Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 17, 2014

The Problem With the Klinghoffer Opera

In an attempt to split the difference with its critics, the Metropolitan Opera announced today that it would go ahead with its plans to put on a production of John Adams’ opera The Death of Klinghoffer but would not include the piece in its list of live simulcasts that can be watched in movie theaters around the world. Though sticking to his belief that the opera is not anti-Semitic, Met general manager Peter Gelb, did appear to be heeding the warnings of the Anti-Defamation League that the broadcast of Klinghoffer around the globe at a time of increasing anti-Semitism in Europe, Africa and Asia would be a mistake.

Predictably, neither side in this dispute is happy. The ADL and the family of Leon Klinghoffer, whose murder by Palestinian terrorists is depicted in the opera, are upset about Gelb’s determination to stage the piece in spite of protests. Meanwhile composer John Adams defended his opera and told the New York Times that he believes any effort to limit its reach not only raises issues about artistic freedom but also promotes intolerance.

Adams’ position is absurd but he is right to think his anger about Gelb’s move will resonate in the artistic community. As with any issue involving critics of politicized art, those who are offended by the opera invariably are portrayed as small-minded or wishing to silence dissident voices. Defenders of Klinghoffer will claim, not without some justice, that many staples of the classic operatic repertory were once politically controversial and subjected to censorship. But comparisons with the operas of Giuseppe Verdi, to take just one prominent example, which were often rightly seen as subverting repressive monarchies or promoting the cause of Italian freedom, and Adams’ excursion into the Middle East conflict, are not apt. The libretto of “Klinghoffer” rationalizes terrorism, denigrates Jews and treats the plight of the Palestinians as morally equivalent to the Holocaust. Whether or not one accepts the notion that Adams’ creation is a musical masterpiece, as the Met insists, the point of the piece is one that is not merely offensive. It is, in its own way, a part of the global campaign of delegitimization of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. As such, the decision of one of the world’s leading arts organizations as well as one of the great cultural institutions of the city with the world’ largest Jewish populations, to produce this atrocity, even if won’t be shown around the world, is deeply troubling.

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In an attempt to split the difference with its critics, the Metropolitan Opera announced today that it would go ahead with its plans to put on a production of John Adams’ opera The Death of Klinghoffer but would not include the piece in its list of live simulcasts that can be watched in movie theaters around the world. Though sticking to his belief that the opera is not anti-Semitic, Met general manager Peter Gelb, did appear to be heeding the warnings of the Anti-Defamation League that the broadcast of Klinghoffer around the globe at a time of increasing anti-Semitism in Europe, Africa and Asia would be a mistake.

Predictably, neither side in this dispute is happy. The ADL and the family of Leon Klinghoffer, whose murder by Palestinian terrorists is depicted in the opera, are upset about Gelb’s determination to stage the piece in spite of protests. Meanwhile composer John Adams defended his opera and told the New York Times that he believes any effort to limit its reach not only raises issues about artistic freedom but also promotes intolerance.

Adams’ position is absurd but he is right to think his anger about Gelb’s move will resonate in the artistic community. As with any issue involving critics of politicized art, those who are offended by the opera invariably are portrayed as small-minded or wishing to silence dissident voices. Defenders of Klinghoffer will claim, not without some justice, that many staples of the classic operatic repertory were once politically controversial and subjected to censorship. But comparisons with the operas of Giuseppe Verdi, to take just one prominent example, which were often rightly seen as subverting repressive monarchies or promoting the cause of Italian freedom, and Adams’ excursion into the Middle East conflict, are not apt. The libretto of “Klinghoffer” rationalizes terrorism, denigrates Jews and treats the plight of the Palestinians as morally equivalent to the Holocaust. Whether or not one accepts the notion that Adams’ creation is a musical masterpiece, as the Met insists, the point of the piece is one that is not merely offensive. It is, in its own way, a part of the global campaign of delegitimization of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. As such, the decision of one of the world’s leading arts organizations as well as one of the great cultural institutions of the city with the world’ largest Jewish populations, to produce this atrocity, even if won’t be shown around the world, is deeply troubling.

The problem with Klinghoffer is not, as some of its defenders have always claimed, that it humanizes the Palestinians. But by using the story of the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship, Achille Lauro as the setting for its attempt to juxtapose the Jews and the Palestinians, it creates a false moral equivalence thought ought to offend all decent persons, especially in the city where the 9/11 attacks occurred less than 13 years ago.

For those who don’t remember, the Achille Lauro incident was one of the most shocking acts of international terrorism. During a cruise from Alexandria, Egypt to Ashdod, Israel in 1985, the ship was taken over by terrorists from the Palestinian Liberation Front, a faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasir Arafat. Eventually, the hijackers traded the ship and its passengers for promises of safe conduct from the Egyptian government. But before they left it, the Palestinians murdered one of the many American passengers; a wheelchair-bound elderly Jew named Leon Klinghoffer, and then threw his body into the sea.

To say that art should challenge its audiences to rethink their positions on issues or values is one thing. But to rationalize terrorism and the murder of a helpless old man simply because he was a Jew and spoke up against his tormentors does more than push the envelope of conventional tastes. It treats the indefensible as arguable. It portrays actions which are, in any civilized society, considered immoral and base and treats them as merely a question of one’s point of view. As such, “Klinghoffer” must be considered as not merely offensive but morally corrupt.

Given its contemptible premise, many people who know little of the cultural world in our day, may find it hard to understand how Klinghoffer could have been initially produced only a few years after the events it depicts took place in 1991 and become in the last quarter century a staple of the international operatic repertory, at least as far as contemporary opera is concerned. But such offensive views are mainstream opinion in the world of high art these days where productions of classics are often distorted to transform them from their religious and sentimental origins into parables for Marxist or other left-wing ideologies. Indeed, even operas which are inherently sympathetic to the Jews, like Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila, have been turned into pro-Palestinian parables (though, it must be admitted that the Met’s 1998 Samson is actually quite sympathetic to the Jews). In such an artistic milieu, Klinghoffer is considered no more controversial than Verdi’s Rigoletto.

That the Met, which has a large Jewish fan base, should go down this contemptible road with Klinghoffer is a testament to Gelb’s determination to transform the venerable opera house into a laboratory for contemporary theater. Gelb has offended many, if not most of his subscribers with awful and ugly modernist productions in recent years and become the butt of almost constant attacks from disgruntled New York opera fans. But he has, to date, survived these disasters and, with a contract that runs into the next decade, seems to think that he can do, as he likes. But the Klinghoffer controversy comes at a particularly bad time for him.

The Met is currently negotiating with its unions about new contracts and Gelb has decided to try cut back on salaries and benefits for opera house workers as well as the chorus and orchestra. The conflict has been embittered by Gelb’s arrogance and profligate spending on his pet productions as well as the fact that he pulls down, as the New York Times reported yesterday, a whopping $1.8 million in salary, a staggering amount even an arts institution that is hurting financially. While it is always difficult to predict the course of labor negotiations, a strike that would postpone the opening of the Met this September or even the cancellation of the entire 2014-15 season a very real possibility. If so, the planned October-November run of Klinghoffer may never happen.

But strike or no strike, the decision to stage Klinghoffer taints the reputations of both Gelb and the Met. If the labor dispute results in a postponement of the Klinghoffer performances, the Met board should seize the opportunity to junk the production entirely. Indeed, now that Gelb has already admitted that the opera may well fan the flames of anti-Semitism if broadcast abroad, the Met should not do so at home either. If they don’t rethink their misguided plan, one of New York’s most beloved arts organizations will come under increasing and justified criticism for legitimizing terror and feeding anti-Semitism. It would be a fitting punishment if, along with all of his other problems, Gelb pays for this monumental error in judgment with his job.

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The Kidnapping and Palestinian Aid

The United States decision to keep funding the Palestinian Authority even after its leader Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Hamas into the PA’s governing coalition helped legitimize the terrorist group. But in the wake of Hamas’ kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, it appears that even some of the Palestinians’ most ardent cheerleaders realize that pouring more money into the coffers of the PA right now may be more trouble than its worth. Thus, rather than plow ahead even in the midst of the furor over the Hamas kidnapping, Norway, which chairs the group coordinating international support for the Palestinians, has decided to postpone the next meeting where donors will discuss how to continue funding the PA.

That’s a smart decision but there’s more involved with the question of aid to the PA than bad optics. The willingness of the international community to go on subsidizing the Fatah-run kleptocracy that governs the West Bank despite its alliance with Hamas is clear. The Palestinians remain popular in Europe, though less so in the United States. But the funds that EU nations and the U.S. funnel into the coffers of the PA are supposed to promote peace and economic development. While the world is supposed to believe that the technocratic front men that Abbas appointed to his new coalition cabinet were going to do just that, the kidnapping is a reminder that getting into bed with Hamas involves subsidizing terrorism. The question is when will the Obama administration draw the appropriate conclusion from these events?

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The United States decision to keep funding the Palestinian Authority even after its leader Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Hamas into the PA’s governing coalition helped legitimize the terrorist group. But in the wake of Hamas’ kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, it appears that even some of the Palestinians’ most ardent cheerleaders realize that pouring more money into the coffers of the PA right now may be more trouble than its worth. Thus, rather than plow ahead even in the midst of the furor over the Hamas kidnapping, Norway, which chairs the group coordinating international support for the Palestinians, has decided to postpone the next meeting where donors will discuss how to continue funding the PA.

That’s a smart decision but there’s more involved with the question of aid to the PA than bad optics. The willingness of the international community to go on subsidizing the Fatah-run kleptocracy that governs the West Bank despite its alliance with Hamas is clear. The Palestinians remain popular in Europe, though less so in the United States. But the funds that EU nations and the U.S. funnel into the coffers of the PA are supposed to promote peace and economic development. While the world is supposed to believe that the technocratic front men that Abbas appointed to his new coalition cabinet were going to do just that, the kidnapping is a reminder that getting into bed with Hamas involves subsidizing terrorism. The question is when will the Obama administration draw the appropriate conclusion from these events?

The standard excuse for propping up the PA no matter what it does is that it serves a purpose in giving the Palestinians some sort of government even if it is corrupt and helps foment the hate the fuels the conflict. Moreover, Israel is very wary about the possibility of a collapse of the PA since it needs a Palestinian interlocutor and, at least, in theory, benefits from cooperation with some of the various security forces that work for Abbas and the PA. The PA runs on graft in the form of no-work and no-show jobs to a vast population of Palestinians whose support for Abbas is bought in this manner. Without such corrupt practices, the PA as it is currently constituted probably cannot survive. That has led to a strange dynamic by which both the Israeli government and AIPAC, the principal pro-Israel lobby in Washington, have often sought to head off efforts by Americans to stop the flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the PA.

But the plain fact is that so long as Hamas is in business with Fatah and Abbas, continued U.S. funding of the PA violates U.S. law in the form of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006. Moreover, even pragmatists who rightly point out that Israel needs the PA in order to avoid having to directly administer the West Bank (Hamas-run Gaza operates as an independent Palestinian state in all but name). But what the kidnapping made clear to both Israelis and the rest of the world is that keeping the tottering PA afloat in this manner may be a case of diminishing returns.

In its current incarnation, the PA does more to prevent peace than to promote it. Its media incites hatred of Israelis and Jews and its focus seems more on glorifying and freeing terrorist murderers than working to build support for the two-state solution that Israel seems to want more than the Palestinians. Moreover, rather than building a Palestinian state, the PA’s efforts are a hindrance to economic development than anything else. The efforts of former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to create responsible governance and an economy that serves the needs of its people failed due to lack of support from Abbas and Fatah. Giving more money to Abbas under these circumstances is an international vote for a regime that does more harm than good.

Even if we believe the claims that Abbas actually wants peace, recent events prove that he is unable to deliver it. The U.S. and the international community may be waiting for the anger about the kidnapped teens to die down before resuming business as usual with the Palestinians. But simply keeping the money flowing to Abbas and his Hamas partners won’t help the causes of peace and a better life for the Palestinian people. So long as Hamas is part of the PA and continues to commit terrorism and work for Israel’s destruction, the aid must be stopped.

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A Welcome Win for Obama and the U.S.

I have been quite critical recently of the Obama administration foreign policy that has been associated with one disaster after another in, among other places, Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq. As Bret Stephens writes, “Like geese, Americans are being forced to swallow foreign-policy fiascoes at a rate faster than we can possibly chew, much less digest.”

So it is only fit and proper to give credit where it’s due—in this case for the apprehension by Special Operations Forces of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the reported ringleader of the terrorist cell which attacked the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012 and killed the US ambassador to Libya. This has been a while coming but it is fitting justice nevertheless.

Republicans who seek to criticize this coup are, I believe, off-base. There are two grounds for criticism: First that the president reportedly sat on this intelligence for fear that a raid would destabilize the government of Libya and second that Khattala is being remanded for trial in a federal district court, not sent to Guantanamo for trial by a special terrorist tribunal. Neither criticism stands up to much scrutiny.

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I have been quite critical recently of the Obama administration foreign policy that has been associated with one disaster after another in, among other places, Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq. As Bret Stephens writes, “Like geese, Americans are being forced to swallow foreign-policy fiascoes at a rate faster than we can possibly chew, much less digest.”

So it is only fit and proper to give credit where it’s due—in this case for the apprehension by Special Operations Forces of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the reported ringleader of the terrorist cell which attacked the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012 and killed the US ambassador to Libya. This has been a while coming but it is fitting justice nevertheless.

Republicans who seek to criticize this coup are, I believe, off-base. There are two grounds for criticism: First that the president reportedly sat on this intelligence for fear that a raid would destabilize the government of Libya and second that Khattala is being remanded for trial in a federal district court, not sent to Guantanamo for trial by a special terrorist tribunal. Neither criticism stands up to much scrutiny.

In the first place, it is perfectly legitimate to balance the benefits of a Special Operations raid against the political costs of action. Presumably Obama finally determined that Libya is so chaotic and the government so powerless that this raid would do nothing further to destabilize the situation. That is itself a sad indictment of U.S. policy (or lack thereof) in Libya but it is that policy that should be subject to criticism, not the raid itself.

As for trying Khattala in a civilian court: This should not be a matter of dogmatism. Many top terrorists have been tried and convicted in civilian courts in the past. The point of Gitmo and the special terrorist tribunals is that they offer a separate venue for handling terrorists who are judged dangerous by the intelligence community but whom prosecutors are unable to convict in a civilian court. In the case of Khattala, the Justice Department is apparently confident of winning a conviction in district court, so there is no reason not to go ahead with a prosecution. Khattala is actually more likely to remain locked up if he is sent to a super-max prison than if he goes to Gitmo where far too many dangerous detainees have been released.

It goes without saying that the capture of Khattala, however welcome, hardly reverses by itself the tide of disasters that has swept over U.S. foreign policy in recent months. But for an administration that has not had a lot (or any) victories lately, it is a welcome win—and one that Republicans should welcome for signaling a willingness to use force against America’s enemies.

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Three-Fingered Palestinian Values

According to today’s New York Times there’s a debate going on in Israel about the “conduct” of the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped last week by Hamas terrorists and whose whereabouts and safety remain unknown. While the Times conceded that the overarching concern of Israeli society today is the fate of the three boys, the story claimed that the victims’ decision to try and hitchhike their way home from the Hebron area was a “cavalier practice” that had endangered others because of the price their country might have to pay to obtain their return.

But the impulse here to blame the victims rather than the criminals seems to have more to do with a desire by some on Israel’s far left and foreign critics of the country to demonize any Jew who lives or studies in the West Bank. No matter what mode of travel these youngsters chose, they had a right to be able to move about the country without fear of being kidnapped or killed. Though West Bank Jews have recently come in for a great deal of criticism about the actions of a tiny minority that have committed acts of vandalism and violence against Arabs, the truth is that the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish inhabitants of the settlements have done no harm to their Palestinian neighbors. Except, that is, by committing the sin of living where Arabs believe no Jew has the right to exist.

Rather than focusing on whether Jews have a right to travel without an expectation of being attacked — something that is so commonplace that the Western press only reports the most spectacular instances — what is needed now is an examination of why it is that Palestinian society not only doesn’t condemn such kidnappings but treats them as national achievements. The widespread applause for the kidnapping, similar to the cheers other acts of terrorism draw from Palestinians, is a significant story that the Times and most of the Western press continues to ignore. And it is that imbalance in the coverage of this story that is at the heart of the question of why Middle East peace remains nowhere in sight.

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According to today’s New York Times there’s a debate going on in Israel about the “conduct” of the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped last week by Hamas terrorists and whose whereabouts and safety remain unknown. While the Times conceded that the overarching concern of Israeli society today is the fate of the three boys, the story claimed that the victims’ decision to try and hitchhike their way home from the Hebron area was a “cavalier practice” that had endangered others because of the price their country might have to pay to obtain their return.

But the impulse here to blame the victims rather than the criminals seems to have more to do with a desire by some on Israel’s far left and foreign critics of the country to demonize any Jew who lives or studies in the West Bank. No matter what mode of travel these youngsters chose, they had a right to be able to move about the country without fear of being kidnapped or killed. Though West Bank Jews have recently come in for a great deal of criticism about the actions of a tiny minority that have committed acts of vandalism and violence against Arabs, the truth is that the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish inhabitants of the settlements have done no harm to their Palestinian neighbors. Except, that is, by committing the sin of living where Arabs believe no Jew has the right to exist.

Rather than focusing on whether Jews have a right to travel without an expectation of being attacked — something that is so commonplace that the Western press only reports the most spectacular instances — what is needed now is an examination of why it is that Palestinian society not only doesn’t condemn such kidnappings but treats them as national achievements. The widespread applause for the kidnapping, similar to the cheers other acts of terrorism draw from Palestinians, is a significant story that the Times and most of the Western press continues to ignore. And it is that imbalance in the coverage of this story that is at the heart of the question of why Middle East peace remains nowhere in sight.

As the Times of Israel notes today, when Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas belatedly condemned the kidnapping, he found himself a minority of one in Palestinian politics. The Palestinians have now adopted a ubiquitous three-fingered salute — mocking the plight of the three kidnapped boys — as their new symbol of “resistance” against Israel. Support for the kidnapping isn’t confined to extremists or the most violent elements of terrorist groups but seems to cut across Palestinian society from street demonstrations to social media as a symbol of national pride.

Despite some comments from PA officials about holding Hamas responsible for the crime uttered only to Western and Israeli reporters, the kidnapping seems to have revealed that the Fatah and Hamas are generally unified but not for peace but in support of terrorist acts against Israelis.

Apologists for the Palestinians claim this is a natural reaction to the imprisonment of some 5,000 Arabs by Israel for security offenses. The only way to free these prisoners is, they say, for Palestinians to seize Israelis and to trade them for their compatriots. Abbas has claimed that the fate of the Palestinian prisoners is the number one issue for his people and it is no surprise that he bartered his willingness to return to peace talks for the freedom of some 100 imprisoned terrorists

But the problem here is that this is not simply a matter of Palestinians wishing to redeem those held by Israel. While there are some among the 5,000 in Israeli jails who may not have shed blood, most are there because of participation in the campaign of murder and mayhem aimed at Jews that Palestinians and the international media dubbed the second intifada. The core of this issue isn’t a matter of prisoner exchanges but the overwhelming Palestinian support for the atrocities that landed most of the objections of their concern in Israeli jails. The cheers from Palestinian crowds that greeted some of those released last fall was not in spite of the fact that they had shed Jewish blood but because of it. Indeed, there is no way to explain the glee that is being displayed among Palestinians about the kidnapping of three teenagers other than as a function of their belief that Jews, whether young or old, secular or religious, living inside the ’67 lines or “settlers” are all legitimate targets for violence.

Abbas, who personally embraced many of the murderers he helped liberate, claimed when speaking to Western audiences that kidnapping and other acts of terrorism are “not part of our culture.” But everything we have seen from the Palestinians the last few days, as well as during the last two decades of peace processing, tells us that it is very much part of Palestinian culture and national identity. So long as that is the case, and no matter what the Israelis do or offer, the conflict will go on.

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Nothing “Reasonable” About IRS Cock-and-Bull Computer Story

Yesterday, new White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest characterized the Internal Revenue Service’s claim that all of Lois Lerner’s emails were lost as “entirely reasonable.” Adopting the same combative tone that made his predecessor Jay Carney an embarrassment to the president, Earnest declared that any questions about why it is that the IRS suddenly finds itself unable to comply with requests from Congress for this information were “not particularly believable” and sarcastically asked if anyone had ever heard of a computer crash.

Of course, as our John Steele Gordon noted on Sunday, Earnest’s declaration that the loss of the email is “a fact,” is almost certainly not true. Investigators should be able to find the emails on the agency’s server. That is a “fact” that IRS Commissioner John Koskinen actually admitted to earlier in the year when testifying before Congress when he promised to comply with requests for these communications and other information that might shed some light on what lay behind Lerner’s orders to her staff to target Tea Party and other conservative groups for special scrutiny.

Koskinen will again be on the hot seat next week when he is hauled before two House committees to explain why he thinks he can get away with a classic “dog ate my homework excuse” instead of producing the emails. But the agency’s decision to announce that a mysterious computer crash devoured all of Lerner’s work emails during a crucial two year period under investigation in a Friday afternoon news dump was more than just an effort to bury the story. The administration must understand that this development is bound to fuel continuing interest in a story they thought was largely finished. But the highly suspicious disappearance of the emails will do more than just raise Watergate comparisons. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to understand that the possible destruction of evidence that might link the IRS’ illegal behavior to other branches of the government leaves open the possibility that this scandal may just be getting started.

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Yesterday, new White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest characterized the Internal Revenue Service’s claim that all of Lois Lerner’s emails were lost as “entirely reasonable.” Adopting the same combative tone that made his predecessor Jay Carney an embarrassment to the president, Earnest declared that any questions about why it is that the IRS suddenly finds itself unable to comply with requests from Congress for this information were “not particularly believable” and sarcastically asked if anyone had ever heard of a computer crash.

Of course, as our John Steele Gordon noted on Sunday, Earnest’s declaration that the loss of the email is “a fact,” is almost certainly not true. Investigators should be able to find the emails on the agency’s server. That is a “fact” that IRS Commissioner John Koskinen actually admitted to earlier in the year when testifying before Congress when he promised to comply with requests for these communications and other information that might shed some light on what lay behind Lerner’s orders to her staff to target Tea Party and other conservative groups for special scrutiny.

Koskinen will again be on the hot seat next week when he is hauled before two House committees to explain why he thinks he can get away with a classic “dog ate my homework excuse” instead of producing the emails. But the agency’s decision to announce that a mysterious computer crash devoured all of Lerner’s work emails during a crucial two year period under investigation in a Friday afternoon news dump was more than just an effort to bury the story. The administration must understand that this development is bound to fuel continuing interest in a story they thought was largely finished. But the highly suspicious disappearance of the emails will do more than just raise Watergate comparisons. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to understand that the possible destruction of evidence that might link the IRS’ illegal behavior to other branches of the government leaves open the possibility that this scandal may just be getting started.

Earnest’s confidence that he could brazenly dismiss questions about Lerner’s emails stems from the administration’s belief that the IRS story has fundamentally changed in the last year. Initially, there was bipartisan outrage over the agency’s clearly outrageous and politically motivated practices. But within weeks, the media moved on and the only engine riving the story became the efforts of House Republicans like Rep. Darrell Issa, whose awkward investigatory style was easy to dismiss as partisan hackwork. The foolish confrontation between Issa and Democrat Elijah Cummings aided the efforts of the White House and its liberal media cheerleaders to claim that the entire issue was a “phony scandal” rather than a fundamental threat to the rule of law as even some liberals had agreed when the story first broke.

Comparisons to Watergate are always going to fall short and there is a vast difference between the infamous erasure of 18 minutes of White House tape recordings by Richard Nixon’s secretary and whatever it was that happened to Lois Lerner’s computer. But obstruction of justice is not a small thing especially when its impact is to effectively shut down a Congressional probe aimed at finding out why exactly Lerner choose to single out Tea Partiers and conservatives. It may be that there is nothing of interest in her emails, or at least nothing that connects anyone else in the administration to what happened at the IRS. But until we see those communications, it is hardly unreasonable for the president’s critics to wonder aloud at the amazing coincidence that led the supposedly non-partisan tax agency to give the business to Obama’s foes.

Were this really a phony scandal with, as the White House insists, nothing that connected high ranking figures to what was going on at the IRS, then it would behoove the administration to get all the information out on this question as soon as possible. Instead, the government has stalled Congress for a year only to then come up with an obviously lame and almost certainly false excuse about a single hard drive crash gobbling up all those emails.

It doesn’t take much imagination to ponder to what the response of Democrats and liberal organs like the New York Times would be if, instead of President Obama and his acolytes, it were George W. Bush’s staffers that were claiming that it was “reasonable” that information had merely vanished in a cloud of Internet smoke. We don’t need latter-day heroic Woodwards and Bernsteins to procure a new Deep Throat to come up with the answers to the obvious questions that the IRS’ cock-and-bull story raises. We just need a run-of-the-mill free press dedicated to ferreting out the truth about a government scandal and some honest Democrats prepared to join with Republicans in asking uncomfortable questions rather than covering for their party’s leaders. Any takers?

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Partition of Iraq Won’t Solve Terrorism

As Iraq again confronts insurgency, terrorism, and political chaos, analysts and pundits have revived Joe Biden and Les Gelb’s proposal to divide Iraq in three: Kurdistan, a Sunnistan, and a Shiastan. It’s quite possible the Kurdistan will go off on its own, at least if its president, Masoud Barzani, decides that independence trumps his desire for a share of southern Iraq’s oil proceeds. That Syrian Kurdistan is also freer than it has ever been before and that Turkey is openly negotiating with the once-pariah Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) makes an independent Kurdistan far more a reality than at any time since the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. And that’s not a bad thing. Many Iraqis with whom I speak have come around to the idea that Kurdistan will go its own way; it speaks a different language, embraces a different culture, and already functions as a de facto state.

But the idea that carving a Sunni Arab state out of the remainder of Iraq will bring peace is false. Proponents of partition may believe division would be worth the human cost in ethnic cleansing—after all, the population of the ‘Sunni belt’ isn’t homogenous. And they may believe that the new Sunni state would be sustainable, even despite its dearth of natural resources, although perhaps it could survive on dates, sheep, and a rapidly depleting underground aquifer.

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As Iraq again confronts insurgency, terrorism, and political chaos, analysts and pundits have revived Joe Biden and Les Gelb’s proposal to divide Iraq in three: Kurdistan, a Sunnistan, and a Shiastan. It’s quite possible the Kurdistan will go off on its own, at least if its president, Masoud Barzani, decides that independence trumps his desire for a share of southern Iraq’s oil proceeds. That Syrian Kurdistan is also freer than it has ever been before and that Turkey is openly negotiating with the once-pariah Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) makes an independent Kurdistan far more a reality than at any time since the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. And that’s not a bad thing. Many Iraqis with whom I speak have come around to the idea that Kurdistan will go its own way; it speaks a different language, embraces a different culture, and already functions as a de facto state.

But the idea that carving a Sunni Arab state out of the remainder of Iraq will bring peace is false. Proponents of partition may believe division would be worth the human cost in ethnic cleansing—after all, the population of the ‘Sunni belt’ isn’t homogenous. And they may believe that the new Sunni state would be sustainable, even despite its dearth of natural resources, although perhaps it could survive on dates, sheep, and a rapidly depleting underground aquifer.

The problem is that simply granting the Sunni state independent or functional autonomy wouldn’t solve the radicalism problem. The issue isn’t Sunnism; it’s the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and any other Al Qaeda affiliate. If those promoting partition believe that changing borders resolves the danger posed by ISIS, then I have a unicorn to sell them. Simply granting ISIS a safe-haven in the guise of a state won’t make the problem go away, no matter how much American officials want to divorce themselves of Iraq. Nor will borders constrain ISIS. The group seeks not only Mosul, but also Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Amman, and ultimately Istanbul and Jerusalem.

Make no mistake: partition is an interesting proposal and sparks a useful debate, and the Iraqi constitution allows for strong federalism even if not explicitly partition, but secession is no substitute for a strategy to confront, roll-back, and defeat the al-Qaeda-inspired insurgency which Iraq now faces.

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Europe; In League with the Arab League

After five days of silence, the European Union has finally released a stock-statement condemning the kidnapping of three Israeli students. But even this only comes after Prime Minister Netanyahu poured scorn on European countries for their harsh criticism of Israel as compared to their total failure to condemn such terrorist acts. The full extent of the EU’s Israel problem was demonstrated last week at a conference in Athens where European foreign ministers and their Arab League counterparts signed a ten page declaration that outrageously praised the Palestinians for their supposed commitment to peace and democracy while castigating Israel for its “unilateral’” actions. EU diplomats have feebly attempted to explain this indefensible document, claiming that they were able to “draw the Arabs toward [their] position, as opposed to the other way around.”

If there is any truth in that statement then it hardly says very much in the EU’s defense. The idea that this disgraceful document in some way represents the European position doesn’t exactly set the EU in any better light. Obviously the lasting European taste for concession and appeasement wouldn’t have made it difficult for the Arab League members to win over their counterparts. But given the current mood toward Israel among EU diplomats one doubts whether they needed much persuading. Indeed, looking over the moral inversions in this document each could have just as plausibly been authored by the Arab states as the European ones. And when there’s no perceivable distinction between the foreign policy of Europe and that of the Arab world then—discounting the possibility that everyone in the Middle East has become a Swedish style pacifist—you know there’s cause for concern.

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After five days of silence, the European Union has finally released a stock-statement condemning the kidnapping of three Israeli students. But even this only comes after Prime Minister Netanyahu poured scorn on European countries for their harsh criticism of Israel as compared to their total failure to condemn such terrorist acts. The full extent of the EU’s Israel problem was demonstrated last week at a conference in Athens where European foreign ministers and their Arab League counterparts signed a ten page declaration that outrageously praised the Palestinians for their supposed commitment to peace and democracy while castigating Israel for its “unilateral’” actions. EU diplomats have feebly attempted to explain this indefensible document, claiming that they were able to “draw the Arabs toward [their] position, as opposed to the other way around.”

If there is any truth in that statement then it hardly says very much in the EU’s defense. The idea that this disgraceful document in some way represents the European position doesn’t exactly set the EU in any better light. Obviously the lasting European taste for concession and appeasement wouldn’t have made it difficult for the Arab League members to win over their counterparts. But given the current mood toward Israel among EU diplomats one doubts whether they needed much persuading. Indeed, looking over the moral inversions in this document each could have just as plausibly been authored by the Arab states as the European ones. And when there’s no perceivable distinction between the foreign policy of Europe and that of the Arab world then—discounting the possibility that everyone in the Middle East has become a Swedish style pacifist—you know there’s cause for concern.

In places the assertions of the ten-page declaration are laughable. There is praise for the Palestinian commitment to democracy; this despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority has been postponing an election that became overdue in 2009, while in Gaza Hamas, who seized power in a military coup, murdered the political opposition, and censored the press, has never countenanced an election since. Similarly, the declaration welcomes the new Fatah-Hamas unity government, calling on Israel to work with it and claiming that this represents a promising step toward a two-state solution. How anyone that claims to favor two states can welcome a Hamas backed government—Hamas being the terrorist movement committed to extinguishing the Jewish state—is simply unfathomable. And no less contradictory is the declaration’s condemnation of Israel’s “unilateral” acts in Jerusalem alongside its support for Palestinian unilateral acts to pursue membership of committees at the United Nations. For one thing it is absurd that when Arabs build homes in Jerusalem it’s just Arabs building homes in Jerusalem, but when Jews have the audacity to build homes in their own religious, historical and political capital, well then it’s a strategic unilateral act warranting a mini-diplomatic crisis. But more importantly the Palestinian moves at the United Nations are in direct breach of the Oslo peace accords, and many of the signatories of this declaration were supposed to serve as guarantors to Oslo.

Most appalling of all is the declaration’s utter failure to condemn Hamas rocket fire against Israeli civilians. Yes, there’s one of those completely redundant lines about opposing “all acts of violence” by both sides. But nowhere is there any specific mention of the civilian-bound rockets dispatched from Hamas controlled Gaza on a daily basis. Yet the declaration complains at length about the “grave humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip largely caused by the closure imposed by the Occupying Power.” The ministers also stressed their position that “Israeli settlements, the separation barrier built anywhere in the occupied Palestinian territory, home demolitions and evictions are illegal under international law and constitute obstacles for peace and they endanger the viability of the two-state solution.”

The Arab world’s attitude toward the Jewish state has long been considered alongside the fact that the ancient Jewish communities in these countries were decimated and forced to flee in the same decade that the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe were made to vanish. But given the worsening condition of Jewish life in Western Europe, for how long can the EU’s attitude toward the Jewish state and the fate of its own Jews not be considered in light of one another? Over the weekend Paris witnessed a spate of anti-Semitic incidents, and in all of these places Jews are considering their future; whether to stay or go. By the best assessment Europe is failing in its primary obligation to protect a part of its citizenry. But in light of these failings to protect the basic human rights of their own Jews, it is extraordinary that Europeans think they’re in a position to join with the Arab League, with its abominable human rights record, in lecturing the Jewish state.

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