Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 21, 2014

The End of the Liberal Critique of Israel

After several days of personally observing the people of Israel reacting to rocket attacks and the grim reality of the fight against Hamas in Gaza, the irrelevance of most of the things the country’s American critics say about it has never seemed more obvious to me. After being forced into a war that the overwhelming majority of people here understand is one about their survival and not the political issues that divide Jews, it’s little wonder that most Israelis pay little attention to their country’s foreign detractors who seek to save them from themselves. People who claim to care about the Jewish state need to draw similar conclusions.

Read More

After several days of personally observing the people of Israel reacting to rocket attacks and the grim reality of the fight against Hamas in Gaza, the irrelevance of most of the things the country’s American critics say about it has never seemed more obvious to me. After being forced into a war that the overwhelming majority of people here understand is one about their survival and not the political issues that divide Jews, it’s little wonder that most Israelis pay little attention to their country’s foreign detractors who seek to save them from themselves. People who claim to care about the Jewish state need to draw similar conclusions.

The contrast between the support for the efforts of the Israel Defense Forces to attack Hamas’s rocket launchers and terrorist tunnel network in Gaza that is exhibited by most Israelis and the outrage that these efforts at self-defense have generated elsewhere is hard to ignore. Israelis understand the current conflict has nothing to do with arguments about settlements or borders. You don’t have to be a supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or those of pro-settlement critics on the right here to understand that Hamas and its sympathizers don’t care where Israel’s borders should be drawn. Nor is there any real debate about the impact of a Palestinian political culture in which even the supposed moderates applaud terrorism and treat those who slaughter Jews as heroes. The point of the terrorist fortress in Gaza that the Israel Defense Forces is trying to disarm if not dismantle is to serve as the base for an ongoing war against the existence of the Jewish state. The choice of Hamas’s leaders to deliberately sacrifice as many of their own people as possible in order to protect their terrorist infrastructure has not been lost on Israelis. Nor has it escaped their notice that the whole point of the massive investment in rockets and infiltration tunnels by the government of a district mired in poverty is to produce as many Jewish casualties as possible regardless of the impact such actions may have on the safety or the quality of life of Palestinians.

Just as important is the ugly anti-Semitic tone of much of the protests that have been mounted against Israel’s counter-attacks against Hamas in Gaza. Simply put, much of the world seems to think that Hamas has a “right” to shoot thousands of rockets at Israeli cities or to launch cross-border terror raids aimed at kidnapping or killing as many Jews as possible and that the Jewish state has no right to defend itself against these actions–even if they go to great lengths (as the Israel Defense Forces do as a matter of course) to avoid hurting the civilians that the Islamists use as human shields. The general invective against Zionism being heard on the streets of Europe’s cities and even in the U.S. protests against Israel is of a piece with the tone of Hamas’s talking points. The solidarity these demonstrators are expressing for the “resistance” against the “occupation”–a term by which they mean all of Israel and not just the West Bank or the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza–also makes plain the nature of the struggle. Even those who support a two-state solution that would entail an Israeli withdrawal from most or all of the West Bank must now comprehend that their dislike of the settlements or the desire to satisfy the Palestinian ambition for sovereignty can’t ignore the fact that the debate about these ideas is entirely moot while the rockets are flying and terrorists are tunneling beneath the border in hope of emerging inside Israel to slaughter innocents. In this context of hate and violence, the only real points of contention are whether you support the survival of the Jewish state or not.

That is why the energy expended by so many American liberals on behalf of projects designed to pressure Israel’s government to make more concessions to the Palestinians is not merely wrongheaded. It’s utterly irrelevant to the realities of both the Middle East and the global resurgence of anti-Semitism. Groups such as J Street that are predicated on the notion that Israel must be saved from itself by principled liberal critics are treated as both serious and representative of Jewish opinion by the mainstream media. But that group has little to say about the current conflict that requires our notice. Nor are its efforts to distinguish itself from far more radical anti-Zionist groups that openly support efforts to isolate Israel economically and support protests against its right of self defense of any importance any longer.

At this moment it is no longer possible to pretend that the conflict can be wished away by Israeli concessions that would, if implemented, create another 20 Gazas in the West Bank. Nor can one rationally argue that more Israeli forbearance toward Hamas in Gaza and a less vigorous effort to take out its vast system of tunnels shielding its rocket arsenal and terror shock troops would bring the region closer to peace when the only way to give that cause a chance is predicated on the elimination of Hamas.

If, at some point in the indefinite future, the Palestinians turn on Hamas and its less radical allies and embrace a national identity that is not inextricably linked to Israel’s elimination, perhaps then we can resume the debate about settlements and borders that J Street craves. But until that unlikely event happens, it is imperative that Americans realize that the J Street critique of Israel that is often echoed by some in the Obama administration and throughout the left is over. The only question to be asked today is whether you stand with Israel’s right to defend itself or not. Jews and others who consider themselves friends of the Jewish state must find the courage to speak up for the justice of Israel’s cause in the current crisis against the forces of hate. Viewed from the perspective of the last week’s events here in Israel, anything else is a waste of time.

Read Less

A Stubborn Status Quo in Gaza

It’s been a rough few days for both Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Some 25 Israeli soldiers and more than 500 Palestinians have been killed in fighting. The loss of life on both sides is deplorable. But the fact that many more Palestinians than Israelis have died–that the death toll has been, to use the buzz phrase, “disproportionate”–does not mean that the Israelis are the aggressors and the Palestinians the victims.

Read More

It’s been a rough few days for both Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Some 25 Israeli soldiers and more than 500 Palestinians have been killed in fighting. The loss of life on both sides is deplorable. But the fact that many more Palestinians than Israelis have died–that the death toll has been, to use the buzz phrase, “disproportionate”–does not mean that the Israelis are the aggressors and the Palestinians the victims.

In a sense both sides are the victims of Hamas’s leaders who refuse to recognize Israel’s existence or to give up their armed struggle against it. If only the Hamas leaders had done what normal democratic politicians would have done when Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005: which is to say, if only they had focused on economic development, then none of this would have happened. Israel would have happily cooperated in boosting living conditions in Gaza; it only instituted a blockade on Gaza, with exceptions for humanitarian supplies, when it became clear that it was becoming an armed base for an attack on Israel. In fact wealthy Jewish donors even gave the Palestinians 3,000 greenhouses left behind by settlers. But instead of growing flowers, Hamas prefers to harvest hatred. The greenhouses were looted and covert rocket factories were constructed.

So for the third time since 2005 a war is raging in Gaza–one brought about directly by Hamas’s insistence on attacking Israel. No nation in the world would tolerate hundreds of rockets raining down on its territory. Because Israel was not able to stop the barrage through the use of precision airpower alone, it has now sent its soldiers into harm’s way.

Predictably, Israeli casualties have been going up as their troops have been battling through the dense urban warrens of Gaza City–restrictive terrain that to some extent obviates the firepower advantage of the IDF and allows Hamas ambushers to inflict real damage on Israeli troops. On Sunday, for example, a Hamas anti-tank missile apparently took out an antiquated armored personnel carrier, killing seven soldiers from the elite Golani Brigade. But Israeli forces still have the initiative and are working on destroy tunnels built by Hamas not only to infiltrate military supplies into Gaza but also to infiltrate its fighters into Israel.

Naturally the “international community” is eager to stop the war as soon as possible and is putting pressure on both sides to reach a cease-fire agreement. (If only there were as much pressure being applied to Bashar Assad whose war has killed upwards of 170,000 Muslims.) Few seem to remember Israel had already offered a cease-fire before the ground war started. Hamas refused, no doubt because it has been losing popularity and sees a war against the “Zionist entity” as a good way to enhance its prestige among Palestinians and the Arab world more generally. But sooner or later, as in the past, Hamas is certain to agree to a cease-fire.

What then? Essentially we will see a return to the prewar status quo. That is to say, an uneasy peace, with Hamas trying to smuggle in more weapons and Israel watching warily, both sides preparing for a resumption of hostilities. There is no victory likely for either side. The best that Israel can hope for is to manage the problem because, as I have pointed out before, the only way to eradicate Hamas is through an occupation, which Israel does not want to undertake.

The second-best solution might be to have the Palestinian Authority, which is more moderate than Hamas and after all is supposed to be nominally in charge of both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, assert its actual authority in Gaza. Yet, surprisingly, there does not seem to be much discussion of this option. That may well be a tribute to Hamas’s success–little discussed but hugely significant–in knee-capping Fatah’s infrastructure in Gaza, sometimes literally. Hamas has waged a ruthless behind-the-scenes battle to consolidate authority in Gaza at the expense of Fatah.

That seems to leave Hamas as the only game in town for the time being, barring even more radical Salafists. So the odds are heavy that Hamas will remain in charge after Israel’s operation ends–and Palestinians will continue to pay the price for its extremism time and again.

Read Less

An Academic’s Admirable Intellectual Independence

I wanted to alert people to recent congressional testimony by George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley. The subject was the lawsuit by Speaker John Boehner to check President Obama’s repeated violations of the separation of powers. “The president’s pledge to effectively govern alone is alarming,” according to Turley, “and what is most alarming is his ability to fulfill that pledge.”

Read More

I wanted to alert people to recent congressional testimony by George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley. The subject was the lawsuit by Speaker John Boehner to check President Obama’s repeated violations of the separation of powers. “The president’s pledge to effectively govern alone is alarming,” according to Turley, “and what is most alarming is his ability to fulfill that pledge.”

I want to focus on Professor Turley’s testimony for two reasons. The first has to do with the merits of his argument, which he believes reflects the vision of the founders. The push-and-pull between Congress and the presidency goes back to the very beginning of the republic, but according to Turley we have reached a “tipping point.” Even if one doesn’t fully agree with him, Turley’s case is worth considering, particularly given how well-stated it is.

The second reason I wanted to highlight what Professor Turley said is because he demonstrates impressive intellectual independence. In the course of his testimony, Professor Turley says quite forthrightly that he voted for Barack Obama in the past and he’s sympathetic to what the president is trying to achieve with the Affordable Care Act. Which is to say, Turley is a political liberal.

No matter. The George Washington University law professor is able to separate his political leanings from his analysis of the situation. He is able to argue “against interest.” His principles have deeper roots than his political/partisan views.

Professor Turley is obviously a serious-minded scholar; he’s also a civilized, irenic one. We all struggle with “confirmation bias” and “motivated reasoning”; with keeping our political biases from clouding our intellectual judgments. These days that’s truer of academics, I imagine, than most others. Which is why Jonathan Turley’s example is an estimable one. Watch his testimony and see if you agree.

Read Less

Israel, Hamas, and Moral Idiocy

In our politics today we often turn our disagreement into Manichean struggles, as if one side has all the arguments in its favor while the other has none. In fact, it’s not unusual for both sides to have at least a kernel of truth. That doesn’t mean, of course, that both sides hold equally valid positions; but it does mean that there are usually legitimate, competing claims to arbitrate.

Read More

In our politics today we often turn our disagreement into Manichean struggles, as if one side has all the arguments in its favor while the other has none. In fact, it’s not unusual for both sides to have at least a kernel of truth. That doesn’t mean, of course, that both sides hold equally valid positions; but it does mean that there are usually legitimate, competing claims to arbitrate.

Abraham Lincoln got at this better than anyone when he said, “The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it have more of evil, than of good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost everything, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.”

But note the qualifier: “Almost everything.” From time to time there are situations in which the political and moral arguments are completely with one side and not the other. Such is the case with the war between Israel and Hamas.

Start with the two protagonists: on the one side, a nation of incredible intellectual, political, and moral achievements that has made more sacrifices for peace than any country on earth. On the other, an Islamic terrorist organization that ranks among the most vicious in the world and whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and Jews everywhere. (The Hamas propaganda slogan declares, “We love death more than the Jews love life.”)

As for the particulars of this current conflict, we face a situation in which Israel wants peace and Hamas wants war (and indeed started this war); in which Israel has accepted several cease-fires and Hamas none; in which Israel is bending over
 backwards to prevent civilian Palestinian deaths while Hamas bends over backwards to increase civilian Palestinian deaths.

These facts are not in dispute. Neither is this: Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, granting the Palestinians what they said they wanted: self-rule. In the process, Israel destroyed thousands of homes and public buildings owned by Jewish settlers who had lived in Gaza since Israel won the land in the 1967 war. Israeli troops even stormed the synagogue in Kfar Darom in order to remove Israeli settlers who did not want to leave. And what did Israel get in return for its unilateral withdrawal? Not an independent Palestinian state but a terrorist one that, among other things, has launched rocket attacks at the three largest cities in Israel (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa).

Yet despite all this, much of the world, including many Europeans, blame not Hamas but Israel. In dozens of European cities, including Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and Amsterdam, “thousands of demonstrators thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters have depicted Israel as the aggressor and sought to isolate it internationally.” This is a grotesque distortion of reality.

In America, thank goodness, things aren’t nearly so bad. Still, it comes as a surprise to exactly no one that the Obama administration, while saying Israel has the right to self-defense, is continually applying pressure against the Jewish state for exercising that right. Team Obama’s frustration with Israel is palpable (see this clip from Secretary Kerry mocking Israel when he thought his conversation was private). We’re told the president, for example, has “serious concern about the growing number of casualties, including increasing Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza.” So do many of us. It is heartbreaking to witness. But the pressure should be applied not to Israel but Hamas, which started this war, which is attempting to escalate it, and which is using innocent Palestinians as human shields. Yet we get from this administration a kind of rough moral symmetry in which Israel is lectured to exercise restraint beyond anything we would ask of ourselves and in which both Israel and Hamas are said to be complicit in a non-stop “cycle of violence.”

This is moral idiocy. The proper response to this conflict is to stand four-square with Israel in its effort to decimate Hamas. That would be the right thing to do in every respect, including for the welfare of Palestinian children, who are merely pawns in the lethal game being played by Hamas.

To portray Hamas sympathetically and Israel as villainous is not simply irrational. It requires one to step through the looking glass, to hate the good and embrace the malevolent, and in doing so to enter a world characterized by at best moral confusion and at worst moral corruption.

Read Less

Smash the Regulatory State from Within

The rise of the regulatory state is not something conservatives need to make peace with, nor should they accept the role that unaccountable bureaucrats are increasingly playing in American governance. But they should also understand that working within that system while working to dismantle aspects of it are not mutually exclusive activities.

Read More

The rise of the regulatory state is not something conservatives need to make peace with, nor should they accept the role that unaccountable bureaucrats are increasingly playing in American governance. But they should also understand that working within that system while working to dismantle aspects of it are not mutually exclusive activities.

With all the talk of reform conservatism, this is a more limited variant of the ambitious reform efforts gaining momentum. There are two categories of such reform, and the abuse-of-power scandals proliferating throughout the Obama administration’s bureaucratic power agencies make it all the more necessary to realize the opportunity they present to conservatives seeking to protect the public from big government.

The first has to do with regulations, and Texas presents a good example. Because so much of the Obama-era Democratic regulations are poorly thought-out and destructive, it’s easy to get the impression that when the government regulates something, it will do so in a deeply stupid way. But it doesn’t have to.

In April 2010, the Washington Post ran an interesting article investigating the following question: Why did Texas escape the real-estate bust? As the Post explained:

Texas’s 3.1 million mortgage borrowers are a breed of their own among big states with big cities. Fewer than 6 percent of them are in or near foreclosure, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association; the national average is nearly 10 percent. …

Texan subprime borrowers do especially well compared with their counterparts elsewhere. The foreclosure rate among subprime borrowers in Texas, at less than 19 percent, is the lowest of any state except Alaska.

Part of the answer seemed to be restrictions on refinancing and home-equity lending:

A cash-out refinance is a mortgage taken out for a higher balance than the one on an existing loan, net of fees. Across the nation, cash-outs became ubiquitous during the mortgage boom, as skyrocketing house prices made it possible for homeowners, even those with bad credit, to use their home equity like an ATM. But not in Texas. There, cash-outs and home-equity loans cannot total more than 80 percent of a home’s appraised value. There’s a 12-day cooling-off period after an application, during which the borrower can pull out. And when a borrower refinances a mortgage, it’s illegal to get even a dollar back. Texas really means it: All these protections, and more, are in the state constitution. The Texas restrictions on mortgage borrowing date from the first days of statehood in 1845, when the constitution banned home loans.

It turns out such restrictions went a long way toward preventing homeowners from taking out the kind of loans and refinancing that increased the chances of default when the bubble burst, protecting many in Texas from suffering the same fate. It’s the kind of “smart” regulation that not only benefits the private sector but also can prevent future “dumb” regulations: the less prone to such crises states (and especially the federal government) are, the less demand there will be for the kind of “do-something” regulatory pile-ons and bailouts that follow those crises.

Texas is also, of course, a testament to the benefits of limited regulations in other areas of ownership and private property. Another part of the state’s insulation from the real-estate bubble was, as Wendell Cox explained, “the state’s liberal, market oriented land use policies. This served to help keep the price of land low while profligate lending increased demand.” Overregulated housing markets inflated prices and restricted supply. Texas got the balance just right.

So there’s “smart” regulations vs. “dumb” regulations. But the other category of this kind of reform has to do with the bureaucracy. Especially in the Obama era, policy is being made more and more by unelected bureaucrats. As the IRS scandal (and others) showed, the power and insulation from the public eye is a dangerous combination.

Conservatives have generally approached this by concentrating on the need to eliminate either bureaucratic agencies or the powers of those agencies. They should also, however, keep in mind that as long as those agencies exist, personnel is policy. Perhaps no one on the right has internalized this message more than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In a piece for National Review last year (still paywalled, alas), Daniel Foster wrote about McConnell’s attitude toward staffing decisions made by each party. When bureaucratic commission openings must be filled, it generally falls to the leadership. That means President Obama for the Democrats and McConnell for the Republicans. The Democrats still tend to view such job appointments as patronage positions. But McConnell has rejected the cronyism in favor of competence:

To translate his instincts into names, he brought in GOP veteran Dan Schneider. To look at Schneider’s government rap sheet — stints at the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Labor Department — you’d think he was a die-cast liberal. But when I spoke with him for this story, he said he likes to think of himself as a loyal conservative sent behind enemy lines “to monitor the radicals.”

Schneider came onto McConnell’s radar via the senator’s wife, Elaine Chao. When George W. Bush appointed Chao to head his Department of Labor, Schneider became her first White House liaison, and she gave him free rein to find conservatives to fill more than 200 slots inside the department. He impressed, and, after the Obama transition, migrated into McConnell’s office, where he oversees a sort of national conservative talent search with the title “Policy Advisor and Counsel for Nominations.”

Schneider operates according to a set of five criteria for screening potential nominees first developed by E. Pendleton “Pen” James, Ronald Reagan’s director of personnel management. First, were the nominees competent in the subject matter? Second, were they philosophically compatible with Senator McConnell? Third, did they possess high character and integrity? Fourth, were they tough? Fifth, were they team players?

The result, two or three hundred appointees later, is measurable.

Of course the ultimate aim for such bureaucracies should be to get rid of them or limit their power–something McConnell also engages in, as when he spearheaded the challenge to Obama’s unconstitutional recess appointments, which resulted recently in a unanimous Supreme Court rejection of Obama’s power grab.

But conservatives can fight those fights while engaging in limited reform from within the regulatory state. They don’t have to cede ground just because they wish that ground didn’t exist.

Read Less

Lessons from the Failed Peace Process

There are a few conclusions to be drawn from Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon’s deeply reported and engagingly written investigation into the failure of the recent Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The first is that, if the reporting is accurate, there is no longer any doubt that it was the Palestinian side that blew up the talks. They attempted to kill the process twice, but the first time the Israeli negotiators, led by Tzipi Livni, rescued the talks. The second time, the Palestinians ensured nothing could be done to save the process.

Read More

There are a few conclusions to be drawn from Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon’s deeply reported and engagingly written investigation into the failure of the recent Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The first is that, if the reporting is accurate, there is no longer any doubt that it was the Palestinian side that blew up the talks. They attempted to kill the process twice, but the first time the Israeli negotiators, led by Tzipi Livni, rescued the talks. The second time, the Palestinians ensured nothing could be done to save the process.

The second conclusion is that the way the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, blew up the talks bodes ill for any future peace process:

Over the next three weeks, with April 29 approaching, Indyk would meet nine times with Livni, Molho, Erekat, and Faraj in a bid to salvage the peace talks. He was determined to get everything in writing this time. No more misunderstandings. And by April 23, the sides seemed close to an extension agreement. Indyk drove to Ben Gurion Airport that day to pick up his wife, and while at the baggage claim, he got a call from Livni. She’d heard that the Palestinians had just done something to ruin all the progress they had made. Indyk immediately phoned Erekat, who said he wasn’t aware of the development, but would investigate. Back at the U.S. consulate, the Kerry team was combing over the details of the emerging deal, with the secretary calling periodically to check in. Soon, the news penetrated their office, too. Weeks earlier, they had been surprised by the timing of Abu Mazen’s U.N. ceremony, but not by the act. The Palestinians had put them on notice. But as the American officials huddled around a desktop computer, hungry for actual details about this rumor they were hearing, they couldn’t believe the headline that now flashed across the screen: FATAH, HAMAS END YEARS OF DIVISON, AGREE TO UNITY GOVERNMENT. The next day, the Israeli Cabinet had voted to suspend the talks. John Kerry’s peace process was over.

It’s one thing to threaten action, set a deadline, and then carry it out. That is essentially what the Palestinians did with their UN gambit. But the idea that the process could just end on a Palestinian whim can poison the well (or whatever’s left of it).

That’s because for the Palestinians, once the process begins it’s in the hands of Abbas, Erekat, and some high-level members of Abbas’s cabinet. That is not the case for Israel. As the report details, the day the Palestinians signed their applications to the UN agencies, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding meetings throughout the day in his office seeking to reassure skeptics in his coalition without alienating Livni and the peace processors to their left. Additionally, he had to deal with the constant threat of rebellion from Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing party that held the third-most seats in the governing coalition.

The unity deal between Hamas and Fatah was an unmitigated disaster for the peace process. It was more than just a setback: it raised the possibility that any Israeli leader who risked his government for a peace process would get a more terroristic Palestinian government than he or she started with and would have imminent war looming. The Palestinians are willing to pull the plug without warning. That’s a lesson their Israeli and American counterparts will learn.

And it is related to the third conclusion to be drawn from the essay. The authors relate a conversation between Kerry and Netanyahu in which Netanyahu raises the issue of Palestinian incitement. Eventually, the following exchange occurs:

Kerry pressed on: “When I fought in Vietnam, I used to look at the faces of the local population and the looks they gave us. I’ll never forget it. It gave me clarity that we saw the situation in completely different ways.”

“This isn’t Vietnam!” Netanyahu shouted. “No one understands Israel but Israel.”

That comment may paint Netanyahu as defensive, but in fact he’s right–and the essay demonstrates that convincingly. Kerry and his negotiating team, as well as the Palestinian leadership, consistently misread the Israeli political scene and Netanyahu’s reaction to it. Autocrats don’t seem to understand democratic politics, and Kerry’s team exhibited no real grasp of what it takes to form a consensus and keep a government intact in Israel.

The reporters themselves even got tripped up by Israeli politics and leaned heavily on trite and completely inaccurate narratives. At one point in the article, they refer to Netanyahu as “a right-wing ideologue”–an absurdly reductionist and patently false claim. If Netanyahu, the famous dealmaker and pragmatist who elicits much Israeli wariness precisely because he is not an ideologue, can be classified as such, then everybody and nobody is an “ideologue.”

Elsewhere in the piece we are told, indefensibly, that “Tea Party types were continuing their slow-motion takeover of the Likud.” This is a common, but no less justifiable, trope. It is a sign either that the writer can only understand politics through shallow American analogies or that the writer assumes that to be true of the reader. Or both, I suppose. Whatever the reason, the “Tea Party” contention is obviously untrue, and those who offer it with regard to Israeli politics are doing their readers a considerable disservice.

Read Less

From Lydda to Gaza

“Disproportion speaks massacre, not ‘battle.’” Who wrote that just last week about Israel’s conduct vis-à-vis the Palestinians?

Read More

“Disproportion speaks massacre, not ‘battle.’” Who wrote that just last week about Israel’s conduct vis-à-vis the Palestinians?

I won’t keep you in suspense. It was Israeli historian Benny Morris, replying to my critique (at Mosaic Magazine) of Ari Shavit’s treatment of the Lydda “massacre” of July 12, 1948, in Shavit’s book My Promised Land. Shavit declined to respond to me, but Morris took up the gauntlet last week. He wishes a pox on Shavit’s house and mine, for different reasons. He accuses Shavit of turning Lydda into more than it was, and he accuses me of “effectively denying” that there was “a massacre, albeit a provoked one.” Perhaps I do, although (unlike Shavit and Morris) I don’t claim to know exactly what happened.

I hadn’t set out to contest both Shavit and Morris, but since Shavit relies on Morris, their narratives are intertwined, and it’s just as well. Mosaic Magazine today runs my reply to Morris’s response. Not only do I question the credibility of his historical account, I also make this more general observation:

On Morris’s principle, every occasion on which Israel exacts a numerically “disproportionate” cost in the lives of others—as it often must do, if it is to deter and defeat its enemies—constitutes evidence of massacre; to sustain its very existence, Israel must massacre again and again, decade after decade…. Israel thus can never be legitimate; it is a perpetual war crime, on an ever-larger scale. So saith the “disproportion.”

Unfortunately, it’s a question that’s timely, on the morrow of a day when Israel lost thirteen soldiers in battle, and Palestinians are again claiming that Israel has committed a “massacre.” Read my response to Morris here.

Read Less

Europe Confronts its Anti-Israel Extremists

For the second weekend running European cities witnessed a surge of hateful, and in places violent, anti-Israel protests. With the temper of these gatherings becoming so alarmingly extreme, European governments may now be waking up to a problem that has been festering in parts of their societies for quite some time. Yet as they attempt to make sense of this growing source of public disorder, one wonders whether Europe’s political elites will reflect upon their own role in manufacturing this fiercely anti-Israel atmosphere.

Read More

For the second weekend running European cities witnessed a surge of hateful, and in places violent, anti-Israel protests. With the temper of these gatherings becoming so alarmingly extreme, European governments may now be waking up to a problem that has been festering in parts of their societies for quite some time. Yet as they attempt to make sense of this growing source of public disorder, one wonders whether Europe’s political elites will reflect upon their own role in manufacturing this fiercely anti-Israel atmosphere.

Some of the most shocking scenes happened in Paris, where two synagogues came under attack, resulting in street fighting between anti-Israel activists and Jewish youths. In an effort to prevent a repeat of this mayhem the authorities took the unprecedented decision of prohibiting any pro-Palestinian demonstrations planned for the following weekend. While such a move is certainly a measure of just how serious the French government is about combating this malady, it is equally a sign of how insurmountable a problem has become when a government is reduced to simply reaching for the “outlaw” option. It is indeed a concerning state of affairs for any democracy to be forced into taking such drastic action as the last resort for ensuring public safety.

Of course, in reality such moves are by their nature bound to backfire. They inevitably add to the existing sense of outrage and convince others that there is a conspiracy seeking to silence dissenters. As a result the events in Paris this weekend were still more violent than those seen the week before. Rioters set fire to cars, looted Jewish-owned stores, and hurled a Molotov cocktail at another synagogue, while violent clashes left a dozen police injured. Many of those involved in these disturbances came from France’s sizable Muslim minority, and so some might consider it understandable that these demonstrators should feel a deep sense of solidarity with Muslims suffering in Gaza. Yet their fellow Sunni Muslim brothers have been cut down in vastly greater numbers, and in far more brutal ways, by Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria and by rival Shia insurgents in Iraq, both of course backed by Iran. It simply cannot be ignored that these events did not draw anything like the same reaction.

That observation holds true for those marching the streets of London. On Sunday, during a rally held in support of Israel, it was reported that a man had to receive treatment from paramedics after being assaulted by pro-Palestinian activists. Indeed, in recent weeks anti-Semitic incidents in Britain are said to have doubled. This is the inevitable fallout from the kind of incitement prevalent at the rallies being held for Gaza. At Saturday’s the crowed was thick with placards that bore the Star of David alongside the swastika, that referred to the “Holocaust” in Gaza, and that carried such messages as: “well done Israel, Hitler would be proud.” The crowd enthusiastically chanted what has now become the movement’s favorite rallying cry: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a call for the total extinction of the State of Israel between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean.

With an estimated 15,000 attendees, the numbers were significantly reduced from the turnouts seen in London during Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead. As several commentators have now observed, the demographic at these marches has shifted to being predominantly Muslim, many conservatively dressed, with a sprinkling of the far-left and the high minded thrown in. And the atmosphere seemed uglier than ever before. There were scuffles with the police, the Israeli embassy had to be barricaded, and organizers and guest speakers whipped the crowed into a frenzy by bellowing down the microphone about Israel being an illegal/racist/apartheid/terror state. Still, none of this was quite as distasteful as the stunt pulled at another rally held in London earlier in the week, when protesters brought along children smeared with red paint–a modern-day blood libel if ever there was one.

All of this was just a few notches down from events in Paris and could quickly escalate to comparable levels of anarchy. But the truth is that both the British and French governments have fostered the attitudes that breed such extreme outbursts. The French government has been at the forefront of European efforts to single out Israel’s settlement policy as a uniquely unspeakable crime, and likewise the British government has upheld the narrative that it is Israel’s settlement policy that has sabotaged peace efforts. And when the Commons came to debate the situation in Gaza earlier this week, most parliamentarians began by condemning Hamas rockets before swiftly justifying them as a kind of forgivable response to wicked Israel’s settlement building, a curious position given that the rockets are coming out of Gaza, from which all of Israel’s settlements were removed in 2005. But then this is the prevailing wisdom and indeed the line pushed by the BBC and Agence France-Presse, both state owned, of course.

European governments rightly pour scorn on the rising flames of anti-Semitism that are erupting out of the continent’s anti-Israel fringe, but at what point do these same politicians face up to their own role in fanning these flames and legitimizing the extreme views that give rise to them?

Read Less

Why Should Denial of Access to MH17 Matter?

In the days since the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines 17 over eastern Ukraine, the press and many diplomats have been consumed with questioning whether Russians or pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine shot down the civilian jetliner. With all due respect, any answer is a distinction without a difference. To ascribe any degree of independent thought to the pro-Russian separatists is to be played for fools by Russia itself. Indeed, it is a common practice among rogue regimes to sponsor proxies to enable plausible deniability.

Read More

In the days since the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines 17 over eastern Ukraine, the press and many diplomats have been consumed with questioning whether Russians or pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine shot down the civilian jetliner. With all due respect, any answer is a distinction without a difference. To ascribe any degree of independent thought to the pro-Russian separatists is to be played for fools by Russia itself. Indeed, it is a common practice among rogue regimes to sponsor proxies to enable plausible deniability.

The fighters in Donetsk are to Russia what Hezbollah is to Iran. Rather than give the Kremlin an out for the actions of anyone under separatist leader Igor Girkin who, according to press reports, was a member of the KGB-successor agency the FSB until last year, the proper response would be to acknowledge that the buck stops with Vladimir Putin. If Putin did not want to risk such accountability, then he shouldn’t tolerate, channel, or use men such as Girkin to advance Russian policy.

Nor should there be such handwringing over the denial of access to investigators seeking to investigate the wreckage. Would it be better if such investigations occurred unimpeded? Sure. But rather than allow Russia and its proxies to avoid accountability by undercutting the investigation into the murder of all those onboard MH17, the United States, Europe, and Malaysia should simply declare that Girkin and Putin will be considered guilty unless there is immediate access to the crash scene. To worry about access highlights one more reason why terrorism—and, make no mistake, this was an act of terror—should be considered a military matter and not a judicial issue to be subject to judicial standards of evidence. Even for those who favor process over justice and who are prone to see the shoot-down through the lens of criminality, then perhaps a better analogy would be to consider the case of a suspected drunk driver who refuses a Breathalyzer test. No policeman or court would agree that refusal to take the breath test would mandate a not-guilty verdict to drunk driving.

It’s understandable that air disaster investigators want as clean a process as possible to their investigation. But if that is not possible for geopolitical reasons, then rather than allow Russia to avoid accountability, it is time to respond—economically against Russia and perhaps with unilateral action against the Donestk commanders without any further delay. After all, only the guilty would impede the investigation, so such impediment should be taken for what it is—an admission of guilt.

Read Less

Former PA Official: Firing Rockets at Israel ‘Restores Our Human Dignity’

To truly understand the current fighting in Gaza, it’s important to listen to Jamal Zakout. Zakout, a secular resident of Ramallah, is no fan of Hamas, as Amira Hass noted in her report in Haaretz last week (Hebrew only): He has held various positions in the Palestinian Authority, including spokesman for former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, took part in the Geneva Initiative (a nongovernmental effort to draft an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement), and opposed the “militarization” of the second intifada. Nevertheless, Hass writes, the fighting is bolstering Hamas’s status even among Palestinians like him, because “when Hamas manages, despite everything, to continue launching missiles at Israel and disrupting normal life there, Zakout says this restores their feeling of human dignity.”

Read More

To truly understand the current fighting in Gaza, it’s important to listen to Jamal Zakout. Zakout, a secular resident of Ramallah, is no fan of Hamas, as Amira Hass noted in her report in Haaretz last week (Hebrew only): He has held various positions in the Palestinian Authority, including spokesman for former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, took part in the Geneva Initiative (a nongovernmental effort to draft an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement), and opposed the “militarization” of the second intifada. Nevertheless, Hass writes, the fighting is bolstering Hamas’s status even among Palestinians like him, because “when Hamas manages, despite everything, to continue launching missiles at Israel and disrupting normal life there, Zakout says this restores their feeling of human dignity.”

This, in a nutshell, is why the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains unsolvable, and why it produces spasms of violence with monotonous regularity: For too many Palestinians, including “moderates” like Zakout, “human dignity” derives from hurting Israelis–even knowing full well that the resultant Israeli counterstrikes will cause far greater harm to Palestinians.

This is something you would simply never hear an Israeli say, because Israelis see human dignity as stemming from saving life, not taking it. This doesn’t mean they oppose using military force in self-defense. Indeed, they overwhelmingly support the current operation: After absorbing 13,000 rockets from Gaza over the last nine years, they want the rockets stopped; they want children in the south to be able to grow up normally, instead having 45 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to constant rocket fire, and they want people all over Israel to be able to lead their lives without disruption. But they would never say that dropping bombs on Gaza enhances their “human dignity”; they view war as an unpleasant necessity which they would much rather not have to engage in.

This difference in Palestinian and Israeli attitudes is epitomized by two technological developments that have become the darlings of their respective peoples: the Iron Dome anti-missile system and the M-75 rocket.

The M-75 is a technological marvel–a homemade medium-range rocket capable of striking Tel Aviv, developed despite stringent Israeli import restrictions aimed at preventing Hamas from doing just that. It’s a purely offensive weapon with no defensive purpose, and Palestinians love it. An enterprising Gaza merchant even named a perfume after it two years ago, when it was first deployed, and Reuters reported that sales promptly soared.

Iron Dome is also a homegrown technological marvel. But it’s the M-75’s mirror image: a purely defensive weapon with no offensive purpose. And that’s precisely why Israelis love it: Its purpose is to save lives rather than take them.

It’s not that Israel lacks homegrown, technologically marvelous offensive weapons. But while killing people who seek to kill you is sometimes necessary for self-defense, and most Israelis have no qualms about employing offensive weapons for that purpose, they would never love them. They view taking life as an unpleasant necessity that they would much rather be spared.

Palestinians, to be fair, have no defensive weaponry to love; they don’t even have basic civil-defense measures such as shelters. But that, as Jonathan Tobin wrote last week, is because Hamas deliberately opted to invest all its efforts in offensive capabilities rather than measures to protect its own people. It prefers taking Israeli lives to saving Palestinian ones. And this preference has only bolstered Hamas’s popularity.

This seeming anomaly is explained by Zakout’s insight: To many Palestinians, human dignity comes not from bettering their own lives, but from worsening Israelis’ lives. Or as a Hamas parliamentarian succinctly put it, “We desire Death, as you desire Life.”

And as long as Palestinians derive their sense of human dignity from killing Israelis, peace will never be possible.

Read Less

Islamic State’s Reality Check on Dhimmitude

Dhimmi are non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state who are allowed to remain in exchange for paying the jizyah, a tax imposed on non-Muslims. As the Prophet Muhammad conquered a new empire, large numbers of Christians, Jews, and others found themselves living under the Islamic Empire’s rule, subject to the jizyah and the limitations of dhimmi status.

Read More

Dhimmi are non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state who are allowed to remain in exchange for paying the jizyah, a tax imposed on non-Muslims. As the Prophet Muhammad conquered a new empire, large numbers of Christians, Jews, and others found themselves living under the Islamic Empire’s rule, subject to the jizyah and the limitations of dhimmi status.

Fast forward almost 1,400 years: Academics today who cover Islamic civilizations and history almost uniformly teach that early Islamic rule was enlightened. If they cover the jizyah and “dhimmitude” at all, they are soft-pedaled. Rather than conquer by the sword, most residents of those areas brought into the Islamic Empire joined voluntarily, it is said.

Certainly, a few authors have taken on the notion of dhimmitude and the whitewashed narrative peddled in Islamic studies courses and texts. Egyptian-born British writer Gisèle Littman, for example, writing under the pseudonym Bat Ye’or, penned Islam and Dhimmitude back in 2001, providing a precise and critically acclaimed study of the subjugation of Jews and Christians in Islamic lands. Likewise, Andrew Bostom’s The Legacy of Jihad provides crucial context and fills out the historical record by including non-Arabic sources which describe subjugation from the point of view of those suffering under Islamic domination. Nevertheless, Bat Ye’or and Bostom remain rare on university syllabuses in courses taught by professors who prefer not to challenge the dominant narrative. Others prefer to seize upon controversial or careless remarks by those focused on the treatment of religious minorities in Islamic history to disqualify the author’s entire body of work. Critics do this deliberately when they cannot counter effectively the historical facts cited or sources revealed.

Perhaps if there’s any silver lining to events in Mosul, where the self-appointed caliph of the Islamic State, Abubakr al-Baghdadi, has demanded Christians pay the jizyah, convert, or die, it will be to force scholars to rethink the benevolent narrative which they often embrace of early Islamic conversions and successive caliphates and Islamic empires’ treatment of minorities. There is nothing benevolent, enlightened, or non-violent about denial of religious freedom or liberty, nor is forcing religious minorities into second-class status on the basis of their faith ever anything other than oppression, plain and simple.

It would be wrong to castigate the Islamic empire and reign of Muhammad, his successor rashidun caliphs, or the Umayyad and early Abbasid dynasties completely. But it is as wrong to whitewash them. Perhaps it is time for a little less hagiography toward Islamic history in American and European institutions, and a little more common sense.

Read Less

Will Kerry Hand Hamas a Victory?

Four days into Israel’s ground operations in Gaza casualties are rising on both sides, but the only ones who seems to be cracking under the pressure are President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. While Hamas remains confident that it can bank on international support and Israel’s government seems determined not to kick the can down the road any further with respect to the ongoing threat from the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, the administration may be panicking and about to make yet another mistake that will sow the seeds for more suffering in the future.

Read More

Four days into Israel’s ground operations in Gaza casualties are rising on both sides, but the only ones who seems to be cracking under the pressure are President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. While Hamas remains confident that it can bank on international support and Israel’s government seems determined not to kick the can down the road any further with respect to the ongoing threat from the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, the administration may be panicking and about to make yet another mistake that will sow the seeds for more suffering in the future.

Secretary Kerry’s hot-mic moment when he sarcastically mocked Israeli efforts to destroy part of Hamas’s underground tunnel complex in Shejaiya was a telling moment in the conflict. Once back live on the air, Kerry reiterated support for Israel’s right to self-defense. But the comments, along with President Obama’s statement of “serious concern” about the casualties from the operation against the Hamas fortress, was the backdrop for the decision to send the secretary of state back to Cairo today to work on a cease-fire. While in principle that seems like the right thing to do at a moment when the conflict is heating up, it is difficult to escape the impression that Kerry’s mission is more an opportunity for an unforced error by Washington–one that will allow Hamas to emerge from the fray with a victory–than a mission of mercy.

Hamas was correct in its estimation that provoking a ground invasion would produce Palestinian casualties that fueled the fire of anti-Israel sentiment across the globe. Armed with the backing of Qatar, Turkey, and radical Islamists across the region as well as bolstered by the sympathy of international opinion that can always be counted on to damn any Israeli measure of self-defense even when the Jewish state is being assailed by rockets and tunnel infiltrations, Hamas believes it can simply stand its ground. The longer the bloody battle to disarm the Islamist terror movement that rules Gaza goes on, the more Palestinian human shields will die. That, in turn, will raise the pressure on Egypt to open up its border with Gaza and end the political and economic isolation that has hampered the terror group since the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo last year.

However, Hamas may have, for once, underestimated the resolve of both Israel’s government and its people. Prime Minister Netanyahu was slow to order the ground operation despite being given ample reason to send in troops once Hamas started launching hundreds of rockets at Israeli cities. He also gave Hamas ample opportunities to stand down and accept cease-fires that the Islamists consistently rejected. But once the die was cast, the prime minister seems to be serious about not repeating the mistakes his country made in the recent past whereby it gave Hamas the impression that there was nothing it could do that would be enough to prompt a decision to take out the group’s terror infrastructure. The methodical offensive appears to be doing serious damage to Hamas’s capacity to inflict terror on Israel. If it is allowed to continue, there is a chance that Israel will finally land a lethal blow against the group that is the real obstacle to peace in the region.

Just as important as Netanyahu’s resolve is the reaction of Israel’s people to the crisis. It is likely that Hamas believed Israelis too fearful of paying the high price in blood–both in terms of its own soldiers and Palestinians–to significantly impact the strategic equation along the Gaza border. But so far, despite the frayed nerves of people tired of having to run for bomb shelters and horrified by the loss of life in the fighting, support for the government appears to be strong. A visit to Israel’s southern region showed me that despite the best efforts of Hamas, life is going on even in the areas that have been most affected. Moreover, the faces of the busloads of Israeli reservists who are being shipped into the area of the border showed that the country’s citizen soldiers remain committed to doing what must be done to ensure their country’s safety. If Hamas thought Netanyahu was too politically weak to make hard decisions or that Israelis would turn on him and succumb to foreign pressure, it may have made a crucial mistake.

But that resolve is not shared by Israel’s American ally. Though nothing would do more to pave the way for a renewed peace process with the Palestinians that both Obama and Kerry have ceaselessly advocated than the weakening or the elimination of Hamas, neither man appears to have the intestinal fortitude to unwaveringly back an operation that would do just that. For months Washington has been sending mixed messages to the region that have encouraged the Islamists to believe the U.S.-Israel alliance was weakening as blame for the collapse of Kerry’s negotiations was placed solely on Israel despite the fact that it was the Palestinian Authority’s decision to embrace Hamas that finally ended that fool’s errand. Moreover, by constantly carping about Israel’s counter-attacks after Hamas launched the current war, the administration has encouraged the terrorists to believe that the U.S. won’t let them be defeated.

Thus Kerry’s decision to fly to Cairo to work on a cease-fire is exactly the news that Hamas wanted to hear. They have already made it clear they don’t care how many Palestinians die in the conflict they provoked so long as the end result grants them the political concessions from Egypt that will further their cause. They know that if the U.S. was not prepared to pressure the Egyptian government to throw Hamas a bone or to force Israel to stop operations aimed at eliminating their rocket arsenal and blowing up their underground fortresses, there was no reason for Kerry to come to the region. A cease-fire that would grant Hamas no political victories didn’t require the personal presence of the secretary in Cairo. But by bending to the usual hypocritical international outcry against any Israeli attempt to take out the terror nest on their border, the administration is signalling that it won’t let Netanyahu take out Hamas or allow Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi to stand his ground about sealing his country’s border against infiltration from an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood he deposed.

Were Obama and Kerry prepared to show the kind of resolve that Netanyahu and Sisi have exhibited it would be very bad news indeed for Hamas and its foreign cheerleaders that continue to nurture delusions about Israel’s destruction. Instead, the U.S. appears to be as clueless as ever about the stakes involved in this fight and cracking under the pressure generated by the Palestinians sacrificed by Hamas on the altar of their jihadist mission. If so, the price paid by both Israelis and Palestinians in the future will be considerable.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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