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Posts For: May 26, 2014

Memorial Day: Let Us Finish the Work

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that the United States has fought in the last 14 years have not been popular. The consensus that initially backed U.S. intervention in the region quickly evaporated and became a victim of partisanship once it became clear the fighting there is part of a generations-long conflict that can’t be easily won.

Nor, it must be conceded, is it certain that the sacrifices made by American forces in those countries will have made a lasting impact on the region or the struggle against Islamist terror if the current administration’s desire to retreat at all costs eventually leads to a revival of the fortunes of freedom’s foes. But if there is one point on which all Americans can and should unite it is in praise and support of the brave Americans who serve our nation at the risk of their own lives.

It is out of the tragedy of these recent wars that at least some Americans have regained a sense of the importance of Memorial Day. While for many Americans, the date is merely a long weekend or the first harbinger of summer vacations, for all too many it is a day to remember loved ones and friends who have made the ultimate sacrifice for America.

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The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that the United States has fought in the last 14 years have not been popular. The consensus that initially backed U.S. intervention in the region quickly evaporated and became a victim of partisanship once it became clear the fighting there is part of a generations-long conflict that can’t be easily won.

Nor, it must be conceded, is it certain that the sacrifices made by American forces in those countries will have made a lasting impact on the region or the struggle against Islamist terror if the current administration’s desire to retreat at all costs eventually leads to a revival of the fortunes of freedom’s foes. But if there is one point on which all Americans can and should unite it is in praise and support of the brave Americans who serve our nation at the risk of their own lives.

It is out of the tragedy of these recent wars that at least some Americans have regained a sense of the importance of Memorial Day. While for many Americans, the date is merely a long weekend or the first harbinger of summer vacations, for all too many it is a day to remember loved ones and friends who have made the ultimate sacrifice for America.

Memorial Day grew out of the effort to memorialize the hundreds of thousands who died in the slaughter of the Civil War. But it is now a day on which we can recall the heroism of many generations of Americans who helped build a nation based on the concept of liberty and then were forced to fight to preserve its freedom. On such days, as we mourn the fallen and observe with sadness the toll that war has taken on the wounded who survived the battlefield, it is difficult to contemplate the causes of these wars or to imagine the circumstances under which new sacrifices might be compelled of Americans. But the point of these memorials is not merely to mourn but to celebrate the ideals that the efforts of American forces down through the ages have done so much to preserve.

Honoring our veterans requires us to do more than salute the flag on Memorial Day. Our government is obligated to keep its promises to those who served by providing them with the care they need. That is a pledge that unfortunately seems to have been observed in the breach by the Veterans Administration in recent years as the scandal about practices in its hospitals that cost the lives of at least 40 veterans showed. On this, of all days, it is imperative that the president should finally show some leadership and quickly act to redress these wrongs.

But the point about Memorial Day is not just the need to treat those who served with the respect they have earned. Rather, we must also, as Abraham Lincoln said when memorializing the casualties of the Civil War, rededicate ourselves to the ideals that our soldiers defended. In this age, as in previous struggles to preserve this nation and the democratic principles upon which it is based, it is imperative that we not let the flag of freedom drop even as we mourn our losses. Much as we may be tempted to withdraw from the affairs of the world and pretend that we can survive in a fortress America, that is neither possible nor prudent. Unfortunately, the battle to preserve freedom is not yet over and will require the constant vigilance of this and future generations.

On such a day, it is well worth re-reading the words of Lincoln in his Second Inaugural as he exhorted his nation to finish the conflict in which it was engaged rather than to abandon the struggle and to honor those who fought in it:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

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Even Popes Can’t Transcend Conflicts

Pope Francis may have intended his visit to the Middle East to promote the causes of ecumenism and peace. But he has learned that it is not possible to step into the political maelstrom of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians without getting sucked into it. The picture of him praying at the security barrier in Bethlehem at a point where it was defaced by Palestinian graffiti that spoke of it as an “apartheid wall” will—as the Guardian gleefully characterized it—probably be the best remembered moment of the trip and the photo of him praying in front of it may become an iconic image of grievances against Israel. This unscheduled stop is believed to have been the work of his Palestinian hosts rather than a deliberate Vatican insult directed at Israel. But though he attempted to make up for it the next day with a stop at a memorial to the Israeli victims of Arab terror—a reminder that the barrier was built to prevent more such deaths at the hands of Palestinian suicide bombers—the damage was already done especially since the pontiff’s silent prayers at the first unscheduled stop were not balanced by any statement that made it clear that he understood why the fence had to be built.

Though he is trying to be even-handed and must be credited with the best of intentions, given the highly symbolic nature of every one of his gestures, it is difficult to regard the controversies into which he has allowed himself to be drawn without thinking that he might have done everyone a favor and just stayed home.

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Pope Francis may have intended his visit to the Middle East to promote the causes of ecumenism and peace. But he has learned that it is not possible to step into the political maelstrom of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians without getting sucked into it. The picture of him praying at the security barrier in Bethlehem at a point where it was defaced by Palestinian graffiti that spoke of it as an “apartheid wall” will—as the Guardian gleefully characterized it—probably be the best remembered moment of the trip and the photo of him praying in front of it may become an iconic image of grievances against Israel. This unscheduled stop is believed to have been the work of his Palestinian hosts rather than a deliberate Vatican insult directed at Israel. But though he attempted to make up for it the next day with a stop at a memorial to the Israeli victims of Arab terror—a reminder that the barrier was built to prevent more such deaths at the hands of Palestinian suicide bombers—the damage was already done especially since the pontiff’s silent prayers at the first unscheduled stop were not balanced by any statement that made it clear that he understood why the fence had to be built.

Though he is trying to be even-handed and must be credited with the best of intentions, given the highly symbolic nature of every one of his gestures, it is difficult to regard the controversies into which he has allowed himself to be drawn without thinking that he might have done everyone a favor and just stayed home.

Even before he arrived in the region, some on both sides of the divide criticized the pope for his itinerary. Jews voiced concern about the Vatican’s efforts to emphasize their formal recognition of a “State of Palestine” without first requiring it to make peace with Israel. Palestinians were angry about the pope’s stop on Mount Herzl, Israel’s Arlington, where Francis laid a wreath on the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, a sign that they still refuse to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state he envisaged.

But by stepping into the controversy over the security barrier, the pope left the realms of both religion and state protocol to lend his enormous international credibility and popularity to the Palestinian narrative about the fence. That he was led to a particular spot on it that was filled with English as well as Arabic graffiti was the perfect photo op for those who attempt to argue that its placement is a symbol of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. Israel’s foes have attempted to claim that the fence is a new version of a Nazi ghetto wall in which Palestinian victims are hemmed in and deprived of their rights. The truth is that it was built reluctantly by an Israeli government that did not wish to divide the land in this manner but had to do something to make it harder for Palestinian suicide bombers and other terrorists to cross into Israel to slaughter innocents. Rather than a tangible manifestation of Israeli colonialism, it is a monument to the bloodthirsty decision of Palestinian leaders to wage a terrorist war against the Jewish state when they could have instead had independence and peace.

While some are wrongly assuming that every action of the pope is evidence that old enmities between Jews and Catholics are being resurrected, the pope’s good intentions are not really in doubt. Francis appears to be a strong supporter of the work of his predecessors John XXIII and John Paul II in putting an end to Catholic support for anti-Semitism and inaugurating a new era of respect between the two faiths and in recognizing the legitimacy of Israel.

But even if we concede his desire to do good, the Vatican needed to understand that injecting the pope into the details of the Middle East conflict is far more likely to heighten tensions than to relax them. Nor is the meeting in Rome to which the pope has invited Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres a particularly helpful gesture. By inviting Peres, who holds a largely symbolic office rather than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is Abbas’s actual counterpart in terms of power, the pontiff can be accused of seeking to bypass the Israeli government and undermining Israel’s actual leader, who is not liked in Europe because of his tough-minded willingness to stand up for his country.

The point here is that neither the pope nor any other foreign leader can solve the puzzle of Middle East peace. If the conflict is to be resolved it must be by done by the Israelis and the Palestinians. Unfortunately, the Palestinians are still stuck in their “Nakba” narrative in which they have come to link their identity as a people with their struggle to deny Jewish rights over any part of the land and in which they have come to glorify violence against Israel and its people. The Vatican is also in no position to play Middle East politics when it seems quick to engage in disputes with Israel while at the same time demonstrating its reluctance to criticize the Arab and Muslim world for its mistreatment of Christian minorities.

The pope should be welcomed wherever he goes and even those who are rightly upset about some aspects of his trip should avoid any hint of enmity toward this good man. But this whirlwind visit shows that even the most well-intentioned visitors can blunder if they believe they can transcend the conflict even while plunging into it.

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Welcoming the Pope with Lies About Israel’s Christians

I’m a longtime fan of the Wall Street Journal. But I confess to mystification over why a paper with a staunchly pro-Israel editorial line consistently allows its news pages to be used for anti-Israel smear campaigns–and I do mean smear campaigns, not just “critical reporting.” A classic example was its assertion in an April 7 news report that Israel had agreed “to release political prisoners” as part of the U.S.-brokered deal that restarted Israeli-Palestinian talks last summer. The Journal was sufficiently embarrassed by this description of convicted mass murderers that it issued a correction in print, yet the online version still unrepentantly dubs these vicious terrorists “political prisoners.”

A more subtle example was last week’s report titled “On Middle East Visit, Pope Will Find a Diminished Christian Population.” While Israel is the glaring exception to this Mideast trend, reporter Nicholas Casey elegantly implies the opposite in a single sentence that’s dishonest on at least three different levels: “Syria has seen an exodus of nearly half a million Christians, and in Jerusalem, a population of 27,000 Christians in 1948 has dwindled to 5,000.”

First, while Casey never says explicitly that Jerusalem’s shrinking Christian population reflects the situation in Israel as a whole, it’s the obvious conclusion for the average reader–especially given the juxtaposition with Syria, which implies that both countries are treating their Christians similarly and thereby causing them to flee. This impression is reinforced by the only other statistic he gives about Israel: that Christians have declined as a percentage of the total population.

The truth, however, is that Israel’s Christian population has grown dramatically–from a mere 34,000 in 1949 to 158,000 in 2012, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. That’s an increase of almost fivefold. And while Christians have fallen as a share of the total population, that’s mainly because they have significantly lower birthrates than either Israeli Jews or Israeli Muslims.

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I’m a longtime fan of the Wall Street Journal. But I confess to mystification over why a paper with a staunchly pro-Israel editorial line consistently allows its news pages to be used for anti-Israel smear campaigns–and I do mean smear campaigns, not just “critical reporting.” A classic example was its assertion in an April 7 news report that Israel had agreed “to release political prisoners” as part of the U.S.-brokered deal that restarted Israeli-Palestinian talks last summer. The Journal was sufficiently embarrassed by this description of convicted mass murderers that it issued a correction in print, yet the online version still unrepentantly dubs these vicious terrorists “political prisoners.”

A more subtle example was last week’s report titled “On Middle East Visit, Pope Will Find a Diminished Christian Population.” While Israel is the glaring exception to this Mideast trend, reporter Nicholas Casey elegantly implies the opposite in a single sentence that’s dishonest on at least three different levels: “Syria has seen an exodus of nearly half a million Christians, and in Jerusalem, a population of 27,000 Christians in 1948 has dwindled to 5,000.”

First, while Casey never says explicitly that Jerusalem’s shrinking Christian population reflects the situation in Israel as a whole, it’s the obvious conclusion for the average reader–especially given the juxtaposition with Syria, which implies that both countries are treating their Christians similarly and thereby causing them to flee. This impression is reinforced by the only other statistic he gives about Israel: that Christians have declined as a percentage of the total population.

The truth, however, is that Israel’s Christian population has grown dramatically–from a mere 34,000 in 1949 to 158,000 in 2012, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. That’s an increase of almost fivefold. And while Christians have fallen as a share of the total population, that’s mainly because they have significantly lower birthrates than either Israeli Jews or Israeli Muslims.

Second, even his statistics on Jerusalem are dubious. Since he doesn’t source them, it’s not clear how Casey arrived at his figure of only 5,000 Christians nowadays. But the most recent figure published by Israel’s internationally respected statistics bureau, in 2013, put the city’s Christian population at 14,700 as of the end of 2011. It is, to say the least, highly unlikely that after remaining stable at about that level for 44 years (more on that in a moment)–decades punctuated by repeated wars, vicious terrorism and deep recessions–the Christian population would suddenly plunge by two thirds in a mere two years at a time of strong economic growth and very little terror.

Third, while Jerusalem’s Christian population has undeniably plummeted since 1948 even according to Israel’s statistics, Casey neglects to mention one very salient point: The entirety of that decline took place during the 19 years when East Jerusalem–where most of the city’s Christians live–was controlled by Jordan rather than Israel. By 1967, when Israel reunited the city, Jerusalem’s Christian population had fallen by more than half, to just 12,646, from Casey’s 1948 figure (which does roughly match other available sources). Since then, it has actually edged upward, to 14,700.

Throw in the de rigueur innuendos that the Palestinian Authority’s declining Christian population is mainly Israel’s fault, and Casey’s verbal Photoshop job is complete: The one country in the Middle East whose Christian population is growing and thriving–a fact increasingly acknowledged by Israeli Christians themselves–has been successfully repackaged to the average reader as a vicious persecutor that is driving its Christians out.

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International Law Is Broken

The redundancy, not to mention the hypocrisy, of the international law regime is hardly any great secret. Just how broken the system has now become was evidenced in recent weeks by two particularly striking rulings. On Thursday Russia and China vetoed the fourth attempt at a United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria’s referral to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Given Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own population, and the fact that the death toll in that country now stands at an estimated 162,000, it is unfathomable that a referral to the ICC hasn’t already been accomplished. Yet Syria is not a signatory of the Rome Statute and as such can only be referred to the ICC via the Security Council.  

Britain, however, is signed up to the ICC. And, in a striking juxtaposition to the Syrian case, Britain now finds itself under investigation by the ICC for war crimes that the British army is accused of having committed in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. This recent announcement puts the United Kingdom in the company of such rogue states as Libya, Colombia, and Afghanistan. The ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda made the decision after a complaint lodged in January by the Berlin-based NGO the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. If Bensouda is not satisfied that Britain is sufficiently investigating the conduct of its own armed forces, then the ICC will move to carry out an investigation against the UK.

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The redundancy, not to mention the hypocrisy, of the international law regime is hardly any great secret. Just how broken the system has now become was evidenced in recent weeks by two particularly striking rulings. On Thursday Russia and China vetoed the fourth attempt at a United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria’s referral to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Given Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own population, and the fact that the death toll in that country now stands at an estimated 162,000, it is unfathomable that a referral to the ICC hasn’t already been accomplished. Yet Syria is not a signatory of the Rome Statute and as such can only be referred to the ICC via the Security Council.  

Britain, however, is signed up to the ICC. And, in a striking juxtaposition to the Syrian case, Britain now finds itself under investigation by the ICC for war crimes that the British army is accused of having committed in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. This recent announcement puts the United Kingdom in the company of such rogue states as Libya, Colombia, and Afghanistan. The ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda made the decision after a complaint lodged in January by the Berlin-based NGO the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. If Bensouda is not satisfied that Britain is sufficiently investigating the conduct of its own armed forces, then the ICC will move to carry out an investigation against the UK.

Writing for Gatestone last week, Colonel Richard Kemp noted that in previous years Britain has been silent in the face of the double standards and lawfare being waged against Israel at the UN. Kemp reminds us how, unlike America and five other European countries who voted against the Human Rights Council’s decision to endorse the Goldstone Report against Israel, Britain remained silent and simply abstained from voting at all on this matter. To this Kemp invokes the renowned words of German Pastor Martin Niemoeller: “Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me— and there was no one left to speak for me.” Britain remained silent when the utterly duplicitous forces of international law came for the Jewish state, and now Britain finds itself next in line.

Some might be tempted to gloat at this turn of events–at the fact that, unlike Israel and America, the British blindly signed themselves over to the Rome Statute, and that the tables have been turned against the British who failed in their fundamental moral obligations to stand up for Israel against the tyrannies that populate the UN. Yet anyone who cares about the West and about the world’s democracies can’t find anything to be pleased about here. The actions of China and Russia at the Security Council are a stark reminder of the folly that sits at the heart of international law. That is the notion that countries—including those who have no respect for the rule of law within their own borders—will police one another fairly, and not exploit the international law system to advance their own national interests and those of their allies.

The gap between the Utopian delusions of those who constructed the international law regime and the sorry reality of international law in practice could not have been better demonstrated than by the events of the last two weeks. A genocidal regime in Syria now finds itself rendered virtually immune from prosecution while Britain, a country that not only upholds human rights but acted in Iraq to overthrow a human-rights abusing regime, is now being hauled before the scrutinizing eyes of the ICC.        

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Another Anti-Semitic Outrage on the Dark Continent

Yet again, Jews in Europe are grieving. Saturday’s brutal shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels was a stark reminder that, for its Jewish communities, Europe is rapidly becoming a dark continent, one where extreme violence lurks behind the constant stream of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic invective found on extremist websites and mainstream media outlets alike.

Four people were murdered in the museum shooting. Two of them were a couple from Tel Aviv, vacationing in the Belgian capital. The third was a female volunteer at the museum, while the fourth was a 23 year-old museum employee who was hospitalized in critical condition and who died shortly afterwards from his injuries. The assault was eerily reminiscent of the Islamist terror attack in 2012 at a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse, in which three young children and a rabbi were similarly shot at close range by Mohammed Merah, an individual with dual French and Algerian citizenship who entered the global Islamist terror network following visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Yet again, Jews in Europe are grieving. Saturday’s brutal shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels was a stark reminder that, for its Jewish communities, Europe is rapidly becoming a dark continent, one where extreme violence lurks behind the constant stream of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic invective found on extremist websites and mainstream media outlets alike.

Four people were murdered in the museum shooting. Two of them were a couple from Tel Aviv, vacationing in the Belgian capital. The third was a female volunteer at the museum, while the fourth was a 23 year-old museum employee who was hospitalized in critical condition and who died shortly afterwards from his injuries. The assault was eerily reminiscent of the Islamist terror attack in 2012 at a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse, in which three young children and a rabbi were similarly shot at close range by Mohammed Merah, an individual with dual French and Algerian citizenship who entered the global Islamist terror network following visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It just so happens that I am writing these lines from Jerusalem, where I am one of several speakers at a major conference on anti-Semitism organized by the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University. As the news from Brussels broke on Saturday night, hundreds of Israelis were gathering in cafes and bars to watch the final of the European Cup soccer tournament. In the informal conversations I had with fellow spectators, I encountered anger and disgust, but little surprise–this is Europe we’re talking about, after all. And to its immense credit, the Israeli government’s official response to the attack reflected these public sentiments. “This act of murder is the result of constant incitement against Jews and their state,” declared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Slander and lies against the State of Israel continue to be heard on European soil even as the crimes against humanity and acts of murder being perpetrated in our region are systematically ignored.”

When it comes to spreading fear among Jews, Belgium is, in fact, one of the worst offenders. The the latest annual survey of global anti-Semitic incidents and expressions from Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute noted that “the countries in which the situation and sense of vulnerability seem to be the worst were Hungary, France, and Belgium.” Indeed, anyone tempted to think that the Brussels attack was an isolated aberration would do well to consider the depressingly long list of anti-Semitic incidents in Belgium that presaged it.

Last year, an anti-Semitism watchdog group reported a 23 percent increase in antisemitic attacks in 2012 from the previous year (when you remember that many such incidents go unreported, the number is likely to be higher.) As Netanyahu asserted in his response to the museum attack, these physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are enabled by the incitement which underpins them. There was, for example, the Brussels concert of the former Pink Floyd vocalist, and professional Israel-hater, Roger Waters, which featured a pig-shaped balloon emblazoned with a Star of David. A website for the teaching of history run by the Belgian Education Ministry featured a cartoon by the anti-Semitic Brazilian artist, Carlos Latuff, which compared Israel with Nazi Germany through a representation of a dead concentration camp victim alongside a dead Palestinian, their limbs arranged in the shape of a swastika. In February this year, passengers on a Belgian train were informed over the speaker system, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching Auschwitz. All Jews are requested to disembark and take a short shower.” Earlier this month, police in Brussels used water cannon to disperse a mob of anti-Semites who had gathered for an event featuring the anti-Semitic French provocateur, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, and Laurent Louis, a Belgian parliamentarian who has regularly issued anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic statements. 

It’s often quipped that European governments have a decent record of commemorating dead Jews, as evidenced by the numerous Holocaust memorials across the continent, and a pretty awful record when it comes to protecting live ones. The imperative of guaranteeing freedom of speech necessarily limits any actions that governments can take against anti-Semitic incitement, but that should not prevent European leaders from explicitly recognizing where this poison springs from. It is not enough to say, as did the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, that the Brussels atrocity “was an attack on European values which we cannot tolerate.” Only when Europe’s politicians finally acknowledge that the continent’s culture of Israel-hatred–expressed through boycott campaigns, degrading films and cartoons, frequent analogies between Israel and Nazi Germany or apartheid-era South Africa, and much else besides–is what lies behind this deadly violence, will we finally be able to say that some progress in confronting this social disease has been made.

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