Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 30, 2014

Gaza Fighting Proves J Street’s Irrelevance

Pity poor J Street. As Israelis seek to defend themselves against Hamas rockets and terrorist tunnels, the left-wing lobby finds itself in a tough spot. Its flagging bid for mainstream support has caused it to try and craft a low-key position of support for Israeli self-defense. But that nuanced stance is causing many of J Street’s supporters to abandon the organization for those groups that take sides against Israel.

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Pity poor J Street. As Israelis seek to defend themselves against Hamas rockets and terrorist tunnels, the left-wing lobby finds itself in a tough spot. Its flagging bid for mainstream support has caused it to try and craft a low-key position of support for Israeli self-defense. But that nuanced stance is causing many of J Street’s supporters to abandon the organization for those groups that take sides against Israel.

As the Forward noted today, J Street has tried not to repeat the mistake it made in 2008 when the group publicly opposed Israel’s efforts to suppress Hamas rocket fire during Operation Cast Lead. The position was very much in character with J Street’s ideology that sees Israel as the obstacle to peace rather than the Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. But the group that at that time harbored an ambition to replace AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community learned its lesson after it was condemned for this outrageous decision by a wide spectrum of American Jews, including many liberal leaders. During subsequent crises J Street has avoided open condemnations of Israeli actions while still failing to play the sort of role in mobilizing support for an embattled Jewish state that other more mainstream groups take as a matter of course.

As Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post last week, J Street refused to take part in a communal pro-Israel rally organized by the Boston Jewish federation. Nor did J Street chose to co-sponsor a similar rally in New York. He said these actions sounded the “death knell for J Street” as a group that sought to be considered as part of the pro-Israel community. But the irony is that sort of moral cowardice isn’t enough for many, if not most J Street supporters who are uncomfortable with the way the group has sought to neither condemn nor fully support Israel’s campaign in Gaza.

As the Forward reported, even as J Street avoided being seen at pro-Israel rallies, their members are playing a prominent role in organizing protests against the Jewish state. Many have joined #ifnotnow, a new ad hoc group dedicated to opposing Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Even worse for J Street is the trend that was also discussed in a separate Forward article which reported that many of the group’s adherents are leaving it to join the openly anti-Zionist Jewish Voices for Peace. That group, which serves as the Jewish front for BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—campaigns against Israel is profiting from the situation since many on the left prefer its unadulterated venom directed against the Jewish state to J Street’s more equivocal positions.

While no one should be shedding any tears about J Street’s dilemma, their troubles do illustrate a key point about the ongoing battle to defend Israel.

J Street came into existence in part as a cheering section for Obama administration pressure against Israel. But it was also a manifestation of the old left-right debate in Israel and the United States between those who supported “land for peace” as the solution to the conflict with the Palestinians and those who opposed the idea. J Street’s belief that Israel needed to take risks for peace might have made sense in 1992 before Oslo, the second intifada, and three Palestinian refusals of Israeli offers of statehood. But after 20 years during which Israel has traded land not for peace but for terror, J Street’s positions aren’t so much wrong as they are irrelevant. That’s why Israel’s political left that once dominated the country’s politics is now marginalized and rejected by an electorate that backs the Netanyahu government’s actions in Gaza by a 9-1 margin.

The real battle for Israel now isn’t the old one about where its borders should be placed or whether settlements are good or bad but whether there should be a Jewish state or if it has a right to defend itself. In that struggle, J Street’s tepid Zionism doesn’t resonate with the mainstream community and is of little interest to leftists who prefer open-Israel bashers like JVP.

J Street once thought it would become the main address for Jewish activism. But recent events have shown that J Street’s moment has passed. Those who wish to support Israel in its life and death struggle against Hamas terrorists who seek its destruction will always gravitate toward groups that don’t pull their punches when it comes to defending the Jewish state. At the same time, J Street’s base on the left is following celebrity Israel-bashers and abandoning it to join with those who are playing into Hamas’s hands by claiming it is wrong to shoot back at the terrorists. In this environment, organizations that won’t take a clear side in this fight will soon find themselves historical relics of a bygone era that will never return.

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Israel, Bipartisanship, and the Blame Game

How should pro-Israel Democrats respond to the fact that support for Israel in their party is dropping? That question has renewed relevance with the latest polls showing increasing disapproval of Israel within the Democratic Party. Last week’s Gallup poll showed that Democrats do not think Israel’s actions in Gaza are justified by a 47-31 percent tally. And this week’s Pew poll shows that, astoundingly, Democrats are about evenly divided over whether Israel or Hamas is most responsible for the current violence. (Both polls show Republicans broadly support Israel.)

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How should pro-Israel Democrats respond to the fact that support for Israel in their party is dropping? That question has renewed relevance with the latest polls showing increasing disapproval of Israel within the Democratic Party. Last week’s Gallup poll showed that Democrats do not think Israel’s actions in Gaza are justified by a 47-31 percent tally. And this week’s Pew poll shows that, astoundingly, Democrats are about evenly divided over whether Israel or Hamas is most responsible for the current violence. (Both polls show Republicans broadly support Israel.)

It’s a trend that has been on the march for some time. For a while liberals denied there was rising disenchantment with Israel on the left, but that became impossible after the Democrats’ 2012 presidential nominating convention, when the party’s delegates loudly booed at and resoundingly voted down adding pro-Israel language to the Democratic Party platform (the language was added over their objections, though it was quite a scene). At that point, a new strategy was needed, since everyone was well aware the Democrats’ traditional support for Israel was in danger of collapsing.

The new strategy has two main elements. The first is to rule out debate on the issue. When you hear Democrats accusing Republicans of using Israel as a political football, you can be sure the left has said or done something objectionable. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf tried that tack again today. In trying to deflect criticism of her boss, Harf said, according to the AP’s Matt Lee, that “Many members of Congress, I think, like to use Israel as a political issue to try to divide the country.” Translation: when the Democrats are in the process of damaging Israel, supporting Israel becomes an unacceptable partisan play.

The other side to this strategy is to then use this supposed partisanship (defending Israel when the Democrats refuse to do so) to justify the Democrats’ turn away from Israel. The latest example of this comes from Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. He concedes the point that having an American native like Ron Dermer as Israel’s ambassador can help communicate Israel’s positions clearly and navigate American politics. But Marshall is troubled by this as well because Dermer has a Republican background:

It should go without saying that the Israel-US alliance becomes more brittle as it becomes more clearly identified with a single US political party. And perhaps more than that, as it becomes more clearly identified with the ties between Netanyahu and US Republicans.

Marshall says, correctly, that it hurts the alliance to have support for Israel as an identifiable characteristic of only one political party. What he doesn’t say is that his party is the one increasingly setting aside that alliance. He hints, instead, that by associating with Republicans Netanyahu is the one who made that choice.

In essence, this line of thinking holds that the Israeli government can only get so much support from Republicans before Democrats will walk away. Marshall is not the first to discuss the situation in such terms. On the eve of the 2012 presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, in making his case for Obama, wrote the following:

Republicans have had a good deal of success turning Israel into a partisan issue, mainly by misrepresenting President Obama’s record (but also helped by certain Obama missteps), and if they continue to press their case, many Democrats will find supporting Israel distasteful — they will lump supporters of Israel in the same category they reserve for climate-change-denying anti-choice Obamacare haters. This would be very dangerous for Israel.

Yes, it would be very dangerous for Israel. But it’s also a profound condemnation, even if unintentional, of Goldberg’s fellow liberals. If they will find voluble support for Israel, which in this case includes criticism of Barack Obama for what they perceive to be his weakening of the alliance, to be enough to convince them not to support Israel, then they are not supporters of Israel: they are leftist partisans.

If they really do support Israel, they would be able to continue supporting Israel even though conservatives get as (or more) animated about their support for Israel as on other important conservative issues. That should go without saying, but it apparently does not. A bipartisan consensus in support of Israel is what is best for both the United States and Israel, which is why that consensus has endured for decades now. And for it to be bipartisan, Democrats will have to get over their distaste for sharing a coalition with Republicans.

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How Deep the Dome, Ms. Grimes?

The news out of the Middle East is pretty grim these days. But it is possible to find some humor even in the midst of war. For that we can thank Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes who told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the Iron Dome missile defense system protected Israel against terrorist tunnels.

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The news out of the Middle East is pretty grim these days. But it is possible to find some humor even in the midst of war. For that we can thank Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes who told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the Iron Dome missile defense system protected Israel against terrorist tunnels.

“Obviously, Israel is one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, and she has the right to defend herself,” Grimes said. “But the loss of life, especially the innocent civilians in Gaza, is a tragedy. The Iron Dome has been a big reason why Israel has been able to withstand the terrorists that have tried to tunnel their way in.

Grimes’s challenge of Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bid for reelection won’t be decided by either candidate’s stands on the Middle East. But Grimes, who has raised a large proportion of her campaign funds from out of state from large Democratic donors, is seeking to portray herself as being a supporter of the bipartisan consensus that supports the State of Israel. Saying you’re a backer of the Jewish state and a supporter of peace doesn’t require much background knowledge or grasp of the nuances of the conflict. But politicians with a tenuous grasp of foreign and defense policy can sometimes get themselves in trouble trying to pretend to be the equal of veteran policymakers like McConnell.

If Grimes is elected this November she probably wouldn’t be the only member of Congress who doesn’t know the difference between missile defense and tunnels, but being caught in a gaffe of this magnitude is embarrassing and leaves her open to satire. The Washington Free Beacon provided a graphic explaining Grimes’s version of Iron Dome that displayed how rockets fired above ground then enter the tunnel where they are then stopped by laser canons.

Of course, Grimes isn’t the first Democrat who didn’t understand the concept of missile defense. A whole generation of liberals that now extol Iron Dome mocked Ronald Reagan for his support of “Star Wars” technology that led to the system that has saved so many Israeli lives in the last month.

But the real lesson here is that rookie politicians make rookie mistakes especially when they don’t know what they’re talking about. If Grimes wants to raise money from pro-Israel donors by discussing the conflict in Gaza, she should take a few minutes to read up on the topic and learn the difference between up and down.

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The Iran Talks’ Gaza Connection

Lost amid the understandable focus on the fighting in Gaza was a major Middle East news story. On July 18, the U.S. and its Western allies agreed to extend the Iran nuclear talks for four months. But rather than the fighting between Hamas and Israel allowing the negotiations to continue under the radar, the events unfolding in Gaza ought to make it harder rather than easier for the Obama administration to evade its obligation to deal with this threat.

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Lost amid the understandable focus on the fighting in Gaza was a major Middle East news story. On July 18, the U.S. and its Western allies agreed to extend the Iran nuclear talks for four months. But rather than the fighting between Hamas and Israel allowing the negotiations to continue under the radar, the events unfolding in Gaza ought to make it harder rather than easier for the Obama administration to evade its obligation to deal with this threat.

The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee groused in public yesterday about the way the Iran talks are proceeding with little public accountability. Both Democratic Chair Senator Robert Menendez and ranking Republican Bob Corker expressed dismay about the way the supposedly finite period for negotiations with Iran had effortlessly transitioned into injury time with every possibility that the four-month period could be extended again in November. There was no appetite on the committee for a rerun of the bruising and losing fight Menendez waged against the administration on behalf of tougher sanctions on Iran in order to strengthen the West’s hand in the talks. Yet the frustration about the P5+1 process is clear.

While their comments didn’t get much attention, Menendez and Corker are right to be worried. More to the point, the Gaza crisis ought to be causing more concern about the Iran talks rather than allowing Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiating team a free pass to continue to work toward an agreement that will both legalize Tehran’s nuclear program and fail to curb its support for terrorism.

It is important to understand that without Iran much of what is happening in Gaza wouldn’t be possible. Iran supplied Hamas with advanced rockets and money for years enabling it to create the infrastructure of terror that has plunged the region into conflict. Iran and Hamas had a very public spat in recent years when the Islamist terrorists chose to oppose Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war. But the breach between the two may be over. Yesterday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he supported replenishing Iran’s arsenal. If, due to international pressure and the desire of the Obama administration to halt the current fighting, Hamas is left standing and in control of Gaza, the odds are good that Khamenei will make good on his pledge.

Economic sanctions on Iran made it harder for the regime to divert money to Hamas as well as to Islamic Jihad, which has stayed in Tehran’s good graces these past few years. But if Kerry gets the deal he is looking for, the sanctions that were weakened in the interim deal concluded last November would be eviscerated. At that point, Hamas may be able to count on refinancing and resupply from Iran as well as from their ally Qatar.

What has this to do with the nuclear talks?

The assumption on the part of most foreign-policy observers is that these are two separate issues. But that belief is a mistake. Iran’s status as the leading state sponsor of international terrorism through its support of Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and perhaps Hamas again makes it imperative that the P5+1 process not limit itself to talks that ignore the threat that Tehran’s auxiliaries pose to the West.

Kerry signed a weak deal with Iran last fall because, as he publicly admitted, the secretary decided sticking to the West’s demands for Iran to dismantle its nuclear program was not possible. Instead, he appeased Iran and granted tacit recognition to their “right” to enrich uranium in exchange for concessions that do little to retard the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions. The willingness of the West to go into overtime with an Iranian negotiating partner that has clearly signaled their unwillingness to agree to measures that would make it impossible for them to build a weapon may herald another retreat by Kerry. If so, that will bring us closer to the day when Iran will not only be able to threaten the West with a nuke after a brief “breakout” period but also hasten the moment when it can extend a nuclear umbrella over its allies in Lebanon and Gaza.

While the prospect of such a dismal outcome to these negotiations raises the possibility that Israel will decide at some point to act on their own to stop the Iranians, it also raises the stakes in Gaza. The U.S. decision not to keep its word about limiting negotiations with Iran makes it even more imperative for Israel not to allow Hamas to escape the current fighting with its arsenal and control of the strip intact. Just as Iran’s nuclear dream poses an existential threat to Israel, the American willingness to kick the can down the road on the nuclear issue makes it more vital that Israel finishes off Hamas now before an end to the blockade and Western appeasement of Tehran changes the strategic equation in Gaza and the Middle East.

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The Media’s Political Tendentiousness Cloaked in Moral Self-Righteousness

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg recently wrote about a subject that has long interested me. It has to do with which issues we decide to get morally outraged about, and which we ignore. In this case, why the intense focus on the Gaza crisis but so little on what’s happening in Syria, where the death toll is so much higher (more than 170,000) and the scale of suffering so much worse? Mr. Goldberg, in sorting through this matter, writes this:

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The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg recently wrote about a subject that has long interested me. It has to do with which issues we decide to get morally outraged about, and which we ignore. In this case, why the intense focus on the Gaza crisis but so little on what’s happening in Syria, where the death toll is so much higher (more than 170,000) and the scale of suffering so much worse? Mr. Goldberg, in sorting through this matter, writes this:

The American media takes at least some of its cues on Syria from the intensity of coverage in the Arab world. The Washington bureau chief of Al-Hayat, Joyce Karam, was one of the few people to notice the weekend death toll in Syria. She tweeted, in reference to anti-Israel protests in Pakistan, “Syria is essentially Gaza x320 death toll, x30 number of refugees, but no protest in Pakistan…”

I asked her why she thought this is so. Her answer: “Only reason I can think of is Muslim killing Muslim or Arab killing Arab seems more acceptable than Israel killing Arabs.”

But why on earth should this be the case? Why is it the case that Arabs killing Arabs on a mass scale is virtually ignored while they focus so much attention on the far fewer Palestinians being killed in the conflict with Israel? Moreover, why does the Western and American media set up their coverage in a way that is meant to indict Israel, even though it’s Hamas which is using innocent Palestinians as human shields in the hopes of increasing the death toll?

The question, I think, virtually answers itself. It is rooted in part in a deep animus toward Israel. Many journalists seem to believe they are moral crusaders in applying heat to Israel. They are, at best, morally confused and, at worst, morally dissolute. It’s quite an indictment of the Western journalists that so many of them direct their outrage at Israel, which is conducting this war with an astonishing degree of humanitarian care, while they are so relatively untroubled by the war crimes and malevolence of Hamas.

We might as well name things for what they are. What’s really going on here isn’t so much compassion for the plight of innocent Arabs; it is using the death of innocent Arabs to advance a political and ideological agenda. If the death of innocent Arabs is a cause that so deeply touches their hearts, Western and American journalists would be paying far more attention to what is happening in Syria (and not just Syria) than what is happening in Gaza. They’re not. Which tells you all you need to know.

Political tendentiousness is bad enough; when it’s cloaked in moral self-righteousness, it’s even harder to take.

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If Hamas Survives, Forget About Peace … Or Quiet

As the fighting in Gaza continues with no lasting cease-fire in sight, some of the discussion about this war has shifted to whether Israel can or should seek to depose its Hamas enemies altogether. This is a debate that is long overdue.

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As the fighting in Gaza continues with no lasting cease-fire in sight, some of the discussion about this war has shifted to whether Israel can or should seek to depose its Hamas enemies altogether. This is a debate that is long overdue.

In Haaretz, Benny Morris suggests that while he doesn’t expect it to happen, sooner or later Israel must take on the unpleasant task of defeating Hamas once and for all. Our Max Boot disagrees since he believes the casualties that would inevitably result from such a long and bloody struggle would be prohibitive for Israel. More than that, he argues that in the absence of a viable alternative to Hamas to run Gaza, Israel really has no choice but to let the Islamists remain in place when the current round of fighting ends at some point.

While I think Max’s two objections to Morris’s suggestion provide a formidable rationale for a decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to call a halt to his country’s counter-offensive, I have to come down on the other side of this argument. A long battle to take down Hamas would be costly. Nor can Israel be certain of what would follow. But a failure to end the rocket and terror tunnel threat from Gaza now would be an even costlier mistake that Netanyahu and his successors would regret.

Prior to the current outbreak and even after the rocket fire from Gaza resumed this month I was among those who thought Israel would never consider retaking control of the strip. But like most wars, this one has changed the way both sides looked at the conflict. Israelis now see that the tunnel city underneath Gaza is no minor nuisance but a strategic threat that will require a major commitment of forces to contain if Hamas is allowed to reconstruct even a portion of its terror infrastructure. Though the Iron Dome missile defense system has prevented the thousands of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza from causing many casualties, it is a misnomer to assume that it provides a complete answer to that danger. Whether or not a single rocket ever kills an Israeli, Hamas has forced two-thirds of the population of Israel to spend part of their lives in bomb shelters. With thousands of rockets still left in their possession, Israel cannot contemplate a cease-fire that would allow Hamas to resume this ordeal at any future time of their choosing. And anything short of their elimination will ensure that this is exactly what they will do.

Moreover, even much of the Israeli left now understands that there can be no compromise with Hamas. Any thoughts that the unity pact signed this spring with Fatah would moderate their positions are now seen as absurd. As Morris rightly points out, this round of fighting is not just the latest tit-for-tat in a cycle of violence but rather the natural result from an ideological commitment to shedding the blood of Israelis in a never-ending war to destroy the Jewish state. When Hamas says it is the “resistance” to the “occupation,” its spokesmen are not referring to the West Bank but pre-1967 Israel. Though both Netanyahu and the people of Israel would have preferred to offer Hamas “quiet for quiet” and to end the fighting weeks ago, the tunnels and the weeks of rocket fire leave them no alternative but to seek a conclusion to this problem. While pundits are fond of saying that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a political rather than a military solution, so long as Hamas is in power that is simply not true.

If Israel is to have quiet and have any hope of peace in the long run, Hamas has to go. While they rule Gaza, not only is a two-state solution off the table; any assurance that normal life in the territories or much of Israel can be counted on is also not possible.

Max is right that the cost of taking out Hamas will be terrible. But the assumption that Israelis are not willing to pay that price may no longer be valid. Every poll of opinion in Israel now shows that up to 90 percent of the people support the war and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict. More importantly, the vast majority also believe it would be a mistake to stop the fighting before the country’s security is assured.

Few would have believed that such results were possible even in a time of peace. But for Israelis to take this position after weeks of fighting during the course of which they have lost dozens of soldiers—each death being a traumatizing event for the small country where the majority of young people serve in the army—shows that there has been a major shift in opinion on the subject. Israelis from across the political spectrum are no longer willing to be held hostage to the caprices of a band of Islamist murderers bent on destroying them. While no one can be sure how long this consensus will hold, Netanyahu clearly has the support he needs to carry on with this vital mission for the foreseeable future.

Max’s suggestion that the example of America’s lack of a post-Saddam scenario in Iraq should give Israel pause is also very much to the point. There is no question that Netanyahu will have to answer objections that center on the question of what will follow Hamas in Gaza. But the possible answers to this question are not such a mystery even if none of them are attractive.

The most logical answer is the Palestinian Authority. After all, the PA ran Gaza along with most of the West Bank prior to Hamas’s bloody 2007 coup. The return of the PA would end the blockade that Israel, Egypt, and most of the international community placed on the strip after the terror group took power there. Such an outcome would also make it possible for talks about a two-state solution to resume. It is precisely the justified fear on the part of most Israelis that the West Bank would become another Hamasistan that makes territorial withdrawal there unlikely even in the unlikely event that Fatah and its leader Mahmoud Abbas recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Would the PA be able to fend off an Islamist insurgency in Gaza? It might be difficult, but I think the answer is yes and the West Bank provides a precedent. Hamas could never have ousted Abbas in Gaza had not Ariel Sharon removed Israel’s army and all the settlements in 2005. Joint Israel-PA security cooperation has kept a lid, albeit a shaky one, on the West Bank as it did in Gaza prior to 2005. There is no reason to believe they would fail in Gaza now.

Benny Morris is merely echoing a developing Israeli consensus about Gaza when he says there is no alternative to finishing off Hamas. Just as there is no reason for the U.S. to compromise with al-Qaeda, neither is there any logical or ethical rationale for a continuation of Hamas’s rule in Gaza. Putting off a conclusion to this war will only lead to more suffering for both Israelis and Palestinians.

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The Democrats’ Qatar Delusion

The reason John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal was so soundly rejected is because it did two very dangerous things. The first was that it would have tied Israel’s hands with regard to destroying the Hamas tunnels, the existence of which has had a deep psychological effect on Israeli society. (A good example comes from Israel’s Yediot Achronot newspaper, via Yaacov Lozowick, here: a front-page photo of a tunnel exit opening up into a child’s bedroom, with the tagline “Monsters do Exist.”) But the second is important as well.

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The reason John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal was so soundly rejected is because it did two very dangerous things. The first was that it would have tied Israel’s hands with regard to destroying the Hamas tunnels, the existence of which has had a deep psychological effect on Israeli society. (A good example comes from Israel’s Yediot Achronot newspaper, via Yaacov Lozowick, here: a front-page photo of a tunnel exit opening up into a child’s bedroom, with the tagline “Monsters do Exist.”) But the second is important as well.

Kerry had signaled that he was prepared to replace traditional interlocutors in the region–chiefly Egypt, though Cairo tends to speak for others who prefer to stay behind the scenes–with Qatar. This would be a monumental strategic error, one of the worst (of the many) the Obama administration has committed so far. The strange aspect of this indefensible mistake is that Qatar–a prime supporter of terrorists and of the region’s bad actors who subvert American interests at every chance–has nobody fooled except the Obama administration and its Democratic congressional allies.

Making the rounds the last couple of days has been this clip of Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said the following about Qatar and Hamas:

“[T]his has to be something where we try to have the two-state solution, that we have to support…(Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud) Abbas and his role as a leader there. We have to support Iron Dome to protect the Israelis from the missiles. We have to support the Palestinians and what they need. And we have to confer with the Qataris, who have told me over and over again that Hamas is a humanitarian organization, maybe they could use their influence to–”

Crowley interrupted her to ask: “The U.S. thinks they’re a terrorist organization though, correct? Do you?”

Pelosi responded: “Mmm hmm.”

Here’s a clue for Pelosi: when you start a thought with “the Qataris … have told me” what follows is likely to make you look extraordinarily silly. Is Hamas a terrorist organization? Of course it is. Pelosi doesn’t seem too sure about that, so she’s asked the Qataris and they vouch for them as a humanitarian organization. Now, it’s true that Pelosi isn’t setting American foreign policy, something for which the universe can be eternally grateful. But the fact that Pelosi even went on CNN to repeat what Hamas’s patrons told her about Hamas’s humanitarianism shows the extent to which the current Democratic leadership–and virtually no one else–has been fooled by Qatar.

It’s tempting to dismiss Pelosi because, well, she’s Nancy Pelosi. But here’s a terrifying thought: if Nancy Pelosi were running America’s Mideast policy, it would look a lot like the pyromania-in-a-dry-forest we’re seeing now from Kerry. And at the center of that diplomatic arson is Qatar.

It’s unclear why the Obama administration and its congressional Democratic allies have fallen for Qatar’s act when no one else has. Criticism of Qatar over its promotion of extremism in the region is not exactly limited to the hawkish right. Here is Foreign Policy chief David Rothkopf this morning: “Expecting Qatar to help solve Gaza crisis is like expecting a tobacco company to help you stop smoking.” He was reacting to a CNN op-ed by Sultan al-Qassemi, who wrote:

The truth is that Qatar’s overall strategy with the Muslim Brotherhood has failed miserably: It resulted in the alienation of the Brotherhood in Egypt — so much so that the group was ousted from power in a popularly-backed military coup, and meant that many Egyptians were indifferent to the bloody massacre of the group’s members that followed.

Qatari support for Muslim Brotherhood affiliates elsewhere in the region, such as Libya, Jordan, and Tunisia, has also backfired resulting in them being sidelined from power. All of this adds to quite an unfortunate year for the Gulf emirate.

Qatar’s continuous financial and media support for the Muslim Brotherhood through the once-popular Al Jazeera Arabic, the 24-hour, Egypt-centric Mubasher Misr, which largely reflects a Muslim Brotherhood perspective, and a slew of new Qatari-backed Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated news websites based in London, have further poisoned relations between Qatar and Egypt.

Israeli leaders can understand the American president’s desire for an immediate cessation of hostilities, even if they don’t agree with it. But the idea that Washington has decided to run Western policy through Qatar has left anyone who understands the Middle East completely puzzled. It would mark a significant shift and would signal to those in the region who rely on America that they’ll need to start, if they haven’t already, making backup plans.

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Gaza’s Future

The Israeli historian Benny Morris has a tough-minded article in Haaretz that is worth pondering.

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The Israeli historian Benny Morris has a tough-minded article in Haaretz that is worth pondering.

He notes that before long Israel will end its military operations in the Gaza Strip and Hamas will start rebuilding. “In a few months, the tunnels leading into Israeli territory will resume operation and the missile stockpiles will be replenished, perhaps with new and improved homemade models (or even smuggled ones). Therefore, the next war will surely come.”

Morris is surely right. Hamas remains dedicated to Israel’s destruction and it remains intent on keeping its grip on Gaza. What can or should Israel do about it?

He suggests, correctly I think, that truly defeating Hamas would “require months of combat, during which the Strip will be cleansed, neighborhood by neighborhood, of Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives and armaments.” He concedes that such operations “will exact a serious price in lives from both Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Palestinian civilians,” but he argues that Israel has no other choice and he bemoans the unwillingness of Israeli society to pay the toll in blood required to win this war. He writes:

In recent decades, Israeli governments and the Israeli people have turned into carbon copies of the West: All they want is peace and to hide their heads in the sand; there’s no willingness to sacrifice soldiers (and no willingness to exact a heavy price in blood from the enemy’s civilians), even if it’s clear that the price today – in terms of both our soldiers and their civilians – would be lower than it will be in the future.

There is something to this analysis–a lot, actually–but it is incomplete. It is true that Israel, like the U.S., is casualty-conscious (reluctant not only to lose its own citizens but even to inflict heavy losses on the other side) and that our enemies exploit this mindset. But even if Israel were willing to engage in the hard and bloody task of defeating Hamas, the inevitable question comes: What next? What entity will next rule the Gaza Strip? To this Morris does not have a convincing answer: “After gaining control of Gaza, it must be hoped that some moderate Arab power, perhaps the Palestinian Authority, will take over the reins of government.”

“Some moderate Arab power”? It’s hard to imagine any power wanting to occupy Gaza. Certainly Egypt, which once ruled it, wants no part of it today. The only realistic alternative is the Palestinian Authority, but it has already lost a power struggle with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and there is little reason to think it would be strong enough to suppress Hamas even after an Israeli invasion.

The “post Hamas, what?” question is one that I think is a major deterrent to the kind of action that Morris advocates, probably an even bigger deterrent than fear of casualties in clearing operations. Actually, support for the war in Israel has soared even as IDF casualties have mounted. But Israelis remember how easily they got into Lebanon in 1982 and how hard it was to get out. They don’t want to repeat that experience. The U.S. invasion of Iraq provides a similar cautionary lesson; the U.S. had no firm idea who would replace Saddam Hussein and wound up getting sucked into a costly war.

Unless someone in Israel can figure out what comes after Hamas, the Israeli government will, for better or worse, leave Hamas in place after the current round of fighting.

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Why the Kidnapping Business Is Booming

If you’re afraid of raising your blood pressure, you probably shouldn’t read two articles out today, in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, about how Europeans are subsidizing al-Qaeda with millions of dollars in ransom paid for the release of their hostages.

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If you’re afraid of raising your blood pressure, you probably shouldn’t read two articles out today, in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, about how Europeans are subsidizing al-Qaeda with millions of dollars in ransom paid for the release of their hostages.

The Times account by reporter Rukmini Callimachi is particularly detailed and especially enraging. It reports that al-Qaeda and its affiliates have earned $125 million to $165 million since 2008 in kidnapping ransoms. “These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funneled the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid.”

This has now become the major source of funding for three al-Qaeda affiliates in particular: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (North Africa), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen), and Shabab (Somalia). “Put more bluntly,” Callimachi writes, “Europe has become an inadvertent underwriter of Al Qaeda.”

These al-Qaeda affiliates have stopped routinely killing Western hostages as al-Qaeda in Iraq used to do, because it is so much more lucrative to keep them alive. In fact these al-Qaeda groups coordinate their hostage-taking procedures, often helped by al-Qaeda central in Pakistan, with the actual pick-up of hostages contracted out to criminal gangs and with everyone along the way (including hostage negotiators) receiving a cut of the profits. This is big business, “and business is booming: While in 2003 the kidnappers received around $200,000 per hostage, now they are netting up to $10 million, money that the second in command of Al Qaeda’s central leadership recently described as accounting for as much as half of his operating revenue.”

Only the U.S. and Britain, it seems, are refusing to play along. While President Obama released Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. is not willing to pay money for hostages. Thus U.S. and British captives can expect to be killed or held indefinitely. But their principled stance has no impact in discouraging hostage-taking because the kidnappers know that the European states are such easy marks.

It’s hard to better the summary provided by a former U.S. ambassador to Mali, Vicki Huddleston. “The Europeans have a lot to answer for,” she told the Times. “It’s a completely two-faced policy. They pay ransoms and then deny any was paid.” She added, “The danger of this is not just that it grows the terrorist movement, but it makes all of our citizens vulnerable.”

And just when I thought I could not get any more disgusted with European policy–it’s bad enough that they subsidize Vladimir Putin, subsidizing al-Qaeda is even worse.

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John Kerry’s Ostentatiously Hurt Feelings

My column for the New York Post is on the continuing spectacle of John Kerry getting offended by what Israelis say about him and making a public show of it—and how speaking in his defense has become a strange habit for the administration of a nation vastly more powerful and important than the one that keeps hurting his feelings. Read More

My column for the New York Post is on the continuing spectacle of John Kerry getting offended by what Israelis say about him and making a public show of it—and how speaking in his defense has become a strange habit for the administration of a nation vastly more powerful and important than the one that keeps hurting his feelings.

Excerpt:

He’s a big boy. But there are those who seem to feel otherwise, that Kerry is a fragile and tender reed in need of delicate care — people who work for and with him. Not to mention Kerry himself.

Over the course of the past year, on several occasions, Kerry and other staffers have taken to whining — not sure there’s a nicer word — over how unfairly he’s being written and talked about in Israel.

In January, after Israel’s defense minister was twice quoted speaking disparagingly about Kerry’s peace-process efforts and his nuclear diplomacy with Iran, Kerry actually called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to complain.

The rest is here.

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