Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Orders: Politics, Not Compassion

President Obama was at his rhetorical best Thursday night in making an eloquent case for his executive orders that allow five million illegal immigrants to avoid deportation. But his eloquence invoking compassion for immigrants was the worst kind of cynical game being used to justify an unprecedented presidential usurpation of power. Even if one accepted the arguments he employed on behalf of fixing our broken immigration system or being fair to illegals, it was all beside the point. The purpose of this exercise was to vastly expand the scope of presidential power while provoking a confrontation with Republicans. None of it had much to do with actually changing the system.

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President Obama was at his rhetorical best Thursday night in making an eloquent case for his executive orders that allow five million illegal immigrants to avoid deportation. But his eloquence invoking compassion for immigrants was the worst kind of cynical game being used to justify an unprecedented presidential usurpation of power. Even if one accepted the arguments he employed on behalf of fixing our broken immigration system or being fair to illegals, it was all beside the point. The purpose of this exercise was to vastly expand the scope of presidential power while provoking a confrontation with Republicans. None of it had much to do with actually changing the system.

There are good reasons to support changes in the system. The status of the 11 million illegals in this country needs to be resolved in some rational manner. The president is right to state that mass deportations are both unlikely and undesirable. Even if they violated the law, many, if not most of the illegals are not bad people and some of their stories should inspire compassion from Americans.

But by acting unilaterally rather than returning to the hard work of crafting a bipartisan compromise on immigration with the new Republican majorities in Congress, Obama showed that he had other motives besides his supposed passion for the illegals.

The president’s argument remains that he is being forced to act because House Republicans refused to pass the bipartisan compromise bill passed by the Senate. This is a specious appeal for four reasons.

The first is that even if the Senate bill deserved support, it is the prerogative of the Congress to pass laws. The president may advocate, lobby, cajole, threaten, or bargain with members to get his way. But if the executive branch fails to get the legislative branch to approve measures, it must accept the verdict and try again. Such a failure does not grant the president the right to usurp Congress.

Second, this is no emergency that required immediate action. Comparisons to the Emancipation Proclamation or wartime emergency measures are absurd. If it were a genuine emergency, Obama would have acted on it during his first two years in office when he had Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and could have gotten any measure he liked. He might also have issued these orders at any time since then but instead waited until he was safely reelected and then for the midterms to be finished before acting.

Third, seen from the perspective of November 2014, it is clear the House was right not to pass the Senate bill. Though I did not think so at the time, the impulse to break up the measure and to pass border security legislation first and then and only then consider the future of the illegals already here was correct. Despite the president’s claims that the border is secure, last summer’s surge of illegals proved otherwise. Moreover, his boasts about the supposed decline in illegal immigration has little to do with the still shaky enforcement at the border and everything to do with the shaky economic recovery the president has presided over. Even worse, it is likely that today’s temporary amnesty—which may be reversed by the next president—will encourage another such surge. The same thing happened after President Reagan’s amnesty and that was not nearly so egregious as Obama’s and an attempt to clarify a law passed by Congress, not an end run around the Constitution.

Fourth, if, as he says, he wants a new bill, the only way to achieve any kind of reform would have been to work with the new Congress. Chances were admittedly slim for a new compromise but the president’s orders have now reduced it to zero. Hispanics and immigration-reform advocates applauding these orders should think about the fact that with a stroke of a pen, Obama has made it impossible for any Republican, no matter how committed to fixing the system, to vote for a new bill in the next two years. That is a greater setback for that cause than anything done by House Republicans in the past two years.

And that leads us to the most important conclusion to be drawn from the president’s move. It must be understood that this is as much a tactical political move as it an attempt to build a legacy as some of the president’s defenders claim.

By issuing his orders now in the wake of the Democrats’ drubbing in the midterms, Obama is attempting to take back the initiative from a victorious GOP. Despite the pious rhetoric he used about bipartisanship, his goal here is to goad a rightly furious Republican caucus into overreacting and to recreate the government shutdown confrontation of 2013 that he rightly believes himself to have won. In doing so, he hopes, with the help of a partisan liberal media that is already happily defending his measures and lambasting conservative anger, to gain an advantage in the latest episode of the pointless partisan squabbling that he has helped to engender.

By going outside of the constitutional order in this manner, the president has created a dangerous precedent that undermines both the rule of law and the concept of separation of powers. One may even agree with the substance of his ideas while also understanding that this is a radical action that puts more power in the hands of an already too-powerful executive branch.

But the fact that Democrats are already seeking to depict this struggle as one between a compassionate president and Republicans who want “ethnic cleansing” illustrates that this merely politics, not principle at play. Those who hoped they were electing a Congress to get things done were not wrong to think the new majorities had an opportunity to legislate. But President Obama has made that impossible by firing the first shot in a political war intended to further polarize the nation. Nothing could be more cynical or less high-minded.

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The Weird Logic of Obama’s Immigration Speech

Tonight, the president announced unilateral changes in the enforcement of immigration law that will essentially create renewable (and therefore effectively permanent) residency and work rights for  5 million illegals. There have been, and will be, many blogposts on this site discussing the procedural and Constitutional problems with the president’s approach. For now, I want to concentrate on the logic of the president’s own speech. Simply put, the president offers no explanation for why he is ordering these changes only for 5 million of the nearly 12 million illegals in the United States. Everything he said in his speech about the value of immigrants, and the need to show kindness to the stranger, ought in theory to apply to any illegal but a criminal. But Obama has limited its reach to people who have been here for several years and have children who are American citizens. This means either his arguments are disingenuous, or he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions, or he’s calibrating his responses to satisfy a political constituency without causing a wholesale eruption inside the country. Or all three.

Tonight, the president announced unilateral changes in the enforcement of immigration law that will essentially create renewable (and therefore effectively permanent) residency and work rights for  5 million illegals. There have been, and will be, many blogposts on this site discussing the procedural and Constitutional problems with the president’s approach. For now, I want to concentrate on the logic of the president’s own speech. Simply put, the president offers no explanation for why he is ordering these changes only for 5 million of the nearly 12 million illegals in the United States. Everything he said in his speech about the value of immigrants, and the need to show kindness to the stranger, ought in theory to apply to any illegal but a criminal. But Obama has limited its reach to people who have been here for several years and have children who are American citizens. This means either his arguments are disingenuous, or he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions, or he’s calibrating his responses to satisfy a political constituency without causing a wholesale eruption inside the country. Or all three.

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From Our October Issue: “Obama’s Con Law”

If you want to understand what’s happening with the president’s behavior on the immigration issue and the 40 years of law theory leading up to it, you should read David Bernstein’s article from our October issue called “Obama’s Con Law.” Here’s the link.

If you want to understand what’s happening with the president’s behavior on the immigration issue and the 40 years of law theory leading up to it, you should read David Bernstein’s article from our October issue called “Obama’s Con Law.” Here’s the link.

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Did Obama Unite the GOP on Immigration?

Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen provided a moment of levity at a Secret Service hearing yesterday when he suggested that a moat might make a good upgrade for White House security. He backtracked today, saying he didn’t mean a moat-moat, just a water barrier of some sort. But the timing, as President Obama was feeling his monarchical oats, was impeccable. Indeed, this president’s preference for the authority of an elected kingship shows how Obama may have misjudged the Republican reaction to executive amnesty.

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Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen provided a moment of levity at a Secret Service hearing yesterday when he suggested that a moat might make a good upgrade for White House security. He backtracked today, saying he didn’t mean a moat-moat, just a water barrier of some sort. But the timing, as President Obama was feeling his monarchical oats, was impeccable. Indeed, this president’s preference for the authority of an elected kingship shows how Obama may have misjudged the Republican reaction to executive amnesty.

In the past, Obama has been fairly skilled in dividing Republicans against themselves, especially on the issue of immigration. And one might have expected something similar this time as well. Republicans are not, after all, of one mind in how to respond to the executive action he plans to announce tonight. Obama has twice scuttled immigration reform, once as senator and prospective presidential candidate and once as president as well, because the issue was thought to hurt Republicans with Hispanic voters.

The issue also seemed to weaken the Republican presidential fields. In 2012 Rick Perry stumbled badly over an immigration question at a primary debate and never really recovered. And for 2016, prospective candidates found themselves on different sides of the issue: Marco Rubio helped get comprehensive immigration reform through the Senate, Rand Paul wavered but ultimately voted against it, and Ted Cruz was opposed.

That, and the fact that reform died in the House anyway, was a setback for Rubio. The Florida senator had since recovered some of his earlier momentum thanks in part to the president’s vast array of foreign-policy blunders, and the president’s executive amnesty is likely to help the two GOP rising stars who voted for immigration reform last year: Rubio and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte.

Immigration hawks will still remember their votes for the reform bill. But the president’s actions do two things that will help them. First, it removes some of the fear the grassroots might have in what action a hypothetical President Rubio might take on immigration. That is, if amnesty is already done, then the only things that are left are issues that Republicans tend to broadly agree on, such as border security.

It’s true that comprehensive immigration reform was unlikely to pass the House in the near future anyway, but Obama has essentially taken the part of it that conservatives like the least off the table. There’s no looming threat of amnesty; it’s here. Having already supported immigration reform, Rubio will get some credit from Hispanic voters. But will his opposition to executive amnesty lose them?

That’s where the second aspect of Obama’s miscalculation comes in. By making such an obvious power grab, he has made opposition to his actions intellectually much simpler. The words “king” and “emperor” have been thrown around; Ted Cruz even referenced Cicero’s First Oration Against Catiline today, as if Obama would even know who that is:

“When, President Obama, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end to that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now?” he said, using the beginning of Cicero’s First Oration Against Catiline.

Even Democrats seem to have no idea how to explain how the executive amnesty is legal.

Which is to say: it’s very easy to criticize this move without attacking immigrants–though the media, surely, will attempt to conflate the two. And doing so also enables Republican candidates to come out strongly against Obama’s power grabs more generally, and his immigration actions specifically, to a conservative audience in the same way they would do so to a general-election audience, without having to flip-flop or triangulate.

Obama has been criticized for this power grab by even traditionally supportive left-leaning media, such as the Washington Post and the Economist, because of the precedent it would set and the left’s fear of reprisals. This debate isn’t about the policy anymore, and anyone who pretends otherwise is selling something. Obama has given even supporters of immigration reform a way to oppose amnesty without opposing immigration in itself.

Obama has made the conversation about the damage this act would do to American democracy. That’s very comfortable terrain for Republicans, who are thus far more united on this issue than they would otherwise be.

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No Moral Equivalence for Synagogue Terror

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s terror attack in Jerusalem in which two Palestinian terrorists slaughtered four Jews in a synagogue, the international media was forced to change, at least for a day or two, their consistent narrative about the Middle East conflict which centered on alleged Israeli misbehavior rather than the reality of Palestinian intransigence, incitement, and violence. But even under these egregious circumstances, mainstream journalists sought to establish a flimsy moral equivalence between this atrocity and what they sought to claim were comparable Israeli outrages conducted against Muslims. An example of this came in the analysis by the New York Times’s Jodi Rudoren who asserted, “Jewish vandalism against mosques is a regular occurrence.” But while such regrettable instances have occurred, they are not “regular” and pale in comparison to the toll of Arab terrorism directed at Jewish targets.

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In the aftermath of Tuesday’s terror attack in Jerusalem in which two Palestinian terrorists slaughtered four Jews in a synagogue, the international media was forced to change, at least for a day or two, their consistent narrative about the Middle East conflict which centered on alleged Israeli misbehavior rather than the reality of Palestinian intransigence, incitement, and violence. But even under these egregious circumstances, mainstream journalists sought to establish a flimsy moral equivalence between this atrocity and what they sought to claim were comparable Israeli outrages conducted against Muslims. An example of this came in the analysis by the New York Times’s Jodi Rudoren who asserted, “Jewish vandalism against mosques is a regular occurrence.” But while such regrettable instances have occurred, they are not “regular” and pale in comparison to the toll of Arab terrorism directed at Jewish targets.

While much is made in both the Israeli and international media about “price tag” attacks from Israelis, especially West Bank settlers, against Arabs, an Internet listing of all such attacks in the last seven years yields approximately 20 such vandalism incidents against mosques. While each one deserves condemnation and punishment for the perpetrators, an average of two or three a year hardly counts as an epidemic. That is especially true when the same vilified West Bank settlers suffer daily attacks on their persons and property including deadly instances of terrorism as well as mere graffiti or arson. These attacks are so common that they rarely merit news coverage even in Israel, let alone the foreign press.

Among the attacks on Jewish targets in the West Bank was the burning of a historic Jewish synagogue in Jericho and the sack of the synagogue at the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus in 2000 at the start of the second intifada. During that assault a Muslim mob assisted by Palestinian Authority policemen desecrated sacred Jewish objects and then burned the building to the ground. Rudoren felt no need to mention these incidents in her attempt to provide historical context for this week’s terror attack.

Yet she did cite the 1994 murder of 29 Muslim worshippers by Baruch Goldstein as an example of how Jews have also committed terror. But that example actually tells us more about the lack of moral equivalence than anything else.

It should be remembered that Goldstein’s insane murder spree was condemned not only by the Israeli government but was widely condemned by a consensus of Israeli society. Goldstein’s act was considered a blot on the honor of the Jewish people by all but a few mad extremists on the far right. Just as important, it resulted in the banning by the Israeli government of Kach, the group of radical followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

By contrast, Palestinian society embraced the two synagogue murderers as heroes this week. Their act of barbarism was celebrated in the streets of Palestinian cities and endorsed by members of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party (though, forced by Secretary of State John Kerry, Abbas issued a condemnation) as well as their Hamas rivals. This is hardly surprising since Abbas had praised recent terror attacks on Jews by Palestinians and even said one who attempted to murder a Jewish activist was a “martyr” who went straight to heaven. Moreover, Goldstein’s murders still stand as one of the few examples of anti-Arab terrorism while attacks on Jews in the 20 years since his crime are almost too numerous to count.

The point here is not to excuse or rationalize any violence against Muslims, acts that are committed by only tiny minority and which almost all Israelis rightly condemn. It is to note that violence against Jews is considered praiseworthy by mainstream Palestinian culture. Seeking to treat such acts as if they are merely the other side of the coin from Jewish crimes isn’t merely a distortion of the facts, it is a willful attempt to obfuscate the truth about a conflict in which only one side is committed to the destruction of the other.

As I wrote yesterday, the cycle of violence in the Middle East is fed by a political culture that treats the war on Jews and Zionism as inextricably linked to Palestinian national identity. No amount of false moral equivalence by Rudoren or any other Western reporter can alter the fact that until that changes, we will continue to see more such attacks on Jews. Until the West and its media stops treating the Palestinian commitment to violence as somehow the fault of Israeli misbehavior or no different than isolated acts committed by Israelis, the Palestinians won’t get the message that this has to end if peace is to ever be achieved.

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Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Peace, and Fading Fast

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the two-state solution in particular, is more than just a strategy. To some, as Aaron David Miller and others have written, it is a religion in itself. To others, such as Arab states in the Middle East, it is an excuse. To still others, like UNRWA, it is a self-enrichment scheme designed to perpetuate the conflict. But to nearly everyone, it is, at its most basic level, a market–for ideas, for products, for influence. And as some organizations are finding out now, the bungling of the peace process, such as that done by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, is bad for business.

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The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the two-state solution in particular, is more than just a strategy. To some, as Aaron David Miller and others have written, it is a religion in itself. To others, such as Arab states in the Middle East, it is an excuse. To still others, like UNRWA, it is a self-enrichment scheme designed to perpetuate the conflict. But to nearly everyone, it is, at its most basic level, a market–for ideas, for products, for influence. And as some organizations are finding out now, the bungling of the peace process, such as that done by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, is bad for business.

BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray documents the travails of one such group: the American Task Force on Palestine. It was founded in 2003, she notes, to advocate for Palestinian statehood among policymakers. It was self-consciously moderate, attracting political figures (like then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) to its events and associating itself with Palestinian figures like former prime minister Salam Fayyad, a moderate technocrat who hoped to crack down on corruption and bad governance and was driven out of Palestinian politics for his efforts.

Though the group wasn’t awash in money, things were going fairly well for a while, Gray writes. Indeed, though Gray doesn’t go into the political developments in the U.S. during ATFP’s rise, they are significant. George W. Bush publicly pushed for the creation of a Palestinian state early on in his presidency, giving renewed momentum to the idea of two states for two peoples. The Bush administration’s progress included giving Ariel Sharon the support he needed (later rescinded by Barack Obama in a damaging blow to hopes for peace) to withdraw from the entire Gaza Strip and set the stage for even more territorial concessions. By the end of the Bush administration, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was presenting a map and a generous offer of a deal to Mahmoud Abbas.

That’s when the backsliding began, as Abbas walked away from the offer without making a counteroffer. Then Obama came to office and began to dismantle the progress all sides had worked to achieve. Obama and Kerry, the arsonists of the ongoing blaze in Israel and the Palestinian territories, pushed the two sides farther apart, alienated everyone involved, and sided against not just Israel but also the Palestinian Authority whenever Hamas’s interests were at stake. The process, not exactly on the brink of success to begin with, collapsed.

So what happens to groups like the American Task Force on Palestine when the process is at a low ebb? Gray explains:

But things changed for ATFP this year. This summer’s war between Israel and Hamas and the breakdown of U.S.-mediated peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians aiming to broker a two-state solution, which is core to ATFP’s mission, have proven to be a toxic combination to the nonprofit. The group has decided to cancel its annual gala this year, which usually brings in half of its annual fundraising. And its founder says it will have to cut staff and office space. ATFP’s situation is a casualty of a larger shift: The hope for a two-state solution, which is official U.S. policy and regarded by the establishment as the only legitimate way to end the conflict, is running out of steam, causing a major existential crisis for some of those most dedicated to it.

There’s more than mere symbolism in what this says about the peace process. On a practical level, it shows that relying on the two-state solution as your raison d’être is a poor business model. The American government can afford for John Kerry to toss a match onto the Mideast tinderbox and walk away; private organizations, not so much.

On a political level, it shows the damage for a pro-Palestinian organization to align itself with moderate elements. With regard to the Palestinian polity, this means people like Fayyad, who represented a genuine desire for positive change and the willingness to do the hard work of state building. He was the only one, unfortunately.

It would be one thing if Fayyad had been forced to make only incremental change slowly so as not to rock the boat too much. Instead the system treated him like a virus, seeking to neutralize and then expel him. Which is exactly what happened. When moderate elements are not even tolerated, there’s not much room for a two-state solution or its supporters.

And domestically, it also says much about the hate and intolerance of the Palestinians’ Western supporters. Here’s Gray talking to ATFP’s president on what it’s like to be seen as a collaborator with the enemy merely for talking to Jews:

“That is part of the problem with raising money,” Asali said. “The mere fact that we talk to the Israelis publicly, here and in Israel, and to the Jewish organized and non-organized community has presented a major obstacle in our communication with our community.”

“We are for dealing with the establishment that deals with Palestine and Israel,” he said. “Which means by necessity that at least half of it would be Jewish or Israeli.”

Precisely. You can’t have a negotiating process leading to a two-state solution if you won’t deal with one side. Which raises the unfortunate fact: a great many of the Palestinians’ supporters and allies don’t actually want a two-state solution. They are not invested in real peace or ending the conflict; they are invested in ending Israel.

It’s tempting to say “with friends like these…” but that misses the point. The Palestinians’ supporters are not unintentionally undermining them with their hate. They are taking their cues from the Palestinian government. Those who support the Palestinians but also want peace and a two-state solution are few in number, and dwindling still.

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The Dubious Embrace of Palestinian Unilateralism

A new craze is sweeping European politics: Palestinian unilateralism. One by one Europe’s parliaments and governments are choosing to endorse recognition of Palestinian statehood outside of any peace process with Israel. In doing so these democratic assemblies are sabotaging the very peaceful two-state outcome that they claim to believe in. And yet for many of those driving these moves, although they may talk the language of peace, this is now becoming about something quite different. It is not so much ending the conflict that appears to be galvanizing these parliamentary resolutions, but rather a completely warped notion of “justice.” Realizing the obsession of Palestinian statehood is the goal, regardless of whether it brings peace or not.

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A new craze is sweeping European politics: Palestinian unilateralism. One by one Europe’s parliaments and governments are choosing to endorse recognition of Palestinian statehood outside of any peace process with Israel. In doing so these democratic assemblies are sabotaging the very peaceful two-state outcome that they claim to believe in. And yet for many of those driving these moves, although they may talk the language of peace, this is now becoming about something quite different. It is not so much ending the conflict that appears to be galvanizing these parliamentary resolutions, but rather a completely warped notion of “justice.” Realizing the obsession of Palestinian statehood is the goal, regardless of whether it brings peace or not.

Just this week the Spanish parliament voted in favor of such a move advocating recognition of Palestinian statehood, with 319 parliamentarians supporting the motion and just two opposing, and one abstention. Similar votes have already passed the British and Irish parliaments and the French are to have an equivalent vote at the end of the month. In these countries the parliamentary motions in question have been non-binding on the governments, although the French president already appeared to express support for backing unilateral Palestinian moves at the Security Council. The Swedish government, meanwhile, officially recognized Palestinian statehood back in October.

For anyone genuinely committed to a peaceful two-state outcome it should be plain enough to see that such votes can only hinder attempts to achieve a meaningful resolution of this conflict. Quite apart from the fact that these purely symbolic resolutions do nothing material to make Palestinian statehood a reality, they actually make reaching a two-state agreement still less likely. After all, the reasoning behind the two-state process was that the Palestinians would receive sovereignty in return for committing to safeguard Israel’s security. But if Palestinians are led to believe that ultimately the world will intervene to force their state into being, then all incentive to reach an agreement with Israel is nullified.

By supporting Palestinian unilateralism European countries threaten to wreck the possibility of the very land for peace agreement that they themselves have repeatedly insisted they wish to be the guarantors of. Because when it comes to land for peace they are telling the Palestinians that they can now get the former without having to give the latter in return. What Europe’s parliamentary assemblies are conspiring to create is a two-state non-solution in which conceivably a Palestinian state might be made a reality, but the conflict would only continue, and in all likelihood intensify.

The problem is that Israel and many of her supporters have in fact unwittingly laid the groundwork for such an outcome. Since the advent of Oslo, Israel has been embarking on a peace process that hasn’t brought it any closer to peace, but has gradually eroded its claim to much of the territory it holds and with that its international standing. The eagerness to end the conflict with the Palestinians by establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank has led Israel to surrender its claim to these territories, so inadvertently accepting the role as an illegitimate occupier of Palestinian land. As such, for the rest of the world creating a Palestinian state is becoming less and less about achieving peace and more and more about winning “justice” for the Palestinians.

After all, European lawmakers can hardly have failed to notice the way things have been going. Quite the opposite. Not only are they well aware that twenty years of negotiations have gone nowhere, but they must also have noticed that far from Israel’s territorial concessions advancing peace, these moves have only assisted Palestinian militants in waging war and in the process getting as many of their own people killed as possible. And yet Europe’s politicians don’t seem to care.

Another thing that they can’t have missed, and don’t seem to care about, is what Palestinians have actually done with sovereignty when they’ve achieved it. The brutal theocratic despotism of Hamas in Gaza cuts a pretty chilling impression of what life might be like in a Palestinian state of the future. Yet equally Mahmoud Abbas’s semi-autonomous polity in the West Bank is not only deeply undemocratic, it is also viciously oppressive of its own Palestinian population. And what’s more, rather than use this opportunity for nation building, Abbas and his gang have instead channeled their energies into endless incitement against Israel, the consequences of which we are only now beginning to see borne out with incidents such as this week’s horrific synagogue attack in Jerusalem. As Ruthie Blum pointed out in her recent Israel Hayom column, the way is being paved for Islamic State in Israel.

If European parliamentarians really cared about making peace through two states a reality then they would be doing everything to make it clear to Palestinians that intransigence, incitement, and violence will get them nowhere. Yet having lost interest in such tiresome matters as security and stability for Israelis and Palestinians, Europe’s politicians prefer to champion an abstract notion of “justice,” no matter how many people get hurt along the way.

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What Jonathan Gruber Didn’t Say

Despite the unmasking of ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber as a dishonest advisor hired by the Obama administration to mislead the public about the law, far too many commentators have still let Gruber set the terms of the debate about the lies used to pass ObamaCare. For example, an actual discussion over the “stupidity of the American voter” has ensued to pin down what exactly Gruber was saying. This requires putting words in Gruber’s mouth, so it’s worth pointing out what Gruber wasn’t saying.

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Despite the unmasking of ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber as a dishonest advisor hired by the Obama administration to mislead the public about the law, far too many commentators have still let Gruber set the terms of the debate about the lies used to pass ObamaCare. For example, an actual discussion over the “stupidity of the American voter” has ensued to pin down what exactly Gruber was saying. This requires putting words in Gruber’s mouth, so it’s worth pointing out what Gruber wasn’t saying.

Last week Dan Drezner made the absolutely correct argument that, in Gruber’s defense, social scientists broadly agree with the premise that voters are “rationally ignorant.” Fair enough, but rational ignorance results from a kind of prioritization of a voter’s time and resources. What Gruber was saying was that he and the Obama White House had to design policy to fool voters who were invested in understanding the issue. He wasn’t really saying “stupid” as a stand-in for “rationally ignorant”; he was saying that the Obama administration had to be particularly dishonest and opaque because voters were making the very rational decision to invest their energy in the health-care debate and thus they had to be intentionally confused, misdirected, and in some cases out and out lied to.

Drezner’s point about voters is valid. It’s just not the same point Gruber was making.

What else wasn’t Gruber saying? Well, he wasn’t really saying the voters are stupid in the traditional sense of the word either. To see what I mean, I recommend Jake Tapper’s post today at CNN about the so-called Cadillac tax–the tax on expensive employer-provided health plans.

Tapper starts out by recalling Obama’s 2009 attempts to sell health-care reform by assuring voters that any tax on insurance plans would be aimed at high-end plans and not at average Americans. Crucially, he said, he had “taken off the table” getting rid of the tax deduction on employer-provided plans so that employers wouldn’t stop providing insurance.

And yet, Tapper points out, “That promise is completely at odds with how Gruber describes not only that provision of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, but the intention of that provision.” One of the videos, for example, has Gruber explaining that they sought to get rid of that subsidy but had to be creative about it, since the subsidy is popular. So they had to trick Americans into thinking they weren’t going to lose the subsidy Gruber was purposely taking away from them.

Here’s Tapper:

Gruber said the only way those pushing for Obamacare could get rid of the tax subsidy for employer provider health insurance was to tax the more generous, or Cadillac, plans — “mislabeling it, calling it a tax on insurance plans rather than a tax on people when we all know it’s a tax on people who hold those insurance plans.”

The second way was have the tax kick in “late, starting in 2018″ and have its rate of growth tied to the consumer price index instead of to the much higher rate of medical inflation. Eventually, the 40% tax on the more expensive plans would impact every employer-provided insurance plan.

“What that means is the tax that starts out hitting only 8% of the insurance plans essentially amounts over the next 20 years essentially getting rid of the exclusion for employer sponsored plans,” Gruber said. “This was the only political way we were ever going to take on one of the worst public policies in America.”

Now, the voter who didn’t crunch the numbers and plan out how a consumer price index-tied tax would, over twenty years, slowly eat up all the other plans as well by mapping out the complicated financial landscape of health costs, taxes, and government spending over two decades: does he sound “stupid” to you? Not exactly, right? The administration needed an MIT economist to devise this scheme; it’s not like Nancy Pelosi put this together on the back of a napkin.

Gruber didn’t outsmart the voters so much as con them. He made loads of cash by tricking non-economist Americans into losing their health insurance. (He’s a heck of a guy, isn’t he?)

What else didn’t Gruber say? Here’s a post from the Fix’s Chris Cillizza (hat tip to Kevin Williamson) in which Cillizza says that conservatives are so outraged about Gruber’s comments because “it’s not just that the Obama administration is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. It’s that they think you, conservative American, are too stupid to even notice.”

You may notice that what Cillizza said is exactly the opposite of the truth. Gruber wasn’t saying conservative voters were stupid; they were against the bill, as were independents. They understood that it was a scam. If Gruber was calling anyone stupid, it could only possibly have been liberal voters. The scam didn’t work on non-liberals; it worked just well enough on liberals to get the bill through Congress.

Perhaps that gives us some clue as to why there’s so much debate about what Gruber really meant. Because what he said, essentially, was this: the people who supported this bill, the people who voted for this bill, and the people in the press who parroted the administration’s talking points about this bill–they’re idiots. It’s not a reality leftists want to accept, but the infamously evasive Gruber couldn’t be clearer this time.

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Bahraini Moral Clarity and the ‘Al-Aqsa in Danger’ Myth

The most surprising response to yesterday’s deadly attack on worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue came from the Bahraini foreign minister. “It is forbidden to react to the crimes of the Israeli occupation against our brothers in Palestine by killing innocents in a house of prayer,” Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa reportedly wrote on his Arabic-language Twitter feed. “Those who will pay the price for the crime of killing innocents in a Jewish synagogue and for welcoming the crime are the Palestinian people.”

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The most surprising response to yesterday’s deadly attack on worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue came from the Bahraini foreign minister. “It is forbidden to react to the crimes of the Israeli occupation against our brothers in Palestine by killing innocents in a house of prayer,” Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa reportedly wrote on his Arabic-language Twitter feed. “Those who will pay the price for the crime of killing innocents in a Jewish synagogue and for welcoming the crime are the Palestinian people.”

For a senior Arab official to publicly condemn the killing of Jews by Muslims at all–much less with such moral clarity, devoid of any attempt to create a false equivalence to Israeli “crimes–is so unusual that it cries out for explanation. And the most likely explanation lies in the violence that has swept the Middle East in recent years. In a world where Muslim innocents are being killed in houses of prayer on a regular basis by fellow Muslims, mosques in Israel and the West Bank–including Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque–remain among the safest places in the Mideast for Muslims to pray. And the Arab world’s pragmatic axis, of which Bahrain is part, has no interest in seeing that change.

In August, for instance, Shi’ite gunmen opened fire in a Sunni mosque in Iraq, killing at least 73 people. In October, a suicide bomber killed at least 18 people at a Shi’ite mosque in Iraq. Those are just two of the dozens of deadly mosque attacks in recent years that have killed thousands of Muslims in numerous countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, and Nigeria. Almost all the perpetrators were fellow Muslims–usually Shi’ites or Sunnis attacking each other’s institutions.

By contrast, Israel and the West Bank are safe havens. True, there have been some vandalistic attacks on mosques–though far fewer than in, say, Holland. But there hasn’t been a lethal attack on a mosque in two decades. Indeed, for all the Palestinians’ efforts to libel Jewish visits to the Temple Mount as “attacks” on Al-Aqsa, anyone who’s been paying attention realizes that mosques elsewhere in the Muslim world have been suffering far worse fates than innocuous Jewish visitors.

Granted, both the Palestinians themselves and many Westerners are too fixated on the Palestinian cause to care; recent Jewish visits to the Mount have generated far more uproar in the West than lethal mosque attacks elsewhere ever have. But the pragmatic Arab states, as I’ve written before, are quite aware that Israel is the least of their problems, and they’d rather it stay that way.

The pragmatic Arab states don’t want another Palestinian-Israeli war distracting global attention from problems they consider far more pressing, like ISIS and Iran. And they know heinous attacks like the synagogue murder–especially when compounded by the fact, as Khalifa noted, that many Palestinians are “welcoming the crime”–could easily spark one: Israel can’t continue doing nothing in the face of such attacks. There’s also the risk that such crimes could spur a lone Jewish terrorist to commit a revenge attack, like Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Muslim worshippers in Hebron 20 years ago; that, too, would distract global–and Arab–attention from the problems pragmatic Arab states consider most pressing.

Consequently, these states have an interest in discouraging attacks like yesterday’s, and Khalifa took a two-pronged approach to doing so. First, he declared, an attack like this is morally unacceptable, even to many fellow Arab Muslims. And second, it’s counterproductive, because sparking a new conflict would ultimately hurt the Palestinians more than Israel. Or as Khalifa put it, “Those who will pay the price” for this attack “are the Palestinian people.”

Thus while figures as diverse as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and former British minister Sayeeda Warsi have implicitly justified the synagogue killing, and thereby encouraged more such crimes, by trying to paint it as morally equivalent to Jews visiting the Temple Mount the Bahraini foreign minister is trying to quench the flames by stating unequivocally that there’s never any excuse for killing worshippers at a house of prayer. For nobody understands the dangerous consequences of doing so better than Muslims elsewhere in the Middle East, who, unlike their Israeli-protected Palestinian brethren, have all too frequently been the victims of such killings.

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Obama’s Shattered Credibility

National Journals Ron Fournier, a journalist whom I respect, is hardly a conservative. He’s said before he supported passage of the Affordable Care Act. And so it’s worth noting when someone like Mr. Fournier says, as he did the other night, that “the central attribute you have to have as any leader, in any walk of life and certainly in government is trust — and this president has destroyed the credibility of his administration, himself and government itself.”

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National Journals Ron Fournier, a journalist whom I respect, is hardly a conservative. He’s said before he supported passage of the Affordable Care Act. And so it’s worth noting when someone like Mr. Fournier says, as he did the other night, that “the central attribute you have to have as any leader, in any walk of life and certainly in government is trust — and this president has destroyed the credibility of his administration, himself and government itself.”

Mr. Fournier’s judgment is a harsh one, but an entirely appropriate one. I take no joy in saying the president lies and then lies about his lies. But that is what the record shows, indisputably; and those lies have now caught up with Mr. Obama. They are having a corrosive effect on trust between him and the people he was elected to serve. It’s one thing to be inept, as the president surely is. It’s quite another to deceive and dissemble, to govern with the philosophy that the ends justify the means, and to act in ways that show contempt for the truth and for the American polity. This has been a hallmark of the Obama years, and it’s done irreparable damage to him, and great damage to our political and civic culture.

This is not what hope and changer were supposed to be.

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Obama Is About to Commit an Act of Constitutional Infamy

The president will present his case on behalf of his forthcoming executive order on amnesty tomorrow at 8 p.m. I certainly hope President Obama addresses the arguments against his action that were repeatedly and passionately made by … President Obama. Our friends at National Review have put together a nice video here; I’d urge you to watch it. Mr. Obama is now acting like, in his words, an “emperor.” His hypocrisy is, even by his standards, staggering.

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The president will present his case on behalf of his forthcoming executive order on amnesty tomorrow at 8 p.m. I certainly hope President Obama addresses the arguments against his action that were repeatedly and passionately made by … President Obama. Our friends at National Review have put together a nice video here; I’d urge you to watch it. Mr. Obama is now acting like, in his words, an “emperor.” His hypocrisy is, even by his standards, staggering.

But hypocrisy is not unusual in politicians and presidents; firing a missile aimed at our constitutional form of government is. And that is what Mr. Obama is about to do.

As the liberal law professor Jonathan Turley put it last night, this is a “particularly dangerous moment” for the president to defy the will of Congress yet again, just 15 days after an election in which the American people registered their emphatic (anti-Obama) judgment. “What the president is suggesting is tearing at the very fabric of the Constitution,” according to Professor Turley. “We have a separation of powers that gives us balance. And that doesn’t protect the branches — it’s not there to protect the executive branch or legislative branch — it’s to protect liberty. It’s to prevent any branch from assuming so much control that they become a threat to liberty.”

What is about to happen may be the low point in a presidency filled with them. Mr. Obama is acting in a way that he himself knows–that he himself has said–is unconstitutional and indefensible. No matter. In an act of unmatched narcissism and selfishness, the president will create–he is thirsting to create–a constitutional crisis that is utterly unnecessary and will further polarize our political culture.

Mr. Obama is about to commit an act of constitutional infamy. This is a stain that will stay with him.

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Presidents and Power Grabs: A Lesson From Harry Truman

There has been a lot of smart commentary on President Obama’s looming executive action on immigration–now expected to be announced tomorrow–and how Republicans might respond to it. Few on the right dispute the fact that Obama is creating a dangerous precedent, though there is disagreement over whether conservatives should embrace that precedent in order to get liberals to understand the gravity of it or whether legal challenges would suffice. But I think it’s worth contemplating just how much is lost with Obama’s actions, regardless of the right’s future success in rolling back the effects.

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There has been a lot of smart commentary on President Obama’s looming executive action on immigration–now expected to be announced tomorrow–and how Republicans might respond to it. Few on the right dispute the fact that Obama is creating a dangerous precedent, though there is disagreement over whether conservatives should embrace that precedent in order to get liberals to understand the gravity of it or whether legal challenges would suffice. But I think it’s worth contemplating just how much is lost with Obama’s actions, regardless of the right’s future success in rolling back the effects.

Indeed, the president’s actions might very well be legal, and they may survive a legal or constitutional (or even political) challenge. Even if they are not constitutional, the public rarely cares nearly as much about process as about policy. This favors the president, whose unilateral executive actions cannot be filibustered or vetoed. We like to think of our political system as one that restrains the executive, just as it restrains the other branches, through competition. And that’s true. But enough of the fundamentals of American politics favor the president to make it crucial that if the system is going to survive, presidents must not grab at all the power they can just because they won’t be stopped.

A good example of the right outlook of a president comes from Harry Truman. He notably and unilaterally rolled back several of what he thought were FDR’s power grabs. But the thought process behind one of those decisions stands out: Truman’s refusal to run for reelection in 1952.

In 1947 Congress passed the 22nd amendment, which forbade an elected third presidential term. It was ratified in 1951. The amendment was written to exclude the sitting president–Truman–from its restrictions, however, so as not to be seen as a Republican Congress targeting a sitting Democratic president. Truman was elected in 1948, and could have run again in 1952.

Yet he already knew in April 1950–before the Korean War–that he had no interest in testing those limits, or lack thereof. And here we have, from Truman’s biographer Robert J. Donovan, what Truman was thinking at the time, having written out his determination. Donovan smartly devotes a (brief) chapter to this decision, but here is what Truman wrote the day he made this decision:

“Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, Madison, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson as well as Calvin Coolidge stood by the precedent of two terms. Only Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and F.D.R. made the attempt to break that precedent. F.D.R. succeeded.

“In my opinion eight years as President is enough and sometimes too much for any man to serve in that capacity.

“There is a lure in power. It can get into a man’s blood just as gambling and lust for money have been known to do.

“This is a Republic. The greatest in the history of the world. I want this country to continue as a Republic. Cincinnatus and Washington pointed the way. When Rome forgot Cincinnatus, its down fall began. When we forget the examples of such men as Washington, Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, all of whom could have had continuation in the office, then will we start down the road to dictatorship and ruin. I know I could be elected again and continue to break the old precedent as it was broken by F.D.R. It should not be done. That precedent should continue–not by a Constitutional amendment but by custom based on the honor of the man in the office.

“Therefore to reestablish that custom, although by a quibble I could say I’ve only had one term, I am not a candidate and will not accept the nomination for another term.”

It’s significant also that Truman wrote this down but did not announce it at the time. He was not posturing or making excuses or trying to burnish his image in the minds of voters. He also didn’t want to be seen as a lame duck. And that just goes to show that he was, or would have been, an otherwise serious candidate for reelection.

But Truman’s words, as crisp and humble and wise as they may be, are not altogether easy to read nowadays. They serve as a rebuke to the way the presidency has grown in stature and power and they are also a reminder that not every president seeks to take all he can and that we shouldn’t simply assume presidents will expand their authority as far as the law will let them.

Truman understood that there is something about power that is unhealthy both for the man who possesses it and for those over whom he wields it. Getting presidents to act with that in mind shouldn’t take a constitutional amendment, Truman thought.

And he’s right, and it’s what makes Obama’s power grab so disconcerting. Truman understood that legally enforced limits aren’t the kinds of limits that show, shape, or test a person’s character. The limits presidents place on themselves, as honorable public servants, are. Something is lost, then–a great deal, in fact–when the law is the only limit on a president’s actions.

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It Isn’t Just Jerusalem That’s Not Negotiable

Seeking to make sense of yesterday’s horrific terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, the New York Times stumbled across an unfortunate truth about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Quoting writer Yossi Klein Halevi’s characterization of the violence in the headline of its article on the aftermath of the atrocity, it noted that in this “war of neighbors,” differences are not negotiable. But while Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren intended this surprisingly sober analysis to apply only to the issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount or perhaps the city itself, were she to think more seriously about the subject, she would be forced to conclude that the same phrase applies to the entire conflict between Jews and Arabs over this small country.

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Seeking to make sense of yesterday’s horrific terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, the New York Times stumbled across an unfortunate truth about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Quoting writer Yossi Klein Halevi’s characterization of the violence in the headline of its article on the aftermath of the atrocity, it noted that in this “war of neighbors,” differences are not negotiable. But while Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren intended this surprisingly sober analysis to apply only to the issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount or perhaps the city itself, were she to think more seriously about the subject, she would be forced to conclude that the same phrase applies to the entire conflict between Jews and Arabs over this small country.

The infusion of religion into what all too many observers believe is a dispute over land and borders scares many of those who comment on the Middle East. Having spent the last few decades attempting to argue that peace could be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians if only the Jewish state were to give away more or all of the land it took possession of during the 1967 Six-Day War, those committed to this myth seek to divest the discussion about the path to peace of the absolutes of faith that make compromise impossible. Seen from that perspective, the dispute about the Temple Mount is one in which both sides can, as Rudoren does in her piece, be portrayed as being driven by religious zealots intent on blowing up an already combustible situation.

But while it is true that a minority of Jews would like to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount to make it place where both faiths can be freely observed (Jews currently may not pray on the Mount, a stand endorsed by Prime Minister Netanyahu), the hate and incitement that leads inevitably to the kind of bloody slaughter witnessed in a Har Nof synagogue where four Jews were murdered yesterday is not a function of a few isolated zealots or a twisted interpretation of Islam. Rather it is a product of mainstream Palestinian political culture in which religious symbols such as the imagined peril to the mosques on the Mount have been employed by generations of Palestinian leaders to whip up hatred for Jews. The purpose is not to defend the mosques or Arab claims to Jerusalem but to deny the right of Jews to life, sovereignty, or self-defense in any part of the country.

In order to understand the current spate of murders of Jews by Palestinians and why so many took to the streets of Gaza and West Bank cities to celebrate the bloody attack on Jews at prayer yesterday, we have to leave aside the clichés about cycles of violence and even-handed blame assessment and come face to face with the reality of Palestinian nationalism. From its inception early in the 20th century, Palestinian national identity has been inextricably linked to a war against Zionism and the growing Jewish presence in the country. Zionist leaders initially hoped the conflict could be solved through economic cooperation and then embraced territorial compromise as the panacea. But no solution has worked because the real focus of the dispute isn’t about land or a division of economic benefits but something far more fundamental that isn’t, as the Times said, “negotiable.”

Palestinians celebrated this latest horror, as they have been lauding every other recent terror attack and all those that preceded it throughout the last few decades. They did so not because Israel has failed to restrain Jewish extremists (it has done so) but because the basic elements of the conflict are not about details such as where Jews may or may not live in Jerusalem or where they may pray. Removing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in those parts of the city that Jordan illegally occupied between 1949 and 1967—“East Jerusalem”—won’t end the conflict any more than previous Israeli retreats or the several Israeli offers of statehood and independence for the Palestinians (that would have given them not only almost all the West Bank but a large share of Jerusalem) satisfied Palestinian opinion or its leadership.

Once you understand that, it’s easy to see that the obstacle to peace isn’t specific Israeli policies but the Jewish refusal to be evicted from their ancient homeland or to defend their hold on it. Indeed, rather than trying to interpret Palestinian extremism through the contemporary prism of the spread of ISIS-like fundamentalism, the current violence is better understood as just the latest iteration of the same virus of intolerance that has fueled the war on Israel for many decades.

Rudoren and some of her sources are wrong. The scheduling of prayer services ore entry to the Temple Mount is a negotiable issue if both sides were willing to view it as not being a zero-sum game. So, too, is the question about where the border of a Palestinian state that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state next door would be if parts of Jerusalem were included inside its borders. Nor is the red herring of municipal services to east Jerusalem Arabs, which Rudoren also speciously raised as a potential cause for terrorism, beyond discussion. That is especially true since most residents of Arab neighborhoods are, despite their complaints about Israelis, wary of being lumped in with the other victims of Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank kleptocracy.

But what isn’t negotiable is the demand heard on the Palestinian streets and in the official media of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas’s independent state in all but name in Gaza for Israel’s destruction. The praise being heard for this latest instance of “resistance to the occupation” isn’t about Jerusalem’s municipal boundary but the “occupation” of any part of the country—including all the territory that was under Israeli control prior to June 1967. That is what isn’t negotiable and won’t be until a sea change in Palestinian political culture occurs that will make the shocking pro-terror demonstrations impossible. Until the Palestinians give up their dreams of Israel’s destruction, more than Jerusalem will remain non-negotiable. And that is a reality that an American administration and its media cheering section at the Times that has falsely blamed Israel for the failure to achieve peace must also learn to take into account if they are to understand what is really happening in the region.

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Domestic Radicalization and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Israel appears to be facing a do-it-yourself terrorist offensive. By my count, based on data from this website, ten Israelis have been killed, and many more injured, since October 22 in low-tech attacks.

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Israel appears to be facing a do-it-yourself terrorist offensive. By my count, based on data from this website, ten Israelis have been killed, and many more injured, since October 22 in low-tech attacks.

The trend began on October 22 when a Palestinian rammed his car into a crowd waiting at a light-rail station in Jerusalem. A three-month-old girl and a 22-year-old woman were killed; 8 people were wounded.

On November 5, another Palestinian man drove another car into a light-rail station, this time killing a Border Police officer and injuring 14 individuals.

On November 10, in two separate incidents, Palestinian attackers stabbed and killed a 25-year-old woman near the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut and a 20-year-old soldier who was waiting at a train station in Tel Aviv. Two others were injured in the former attack.

And now on November 17, two attackers armed with a hatchet, knives, and a gun entered a synagogue in West Jerusalem and killed five people, one of them a policeman, the other four immigrants who held either joint U.S.-Israeli or joint British-Israeli citizenship. In addition three of the dead were rabbis.

This is the worst single terrorist attack in Israel in three years and arguably the worst spate of attacks since the defeat of the second intifada a decade ago. In some ways the reliance of these attackers on such primitive weapons–knives and hatchets and cars–is a sign of how successful the Israeli security services have been in shutting down the elaborate suicide-bomber networks which once terrorized Israel. This summer the Iron Dome system, moreover, showed that Israel was more or less safe from rocket attack. So terrorists have to resort to crude attacks with little planning to sow mayhem.

But as we are seeing, even crude attacks can be deadly–and not just in Israel. These “lone wolf” attacks are similar in spirit to those that we have recently seen in Ottawa, New York, Boston, and other place where fanatics inflamed by jihadist propaganda have set out to inflict indiscriminate casualties. Such attacks are inherently less deadly than more planned operations carried out by teams of people–but they are also much harder to stop.

The problem is that such attacks are typically carried out by radicalized Muslims who are citizens of the countries they attack, whether living in East Jerusalem or Cambridge, Massachusetts. And they are radicalized by propaganda that is all but impossible to stop, given the ability of jihadists to get their message out via the Internet.

For the U.S., this so far has been a relatively limited if still dangerous trend because so few American Muslims have been radicalized. For Israel, it is a rather more serious problem given that there are an estimated 1.6 million Arab citizens of Israel. If a substantial number become radicalized, Israeli leaders will face a true nightmare scenario.

Luckily that has not happened and is unlikely to happen despite all of the efforts by groups such as Hamas to raise an internal insurgency. In fact, although Arab Israelis gripe (understandably) about being second-class citizens, most realize they have richer and freer lives than if they lived in one of the dysfunctional Arab states that surround Israel.

Terrible as the recent attacks have been–and worse may be to come–the real story here may be how few Arab residents of Israel have chosen to take up arms against the Jewish state. That is, in part, to be sure, a tribute to the vigilance of the Israeli security services, but it is also a result of the fact that Israel is not a bad place to live even if you’re not Jewish.

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Keystone Scramble Shows Dems Already Forgetting Midterms Defeat

Republican losses typically produce an outpouring of concern trolling from Democrats, eager to “help” Republicans turn their fortunes around. The advice usually includes loosening the hold of the base on the party’s agenda, to become less extreme; paying more attention to polls; and buying into a proactive, productive legislative agenda. Yet now that Democrats have been on the wrong end of a national wave, will they take their own advice? Not if the machinations around the Keystone XL pipeline are any indication.

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Republican losses typically produce an outpouring of concern trolling from Democrats, eager to “help” Republicans turn their fortunes around. The advice usually includes loosening the hold of the base on the party’s agenda, to become less extreme; paying more attention to polls; and buying into a proactive, productive legislative agenda. Yet now that Democrats have been on the wrong end of a national wave, will they take their own advice? Not if the machinations around the Keystone XL pipeline are any indication.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Democrats have for years opposed the pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. But Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is facing an uphill battle in her December 6 runoff election against Republican Representative Bill Cassidy. Keystone would be a “boon” for Louisiana, as even the New York Times admits, so Landrieu is trying to push Keystone across the finish line hoping it’ll drag her there along with it.

Were the situation reversed, Democrats would be doing what Republicans are now: imploring them to stop getting in their own way and support the pipeline. After all, it’s popular, it would show the Democrats can support a legislative agenda that brings jobs to an important industry, and it’s only been sidelined so far because President Obama is hostage to the bidding of his extremist base. And yet, Landrieu is not having an easy time getting enough Democrats to join the 60-vote threshold for the vote expected to be held early this evening.

Of course, even if Landrieu can get the votes in the Senate, the Keystone vote is already a less-than-perfect subject for a Hail Mary, as the Times notes:

On Friday, a Keystone bill sponsored by Mr. Cassidy passed the House. Ms. Landrieu is now close to mustering a filibuster-proof 60 Senate votes in favor of the pipeline in the Senate. She told reporters on Friday that she had 59 votes and was reaching out aggressively to colleagues to round up the critical final vote necessary to send the bill to Mr. Obama’s desk.

That’s right–she’s been handed the baton by her rival, Bill Cassidy. It’s not as though Landrieu is in favor and her opponent isn’t. Landrieu is no better on the issue than Cassidy; in reality, she’s playing catch-up because of Democratic opposition to the plan. It’s unclear how passing the Keystone bill would give her the boost she needs to beat Cassidy, though the high-profile scramble for votes would seem to at least help her by elevating her profile.

But that’s only if it passes. And right now, Democrats aren’t so sure it’s worth helping her reelection, in part because it’s no guarantee they’ll retain the seat even if the bill passes. Here’s Politico:

With Keystone apparently stuck on 59 votes — one shy of the amount needed for passage — Landrieu has turned into a one-woman Senate whip, seeking a vote set for Tuesday night that would show her clout in oil-rich Louisiana ahead of her Dec. 6 runoff. …

Much of the focus of Monday’s guessing games was on Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who hails from a fossil fuel state and whose upcoming retirement could leave him with little to lose. But he said Monday evening that he’s voting no.

Another rumored waverer was Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats. He indicated he’s still leaning no but said, “I’ll make a decision when I vote.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said she’s voting no because she doesn’t think “Congress should be siting pipelines.”

And what if she does get that 60th vote? Back to the Times:

Even if the Senate supports building the pipeline in a vote on Tuesday night, President Obama is likely to veto the measure on the grounds that an environmental review of the process remains incomplete.

Nonetheless, the events of this week suggest that after the expected veto, Mr. Obama may eventually approve the pipeline, which would run from the oil sands of Alberta to the Gulf Coast. The project is anathema to the environmentalists who are part of the president’s political base.

Obama, who isn’t running again, is expected to choose his extremist base over a member of his party trying desperately to hold her seat. And that environmentalist base has not become any more moderate or levelheaded over the course of this administration; the liberal interest group MoveOn.org sent an email today about the Keystone vote with subject line: “Game over for our planet?”

The Times report also notes that in early 2015 there will be more Republicans in the Senate and thus fewer lawmakers held hostage to a fringe element of the liberal base. In such a case, an Obama veto now (if this bill passes) will invite yet another Keystone bill sent to his desk next year, and this one will be closer to having enough votes to even override his veto. If he’s going to deal with that kind of repeated showdown, the Times reports, he may want a trade.

And maybe he’ll get one. Or maybe he’ll have no leverage. Either way, it won’t do much for Landrieu in 2015. Not that the president cares much one way or the other.

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Kerry Calls Out Palestinian Incitement; Will Anything Change?

Many aspects of this morning’s barbaric terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, in which armed Palestinians murdered four Jews, are quite similar to past attacks. Americans were among the victims, for example; the Palestinians celebrated the killing of innocent Jews, encouraging their children to grow up and do the same; and the media–CNN especially, but also Canada’s CBC and others–covered the attack in ways that made them indistinguishable from Palestinian government-run propaganda outlets. But one thing was different: a heartening and truly revealing statement from Secretary of State John Kerry.

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Many aspects of this morning’s barbaric terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, in which armed Palestinians murdered four Jews, are quite similar to past attacks. Americans were among the victims, for example; the Palestinians celebrated the killing of innocent Jews, encouraging their children to grow up and do the same; and the media–CNN especially, but also Canada’s CBC and others–covered the attack in ways that made them indistinguishable from Palestinian government-run propaganda outlets. But one thing was different: a heartening and truly revealing statement from Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry has been, up to this point, playing an undeniably dangerous and counterproductive role in the peace process. He has used the negotiations as a vanity project, not a serious attempt to solve an intractable problem. But the worst part of Kerry’s destructive bumbling has been the State Department’s refusal to hold PA head Mahmoud Abbas accountable for his steady incitement of terror.

There is no question that Abbas’s incitement is partially responsible for the recent spate of terror attacks in Israel’s capital. And yet the State Department took Abbas’s side each time it had the chance, defending him as a man of peace. As I wrote in late October, spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked about Abbas’s incitement and here is what she said:

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s – as you know, President Abbas has renounced violence and consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states. I don’t have any other analysis for you to offer.

When you excuse the murder of innocents, you get more murder of innocents. And that’s exactly what happened, and what continued to happen, as Kerry’s State Department and the Obama White House sought to pick childish fights with Benjamin Netanyahu instead of acting like adults or playing a constructive role in the conflict.

There was never any doubt that Obama and Kerry’s behavior would encourage more bloodshed. Yet something has apparently changed:

Kerry telephoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer condolences following the gruesome killing spree by Palestinian assailants at a Jerusalem synagogue, while other world leaders also expressed horror at the attack.

Kerry, in London for talks on Iran and the Middle East, called the assault an “act of pure terror and senseless brutality” and called on the Palestinian leadership to condemn it “in the most powerful terms.”

Police said two attackers from East Jerusalem entered the synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood shortly after 7 a.m. and began attacking worshipers at morning prayers with a gun, a meat cleaver, and an ax. Both terrorists were killed by police.

Kerry blamed the attack on Palestinian calls for “days of rage” and said Palestinian leaders must take serious steps to refrain from such incitement.

So who’s right–old Kerry or new Kerry? Clearly, new Kerry is a vast upgrade. But there are two disquieting characteristics of this transformation that will temper enthusiasm for the secretary of state’s newfound moral compass.

The first is that Jews can be forgiven for thinking that the world sees them as sacrificial pawns. Today’s victims are of course not the first deaths in the Palestinians’ latest not-quite-intifada. And they were not the first Americans killed either. And they were not the first victims of Abbas’s incitement or his directive to take action against Jews in Jerusalem. The sad fact is that the world regards a certain amount of Jewish blood as the cost of doing business–not worth getting all worked up about.

The word for that is “expendable.” And that’s what the families of victims and those who survived previous attacks understand all too well: their loved ones were expendable to the international community and, most painfully, to the government of the United States of America. A line has now been crossed, apparently, and the Jews under attack are no longer considered expendable. But it’s unfortunate that the line was there to begin with.

The second disquieting facet of this is the age-old question: What now? That is, now that Kerry has admitted the role Palestinian incitement plays in Palestinian terror, what will he do about it? The answer is almost certainly: Nothing. The U.S. government is not going to defund the Palestinian Authority; Netanyahu has in the past fought for continued funding of the PA on the premise that Abbas must be propped up. Israel is doing its part by keeping the IDF in the West Bank; the U.S. does its part by keeping up the flow of cash.

Abbas condemned today’s attack, so perhaps Kerry’s new posture is at least keeping up the appearance of peace all around. And appearances can help. But incitement is not just about public statements from Abbas promoting violence–though he has been making such statements throughout the recent terror campaign. It’s about a system of education and Palestinian media that incites and demonizes Jews. Until the U.S. and the broader international community finds a way to crack down on this government-run culture of demonization, peace will remain farther than Kerry or his European counterparts like to pretend.

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Survey Reveals Extent of French Muslim Anti-Semitism

A new survey has been published revealing the extent of anti-Semitism in France. But what the survey exposed most starkly was the drastic degree to which the Muslim population in France–on the whole–adheres to a radically anti-Semitic outlook. The survey exposes a worrying reality, one in which a sizable minority of the French population holds views about Jews that are by any measure bigoted. Yet when one looks at how French Muslims responded to the same questions in the survey, we see a picture of a religious and ethnic community in which an alarming majority appear to be feverishly anti-Semitic.

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A new survey has been published revealing the extent of anti-Semitism in France. But what the survey exposed most starkly was the drastic degree to which the Muslim population in France–on the whole–adheres to a radically anti-Semitic outlook. The survey exposes a worrying reality, one in which a sizable minority of the French population holds views about Jews that are by any measure bigoted. Yet when one looks at how French Muslims responded to the same questions in the survey, we see a picture of a religious and ethnic community in which an alarming majority appear to be feverishly anti-Semitic.

The recent French survey, which posed the same set of questions to both the general population and to those from Muslim backgrounds, came back with some alarming findings. It is disconcerting that, as the survey revealed, 25 percent of Frenchmen believe Jews have too much influence over the nation’s economy. But compare that to the survey’s parallel finding that 74 percent of French Muslims endorse such a view. When asked if they thought that France’s media is controlled by the Jews, 23 percent of the general population said that they did. That, however, pales in comparison when held up against the 70 percent of the French Muslims polled who held such a belief.

Interestingly, when respondents were asked a question about whether Jews exploit the Holocaust, the gap between the Muslim and general populations diminished somewhat. On this question a much larger than usual proportion of the general population, 32 percent, came out with an anti-Semitic position, answering in favor of the view that Jews use the Holocaust for their own benefit. Yet among French Muslims the numbers holding this anti-Jewish view was down on previous questions, albeit with 56 percent still answering in the affirmative.

Nor do these questions relate to Israel. When both groups were asked about the existence of a global Zionist conspiracy, both seemed less taken with this suggestion than they were with some of the others. So while 16 percent of the general population confirmed that they believe in such an outlandish notion, a similarly reduced proportion of the Muslims polled, 44 percent, held such a view.

This may be surprising. No doubt many would claim that what appears to be anti-Semitism on the part of French Muslims is in fact a somewhat high-spirited expression of solidarity for their Muslim brothers the Palestinians. And yet, according to this survey at least, French Muslims weren’t so taken with the idea of a Zionist plot. Far more popular, however, was the good old-fashioned conspiracy theory that says that Jews control the media and economy. These notions that were once the staple of European anti-Semitism now appear to have been taken up with far greater enthusiasm by the continent’s Muslim immigrants.

The findings from this survey would appear to confirm the picture painted by another from just over a year ago. That survey—released by Europe’s Agency for Fundamental Rights—found Europe’s Jews reporting that a greatly disproportionate degree of the anti-Semitism that they experienced came from the left and those identified as “Muslim extremists” than from any other group. So for instance in France, 73 percent of Jews surveyed said that they had witnessed or experienced anti-Semitism from someone with “Muslim extremist views.”

The problem with that survey was that it simply monitored the Jewish perception of anti-Semitism and so could all too easily be dismissed as nothing more than paranoia from a community that has convinced itself that it is being picked on. That has been a problem across Europe; take this piece from August that the BBC produced, seemingly with no other purpose than to downplay and question the notion that anti-Semitism is on the rise in the West.

And if there have been those who for political reasons have been reluctant to admit that anti-Semitism is a growing problem in Europe, then these same people have tended to be all the more stubborn about conceding the role that parts of Europe’s Islamic population is playing in this trend. When the infamous 2012 terror attack took place on the Jewish school in Toulouse, there was no shortage of those in the media who volunteered the hypothesis that this would turn out to be another far-right Anders Breivik-style attack. By the time of the shooting at Brussels’s Jewish Museum last May, most were prepared for news that this was the work of yet another Islamist radical.

With the anti-Jewish riots witnessed in Paris this summer, accompanied as they were by overtly anti-Semitic protests in Germany and a rise in violent anti-Semitism in Britain, European leaders do now seem ready to acknowledge that they have a problem on their hands. As yet, however, any open and public discussion of which groups are driving that problem is still well off the cards.

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What Should Republicans Do to Stop This Aggressively Unconstitutional President?

It’s hard to overstate how irresponsible President Obama would be to go forward, as he almost surely will, with his sweeping executive order on amnesty. Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a fine column on why doing so would be, in his words, a “disgrace.” What the president is on the verge of doing would do tremendous, long-term damage to our political culture and our constitutional order. It would set a dangerous precedent. And it would be an act of extraordinary selfishness.

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It’s hard to overstate how irresponsible President Obama would be to go forward, as he almost surely will, with his sweeping executive order on amnesty. Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a fine column on why doing so would be, in his words, a “disgrace.” What the president is on the verge of doing would do tremendous, long-term damage to our political culture and our constitutional order. It would set a dangerous precedent. And it would be an act of extraordinary selfishness.

By now none of this should  surprise us. Yet on some level it’s hard to believe an American president would do something that is, as a friend of mine puts it, “constitutionally unconscionable”–and so at odds with what Obama himself has said repeatedly. Yet we are where we are, and Republicans need to prepare to respond to the president’s provocations.

What to do?

Some of the same people who embraced the stratagem that led to the government shutdown in 2013–they thought it would be a marvelous, can’t-miss, the-nation-will-rally-to-our-side idea–are eager to do the same thing again. The problem, of course, is that the government shutdown was a failure, for reasons I sketched out here. It didn’t achieve its purpose (repealing the Affordable Care Act), the public hated the shutdown, and by an overwhelming number Americans blamed Republicans for it. We know as an empirical fact that the GOP badly hurt its reputation with the public, and it took time to repair it. It doesn’t help that the same people who were so sure of the Ted Cruz-led gambit now refuse to admit it turned out much different, and much worse, they they said it would. In fact, some of them are even claiming it worked, which is simply silly.

That said, I’m not in principle opposed to creating a series of showdowns over funding the government to try to force the president to back down on his expected plan to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants (just as I wasn’t opposed to it as a means to defund the Affordable Care Act). The issue for me is one of efficacy and prudence. Will it work–or will it backfire? Will it help strengthen the conservative cause or set it back? Will Mr. Obama be forced to back down, or will he emerge stronger and Republicans weaker?

The issue has nothing to do with how much one opposes ObamaCare or is troubled by the president’s unconstitutional actions related to illegal immigrants. The most vocal advocates for government shutdowns often frame this as if they’re strongly opposed to the president’s agenda whereas those who are wary of the shutdown are not. That’s simply not the case. The difference has to do with tactics, not with the end goals. (Representative Paul Ryan thought the steps Republicans took that eventually led to the shutdown were unwise, and he’s done far more than almost anyone you can name to undo ObamaCare and advance a conservative governing agenda.) The mistake is to assume that simply because you support a particular approach the rest of America will, too; that because you think the nation should see things just as you do means it will.

Because I believe that what the president is about to do is egregious–constitutionally and institutionally, as an aggressive attack on the role of Congress and the separation of powers–I’m open to all sorts of recourses. Certainly Republicans in Congress need to respond in some manner. Those advocating a government shutdown aren’t being moronic or irresponsible; they want to protect our constitutional form of government. But neither are those who are warning against a shutdown being weak, impotent, or cowardly. It’s a matter on which intelligent people can disagree.

If you believe as I do that a government shutdown would in the end hurt more than help the conservative cause–that it simply won’t achieve its aim and it will cause collateral damage in the process–the obvious thing to do is to shift the fight onto terrain that is more favorable to the GOP. Republicans should therefore amass all the actions at their disposal to inflict maximum damage on Mr. Obama while not walking into his government shutdown trap. I wonder, for example, whether Republicans might simply refuse to act on the president’s judicial and Cabinet nominees unless and until he undoes his (forthcoming) executive action. Can similar steps be taken on a range of other issues? Can Republicans basically hit the “off” switch when it comes to the normal procedures and cooperation that takes place between a president and Congress, regardless of which party is in control?

It does strike me that we are facing an exceptional situation; that the president is inviting this needless confrontation and that he needs to pay quite a high price for it. It won’t be as high as many of us wish, but we have to adjust around that fact. The challenge for conservatives is to act in ways that are wise and realistic; that are guided not by fury but by clear thinking; and that ultimately persuade people to our point of view. We need calm, sober, intelligent, and enlightened individuals who can advance the arguments for constitutionalism and the rule of law. Because right now we have a president who is subverting both.

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Israel’s Waiting Game

These days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must feel like Jim Carrey’s character in the Truman Show when, while he’s sitting on a beach, it suddenly starts to rain only on Truman. Once he steps out of the rain, it follows him until the rain-control glitch is fixed and the “sky” opens up, soaking Truman in the ensuing, and inescapable, downpour. But at least by that time he had incontrovertible proof that, yes, they were out to get him.

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These days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must feel like Jim Carrey’s character in the Truman Show when, while he’s sitting on a beach, it suddenly starts to rain only on Truman. Once he steps out of the rain, it follows him until the rain-control glitch is fixed and the “sky” opens up, soaking Truman in the ensuing, and inescapable, downpour. But at least by that time he had incontrovertible proof that, yes, they were out to get him.

Yesterday, the Times of Israel reported that ultra-Orthodox political leaders claimed to have been approached to join an alternative coalition with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Labor, which would replace the current coalition. In other words, rearrange the government to exclude Likud. Lapid denies that such a move is afoot, and it’s likely the leaking of the story was meant more as a warning than an imminent threat.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem continues to simmer. More clashes in the city took place over the weekend, and an Arab driver of an Egged bus appeared to have committed suicide. There is no evidence to the contrary, but Palestinians nonetheless have circulated rumors that the Jews were somehow involved, raising the prospect of “retaliation” of some sort and now apparently an Arab Egged strike.

And then today Haaretz’s Barak Ravid got his hands on an internal European Union document that outlines sanctions against Israel that EU countries could take if Israel continues to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem and makes land designations that confuse ignorant Eurocrats. It doesn’t matter that Israel isn’t doing quite what the EU accuses it of, nor that the EU is wrong about what will bring peace and what will prevent it.

The real news of the EU document is that the EU has foreclosed the possibility that facts and rationality will determine Israel-Europe relations. Brussels is getting quite serious about being completely unserious. Today’s EU “red lines” are just that–today’s. Once conceded, they’ll find some more demands to chip away at Israeli sovereignty and further restrict Jewish rights.

After Haaretz published the leak, the EU explained to Ravid that they were not ready to deploy that threat just yet, in an utterly unconvincing (perhaps intentionally so?) response:

“It certainly was not on the ministers’ table today and it was not at the heart of today’s discussion,” Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs said, adding that she had read the report in Haaretz. “There was certainly no question of isolating or sanctioning anybody, rather how can we re-motivate people to get into a dialogue again, how to start a positive process with the Israelis and Palestinians to re-launch a peace process.”

Nonetheless, the foreign ministers’ meeting ended with a formal condemnation of Israeli building of settlements over the Green Line and a hint regarding punitive measures against Israel.

“Recalling that settlements are illegal under international law, the EU and its Member States remain committed to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products,” read the announcement. “The EU closely monitors the situation and its broader implications and remains ready to take further action in order to protect the viability of the two-state solution.”

When it rains, it pours, and when it pours, the UN is usually there to toss a bucket of water as well. Today Assistant Secretary-General Jens Toyberg-Frandzen got in on the act, warning that more violence in and around Jerusalem “is never too far below the surface.” He was happy to place the blame on Israel for settlements etc. (the standard way to excuse Palestinian terrorism), doing his part to contribute to the conflict’s self-fulfilling prophecy: if you excuse Palestinian terrorism, there will be more of it. But on the bright side, the esteemed assistant secretary-general had some good news–sort of:

On a positive note, Toyberg-Frandzen said a UN-brokered agreement to get building materials into Gaza to rebuild the territory following this summer’s war between Israel and Hamas allowed 1,086 Gazans to purchase construction materials by Nov. 13. He said it is also encouraging that Israel plans to increase the number of trucks with construction materials entering Gaza from the current 300 to 800 daily.

Of course construction materials help Hamas in two ways: they either resell them at a premium to those who actually need them, or they take them for themselves to build terror tunnels and other threats to Israel. Again, that’s the supposed “positive note”: the UN is helping Hamas get back on its feet.

So what is Netanyahu to do? Not much, in fact. The numbers still favor his Likud party even if early elections are called. And there won’t be a national consensus over specific action because it’s unclear what action can or should be taken to put Jerusalem at ease. Mahmoud Abbas either can’t or won’t get Palestinians in Jerusalem to stop the violence, so there’s no partner on the Palestinian side. And there does not appear to be a way to dislodge the political right from its perch, so Israelis know that they are unlikely to find an alternative to Netanyahu who brings more upside without substantial downside as well.

Israeli governments aren’t known for their stability. That was thought to only get worse as the two major parties lost their respective virtual monopolies on the right and left. But surprisingly enough, Israeli democracy is proving resilient. It turns out that Israelis are much harder to intimidate and bully than the Palestinians, the UN, and the EU thought.

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Government at Work

The great comic writer Robert Benchley once wrote a short story in which his friend, Mr. McGregor, says that he has lost a locomotive. “How do you lose a locomotive?” Benchley, not unreasonably, asks. Mr. McGregor hasn’t the faintest idea. He just can’t remember where he put it. As they’re discussing how to lose a locomotive, the phone rings and when Benchley hangs up he says, “What were we talking about?” Mr. McGregor can’t remember and they change the subject.

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The great comic writer Robert Benchley once wrote a short story in which his friend, Mr. McGregor, says that he has lost a locomotive. “How do you lose a locomotive?” Benchley, not unreasonably, asks. Mr. McGregor hasn’t the faintest idea. He just can’t remember where he put it. As they’re discussing how to lose a locomotive, the phone rings and when Benchley hangs up he says, “What were we talking about?” Mr. McGregor can’t remember and they change the subject.

Well the Pentagon has, apparently, lost $6.6 billion in $100 bills, according to the American Spectator. That’s about one percent of the total supply of American currency, more than $20 for each man, woman, and child in the American population:

It’s little wonder the money disappeared. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration flooded the country with cash for reconstruction and other projects. It was a cash delivery that made the post-World War II Marshall Plan pale by comparison.

Pentagon officials determined that one giant C-130 Hercules cargo plane could carry $2.4 billion in shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills. They sent an initial full planeload of cash, followed by 20 other flights to Iraq by May 2004 in a $12 billion haul that U.S. officials believe to be the biggest international cash airlift of all time. The handling of the cash was haphazard at best, and totally lacking in financial controls.

Banks keep careful cash controls for both tellers, responsible for their draws, and head tellers, responsible for the whole branch. If more than a few dollars goes missing, someone gets fired. Apparently this vast hoard of cash was kept in the vault of one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. (One wonders what Saddam Hussein’s reaction would have been to that much money going missing—it wouldn’t have been pretty.)

After numerous audits, the Pentagon just stopped looking for it:

Astonishingly, in June 2011 the Pentagon and the Iraqi government closed the books on the program that handled the disappeared $6.6 billion in cold, hard cash. They just gave up. But before shutting the program down, federal auditors admitted that that some or all of the cash may have been stolen, not just misplaced in an accounting error. Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an office created by Congress, said the missing $6.6 billion may be “the largest theft of funds in national history.”

Seeing as the Pentagon needed a C-130 to move just one-third of that much money, that’s a pretty safe bet. Eat your heart out, Willy Sutton.

And liberals wonder why conservatives don’t trust government to run the nation’s health-care industry.

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