Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 1, 2014

Elizabeth Warren and the Right

While many on the left seem to be pining for a populist 2016 campaign from the likes of Elizabeth Warren, the truth is that a Warren campaign probably has at least as many backers among conservatives. That’s not only because it would mean Hillary Clinton wouldn’t skate to her party’s nomination virtually unopposed (or opposed by Martin O’Malley, which is the same thing). It’s also because Warren was the last hope for the emergence of a serious intellectual liberalism. Yesterday’s Hobby Lobby ruling, however, made it clear such a liberalism is nowhere to be found.

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While many on the left seem to be pining for a populist 2016 campaign from the likes of Elizabeth Warren, the truth is that a Warren campaign probably has at least as many backers among conservatives. That’s not only because it would mean Hillary Clinton wouldn’t skate to her party’s nomination virtually unopposed (or opposed by Martin O’Malley, which is the same thing). It’s also because Warren was the last hope for the emergence of a serious intellectual liberalism. Yesterday’s Hobby Lobby ruling, however, made it clear such a liberalism is nowhere to be found.

On its list of liberal reactions on Twitter to the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision, Mediaite includes this gem from Warren:

Can’t believe we live in a world where we’d even consider letting big corps deny women access to basic care based on vague moral objections.

Now, those who followed the case know that none of that is true. But just as disconcerting as the complete disregard for the facts is Warren’s dismissive attitude toward Christian belief. Warren sees opposition to abortifacients as “vague moral objections.” There was a time liberals argued that Warren was needed in the Senate to speak up for the people, to advocate for the Americans who weren’t getting a fair shake from their government. It turns out putting Elizabeth Warren in the Senate meant Americans would need protection for their basic freedoms against the government more than ever.

Warren’s delegitimization of religious belief and practice to empower government at the expense of the individual is coupled with her denial of the basic science behind Hobby Lobby’s objections to being forced to provide abortifacients. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Last month, National Review’s Patrick Brennan observed an event at which Warren joined French economist Thomas Piketty to talk about inequality.

Brennan notes that the two discussed some of Warren’s plans for college loan and tax reform, and that Warren’s plans are, from a policy standpoint, distinctly unimpressive. They are liberal crowd-pleasers, not informed and judicious attempts to solve problems. Brennan writes:

Warren’s agenda, left-leaning as it is, isn’t about rigorous progressive examination of what’s gone wrong with our system or how to fix it. It’s about intuitively appealing ideas and pleasing particular constituencies. Of course, this is pretty good politics — as the number of attendees who told me they want Warren to run for president seems to suggest.

But her fan base may end up disappointed.  For one, she was a reluctant Senate candidate, and a Warren for President campaign still seems a far-off dream. And Professor Piketty — perhaps sensing that she’s as good as the left wing of American politics has these days — wasn’t about to say it, but Elizabeth Warren isn’t an economic expert or a progressive policy crusader. She’s a talented populist who sells clever but unserious proposals with a sense of academic sophistication that makes Bostonians feel like they’re clapping for someone whose views are an intellectual cut above Ed Schultz’s. In the end, they’re not.

Conservatives had higher hopes for Warren too, because they believed for a time that she was proof it was still possible for a progressive politician to engage seriously in a policy debate. That ship has sailed.

Of course, it’s all relative. However unserious Warren’s response to Hobby Lobby, it had nothing on Hillary Clinton’s. The former secretary of state was at the Aspen Ideas Festival, where she was asked about the Supreme Court decision. According to the Atlantic, which sponsors the festival, Clinton actually said the following:

“I disagree with the reasoning as well as the conclusion,” Clinton said, almost before Isaacson had his question out. “I find it deeply disturbing.” …

“Part of the reason I was so adamant about including women and girls [in State Department efforts] is that they’re often the canaries in the mine,” Clinton explained. “It is a disturbing trend that you see in a lot of societies that are unstable, anti-democratic, and prone to extremism. Women’s bodies are used as the defining and unifying issue to bring together people—men—to get them to behave in ways that are disadvantageous to women but prop up rulers.”

Now, she said, something similar was happening in the United States, where religion was worming its way into government. “Many more companies will claim religious beliefs. Some will be some sincere, others maybe not. We’re going to see this one insurable service cut out for many women,” she said. “This is a really bad, slippery slope.”

This person is, by all accounts, running for president of the United States. Which makes it easier to understand conservatives pining for a Warren candidacy, I suppose. But conservatives looking for a Democratic candidate willing to have a serious debate on the issues will be waiting quite a while, it appears.

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Rubio’s Effort to Modernize the GOP

In an earlier post I asked who on the right, in the wake of the ruins of the Obama presidency, will step up and seize the opportunity. Among those who are is Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

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In an earlier post I asked who on the right, in the wake of the ruins of the Obama presidency, will step up and seize the opportunity. Among those who are is Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Last week Senator Rubio gave a policy address, which elicited favorable comments from Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jim Pethokoukis, and Reihan Salam. Like these four, I found Senator Rubio’s speech, co-hosted by Hillsdale College and the YG Network, to be quite impressive. The Florida senator offered ideas on how to reform our entitlement programs, tax code, higher education, health care, and our social safety net. In doing so, he spoke about single mothers and working class families, wage stagnation, student debt and retirement security, and the effects of globalization and automation. And like Representative Paul Ryan, Rubio understands the need for structural changes in programs, which is quite different, and rather more important than, simply reducing spending.

In making his case, Senator Rubio presented himself as an advocate for modernization rather than moderation (in this instance meaning nudging the GOP in a more liberal direction). He spoke about the need for a policy agenda designed for the 21st century and adjusting to the realities of this new era. Mr. Rubio clearly wants the GOP to be both conservative and constructive, opposing the president’s agenda but also willing to offer alternatives to it. The left, he says, is offering ideas that are old, tired and stale; a conservative agenda, as Rubio has laid it out, is innovative, responsive, and “applies the principles of our founding to the challenges and the opportunities facing Americans in their daily lives.” That strikes me as a pretty intelligent way to frame things, particularly given that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are thought to be the two leading figures for the Democratic Party in a post-Obama world.

What also strikes me about Senator Rubio is that unlike some others, whose main ability is to bring hard-core supporters to their feet, he seems eager and capable of persuading those who are not on his side yet who may be amenable to his point of view. A friend of mine says he gets the sense from Rubio that he hasn’t spent his life in a political echo chamber, only hanging around like-minded individuals. He has the capacity, I think, to reach people who aren’t members of the NRA or the Federalist Society, the Tea Party or the American Conservative Union. The ability to find connection with people who aren’t already supporters is a fairly valuable skill in politics–and for a party that is regularly losing presidential elections, a necessary one.

The governing agenda Marco Rubio sketched out last week will hardly be the final word, but it is a very good starting point for discussion. Its aim is to broaden the appeal of the GOP without violating the party’s core principles. Other Republicans, particularly those thinking about running for president in 2016, will attempt to occupy this space as well. That’s all to the good, since the GOP has a formidable task: to reconnect with a middle America that looks different than it once did.

I’ve pointed out before that during the GOP nomination contest in 2012—involving dozens of state Republican primaries, more than 20 debates, and tens of millions of dollars in ads—issues such as upward mobility, education, middle-class concerns, poverty, strong communities and safe streets, corporate welfare, cultural renewal, and immigration either were hardly mentioned or were discussed in the most disaffecting way possible. There was more talk about electrified fences and self-deportation than there was about higher education reform, social and economic opportunity, or the modernization of our governing institutions.

Marco Rubio wants to change that. So do other talented and ambitious Republicans. More power to them.

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Another Reason to Join the COMMENTARY Community

We have decided to open up our blog to comments again—but only to COMMENTARY subscribers. We had comments for several years and then decided to end the practice when we were flooded with nasty partisan remarks clearly posted by people who were only coming to the site to stir up unpleasantness. Now that we are working to expand the COMMENTARY community through our new digital subscription system, we think it proper and exciting that our readers get a chance to interact with us and with each other. Please join us. You can subscribe here.

We have decided to open up our blog to comments again—but only to COMMENTARY subscribers. We had comments for several years and then decided to end the practice when we were flooded with nasty partisan remarks clearly posted by people who were only coming to the site to stir up unpleasantness. Now that we are working to expand the COMMENTARY community through our new digital subscription system, we think it proper and exciting that our readers get a chance to interact with us and with each other. Please join us. You can subscribe here.

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Understanding Israeli-Palestinian Stability

Lost in the well-deserved criticism of President Obama’s call on Israel to exercise restraint in the face of terrorist violence emanating from two of its borders is a clear-eyed assessment of the status quo. “I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation,” the president said. It echoes claims from the New York Times’s lead Israel reporter that Israeli self-defense had “destabilized” the region’s politics. Of course it’s risible to make that claim against Israel, but more importantly, it assumes the existence of a delicate balance that on all counts merits preserving. It shouldn’t.

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Lost in the well-deserved criticism of President Obama’s call on Israel to exercise restraint in the face of terrorist violence emanating from two of its borders is a clear-eyed assessment of the status quo. “I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation,” the president said. It echoes claims from the New York Times’s lead Israel reporter that Israeli self-defense had “destabilized” the region’s politics. Of course it’s risible to make that claim against Israel, but more importantly, it assumes the existence of a delicate balance that on all counts merits preserving. It shouldn’t.

To be sure, several aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s status quo are the status quo for a reason: both sides see them as advantageous or at least better than the alternatives. And the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli boys engendered cooperation from Mahmoud Abbas, which is another reminder that Abbas’s Fatah, for all its faults, is preferable to groups like Hamas, which would replace Fatah if it fell from power in the West Bank. But the statement about restraint mainly concerned Israel’s battle with Hamas. And it is here that the conflict presents a status quo that deserves to be shaken up.

As Haviv Rettig Gur writes in the Times of Israel, the Jewish state’s sense of humanity and defense of the value of each and every life will remain consistent no matter how often Hamas takes advantage of the fundamental decency of the Israeli people. And that’s the way Israelis want it:

Yet while the costs of past exchanges became stark and agonizing, Israelis also know that if push had come to shove, if the teens had turned out to be alive and out of the reach of Israel’s security services, and if Hamas had demanded the release of terrorists in exchange for the boys’ safe return, then Israel’s leaders would have found it nigh unbearable to leave them in enemy hands.

For Hamas, the collapse of this kidnapping has not changed the fundamental strategy. The “success” of the Shalit operation — successful in the sense that Palestinian prisoners were released — along with the sheer scale of the public outpouring of grief over the most recent murders, have assured Hamas that the effectiveness of kidnapping has not abated. Palestinian politics has yet to reach the point where critics of Hamas can safely point out that its belligerency has spelled a decade of ruin for Gaza’s economy and society.

As the leaders of Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other groups have said openly in countless glorying speeches following previous prisoner exchanges, kidnappings lay bare Israel’s weak underbelly, its whimpering, distraught obsession with its missing boys.

This weakness, Israel’s enemies have argued, has strategic significance. The skewed math of Israeli-Arab prisoner exchanges are a sign of Israeli decline, of slackening Israeli morale in the face of Arab persistence and endurance. Israelis may be militarily powerful, but their threshold for pain is low. Even the inflicting of relatively little pain — how many Israelis have died in rocket attacks, Palestinians often ask — can achieve meaningful gains toward the broader goal of Israel’s eventual destruction.

And here you have a concise explanation of why Hamas, and any of its peer groups who operate along those lines, must be defeated. It is one thing to counsel restraint when overreaction risks empowering the wrong forces. Israel does not want the PA in the West Bank to fall, and it will take care to ensure it does not bring Abbas down and create the vacuum Hamas has been waiting for–to do Hamas’s work for it, essentially.

But arresting and/or deporting Hamas leaders and operatives in the West Bank does the opposite: it clears space for Fatah and takes some of the heat off of Abbas. Hitting Hamas targets in Gaza provides the necessary contrast, and disrupts the terrorist group’s ability to plan and carry out its anti-Israel strategy, which consists almost entirely of committing war crimes.

The status quo, then, is really two different prevailing sets of circumstances. There is some stability worth keeping with regard to Israel’s relationship with Abbas’s West Bank government. And striking back at Hamas can keep it that way: “It’s clear that the terrorists came from areas under Palestinian Authority control and returned to territories under Palestinian Authority control,” Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said, as quoted by CNN. Hamas’s presence in the West Bank is destabilizing; Israel is trying to remedy that.

Then there is the stability between Israel and Hamas. In this case, the stability itself is not worth preserving. Hamas will keep trying to kidnap, torture, and murder innocent children. Israel will keep searching for them, trading terrorists for them if need be. Hamas will see the compassion as weakness. Lather, rinse, repeat. Those calling for restraint now to preserve stability are missing the vital point that Israel’s tough response is the only thing that can maintain stability where it is worth saving, and upend the status quo that fosters the murder of innocents.

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What a Proportionate Response Would Look Like

In a 2009 COMMENTARY article on Israeli use of force, Ruth R. Wisse wrote:

“Would the international community truly prefer a proportionate or equal response?” asked Alan Richarz, a Toyko-based writer, in the Christian Science Monitor. “If Hamas launches three crudely-fashioned rockets into Israel, should the Israeli government respond with three equally-crude rockets? If three Israeli Defense Forces are kidnapped by Hezbollah, should the IDF respond by kidnapping an equal number of Hezbollah foot-soldiers?”

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In a 2009 COMMENTARY article on Israeli use of force, Ruth R. Wisse wrote:

“Would the international community truly prefer a proportionate or equal response?” asked Alan Richarz, a Toyko-based writer, in the Christian Science Monitor. “If Hamas launches three crudely-fashioned rockets into Israel, should the Israeli government respond with three equally-crude rockets? If three Israeli Defense Forces are kidnapped by Hezbollah, should the IDF respond by kidnapping an equal number of Hezbollah foot-soldiers?”

Grimly, the present moment offers an even clearer elucidation of the point: If Hamas slaughters three innocent Israeli teenagers, should the IDF sharpen their knives and find three innocent Palestinian teenagers? Indeed that would be a proportionate use of force. It would also be monstrous.

As Wisse noted:

Imagine a world structured along truly “proportional” lines. In such a world, Israel would have spent 60 years denying that Arabs had any rights to any form of statehood, rather than doing what Israel has actually done, which is to give up major swaths of land to Arabs in pursuit of peace. What move on the part of Arab states has been proportionate to the Israeli actions in giving up the Sinai and its oil riches, the vast majority of the West Bank, the entirety of Gaza, and the territory in Southern Lebanon from which Israel pulled its occupying force in 2000? An Israel acting in proportionate fashion would have gone to the United Nations and its constituent agencies and done everything it could to denounce illegitimate interlopers in the region, would have sought resolutions condemning Arab nationalism as racism, and would have pursued political alliances with other blocs on the basis of common opposition to Arab or Muslim states.

The further application of proportionality in the Middle East conflict would have required that Israel foster a culture of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim hatred and intolerance reaching (according to parallel Pew Global Attitudes studies of anti-Jewish attitudes in Muslim lands) levels of 99 percent to 100 percent. Israel would be using weapons of mass communication to charge Muslims with ritual murder and spending tens of millions of dollars on anti-Arab propaganda worldwide. It would be training suicide bombers for anti-Muslim missions. Its warriors would be mutilating the bodies of Muslims they cornered and killed.

This is a good time to read the whole thing. The very suggestion that Israel respond proportionately to those Benjamin Netanyahu has rightfully labeled “human animals” is a call to barbarism.

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Is Turkey’s Partition Inevitable?

World turmoil in 2014 increasingly recalls that of one hundred years ago as national aspirations and trans-national ambitions set the world on a path to war. I do not suggest that the world is on the verge of a catastrophe such as that unleashed when an assassin’s bullet struck down Archduke Ferdinand just over a century ago, but rather that forces now at work could fundamentally remake the map.

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World turmoil in 2014 increasingly recalls that of one hundred years ago as national aspirations and trans-national ambitions set the world on a path to war. I do not suggest that the world is on the verge of a catastrophe such as that unleashed when an assassin’s bullet struck down Archduke Ferdinand just over a century ago, but rather that forces now at work could fundamentally remake the map.

I posted earlier regarding the possibility that Iraqi Kurds may soon declare their formal independence, a move with which even Iraqi Arabs have grown ambivalent. After all, Iraq’s real oil wealth is in southern Iraq, and many Iraqi Arabs would be fine keeping that for themselves.

Syrian Kurds have been coy about their future. The Kurdish administration in “Rojava,” an autonomous zone in northeastern Syria, is relatively secure, organized, and functioning. Kurds there say they will settle for federalism within the confines of Syria, although the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham in the areas surrounding Rojava suggests that events outside their region may ultimately determine the outcome, much as it has in Iraq.

For Kurds, however, Turkey is the real prize. That is where the bulk of Kurds live, and southeastern Turkey remains an incubator of Kurdish culture. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan opened negotiations with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which once waged an insurgency and terror campaign against the Turkish state. The PKK has accepted a ceasefire and temporarily laid down their arms. While Erdoğan has hinted that he will offer the Kurds a reform package ahead of the August presidential elections (for which he wants Kurdish support), history should not give the Kurds much confidence: every outreach Erdoğan has made to the Kurds has come against the backdrop of elections, and after elections have passed, Erdoğan reneges on his promises. Fool me once, fool me twice, but few Kurds are prepared to be fooled a third time, except perhaps against the backdrop of a fight.

Herein lies the problem: If Erdoğan makes good on his reforms to the Kurds, then it sets Turkey down the path toward federalism, the way-point for independence. Turks must also prepare for Öcalan’s release. They may consider Öcalan a terrorist, but Erdoğan has made him the indispensable man. There is simply no outcome that won’t see Öcalan released first from isolation, and then from prison entirely, at which point Kurds and many others will celebrate him as a Kurdish Mandela.

Demography, too, is in the Kurds’ favor. Erdoğan may hope that religious solidarity will trump nationalism, but this is a naïve hope. Turkish Kurds can smell a state, and with Iraqi Kurds on the verge of achieving that dream, there will be no denying Anatolian Kurds the same outcome. The map is changing. Turkey is celebrating its 90th anniversary. When it marks its centennial, however, expect the map of Turkey to be much different. When that happens, perhaps Turks can celebrate Erdoğan as their Sultan. The new Kurdistan, however, should put Erdoğan on their currency alongside Öcalan and Barzani as a man who made it happen.

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A Failure of Imagination

It’s ironic that Amos Yadlin expounded his proposal for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from much of the West Bank just one day before the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teens were found there. Yadlin is one of Israel’s most respected former senior defense officials; aside from his record as a senior air force officer and head of Military Intelligence, he has scrupulously eschewed hyperbolic partisan attacks on Israel’s political leadership of the kind that have disenchanted mainstream Israelis with many of his colleagues. Yet he appears to share another of his colleagues’ fatal flaws–a complete inability to imagine that the security status quo could ever change.

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It’s ironic that Amos Yadlin expounded his proposal for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from much of the West Bank just one day before the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teens were found there. Yadlin is one of Israel’s most respected former senior defense officials; aside from his record as a senior air force officer and head of Military Intelligence, he has scrupulously eschewed hyperbolic partisan attacks on Israel’s political leadership of the kind that have disenchanted mainstream Israelis with many of his colleagues. Yet he appears to share another of his colleagues’ fatal flaws–a complete inability to imagine that the security status quo could ever change.

Yadlin’s proposal has many problems; David M. Weinberg of the Begin-Sadat Center ably analyzed several of them yesterday’s Israel Hayom. But the one I found most astounding was one Weinberg didn’t address: Yadlin’s assertion that, having defeated terror, Israel could now afford to quit much of the West Bank.

It’s certainly true that Israel defeated the second intifada (2000-05), and some of the tactics it used, like the security barrier, would remain in place under a partial pullout like Yadlin proposes. But Israel’s most important counterterrorism tactic was boots on the ground: In 2002, the Israel Defense Forces effectively reoccupied most of the areas vacated over the previous decade under the Oslo Accords, and they never really left again. This enabled Israel to do the daily grunt work of counterterrorism: arresting suspects, interrogating them for leads, seizing weapons stockpiles, and so forth. As I’ve explained before, this ongoing effort is what ultimately dried up a supply of recruits that once looked limitless: Only when the likelihood of being arrested or killed became too high did terror become an unattractive proposition to most Palestinians.

Thus the minute the IDF departs, so will the crucial factor that has restrained terror over the last decade. And terrorist organizations will respond by escalating their activity. After all, as the Palestinians’ enthusiastic support for the teens’ abduction amply shows, their motivation to commit attacks hasn’t declined; what has declined is only their ability to do so.

But once Israel has withdrawn fully from the territory–not a mere troop redeployment as in the 1990s, but a full-scale evacuation, including the dismantling of settlements–it will be powerless to launch the kind of prolonged counterterrorism operations needed to suppress renewed terror: Anything more than brief incursions will become politically untenable, just as it has in evacuated Gaza.

Yet Yadlin appears incapable of imagining a recurrence of the second intifada’s deadly terror, which killed more than 1,000 Israelis, most of them civilians. As far as he’s concerned, we’ve defeated terror; now it’s safe to withdraw.

This echoes former Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s assertion in January that since “there is no eastern front” right now, Israel can safely withdraw from the Jordan Valley. The eastern front, as I noted last week, is now back in spades, revived by the Islamic State’s takeover of large swathes of Iraq. Dagan’s mistake was that he couldn’t imagine the possibility of such a change: As far as he was concerned, the eastern front was gone, so it would stay gone.

Both men exemplify a problem common to many defense professionals: They understand military tactics and capabilities, but they’re no better than anyone else–and often worse–at predicting political developments. Dagan was blind to the possibility that Syria’s civil war and the jihadi groups it spawned could affect Iraq’s stability, and perhaps even Jordan’s, while Yadlin seems blind to the possibility that an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank could spark a resurgence of terror.

That’s why defense officials’ policy recommendations should always be treated skeptically. Making good policy requires an ability to imagine the likely consequences of both your own actions and those of other players. And defense professionals, at least in Israel, seem to be sadly lacking in that ability.

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Massacre at Lydda?

“In thirty minutes, at high noon, more than 200 civilians are killed. Zionism carries out a massacre in the city of Lydda.” That lapel-grabber, from Ari Shavit’s bestselling My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, is the departure point for my essay at Mosaic Magazine, “What Happened at Lydda.”

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“In thirty minutes, at high noon, more than 200 civilians are killed. Zionism carries out a massacre in the city of Lydda.” That lapel-grabber, from Ari Shavit’s bestselling My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, is the departure point for my essay at Mosaic Magazine, “What Happened at Lydda.”

I won’t summarize the piece, which will run at the top of the magazine site for the month of July. When I first read Shavit’s account, I thought it sounded forced, and so I searched for other interviews with the same people he spoke to twenty years ago, when he collected his material. (Most of the subjects are dead.) A fairly quick search yielded results: I found a trove of additional interviews in public archives. On their foundation it’s possible to construct an entirely different story: not of a vengeful massacre by “Zionism,” but of collateral damage in a city that turned into a battlefield.

Sound familiar from the recent history of Israel? It should. This is a story that repeats itself every few years. I don’t know exactly what happened in Lydda on July 12, 1948, because the testimony is contradictory. But Shavit has vouched for the accuracy of his work down to the last fact and detail. Read the essay and see whether I’ve planted a seed of doubt.

Some will say that Shavit’s book, on balance, is good for Israel, and so should be entitled to an exemption from this sort of criticism. The confession of sin married to expressions of love for Israel may be what many American Jews need just now, and I make no judgment about the book as a whole. But the same argument for silence was made when American Jews needed to believe that Israel could do no wrong. And while confession is good for the soul, confessing the supposed sins of others—in this case, the Palmah officers and soldiers of the Yiftah brigade who conquered Lydda—must be done judiciously. After all, most of them can no longer speak.

My motive hasn’t been to protect Israel’s honor against the charge of massacre. There are some well-documented instances from 1948. It’s just that Lydda isn’t one of them. From a narrative point of view, it’s appealing to combine the stories of the largest expulsion and the largest massacre. But that’s a little too tidy, and when the past appears tidy, it deserves another look.

As a historian, I know something about the rules, but as I admit in the article, I’m not a historian of 1948 (or even of Israel). My expertise is the rest of the Middle East. That’s why I placed the essay at Mosaic Magazine, which solicits responses by experts. I’m eager to ignite a debate among people who have made this era their lives’ work (and, of course, Shavit too). There’s also a comments feature, for anyone who might have an interesting insight. I urge you to read my opening move, and I’ll be posting more pointers as appropriate.

And as a bonus for getting this far in this post, here are links to some remarkable photographs of Lydda at the time of its capture, taken by Boris Karmi (1914-2002).

Mula Cohen (1923-2002), commander of the Yiftah brigade. Shavit portrays him a sad figure, but he looks like he’s on top of the world here.

• A portrait of a smiling Israeli soldier against the backdrop of the “small mosque,” epicenter of the alleged massacre.

• Yiftah brigade soldiers take a break in Lydda.

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Martin Kramer Calls Ari Shavit to Account

Martin Kramer has a dazzling deep dive into Ari Shavit’s account of an Israeli “massacre” in the city of Lydda during the 1948 war today in Mosaic, the wonderful website of the Tikvah Fund edited by COMMENTARY’s former head honcho, Neal Kozodoy. As Kramer systematically goes through the claims in Shavit’s account, he finds major discrepancies with other accounts. “I’m a historian,” Kramer writes, “but I haven’t made a study of the 1948 war, and I haven’t tracked down every source. There are no documents for this episode, only oral testimonies, with all their attendant hazards. Officers and soldiers contradict themselves, they contradict their comrades, and Israelis and Palestinians obviously contradict one another. But what I uncovered in just a few days of archival research was more than enough to reinforce my initial doubts about Shavit’s account, and should be enough to plant at least a seed of doubt in the mind of every reader of My Promised Land.” Read the whole thing.

Martin Kramer has a dazzling deep dive into Ari Shavit’s account of an Israeli “massacre” in the city of Lydda during the 1948 war today in Mosaic, the wonderful website of the Tikvah Fund edited by COMMENTARY’s former head honcho, Neal Kozodoy. As Kramer systematically goes through the claims in Shavit’s account, he finds major discrepancies with other accounts. “I’m a historian,” Kramer writes, “but I haven’t made a study of the 1948 war, and I haven’t tracked down every source. There are no documents for this episode, only oral testimonies, with all their attendant hazards. Officers and soldiers contradict themselves, they contradict their comrades, and Israelis and Palestinians obviously contradict one another. But what I uncovered in just a few days of archival research was more than enough to reinforce my initial doubts about Shavit’s account, and should be enough to plant at least a seed of doubt in the mind of every reader of My Promised Land.” Read the whole thing.

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