? The answer from the administration isn’t exactly a secret. Since the U.S. won’t supply Ukraine with weapons or make credible threats to enforce real sanctions on Russia—as opposed to the laughable sanctions on individual Putin cronies that have already been enacted—there is no reason for Moscow to view Biden’s visit as a deterrent to further aggression. Indeed, by making those empty statements, Biden may have actually helped Putin further justify his slanders about the dispute with Ukraine being largely the result of American interference.

American diplomacy on the subject has been equally risible as the agreement worked out by Secretary of State John Kerry with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has proven to be worth as much as the agreements he previously worked out with them on Syria and Iran.

No sane American would choose to ignite a shooting war with Russia over Ukraine. But the U.S. is obligated by treaty to defend those former outposts of the Russian empire that are now NATO members. Yet, like Biden’s bloviating, the decision to send a token number of U.S. troops to Poland for military exercises isn’t likely to impress Putin.

If this dilemma seems familiar, it should. Much like the position that the U.S. finds itself in with regard to Syria, President Obama has few options and none of them are good. Years of sending the wrong messages to Moscow can’t be undone with a few weak gestures at this late date. Just as the situation in Syria might have been improved by decisive U.S. action in the early stages of that civil war, making sure Putin understood that the U.S. would regard any repeat of Russian aggression against Georgia elsewhere as a game changer might have made a difference this year when a pro-Moscow puppet was toppled in Kiev. Instead, the farcical “Russia reset” championed by Hillary Clinton and continued by Kerry only made the current debacle more likely.

It bears repeating that the 2004-05 Orange Revolution in Ukraine provided Putin with the same opportunity to seize Ukrainian territory he had this year. But he was then uncertain about international reaction to projecting force beyond his borders. Now he has no such doubts. And it is almost certainly too late to create any reason for Putin to hesitate in time to save Ukraine, though clearly the U.S. can and should do what it can to aid Ukrainian self-defense.

The debate about what to do about the crisis in Ukraine is a frustrating one and, because of the lack of decent options for the U.S. at this point, it could be used to bolster support for neo-isolationist positions that would call for Americans to stop caring about the fate of countries that are marked for partition by their more powerful neighbors. But the moral of the story is not that the U.S. shouldn’t seek to restrain Russia. It’s that Obama’s years of weakness have made it impossible for us to defend our interests and our friends. As Biden’s empty rhetoric echoes across Eastern Europe this week, those allies who look to their alliance with the U.S. as a foundation of their defense may be forgiven for worrying about the value of American promises.

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Anti-Semitism and False Moral Equivalence

Yossi Klein Halevi is an admirable Israeli thinker, writer, and Jew, who recently authored Like Dreamers, a terrific book about Israel. I don’t know much about Imam Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University, except that Mr. Halevi counts him as a “beloved friend,” so I therefore trust that he is admirable as well.

That is why it is puzzling that Halevi and Antepli jointly posted an article last week entitled “What Muslims and Jews should learn from Brandeis,” on The Times of Israel blog. In their piece, they extol Brandeis and its president for rescinding the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom they call a Muslim “renegade.” Halevi and Antepli claim that Brandeis’s president provided Muslims and Jews with an “essential teaching moment,” inasmuch as “one of the ugliest expressions of the antipathy between Muslims and Jews is the tendency within both communities to promote each other’s renegades.” 

This is preposterous. Given the tsunami of anti-Semitism propagated by Muslims all over the world, whether through Jewish “renegades” or otherwise, the moral equivalence the authors posit could not be more misplaced. And this, in an article published just a few days after one of the latest “expressions of antipathy”–the terrorist murder of an Israeli Jew while he was driving his wife and children to a Passover seder.

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Yossi Klein Halevi is an admirable Israeli thinker, writer, and Jew, who recently authored Like Dreamers, a terrific book about Israel. I don’t know much about Imam Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University, except that Mr. Halevi counts him as a “beloved friend,” so I therefore trust that he is admirable as well.

That is why it is puzzling that Halevi and Antepli jointly posted an article last week entitled “What Muslims and Jews should learn from Brandeis,” on The Times of Israel blog. In their piece, they extol Brandeis and its president for rescinding the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom they call a Muslim “renegade.” Halevi and Antepli claim that Brandeis’s president provided Muslims and Jews with an “essential teaching moment,” inasmuch as “one of the ugliest expressions of the antipathy between Muslims and Jews is the tendency within both communities to promote each other’s renegades.” 

This is preposterous. Given the tsunami of anti-Semitism propagated by Muslims all over the world, whether through Jewish “renegades” or otherwise, the moral equivalence the authors posit could not be more misplaced. And this, in an article published just a few days after one of the latest “expressions of antipathy”–the terrorist murder of an Israeli Jew while he was driving his wife and children to a Passover seder.

To be sure, Halevi and Antepli disingenuously acknowledge, in passing, that the Muslim assault on Jews is “hardly comparable” to what they call the “public campaign in America by some Jews to discredit Islam.” That could and should have been the point of any intellectually and factually responsible piece on the subject. Instead, the entire point of Halevi and Antepli’s piece, beginning with its title, is precisely to compare the two. 

Moreover, calling Ms. Ali a Muslim “renegade” on a par with Jewish “renegades” is an equally false moral equivalence. Halevi and Antepli surely know Ms. Ali’s history. She was genitally mutilated at age 5; she would have been forced into a marriage had she not escaped eventually to Europe; her film-making colleague was stabbed to death in the Netherlands; she is continually threatened with her own murder–all in the name of Islam–and she has heroically devoted her life to trying to stop these kinds of outrages. That’s why she deserves to be honored, and that’s why it was cowardly for Brandeis to withdraw her honor. Are there Jewish renegades with anywhere close to a comparable history? Of course not. To omit these facts is disingenuous at best. 

In any event, for Halevi and Antepli to focus on what they claim is Muslim sensitivity to Ms. Ali’s statements supposedly “demonizing Islam”–statements that, as Ms. Ali says, her detractors take out of context–instead of the outrages that, as anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows she is trying to stop, is disgraceful. Given who she is and what she has gone through and what in totality she says, would Brandeis’s honoring her really have sent a message of “contempt” to Muslims, as Halevi and Antepli claim, or would it instead have sent a message of support to those millions oppressed in and by Muslim countries? And as long as we’re comparing, it is impossible to imagine that Halevi and Antepli believe that, as she is accused of advocating, Ms. Ali or anyone else will succeed in destroying Islam–the religion, as they say, of over a billion believers (who, according to them, are exquisitely sensitive to what one woman says); on the other hand, it’s unfortunately not too hard to imagine that, heaven forbid, Israel and thus Judaism itself could be destroyed.

To be worth anything, “civil dialogue” and “profound discussion,” as Halevi and Antepli say they want, must be based on the truth, and truth is absent from their piece.

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SCOTUS Roulette: Why Winning Matters

In recent years discourse between various wings of the Republican Party has descended into a fight between people who largely view each other as stereotypes rather than allies. Given the stakes involved, the antagonism between Tea Party activists on the one hand and the so-called establishment on the other is understandable and disagreements about tactics are inevitable. These disputes are rooted in part in philosophical differences that are driven in no small measure by the despair that some on the right feel about the future of the nation that seems to mandate that the normal give and take of politics should be superseded by an apocalyptic crusade in which all but true believers must be wiped out. When establishment types attempt to answer such demands with pragmatic sermons about the need to temper absolutism by remembering that the prime objective is to win general elections rather than to conduct ideological purity tests, they are dismissed as temporizing trimmers.

But yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Michigan affirmative action case should act as a reminder to even the most hard-core conservatives that not winning elections could have far more catastrophic consequences for the nation than the indignity of making common cause with the GOP establishment. While conservatives were somewhat satisfied with the failure of yet another liberal attempt to defend racial quotas, the refusal of three of the conservative majority on the court to address the core issue points out just how close liberals are to remaking America should they be able to appoint another two or three justices over the course of the next decade. Conservative commentators were united in their contempt for what several called the “Orwellian” reasoning of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in the case that was lionized in both a New York Times news article and an editorial on the case. But unless Republicans nominate someone in 2016 that can beat Hillary Clinton, Sotomayor may firmly be in the majority by the time the former first lady finishes her second term 11 years from now.

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In recent years discourse between various wings of the Republican Party has descended into a fight between people who largely view each other as stereotypes rather than allies. Given the stakes involved, the antagonism between Tea Party activists on the one hand and the so-called establishment on the other is understandable and disagreements about tactics are inevitable. These disputes are rooted in part in philosophical differences that are driven in no small measure by the despair that some on the right feel about the future of the nation that seems to mandate that the normal give and take of politics should be superseded by an apocalyptic crusade in which all but true believers must be wiped out. When establishment types attempt to answer such demands with pragmatic sermons about the need to temper absolutism by remembering that the prime objective is to win general elections rather than to conduct ideological purity tests, they are dismissed as temporizing trimmers.

But yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Michigan affirmative action case should act as a reminder to even the most hard-core conservatives that not winning elections could have far more catastrophic consequences for the nation than the indignity of making common cause with the GOP establishment. While conservatives were somewhat satisfied with the failure of yet another liberal attempt to defend racial quotas, the refusal of three of the conservative majority on the court to address the core issue points out just how close liberals are to remaking America should they be able to appoint another two or three justices over the course of the next decade. Conservative commentators were united in their contempt for what several called the “Orwellian” reasoning of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in the case that was lionized in both a New York Times news article and an editorial on the case. But unless Republicans nominate someone in 2016 that can beat Hillary Clinton, Sotomayor may firmly be in the majority by the time the former first lady finishes her second term 11 years from now.

As both our Peter Wehner wrote here and John Podhoretz also noted in the New York Post today, the result of yesterday’s decision was largely positive. The court upheld the right of Michigan’s voters to ban the use of so-called affirmative action in admissions in public universities by a 6-2 vote with Justice Elena Kagan recusing herself from the case. Both Peter and John rightly lauded the concurring opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia (joined by Justice Clarence Thomas) that would have ruled all racial quotas unconstitutional. By pointing out that the plurality opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy (and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito) did not go far enough in striking down the efforts of the federal appeals courts to deem the referendum on affirmative action an act of prejudice, Scalia went to the heart of the matter.

As National Review noted in a cogent editorial, it was more like “half a win” than something to celebrate. So long as three-fifths of the conservative members of the court are afraid to act on the logic of Chief Justice Roberts’ apt statement in an earlier case that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race” and ban such discrimination outright, such efforts will continue to undermine both the Constitution and serve to feed racial discord.

But in addition to lauding Scalia’s brilliant logic, the opinion of Sotomayor merits our attention. The willingness of Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who concurred with her dissent, to embrace a radical stance that would trash the constitutional protections of equal protection in order to enshrine what would amount to permanent racial quotas so as to redress past acts of discrimination is alarming in its own right. But conservatives who think making common cause with less ideological Republicans is counter-productive should ponder what would happen if the next president gets the chance to replace any of the five conservatives on the court with justices who might embrace Sotomayor’s opinions.

At the moment, the justice most likely to be replaced is Ginsburg who is 81 and not in the best of health. Some on the left are calling for her to resign now while President Obama can replace her with a fellow liberal rather than taking the chance that a Republican successor would be presented with the choice. But whether or not Ginsburg sticks to her guns and stays at the court until she has to be carried out, Republicans also need to consider that if a Democrat is sworn in by Roberts in January 2017, that would raise the very real possibility that it is one or more of the justices they count on to preserve an admittedly weak and inconsistent conservative majority that would be swapped out for a leftist like Sotomayor.

At the moment, three of the conservatives (Roberts, 59; Alito, 64; and Thomas, 65) seem young enough to wait out even two more terms of a Democratic president after Obama. But are even Tea Partiers willing to bet the Constitution on the health of the 78-year-old Scalia or even the weathervane 77-year-old Kennedy holding out until 2025?

Winning elections is not the only purpose of politics. Ideology matters and Republican politicians must be held accountable for behavior that undermines the basic principles of limited government. But unless they want to wake up in an America in which the Sotomayors can twist the Constitution into a pretzel to preserve every variety of liberal legal atrocity, right-wingers need to get over their hostility to more moderate Republicans and work to build an electoral majority rather than a purist schismatic faction.

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Blair’s Puzzling Middle East Address

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who now serves as the Quartet’s Middle East envoy, has given a major speech to Bloomberg, urging greater Western engagement in the Middle East. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Blair’s message was his warning about the ongoing dangers of radical Islam. The speech gets a lot right, and yet some of its conclusions seemed confused–at odds with the sound premises that Blair laid out in other parts of the very same speech.

It is hard to account for this anomaly. Given the “warmonger” status that some in his own country still try to relegate him to, perhaps the former prime minister feels the need to temper his statements with some politically correct platitudes? Still, it is quite possible that Blair’s worldview is just fundamentally a confused one.

As Douglas Murray has already pointed out, Blair’s encouraging statements about the critical threat posed by radical Islam were somewhat offset by his insistence that political Islam “distorts and warps Islam’s true message.” For as Murray reminds us, Blair’s longstanding line about Islam being a “religion of peace” has not always allowed for an entirely honest discussion of the extent to which hardline Islam simply draws on existing themes within the Islamic tradition. Yet, where Blair’s speech really appeared to become confused was on the matter of Israel and the Palestinians. Here there seemed to be an almost inexplicable incongruence between Blair’s premises and his recommendations for policy.

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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who now serves as the Quartet’s Middle East envoy, has given a major speech to Bloomberg, urging greater Western engagement in the Middle East. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Blair’s message was his warning about the ongoing dangers of radical Islam. The speech gets a lot right, and yet some of its conclusions seemed confused–at odds with the sound premises that Blair laid out in other parts of the very same speech.

It is hard to account for this anomaly. Given the “warmonger” status that some in his own country still try to relegate him to, perhaps the former prime minister feels the need to temper his statements with some politically correct platitudes? Still, it is quite possible that Blair’s worldview is just fundamentally a confused one.

As Douglas Murray has already pointed out, Blair’s encouraging statements about the critical threat posed by radical Islam were somewhat offset by his insistence that political Islam “distorts and warps Islam’s true message.” For as Murray reminds us, Blair’s longstanding line about Islam being a “religion of peace” has not always allowed for an entirely honest discussion of the extent to which hardline Islam simply draws on existing themes within the Islamic tradition. Yet, where Blair’s speech really appeared to become confused was on the matter of Israel and the Palestinians. Here there seemed to be an almost inexplicable incongruence between Blair’s premises and his recommendations for policy.

As ever, Blair’s comments about Israel were hearteningly supportive. He emphasized the importance of Israel as an ally to the West and reminded listeners that the West couldn’t be indifferent to Israel’s fate in the event that Israel should find itself in a regional conflict—a reference to Iran perhaps. Yet, when it came to the matter of the peace process, Blair’s comments turned from reassuring to puzzling. The former prime minister laid out a number of key foundational truths on this matter–truths that Western leaders could do with asserting far more often–and yet Blair still seemed to end up endorsing the same failed conclusions that have so far led Secretary of State John Kerry to such a humiliating defeat in his efforts on this front.

Most importantly, Blair reminded his audience that the Israel-Palestinian dispute is not the cause of the region’s problems, despite the widespread and mistaken thinking to contrary. Blair explained: “It remains absolutely core to the region and the world. Not because the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the cause of our problems. But because solving it would be such a victory for the very forces we should support. Now it may be that after years of it being said that solving this question is the route to solving the regions’ problems, we’re about to enter a new phase where solving the region’s problems a critical part of solving the Israeli/Palestinian issue.”

This mention of “a victory for the forces we should support” of course relates to Blair’s wider point about supporting liberal and democratic forces in the region so as to vanquish the extremist ones. And here Blair was able to outline why all attempts to solve the Israel-Palestinian dispute thus far have failed. “The issue in which we have expended extraordinary energy and determination through US Secretary Kerry, still seems as intractable as ever” Blair conceded, “Yet the explanation for all of these apparently unresolvable contradictions is staring us in the face.” The whole point is that the emphasis on what Israel does or does not do is really immaterial when what we are really facing is an ideology of unappeasable extremism. As Blair outlined:

It is that there is a Titanic struggle going on within the region between those who want the region to embrace the modern world…and those who instead want to create a politics of religious difference and exclusivity. This is the battle. This is the distorting feature. This is what makes intervention so fraught but non-intervention equally so. This is what complicates the process of political evolution. This is what makes it so hard for democracy to take root. This is what, irrespective of the problems on the Israeli side, divides Palestinian politics and constrains their leadership.

And yet after having spoken so much sense, Blair proceeded to praise Kerry and to disagree with those who condemned the secretary of state for the wildly disproportionate amount of energy and time that he has put into forcing hopeless negotiations between the two sides. One wonders if it is only Blair’s position as Middle East envoy that compels him to parrot this pro-peace process line. It is, however, possible that while doing the former, this is Blair’s way of telling the world that there will be no meaningful peace process until extremism can be dealt with and that the last people who should be blamed or undermined are the Israelis. If not, then it is difficult to know how else to explain the confused conclusions of an otherwise praiseworthy address. 

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Why Hamas and Fatah Carry on the Charade

Progress in Hamas-Fatah unity talks may appear to be fertile ground for jokes at Secretary of State John Kerry’s expense, since it seems the one divide he hasn’t been feverishly trying to bridge is the one place where prospects for reconciliation have improved. But Kerry can rest easy on this score: whatever Kerry’s diplomatic faults (and they are many), he is not going to be outdone on the peace score by the terrorists of Hamas.

In fact, the Hamas-Fatah unity talks–a staple of those truly dedicated to wasting everyone’s time–are worth watching, but not for the reason the region’s idealists think. Instead, the Palestinian civil war and attempts to end it demonstrate, for those paying attention, why Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have so often been a fool’s errand. Even the Western media’s most excitable Palestinian boosters–Israel’s leftist daily Haaretz–can’t quite conceal the contradiction at the heart of the internecine compromise we are told is within reach. The paper reports:

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Progress in Hamas-Fatah unity talks may appear to be fertile ground for jokes at Secretary of State John Kerry’s expense, since it seems the one divide he hasn’t been feverishly trying to bridge is the one place where prospects for reconciliation have improved. But Kerry can rest easy on this score: whatever Kerry’s diplomatic faults (and they are many), he is not going to be outdone on the peace score by the terrorists of Hamas.

In fact, the Hamas-Fatah unity talks–a staple of those truly dedicated to wasting everyone’s time–are worth watching, but not for the reason the region’s idealists think. Instead, the Palestinian civil war and attempts to end it demonstrate, for those paying attention, why Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have so often been a fool’s errand. Even the Western media’s most excitable Palestinian boosters–Israel’s leftist daily Haaretz–can’t quite conceal the contradiction at the heart of the internecine compromise we are told is within reach. The paper reports:

The headlines were all referring to a meeting expected to take place Tuesday between the Fatah delegation to the reconciliation talks and the Hamas leadership, with the participation of Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy to Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal. Will reconciliation come about this time between the factions, which have been at loggerheads since 2007? Will the reconciliation agreement they signed in 2011 be implemented?

That last sentence is quite the red flag. The two sides have signed agreements in the past: not only does signing a new one concede the fact that the last agreement hasn’t been honored, but the new agreement might not even require the last agreement’s implementation. The concern by Israelis has always been that even if Mahmoud Abbas signs a peace deal with them, his successor might not honor it. But the history of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation suggests it won’t get that far: the Palestinian signatories themselves are unlikely to honor it.

Haaretz continues:

If the parties reach agreement, Israel might view this as intentional Palestinian abandonment of the negotiations with Israel, and use reconciliation as a pretext to halt the peace process. This, despite the fact that Hamas had agreed at the time to allow PA President Mahmoud Abbas to continue negotiations without Hamas committing to accept their outcome, and the fact that in 2010, Hamas made clear that it does not oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state within in the 1967 boundaries.

At the same time, Abbas can present himself as the legitimate representative of all parts of the Palestinian state and thus bolster his demand for international recognition for the state.

It is unclear from the agreements attained so far what the status will be of the accords signed between the PLO and Israel, whether the PA will be able to continue implementing them and what will happen to security cooperation with Hamas still supporting armed struggle. For Hamas, which is in deep economic trouble and in a hostile relationship with Egypt, reconciliation could be an indispensable way out. The funding sources that reach the PA could then be used to cover civil activities of government ministries that would be under Hamas control. Abbas could then ask Egypt to change its position toward Hamas and also open lines of communication for Hamas with other Arab countries.

The tone of that section is typical of the Israeli left: the Israeli government would use the talks as “pretext” to skip out on their own negotiations with a government quite different from the one they were negotiating with. How unreasonable. Additionally, even Haaretz notes that this is “despite the fact” that Hamas is allowing Abbas to continue talks with Israel “without Hamas committing to accept their outcome.” So they are meaningless.

By this logic, Israeli skepticism toward the Hamas-Fatah deal is warranted: were Abbas’s faction to strike a deal with Israel, Hamas is reserving the right not to accept it. So the Hamas-Fatah deal and the theoretical Palestinian-Israeli deal are very likely mutually exclusive. The Palestinians are playing games. Again.

Why are they playing games? Abbas knows he does not have nearly enough control over the Palestinian polity to claim to be a legitimate head of state even if he were to sign a deal with Israel. Hamas’s inclusion can potentially make him president of a failed state instead of failed president of a non-state.

The benefits to Hamas are obvious, as the Haaretz report makes clear. Those benefits are chiefly financial, since Hamas’s inclusion in the government would make them eligible to share in the PA’s revenue and perhaps ease trade and migration restrictions imposed on Gaza by Egypt. Since history shows Hamas doesn’t actually have to abide by the agreement, they can take the money and run, leaving Abbas weaker than ever while eating into his popular approval by temporarily improving the economic condition of the Gaza Strip.

It’s a great deal for Hamas. And Kerry should be glad he had nothing to do with it.

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Steyer’s Payoff and Liberal Hypocrisy

If money is the root of all political evil, can liberal money still be pure? If your name is Tom Steyer, the billionaire liberal environmental extremist, the answer is obvious. Steyer and other liberal donors are cracking the whip on President Obama to ensure that he doesn’t stray off the left-wing reservation even if it means approving a project that would boost the economy and U.S. energy independence. Steyer’s pledge to pour $100 million into the 2014 midterm elections was enough to influence the administration’s decision to stall the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline even though a State Department report debunked the claims that it would damage the environment. But don’t you dare compare Steyer to the conservative donors that are trying to do the same thing on the right.

In a C-Span interview previewed at Politico, Steyer is at pains to try and draw a distinction between his efforts and those of the Koch brothers, the conservatives who have become the centerpiece of liberal talking points this year in an effort to distract voters from the failures of the Obama administration. As far as Steyer is concerned, people who give to conservative causes and candidates just aren’t on the same moral plane as people who share his politics. While the Kochs are playing the same game by the same rules and merely attempting to speak up for their principles, Steyer isn’t willing to extend them the courtesy he demands for his own efforts, even when they constitute nothing less than a bribe to force the president to spike a project that is clearly in the national interest. But in doing so, he is illustrating not only his hypocrisy but also the real cancer that is eating away at the core of the American political system.

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If money is the root of all political evil, can liberal money still be pure? If your name is Tom Steyer, the billionaire liberal environmental extremist, the answer is obvious. Steyer and other liberal donors are cracking the whip on President Obama to ensure that he doesn’t stray off the left-wing reservation even if it means approving a project that would boost the economy and U.S. energy independence. Steyer’s pledge to pour $100 million into the 2014 midterm elections was enough to influence the administration’s decision to stall the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline even though a State Department report debunked the claims that it would damage the environment. But don’t you dare compare Steyer to the conservative donors that are trying to do the same thing on the right.

In a C-Span interview previewed at Politico, Steyer is at pains to try and draw a distinction between his efforts and those of the Koch brothers, the conservatives who have become the centerpiece of liberal talking points this year in an effort to distract voters from the failures of the Obama administration. As far as Steyer is concerned, people who give to conservative causes and candidates just aren’t on the same moral plane as people who share his politics. While the Kochs are playing the same game by the same rules and merely attempting to speak up for their principles, Steyer isn’t willing to extend them the courtesy he demands for his own efforts, even when they constitute nothing less than a bribe to force the president to spike a project that is clearly in the national interest. But in doing so, he is illustrating not only his hypocrisy but also the real cancer that is eating away at the core of the American political system.

Steyer’s self-regard and contempt for the Kochs is blatantly hypocritical, especially since he and the members of the chattering class that share his liberal ideology like to pretend that politics can only be pure once it is purged of money. But while this quote can be merely filed away along with innumerable other instances of left-wing cynicism, it tells us far more about what is wrong with American politics in 2014 than the usual bromides we hear about the baleful influence of the Tea Party. Having invested heavily in the meme that income inequality is the top problem facing the nation, the Democrats have made the Kochs and other conservative donors such as Sheldon Adelson the centerpieces of their current demonization project. But in dismissing the apt comparison between his activities and those of his counterparts on the right, Steyer is not merely demonstrating the kind of chutzpah that perhaps only a billionaire can get away with. Steyer’s comments reflect the basic divide between left and right in that he thinks the difference between the two parties isn’t so much an argument about policy as it is one between good and evil.

From 2008 through President Obama’s successful reelection campaign, Democrats concentrated on demonizing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as the font of all American political evil. In Obama’s sixth year in office, that well has finally run dry and the president has sought to revive his scandal-plagued second term by substituting conservative big givers like the Kochs and Adelson for Bush And Cheney. Given that even these enormously wealthy men have little ability to influence policy in the age of Obama this is, at best, a stretch even for most liberals who know that their money wasn’t enough to alter the political balance in 2012.

But the defamation campaign aimed at the Kochs is especially tough to swallow once you realize that the Democrats appear to be far more dependent on Steyer and his cohorts than anyone in the GOP is on either the libertarian brothers or Adelson.

Steyer’s attempt to tar the Kochs as self-interested in the interview is easily dismissed. The billionaire brothers are hard-core libertarians and have always opposed all subsidies for business even when they might potentially help any of the enterprises they own. The same goes for Adelson, who has devoted himself to opposing the spread of legal gambling on the Internet even when most of his colleagues in the gaming industry are cheering that prospect. For better or worse, they are ideologues that prize principles even over the potential to reap extra profits via the kind of crony capitalist schemes that have been a hallmark of Obama administration programs.

But by trying to draw a distinction between conservative giving and the ways his money has been used to hammer the administration into opposing a vital project like Keystone, Steyer is demonstrating the contempt for democracy that is at the heart of modern liberalism. For such people, those who oppose their ideology can’t be opposed in a spirit of open and honest debate in which both sides are treated with respect. They must be damned as “un-American” (Reid’s epithet of choice for the Kochs) or lampooned as holding a Las Vegas auction for GOP presidential wannabes (as Adelson was in the last month even though Democratic notables flocked to Steyer’s San Francisco home just weeks earlier). Instead of looking to talk radio or the Tea Party to find the reason why politicians can’t find common ground anymore, pundits would do better to listen to Steyer and fellow liberals to discover the real reason why the partisan divide has become unbridgeable.

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The Grave Threat of Zivotofsky’s Passport to the Peace Process

Now that the Supreme Court has agreed in Zivotofsky v. Kerry to decide the constitutionality of the law allowing Jerusalem-born Americans to have “Israel” on their passports as their place of birth, it bears reiterating that President Obama did not need to make this a federal case, and that he could still take the same approach President Clinton did in 1994, when Congress passed a law allowing Americans born in Taiwan to have “Taiwan” on their passports rather than “China.”  

Clinton enforced the law, but declared that America’s “One China” policy (recognizing only the People’s Republic of China) remained unchanged. Obama could uphold the law regarding Menachem Zivotofsky’s passport, but declare that the policy that Jerusalem’s status is subject to negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians remains unchanged. Case closed! It is not clear why this should present a problem: the State Department website identifies Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; so does the CIA website; the Department of Defense website features a 2009 picture of Secretary Gates and Prime Minister Netanyahu meeting in “Jerusalem, Israel,” a 2012 picture of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey with Israeli President Peres in “Jerusalem, Israel,” and Secretary Hagel’s 2013 statement at his meeting with Netanyahu in “Jerusalem, Israel.” 

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Now that the Supreme Court has agreed in Zivotofsky v. Kerry to decide the constitutionality of the law allowing Jerusalem-born Americans to have “Israel” on their passports as their place of birth, it bears reiterating that President Obama did not need to make this a federal case, and that he could still take the same approach President Clinton did in 1994, when Congress passed a law allowing Americans born in Taiwan to have “Taiwan” on their passports rather than “China.”  

Clinton enforced the law, but declared that America’s “One China” policy (recognizing only the People’s Republic of China) remained unchanged. Obama could uphold the law regarding Menachem Zivotofsky’s passport, but declare that the policy that Jerusalem’s status is subject to negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians remains unchanged. Case closed! It is not clear why this should present a problem: the State Department website identifies Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; so does the CIA website; the Department of Defense website features a 2009 picture of Secretary Gates and Prime Minister Netanyahu meeting in “Jerusalem, Israel,” a 2012 picture of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey with Israeli President Peres in “Jerusalem, Israel,” and Secretary Hagel’s 2013 statement at his meeting with Netanyahu in “Jerusalem, Israel.” 

So what’s the big deal about letting Zivotofsky reflect on his own passport–as is his right under a federal statute–what the State Department, the CIA, and the Defense Department all include on their websites: the fact that Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for more than 60 years? The Obama administration’s brief filed in February, opposing Zivotofsky’s petition to have the Supreme Court hear the case, asserted that “grave foreign-relations and national-security consequences” would have resulted from a lower court decision in Zivotofsky’s favor, but the same brief acknowledges that the law affects only a “very small number of people” born in Jerusalem who might avail themselves of the option offered by the law. 

What were those grave consequences? The brief asserted that putting “Israel” on the passports of Zivotofsky and the “very small number” of other people would have “risked ‘caus[ing] irreversible damage’ to the United States’ ability to further the peace process in the Middle East.” 

Seriously? Irreversible damage? Menachem Zivotofsky’s passport is an obstacle to peace?  

Since the passage of the 2002 passport law, the damage to the peace process–most of it irreversible–has included: (1) the Palestinians’ failure in 2003 to dismantle their terrorist groups, as they promised; (2) the election of Hamas in 2006 to control the Palestinian parliament, which no longer functions; (3) the conversion of Gaza in 2007 to a terrorist mini-state that has conducted two rocket wars on Israel (so far); (4) the rejection in 2008 of Israel’s offer of a state on 100 percent of Gaza and the West Bank (after land swaps) with a capital in Jerusalem; (5) the refusal in 2009-10 to negotiate with Israel even during an unprecedented ten-month construction freeze; (6) the repeated attempts by the so-called Palestinian “peace partners” to “reconcile” with the terrorist group that rules Gaza; (7) repeated Palestinian breaches of their obligation not to take “any step” outside bilateral negotiations to change the legal status of the disputed territories; (8) incessant Palestinian incitement against Israel in media and schools, including grotesque, anti-Semitic portrayals and blatantly false assertions of “history”; (9) the complete failure to establish the rule of law, or even hold an election, and the abrupt dismissal of the non-corrupt Palestinian prime minister (Salam Fayyad); and (10) multiple declarations by the Palestinian “president,” now in the 10th year of his four-year term, that the Palestinians will “never” recognize a Jewish state.  

Meanwhile the Obama administration is fighting all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid putting “Israel”–not “Jerusalem, Israel,” just “Israel”–on the passport of a 12-year-old American boy born in Jerusalem, lest the “peace process” suffer “irreversible damage.” Seriously.

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