Commentary Magazine


Topic: author

Chabon Swings at Israel — and Hits Peter Beinart!

Novelist Michael Chabon is generally coy about his position on the Jewish state. Unlike his wife, writer Ayelet Waldman, Chabon tends to refrain from open anti-Zionism, although as the author of a bestselling novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, whose premise was the destruction of the state of Israel soon after its birth and the fanaticism of those who wished to bring it back into existence, it’s not as if his views are much of a mystery.

Therefore, one read his 1,700-word essay in the Sunday New York Times Week in Review section with interest to see how he would react to the Gaza flotilla. But Chabon is too nuanced a writer to pen a standard condemnation of Israel’s blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. Instead, his target was the whole notion that Jews are special or smart. Chabon approvingly quoted Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg as saying Israel’s actions demonstrated a lack of seichel, the Yiddish word for wisdom. Chabon goes on at considerable length to make a very small argument that few serious people would really disagree with: that Jews are as capable of making blunders as any other people.

Though some writers, like the estimable Charles Murray, have written in COMMENTARY about the special genius of the Jewish people, the majority of us who have spent our lives covering Jewish institutions and communities and following Israeli politics would probably have to side with Chabon rather than Murray on this one. At times, Israeli politics and, indeed, the politics of most Jewish communities do resemble the legendary village of Chelm — the place where Jewish folklore tells us an errant angel dropped a boatload of foolish souls — more than they do Plato’s Republic. The sectarian madness of Israel’s proportional system of representation in the Knesset and the lockstep liberalism of American Jews certainly is more than ample testimony of the Jewish capacity for foolishness.

But Chabon has bigger fish to fry than just saying that Jews can be dumb. His genuine target is not a poorly planned military expedition but rather “the foundational ambiguity of Judaism and Jewish identity; the idea of chosenness” — a concept that some of the most vicious critics of Judaism and Jews through the ages, such as Voltaire, have always found particularly distasteful.

Chabon sneers at what he considers the hypocrisy of a Jewish people that accepts the idea of being chosen (a religious concept that involves obligation to observe the Torah, not privilege) but then complains when “the world — cynically or sincerely — holds Israel to a different, higher standard as beneficiaries of that dispensation.” He goes on to cite Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which declares that the Jewish people have a right “to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state.” For him, this foundational document of Zionism also means that Jews “are every bit as capable of barbarism or stupidity.”

Leave aside the fact that blockading an area controlled by an Islamist terrorist group bent on Israel’s destruction is, by any reasonable standard, neither barbaric nor stupid, but actually a normal and quite restrained manner of self-defense against a lethal threat. Rather, let us focus on Chabon’s point that it is the Zionists who demand special treatment from the world or say that Israel’s legitimacy is based on any special Jewish attributes or genius.

If anything, what Chabon has done in this long, confused essay is to unwittingly skewer the Peter Beinarts of the world, the “liberal Zionists” for whom Israel is only worthy of existence if it conforms to their vision of what a Jewish state should be. For Beinart, an “illiberal” Israel — which is to say a democracy that chooses leaders and policies of self-defense that he disapproves of and that freely rejects those he likes — must expect American Jewish disdain. Contrary to the so-called “liberal Zionists” who are swarming to attack after the flotilla incident, Israel and its people have many virtues, but the state’s right to exist is predicated on the simple right of the Jews to rule over their own historic homeland. It is not the supporters of Israel who ask for that nation to be judged on the intelligence or the special righteousness of its people. They just ask that Israel not be judged more harshly or by different and more stringent standards of morality or justice than other nations (as it almost always is).

The “exceptionalism” of Jewish civilization rests in a religious and moral tradition that transcends politics or even the novels of a Michael Chabon. But Israel’s right to defend itself against terror is rooted in the simple demands of justice that apply to all peoples and for which Jews — be they smart or stupid — need not apologize. For all of their reputation for brilliance, that’s a lesson liberal Jews like Beinart and Chabon have yet to learn.

Novelist Michael Chabon is generally coy about his position on the Jewish state. Unlike his wife, writer Ayelet Waldman, Chabon tends to refrain from open anti-Zionism, although as the author of a bestselling novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, whose premise was the destruction of the state of Israel soon after its birth and the fanaticism of those who wished to bring it back into existence, it’s not as if his views are much of a mystery.

Therefore, one read his 1,700-word essay in the Sunday New York Times Week in Review section with interest to see how he would react to the Gaza flotilla. But Chabon is too nuanced a writer to pen a standard condemnation of Israel’s blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. Instead, his target was the whole notion that Jews are special or smart. Chabon approvingly quoted Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg as saying Israel’s actions demonstrated a lack of seichel, the Yiddish word for wisdom. Chabon goes on at considerable length to make a very small argument that few serious people would really disagree with: that Jews are as capable of making blunders as any other people.

Though some writers, like the estimable Charles Murray, have written in COMMENTARY about the special genius of the Jewish people, the majority of us who have spent our lives covering Jewish institutions and communities and following Israeli politics would probably have to side with Chabon rather than Murray on this one. At times, Israeli politics and, indeed, the politics of most Jewish communities do resemble the legendary village of Chelm — the place where Jewish folklore tells us an errant angel dropped a boatload of foolish souls — more than they do Plato’s Republic. The sectarian madness of Israel’s proportional system of representation in the Knesset and the lockstep liberalism of American Jews certainly is more than ample testimony of the Jewish capacity for foolishness.

But Chabon has bigger fish to fry than just saying that Jews can be dumb. His genuine target is not a poorly planned military expedition but rather “the foundational ambiguity of Judaism and Jewish identity; the idea of chosenness” — a concept that some of the most vicious critics of Judaism and Jews through the ages, such as Voltaire, have always found particularly distasteful.

Chabon sneers at what he considers the hypocrisy of a Jewish people that accepts the idea of being chosen (a religious concept that involves obligation to observe the Torah, not privilege) but then complains when “the world — cynically or sincerely — holds Israel to a different, higher standard as beneficiaries of that dispensation.” He goes on to cite Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which declares that the Jewish people have a right “to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state.” For him, this foundational document of Zionism also means that Jews “are every bit as capable of barbarism or stupidity.”

Leave aside the fact that blockading an area controlled by an Islamist terrorist group bent on Israel’s destruction is, by any reasonable standard, neither barbaric nor stupid, but actually a normal and quite restrained manner of self-defense against a lethal threat. Rather, let us focus on Chabon’s point that it is the Zionists who demand special treatment from the world or say that Israel’s legitimacy is based on any special Jewish attributes or genius.

If anything, what Chabon has done in this long, confused essay is to unwittingly skewer the Peter Beinarts of the world, the “liberal Zionists” for whom Israel is only worthy of existence if it conforms to their vision of what a Jewish state should be. For Beinart, an “illiberal” Israel — which is to say a democracy that chooses leaders and policies of self-defense that he disapproves of and that freely rejects those he likes — must expect American Jewish disdain. Contrary to the so-called “liberal Zionists” who are swarming to attack after the flotilla incident, Israel and its people have many virtues, but the state’s right to exist is predicated on the simple right of the Jews to rule over their own historic homeland. It is not the supporters of Israel who ask for that nation to be judged on the intelligence or the special righteousness of its people. They just ask that Israel not be judged more harshly or by different and more stringent standards of morality or justice than other nations (as it almost always is).

The “exceptionalism” of Jewish civilization rests in a religious and moral tradition that transcends politics or even the novels of a Michael Chabon. But Israel’s right to defend itself against terror is rooted in the simple demands of justice that apply to all peoples and for which Jews — be they smart or stupid — need not apologize. For all of their reputation for brilliance, that’s a lesson liberal Jews like Beinart and Chabon have yet to learn.

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Another Day, Another Security Leak

The New York Times reported Monday that General David Petraeus issued a secret directive in September, expanding covert military operations in the Middle East. The author, Mark Mazzetti, states that the Times’ staff has viewed a copy of the document. Preparation for the article included speaking to government officials who discussed its contents only on condition of anonymity, because it’s classified.

Fortunately, our information security usually works better than this. Leaks of national-security secrets are the exception and not the rule. But once again, someone on the government payroll, with a clearance, and with knowledge of classified current operations, has broken the law by disclosing what he knows to unauthorized recipients in the press.

It’s unlikely that we will be told someday that the leaker of the Petraeus directive took action because of sleepless nights and professional agony, as Newsweek reported in 2008 of one warrantless-wiretapping leaker who called the New York Times in 2004. In the case of the Petraeus directive, there is no apparent reason for a leaker to be motivated by concern about government overreach or civil rights. Perhaps the motive is disagreement with the policy.

But these leakers aren’t romantic heroes; they are people breaking their government’s security oaths. Thomas Tamm, the known wiretapping leaker, has been investigated (and lionized by the left) but never prosecuted. Yet it’s clear he broke his security oath by going to the media. It’s also clear from the Newsweek story that he came nowhere near exhausting his lawful options for registering concern about the wiretapping program. He apparently talked to a former colleague on the Senate Judiciary Committee — but not to his full chain of command at the Justice Department, to the Justice Department Inspector General, or to the intelligence oversight committee of either house of Congress.

James Risen, the Times reporter who broke the wiretapping story, was subpoenaed by Eric Holder last month to disclose the government sources for another of his classified revelations: this one involving information about U.S. efforts against Iran in his 2006 book State of War. Risen has refused to comply. His fate is uncertain; presumably, he might be jailed for contempt of court as Judith Miller was in the Valerie Plame Wilson case.

Miller ultimately agreed to testify after obtaining immunity. While the Plame Wilson case is not the best example of the real problems created by national-security leaks, the outcome with Miller was the right one for more genuinely damaging cases. The “journalist shield” exception should not protect government leakers who are committing felonies by the very act of disclosing classified information to the press.  Journalists should have to tell the authorities who they are.

The New York Times reported Monday that General David Petraeus issued a secret directive in September, expanding covert military operations in the Middle East. The author, Mark Mazzetti, states that the Times’ staff has viewed a copy of the document. Preparation for the article included speaking to government officials who discussed its contents only on condition of anonymity, because it’s classified.

Fortunately, our information security usually works better than this. Leaks of national-security secrets are the exception and not the rule. But once again, someone on the government payroll, with a clearance, and with knowledge of classified current operations, has broken the law by disclosing what he knows to unauthorized recipients in the press.

It’s unlikely that we will be told someday that the leaker of the Petraeus directive took action because of sleepless nights and professional agony, as Newsweek reported in 2008 of one warrantless-wiretapping leaker who called the New York Times in 2004. In the case of the Petraeus directive, there is no apparent reason for a leaker to be motivated by concern about government overreach or civil rights. Perhaps the motive is disagreement with the policy.

But these leakers aren’t romantic heroes; they are people breaking their government’s security oaths. Thomas Tamm, the known wiretapping leaker, has been investigated (and lionized by the left) but never prosecuted. Yet it’s clear he broke his security oath by going to the media. It’s also clear from the Newsweek story that he came nowhere near exhausting his lawful options for registering concern about the wiretapping program. He apparently talked to a former colleague on the Senate Judiciary Committee — but not to his full chain of command at the Justice Department, to the Justice Department Inspector General, or to the intelligence oversight committee of either house of Congress.

James Risen, the Times reporter who broke the wiretapping story, was subpoenaed by Eric Holder last month to disclose the government sources for another of his classified revelations: this one involving information about U.S. efforts against Iran in his 2006 book State of War. Risen has refused to comply. His fate is uncertain; presumably, he might be jailed for contempt of court as Judith Miller was in the Valerie Plame Wilson case.

Miller ultimately agreed to testify after obtaining immunity. While the Plame Wilson case is not the best example of the real problems created by national-security leaks, the outcome with Miller was the right one for more genuinely damaging cases. The “journalist shield” exception should not protect government leakers who are committing felonies by the very act of disclosing classified information to the press.  Journalists should have to tell the authorities who they are.

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Welcome, Ricochet

Peter Robinson (with whom I speak here) and Rob Long (author of, among many other things, one of the funniest books ever written about Hollywood, Conversations with My Agent) have just opened up their new group blog Ricochet for general viewing, and I have to say, as a veteran group blogger here and at National Review‘s The Corner, it’s a triumphant debut. Give it a look. There are also some very, very amusing podcasts featuring Rob, Peter, and Mark Steyn.

Peter Robinson (with whom I speak here) and Rob Long (author of, among many other things, one of the funniest books ever written about Hollywood, Conversations with My Agent) have just opened up their new group blog Ricochet for general viewing, and I have to say, as a veteran group blogger here and at National Review‘s The Corner, it’s a triumphant debut. Give it a look. There are also some very, very amusing podcasts featuring Rob, Peter, and Mark Steyn.

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A Sermon on Morality

For a fellow who presumably doesn’t much care for finger-wagging moralists, E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post has gotten quite good at that role over the years.

In his column today, Dionne deals with the fall from grace of Rep. Mark Souder, who resigned after admitting to an affair with an aide, as an opportunity to “shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough! … Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world.”

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

And wouldn’t it be lovely if liberal Christians remembered Jesus’s words when they were tempted, as the prominent liberal evangelical Jim Wallis has been, to say words excoriating their political foes as war criminals. I have in mind, for example, what Wallis said here:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. … Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

It’s worth noting that Dionne has had glowing things to say about Wallis, going so far as comparing him to the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, or Isaiah — something that, on reflection, even E.J. must cringe at.

Mr. Wallis doesn’t exhaust the list of offenders, by any means. Take the case of Randall Balmer, an influential professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, an editor for Christianity Today, author of a dozen books, and Emmy Award nominee. In his book To Change the World, the sociologist James Davison Hunter writes that in Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament:

[Balmer’s] disdain for the Christian Right lead him to engage in name-calling that is as one-dimensional and dehumanizing as the most extreme voices of the Christian Right, labeling his opponents “right-wing zealots” and “bullies” and their followers “minions,” who together are “intolerant,” “vicious,” “militaristic,” “bloviating,” and theocratic. In this regard, his perspective also matches the Manichaeism of the most extreme voices of the Christian Right for there is no shade or nuance in his description of the political realities with which he is wrestling.

I don’t recall Dionne often, or ever, specifically taking on liberal evangelicals for their slashing rhetoric — to say nothing of the left’s often uncivil and vicious attacks against conservatives, from George W. Bush on down. (Some examples can be found here.) The Outrage Meter seems to have been out of commission during that brief eight-year interlude.

And so let me take E.J.’s column to shout out as forcefully as I can to my liberal Christian friends: enough! Enough with the double standards. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, in a spirit that is markedly un-Christian. Enough with pretending that all the vices lie on one side rather than on both. Enough of the Manichaeism. Enough with the rigid ideology. Enough with the hypocrisy. Enough with pretending that you care about civility when what you really care about is advancing liberalism.

For a fellow who presumably doesn’t much care for finger-wagging moralists, E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post has gotten quite good at that role over the years.

In his column today, Dionne deals with the fall from grace of Rep. Mark Souder, who resigned after admitting to an affair with an aide, as an opportunity to “shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough! … Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world.”

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

And wouldn’t it be lovely if liberal Christians remembered Jesus’s words when they were tempted, as the prominent liberal evangelical Jim Wallis has been, to say words excoriating their political foes as war criminals. I have in mind, for example, what Wallis said here:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. … Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

It’s worth noting that Dionne has had glowing things to say about Wallis, going so far as comparing him to the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, or Isaiah — something that, on reflection, even E.J. must cringe at.

Mr. Wallis doesn’t exhaust the list of offenders, by any means. Take the case of Randall Balmer, an influential professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, an editor for Christianity Today, author of a dozen books, and Emmy Award nominee. In his book To Change the World, the sociologist James Davison Hunter writes that in Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament:

[Balmer’s] disdain for the Christian Right lead him to engage in name-calling that is as one-dimensional and dehumanizing as the most extreme voices of the Christian Right, labeling his opponents “right-wing zealots” and “bullies” and their followers “minions,” who together are “intolerant,” “vicious,” “militaristic,” “bloviating,” and theocratic. In this regard, his perspective also matches the Manichaeism of the most extreme voices of the Christian Right for there is no shade or nuance in his description of the political realities with which he is wrestling.

I don’t recall Dionne often, or ever, specifically taking on liberal evangelicals for their slashing rhetoric — to say nothing of the left’s often uncivil and vicious attacks against conservatives, from George W. Bush on down. (Some examples can be found here.) The Outrage Meter seems to have been out of commission during that brief eight-year interlude.

And so let me take E.J.’s column to shout out as forcefully as I can to my liberal Christian friends: enough! Enough with the double standards. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, in a spirit that is markedly un-Christian. Enough with pretending that all the vices lie on one side rather than on both. Enough of the Manichaeism. Enough with the rigid ideology. Enough with the hypocrisy. Enough with pretending that you care about civility when what you really care about is advancing liberalism.

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RE: Why Israel Can’t Rely on American Jewish “Leaders”

Rabbi Jack Moline in an online bulletin board has this to say about my post from yesterday:

My argument with the piece is not disagreement but its gratuitous nastiness. That is especially true because the author elected not to go to the source (my contact info is part of what was distributed), a distressing choice being made by ideologues on both sides of many issues.

Most amusing has been the responses of some contrary colleagues (not only Conservative). It boils down to: the meetings should never have taken place and I should have been invited.

First, Moline offers no substantive response to my post, no indication that it misrepresented his original report, and no reason to believe he can engage successfully in a battle of ideas. He has “no disagreement with it,” and he has no real bone to pick with Obama’s Iran policy. Huh? Well, this only serves to confirm the take of one of my readers, who concluded that the rabbis “were out of their league.” Second, he’s “amused” by his colleagues who think the meeting should never have taken place. Such contempt for colleagues — from a rabbi no less! And bravo for the savvy contrary colleagues, who were just the type Moline no doubt screened out from the meeting. Those who questioned the value of the meeting were right that the attendees were enabling the president and his policies, which are inimical to the interests of Israel.

In reply to the outpouring of condescension from Moline, one rabbi responded with this:

I did not want my comments to be amusing but rather challenging and thought provoking. … I served as advisor to the Governor of New Jersey and as legislative assistant to the ranking Senator in New York, as well as a commissioner in New Jersey for six years. I mention this to let you know  I know a little about the game of politics. When Rabbis meet as a group with the president, Governor, Senator,  Congressman, etc. it is because the presidents’ advisors feel comfortable with those who were invited. I know I will be criticized by saying this, but it is the way I see it. I arranged enough meetings for clergy of all faiths to know how the game is played. I had and have no wish to meet with Pres. Obama unless I know I can make a difference. I am not jealous but I am curious if the President left feeling informed or if he felt he used the guests in attendance — and won them over. I did meet a number of times with Presidents Bush, father and son. Not bragging. They were happy to use me. This is the game of politics.

Well that rabbi at least understands what Moline does not — that Moline was being used. More than that, Moline is using his position not to represent his community and confront the president but rather to give comfort and aid to the only president to condemn Israel and to attempt to reorient American policy away from its democratic ally and toward the Muslim despots who threaten the Jewish state. Did Moline try to extract a promise from Obama to use military force to remove an existential threat to Israel if other options failed? Did he take the opportunity to demand that Obama vow to resupply Israel if need be in a military confrontation with Iran? Did he quiz the president on why he has snubbed and undermined the Green Movement (by defunding Iranian human rights groups and engaging their oppressors)? Did he ask Obama why we have tolerated the transfer of missiles to Hezbollah? No.

Moline is quite concerned about his own critics and those of the administration, whom he dismisses as “nasty.” These critics are not nearly as harsh as history will be to those who failed to stand up for Israel in its moment of need.

Rabbi Jack Moline in an online bulletin board has this to say about my post from yesterday:

My argument with the piece is not disagreement but its gratuitous nastiness. That is especially true because the author elected not to go to the source (my contact info is part of what was distributed), a distressing choice being made by ideologues on both sides of many issues.

Most amusing has been the responses of some contrary colleagues (not only Conservative). It boils down to: the meetings should never have taken place and I should have been invited.

First, Moline offers no substantive response to my post, no indication that it misrepresented his original report, and no reason to believe he can engage successfully in a battle of ideas. He has “no disagreement with it,” and he has no real bone to pick with Obama’s Iran policy. Huh? Well, this only serves to confirm the take of one of my readers, who concluded that the rabbis “were out of their league.” Second, he’s “amused” by his colleagues who think the meeting should never have taken place. Such contempt for colleagues — from a rabbi no less! And bravo for the savvy contrary colleagues, who were just the type Moline no doubt screened out from the meeting. Those who questioned the value of the meeting were right that the attendees were enabling the president and his policies, which are inimical to the interests of Israel.

In reply to the outpouring of condescension from Moline, one rabbi responded with this:

I did not want my comments to be amusing but rather challenging and thought provoking. … I served as advisor to the Governor of New Jersey and as legislative assistant to the ranking Senator in New York, as well as a commissioner in New Jersey for six years. I mention this to let you know  I know a little about the game of politics. When Rabbis meet as a group with the president, Governor, Senator,  Congressman, etc. it is because the presidents’ advisors feel comfortable with those who were invited. I know I will be criticized by saying this, but it is the way I see it. I arranged enough meetings for clergy of all faiths to know how the game is played. I had and have no wish to meet with Pres. Obama unless I know I can make a difference. I am not jealous but I am curious if the President left feeling informed or if he felt he used the guests in attendance — and won them over. I did meet a number of times with Presidents Bush, father and son. Not bragging. They were happy to use me. This is the game of politics.

Well that rabbi at least understands what Moline does not — that Moline was being used. More than that, Moline is using his position not to represent his community and confront the president but rather to give comfort and aid to the only president to condemn Israel and to attempt to reorient American policy away from its democratic ally and toward the Muslim despots who threaten the Jewish state. Did Moline try to extract a promise from Obama to use military force to remove an existential threat to Israel if other options failed? Did he take the opportunity to demand that Obama vow to resupply Israel if need be in a military confrontation with Iran? Did he quiz the president on why he has snubbed and undermined the Green Movement (by defunding Iranian human rights groups and engaging their oppressors)? Did he ask Obama why we have tolerated the transfer of missiles to Hezbollah? No.

Moline is quite concerned about his own critics and those of the administration, whom he dismisses as “nasty.” These critics are not nearly as harsh as history will be to those who failed to stand up for Israel in its moment of need.

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The Supreme Court Isn’t the Harvard Law School Faculty

This report repeats the idea that Elena Kagan was nominated primarily to sway Justice Kennedy to the liberal side of those tricky 5-4 decisions. But if so, does this make any sense? That notion assumes that the Court operates like the Harvard Law School faculty, where nice words, dinner parties, back-slapping, and not revealing her own views served Kagan well. But that’s not how the Court operates:

Tom Goldstein, a Supreme Court lawyer at Akin Gump and author of the widely read SCOTUS Blog, says she has exhibited an “extraordinarily — almost artistically — careful” avoidance of public positions on any matters she might face as a Justice. “I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade,” Goldstein wrote.

And even if she did have well-established positions, they’d be nothing compared to Kennedy’s. “Justice Kennedy has been on the bench for 40-some years now, including his time on the Ninth Circuit,” says the former clerk. “It’s particularly unlikely that he’s going to fall under the sway of a new judge who’s never been on the court.”

This convoluted argument suggests just how farcical the notion is that a pleasing personality is a satisfactory substitute for developed legal scholarship and brilliant writing (neither of which Kagan has yet demonstrated):

Kagan supporters point to the fact that she convinced some hard-line Republicans to vote for her when she was nominated to be Solicitor General, most notably Jon Kyl of Arizona, the behind-the-scenes GOP power on the Judiciary Committee. Though he’s unlikely to vote for her for the Supreme Court, her ability to win him over, which she did in the course of a lengthy conversation in his office during the nomination process, counts for something.

Huh? So getting Kyl to vote for her once — but not for the Supreme Court — shows she can lure Kennedy into the liberal camp on knotty issues of constitutional and statutory interpretation, and do so better than did Justice Stevens, a man who had been on the bench for decades? It’s a bit absurd. If the Obama team wanted a smart, accomplished jurist who has shown the ability to go toe-to-toe with and persuade conservative judges, Diane Wood might have been a more apt pick. But instead Obama went with someone much like himself, who, come to think of it, hasn’t really been able to persuade conservatives or moderates about the wisdom of his positions.

This report repeats the idea that Elena Kagan was nominated primarily to sway Justice Kennedy to the liberal side of those tricky 5-4 decisions. But if so, does this make any sense? That notion assumes that the Court operates like the Harvard Law School faculty, where nice words, dinner parties, back-slapping, and not revealing her own views served Kagan well. But that’s not how the Court operates:

Tom Goldstein, a Supreme Court lawyer at Akin Gump and author of the widely read SCOTUS Blog, says she has exhibited an “extraordinarily — almost artistically — careful” avoidance of public positions on any matters she might face as a Justice. “I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade,” Goldstein wrote.

And even if she did have well-established positions, they’d be nothing compared to Kennedy’s. “Justice Kennedy has been on the bench for 40-some years now, including his time on the Ninth Circuit,” says the former clerk. “It’s particularly unlikely that he’s going to fall under the sway of a new judge who’s never been on the court.”

This convoluted argument suggests just how farcical the notion is that a pleasing personality is a satisfactory substitute for developed legal scholarship and brilliant writing (neither of which Kagan has yet demonstrated):

Kagan supporters point to the fact that she convinced some hard-line Republicans to vote for her when she was nominated to be Solicitor General, most notably Jon Kyl of Arizona, the behind-the-scenes GOP power on the Judiciary Committee. Though he’s unlikely to vote for her for the Supreme Court, her ability to win him over, which she did in the course of a lengthy conversation in his office during the nomination process, counts for something.

Huh? So getting Kyl to vote for her once — but not for the Supreme Court — shows she can lure Kennedy into the liberal camp on knotty issues of constitutional and statutory interpretation, and do so better than did Justice Stevens, a man who had been on the bench for decades? It’s a bit absurd. If the Obama team wanted a smart, accomplished jurist who has shown the ability to go toe-to-toe with and persuade conservative judges, Diane Wood might have been a more apt pick. But instead Obama went with someone much like himself, who, come to think of it, hasn’t really been able to persuade conservatives or moderates about the wisdom of his positions.

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The Real Lindsay

A new exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, a new book, and a new documentary (to air again on PBS May 12) comprise a joint project with the apparent aim of refurbishing the tarnished reputation of John Lindsay, who presided over the rapid decline of New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

This attempted revisionism is reminiscent of the obituaries and press tributes that came Lindsay’s way on the occasion of his passing in December 2000, as the very media that created and nurtured Lindsay would, at the time of his death, seek to put the best possible face on a political career that ranged from the mediocre to the disastrous. How deep in the tank for Lindsay were the city’s leading media outlets? Ken Auletta, in The Streets Were Paved with Gold, his study of how New York nearly went bankrupt in the 1970s, wrote:

The paper that thinks of itself as the city’s conscience — The New York Times — abdicated. … The editorial page editors of both [the Times and the then-liberal New York Post] were too close to Lindsay, serving as advisers. They were not only politically but ideologically coopted. They supported the city’s tax and spending policies. Instead of viewing what the city was doing as harshly as they would Defense Department cost overruns, they permitted their liberal ideology to sway their judgment.

In a telling anecdote in Fit to Print, a biography of former Times executive editor A.M. Rosenthal, author Joseph Goulden quotes a reporter named Douglas Robinson who witnessed something extraordinary on election night 1965: Rosenthal and deputy metropolitan editor, Arthur Gelb, “were dancing up and down as the returns came in showing a victory for Lindsay. ‘We won! We won!’ they were shouting.”

Of course, there are limits to what even the most accomplished revisionist can do with a record like Lindsay’s, and the Times, straining to find praise in an editorial the week of Lindsay’s death, was forced to acknowledge the realities of life under Lindsay:

There was continuing labor unrest, fiscal problems, rising taxes and crime, a tripling of the welfare rolls. During his tenure … the white middle and working classes felt increasingly alienated, especially when the mayor tried to build housing for poor blacks in the mostly Jewish, middle-class section of Forest Hills. … He even gets much of the legitimate blame for the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s. Quite the indictment, all around.

Lindsay was an especially unloved figure in the city’s Jewish community, reviled by outer-borough Jews who blamed him for the city’s skyrocketing crime rate and his administration’s pandering to militants in minority communities.

As noted by sociologist Jonathan Rieder in Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn against Liberalism, when Lindsay ran for re-election in 1969, his share of the Jewish vote totaled between 30 and 36 percent in Canarsie’s most liberal areas and considerably less in other parts of what at the time was a quintessentially lower-middle-class neighborhood.

One of Rieder’s interviewees summed up the feelings of his friends and neighbors: “It was under John Lindsay,” he said, “that the Jewish community in New York suffered its greatest decline.”

A new exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, a new book, and a new documentary (to air again on PBS May 12) comprise a joint project with the apparent aim of refurbishing the tarnished reputation of John Lindsay, who presided over the rapid decline of New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

This attempted revisionism is reminiscent of the obituaries and press tributes that came Lindsay’s way on the occasion of his passing in December 2000, as the very media that created and nurtured Lindsay would, at the time of his death, seek to put the best possible face on a political career that ranged from the mediocre to the disastrous. How deep in the tank for Lindsay were the city’s leading media outlets? Ken Auletta, in The Streets Were Paved with Gold, his study of how New York nearly went bankrupt in the 1970s, wrote:

The paper that thinks of itself as the city’s conscience — The New York Times — abdicated. … The editorial page editors of both [the Times and the then-liberal New York Post] were too close to Lindsay, serving as advisers. They were not only politically but ideologically coopted. They supported the city’s tax and spending policies. Instead of viewing what the city was doing as harshly as they would Defense Department cost overruns, they permitted their liberal ideology to sway their judgment.

In a telling anecdote in Fit to Print, a biography of former Times executive editor A.M. Rosenthal, author Joseph Goulden quotes a reporter named Douglas Robinson who witnessed something extraordinary on election night 1965: Rosenthal and deputy metropolitan editor, Arthur Gelb, “were dancing up and down as the returns came in showing a victory for Lindsay. ‘We won! We won!’ they were shouting.”

Of course, there are limits to what even the most accomplished revisionist can do with a record like Lindsay’s, and the Times, straining to find praise in an editorial the week of Lindsay’s death, was forced to acknowledge the realities of life under Lindsay:

There was continuing labor unrest, fiscal problems, rising taxes and crime, a tripling of the welfare rolls. During his tenure … the white middle and working classes felt increasingly alienated, especially when the mayor tried to build housing for poor blacks in the mostly Jewish, middle-class section of Forest Hills. … He even gets much of the legitimate blame for the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s. Quite the indictment, all around.

Lindsay was an especially unloved figure in the city’s Jewish community, reviled by outer-borough Jews who blamed him for the city’s skyrocketing crime rate and his administration’s pandering to militants in minority communities.

As noted by sociologist Jonathan Rieder in Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn against Liberalism, when Lindsay ran for re-election in 1969, his share of the Jewish vote totaled between 30 and 36 percent in Canarsie’s most liberal areas and considerably less in other parts of what at the time was a quintessentially lower-middle-class neighborhood.

One of Rieder’s interviewees summed up the feelings of his friends and neighbors: “It was under John Lindsay,” he said, “that the Jewish community in New York suffered its greatest decline.”

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Oxymorons

The New York Times yesterday (as Jonathan noted) published an article about disagreements among American Jews about Israel. The article was centered on a synagogue in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. A secular humanist synagogue in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Ah. So what’s wrong with this picture? Evidently, the author, Paul Vitello, did not realize this, or his assigning editor, or his desk editor, or the assistant managing editor overseeing them, or the managing editor, but a house of worship that characterizes itself as “secular” is … um … not really representative of anything except the bizarre notions of its own members. And you don’t need a degree in theology to understand this. Only a dictionary, in which you can look up the word “secular” and the word “synagogue” and note how maybe they don’t quite align.

The New York Times yesterday (as Jonathan noted) published an article about disagreements among American Jews about Israel. The article was centered on a synagogue in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. A secular humanist synagogue in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Ah. So what’s wrong with this picture? Evidently, the author, Paul Vitello, did not realize this, or his assigning editor, or his desk editor, or the assistant managing editor overseeing them, or the managing editor, but a house of worship that characterizes itself as “secular” is … um … not really representative of anything except the bizarre notions of its own members. And you don’t need a degree in theology to understand this. Only a dictionary, in which you can look up the word “secular” and the word “synagogue” and note how maybe they don’t quite align.

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The Nasty Presidential Comic

Pete and I recently commented on Obama’s unfortunately snippy tone and nasty approach to his political adversaries. The evidence continues to mount that this president is lacking in basic graciousness and possesses, even for a politician, an overabundance of arrogance. The Washington Post reports on his comedy routine at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner over the weekend:

Breaking with presidential punch line tradition for the second consecutive year, Obama dropped zinger after zinger on his opponents and allies alike at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Obama went all Don Rickles on a broad range of topics and individuals: Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the news media, Jay Leno, and Republicans Michael Steele, Scott Brown, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute stand-up routine.

It did not go unnoticed by those who expect the president to be self-deprecating and ingratiating at these events:

Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama’s] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

In isolation, one night of barbed humor doesn’t amount to much. But when seen in conjunction with his general lack of respect for adversaries and his nonstop attacks on everyone from Sarah Palin to Fox News to his predecessor, one comes away with a picture of a thin-skinned and rather nasty character. It’s not an attractive personality in a president, and he may regret having failed to extend a measure of kindness and magnanimity that we have come to expect from presidents.

Pete and I recently commented on Obama’s unfortunately snippy tone and nasty approach to his political adversaries. The evidence continues to mount that this president is lacking in basic graciousness and possesses, even for a politician, an overabundance of arrogance. The Washington Post reports on his comedy routine at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner over the weekend:

Breaking with presidential punch line tradition for the second consecutive year, Obama dropped zinger after zinger on his opponents and allies alike at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Obama went all Don Rickles on a broad range of topics and individuals: Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the news media, Jay Leno, and Republicans Michael Steele, Scott Brown, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute stand-up routine.

It did not go unnoticed by those who expect the president to be self-deprecating and ingratiating at these events:

Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama’s] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

In isolation, one night of barbed humor doesn’t amount to much. But when seen in conjunction with his general lack of respect for adversaries and his nonstop attacks on everyone from Sarah Palin to Fox News to his predecessor, one comes away with a picture of a thin-skinned and rather nasty character. It’s not an attractive personality in a president, and he may regret having failed to extend a measure of kindness and magnanimity that we have come to expect from presidents.

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The Sound of Silence

Normally, when Human Rights Watch is criticized, the group retaliates with harsh and aggressive attacks on its accusers. Ken Roth, the head of HRW, is famous for this. When it was disclosed last summer that HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money for its “fights with pro-Israel groups,” Roth told Jeffrey Goldberg that Israel’s “supporters fight back with lies and deception.” When HRW’s founder, Bob Bernstein, criticized the group in a New York Times op-ed, HRW fired back by egregiously misrepresenting Bernstein’s argument and then denouncing it in classic straw-man fashion.

A couple of days ago, a long investigative piece was published in the New Republic, which contained the most damaging revelations yet about the group’s hostility to Israel, the sloppiness of its work, and the opinions of some of the crackpots who work in its offices. I was expecting Roth and his goon squad to go nuclear, as they normally do, with wild accusations of lies and right-wing smears. Strangely, nothing of the sort has happened. HRW’s defense comes in the form of a short, passionless statement of support by a board member who seems to be the go-to person for defenses of HRW’s treatment of Israel, and who incredibly insists that HRW is “actually good for Israel.”

There is no attempt to refute the carefully documented facts contained in Birnbaum’s TNR piece; there is no smear campaign against the author; there are no fervent letters to the editor insisting on HRW’s invincible moral authority. Instead, there is silence. I think I know why: HRW has been beaten. The case against it has become too strong and too airtight, and HRW’s attempts at self-defense, as the group learned from its attempt to trash its own founder, are so implausible and desperate that they only make the situation worse.

With the TNR piece, we enter a new phase with Human Rights Watch, in which the group no longer tries to marshal a spirited defense of its conduct and reputation. This is how we know things are going the wrong way for HRW: when self-defense becomes so embarrassing that it’s better to keep quiet and hope everyone’s attention shifts to other subjects.

The problem is, that’s not going to happen. It’s time to batten down the hatches at Human Rights Watch.

Normally, when Human Rights Watch is criticized, the group retaliates with harsh and aggressive attacks on its accusers. Ken Roth, the head of HRW, is famous for this. When it was disclosed last summer that HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money for its “fights with pro-Israel groups,” Roth told Jeffrey Goldberg that Israel’s “supporters fight back with lies and deception.” When HRW’s founder, Bob Bernstein, criticized the group in a New York Times op-ed, HRW fired back by egregiously misrepresenting Bernstein’s argument and then denouncing it in classic straw-man fashion.

A couple of days ago, a long investigative piece was published in the New Republic, which contained the most damaging revelations yet about the group’s hostility to Israel, the sloppiness of its work, and the opinions of some of the crackpots who work in its offices. I was expecting Roth and his goon squad to go nuclear, as they normally do, with wild accusations of lies and right-wing smears. Strangely, nothing of the sort has happened. HRW’s defense comes in the form of a short, passionless statement of support by a board member who seems to be the go-to person for defenses of HRW’s treatment of Israel, and who incredibly insists that HRW is “actually good for Israel.”

There is no attempt to refute the carefully documented facts contained in Birnbaum’s TNR piece; there is no smear campaign against the author; there are no fervent letters to the editor insisting on HRW’s invincible moral authority. Instead, there is silence. I think I know why: HRW has been beaten. The case against it has become too strong and too airtight, and HRW’s attempts at self-defense, as the group learned from its attempt to trash its own founder, are so implausible and desperate that they only make the situation worse.

With the TNR piece, we enter a new phase with Human Rights Watch, in which the group no longer tries to marshal a spirited defense of its conduct and reputation. This is how we know things are going the wrong way for HRW: when self-defense becomes so embarrassing that it’s better to keep quiet and hope everyone’s attention shifts to other subjects.

The problem is, that’s not going to happen. It’s time to batten down the hatches at Human Rights Watch.

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Tikkun’s Jewish ‘Ethics’ — Honor Goldstone for Libeling Israel

With the rise of groups like the left-wing lobby J Street and the presence of a critic of Israel in the White House, it’s hard for a magazine like Michael Lerner’s Tikkun to get much attention these days. But Lerner is doing his best (or is it his worst?) in an effort to recapture the focus of Jewish leftists.  To that end, as Jennifer has pointed out, the magazine has announced that it is giving its 25th annual “ethics” award to Richard Goldstone, the author of the biased and inaccurate United Nations report on last year’s war in Gaza that slandered Israel.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Lerner says he decided to give his dubious prize to Goldstone before the brouhaha over whether the South African jurist would be prevented from attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah because of the anger of his fellow Jews at his presence in synagogue. But, Lerner says, he decided to announce the award now as an answer to Goldstone’s “outrageous” treatment.

The controversy over the Goldstone bar mitzvah is regrettable for two reasons. First, because a child’s rite of passage ought to be allowed to proceed without political demonstrations against one of his relatives, no matter how odious that relative might be. Second, because the threat of a demonstration against Goldstone at the synagogue enabled him to pose as a victim of Jewish intolerance rather than owning up to the fact that he allowed the anti-Semites at the UN to use him as a front man for a vicious libel against the Jewish state. The report treated Hamas aggression against Israel as a minor affair while hyping every unproven atrocity charge against Israel’s counteroffensive against terror.  It serves to delegitimize the Jewish state’s right of self-defense while allowing those who wish to exterminate that state and its Jewish inhabitants to be treated kindly. Goldstone is no martyr. His connection with this document is a badge of shame that will be indelibly attached to his name in Jewish history, a fact that ought to make us all sympathize with his relatives.

As for Lerner, true to form, he is trying to grab a little publicity out of this mess. The self-declared rabbi of Jewish Renewal has now invited the Goldstones to have the boy’s bar mitzvah in his Berkeley synagogue. Goldstone, whose despicable betrayal has made him persona non grata to any Jewish community with a shred of honor or self-respect, might well be received with cheers in the People’s Republic of Berkeley. But surely even he must know that an “ethics award” from the likes of Lerner is nothing to brag about.

With the rise of groups like the left-wing lobby J Street and the presence of a critic of Israel in the White House, it’s hard for a magazine like Michael Lerner’s Tikkun to get much attention these days. But Lerner is doing his best (or is it his worst?) in an effort to recapture the focus of Jewish leftists.  To that end, as Jennifer has pointed out, the magazine has announced that it is giving its 25th annual “ethics” award to Richard Goldstone, the author of the biased and inaccurate United Nations report on last year’s war in Gaza that slandered Israel.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Lerner says he decided to give his dubious prize to Goldstone before the brouhaha over whether the South African jurist would be prevented from attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah because of the anger of his fellow Jews at his presence in synagogue. But, Lerner says, he decided to announce the award now as an answer to Goldstone’s “outrageous” treatment.

The controversy over the Goldstone bar mitzvah is regrettable for two reasons. First, because a child’s rite of passage ought to be allowed to proceed without political demonstrations against one of his relatives, no matter how odious that relative might be. Second, because the threat of a demonstration against Goldstone at the synagogue enabled him to pose as a victim of Jewish intolerance rather than owning up to the fact that he allowed the anti-Semites at the UN to use him as a front man for a vicious libel against the Jewish state. The report treated Hamas aggression against Israel as a minor affair while hyping every unproven atrocity charge against Israel’s counteroffensive against terror.  It serves to delegitimize the Jewish state’s right of self-defense while allowing those who wish to exterminate that state and its Jewish inhabitants to be treated kindly. Goldstone is no martyr. His connection with this document is a badge of shame that will be indelibly attached to his name in Jewish history, a fact that ought to make us all sympathize with his relatives.

As for Lerner, true to form, he is trying to grab a little publicity out of this mess. The self-declared rabbi of Jewish Renewal has now invited the Goldstones to have the boy’s bar mitzvah in his Berkeley synagogue. Goldstone, whose despicable betrayal has made him persona non grata to any Jewish community with a shred of honor or self-respect, might well be received with cheers in the People’s Republic of Berkeley. But surely even he must know that an “ethics award” from the likes of Lerner is nothing to brag about.

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Joe Kennedy Innocent of One Charge, Guilty of the Rest

On a list of prominent 20th-century Americans who were easy to dislike, Joseph P. Kennedy has to rank near the top.

The father of our 35th president was widely reviled in his own time as an unscrupulous operator in the worlds of high finance and politics. Having invested heavily in the presidential candidacy of Franklin Roosevelt, he was rewarded by FDR first with the post of chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission (Roosevelt famously defended his appointment of a man thought to be a crook with the quip that it “takes one to catch one”) and then with the post of U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, where his anti-Semitism and support of appeasement of the Nazis was particularly damaging. A master of insider trading and market manipulation, he was also long rumored to be connected with the Mafia and to have made a fortune in bootlegging during Prohibition as a bootlegger.

But according to author Daniel Okrent, the elder Kennedy was innocent of one of these charges: bootlegging. In an excerpt from his new history of Prohibition published by the Daily Beast, Okrent writes that whatever else you can pin on the Kennedy patriarch, including his serial philandering, he wasn’t a bootlegger. Okrent’s research shows that despite his other nefarious activities, Kennedy’s involvement in the liquor industry was strictly legal. Prior to the repeal of Prohibition, he had sold liquor via legal “medicinal” permits. After it ended, with the help of FDR’s son James, Kennedy obtained import agreements to sell various British whiskey and gin, which added to his already considerable fortune. But, the former New York Times ombudsman says, there is no evidence that he illegally brought in hooch during Prohibition. The “bootlegger” charge is, he believes, a legend that grew up long after the time when these actions supposedly took place.

It’s an interesting point but shouldn’t change anyone’s opinion of the old reprobate. Joseph P. Kennedy was a despicable person on so many levels and his involvement in our national life was generally so malevolent that the fact that there is one less crime on his charge sheet doesn’t make him more attractive. Indeed, as one reader said in a response to the excerpt posted by the Daily Beast, “I would have respected Joseph Kennedy more if he HAD been a bootlegger.”

On a list of prominent 20th-century Americans who were easy to dislike, Joseph P. Kennedy has to rank near the top.

The father of our 35th president was widely reviled in his own time as an unscrupulous operator in the worlds of high finance and politics. Having invested heavily in the presidential candidacy of Franklin Roosevelt, he was rewarded by FDR first with the post of chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission (Roosevelt famously defended his appointment of a man thought to be a crook with the quip that it “takes one to catch one”) and then with the post of U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, where his anti-Semitism and support of appeasement of the Nazis was particularly damaging. A master of insider trading and market manipulation, he was also long rumored to be connected with the Mafia and to have made a fortune in bootlegging during Prohibition as a bootlegger.

But according to author Daniel Okrent, the elder Kennedy was innocent of one of these charges: bootlegging. In an excerpt from his new history of Prohibition published by the Daily Beast, Okrent writes that whatever else you can pin on the Kennedy patriarch, including his serial philandering, he wasn’t a bootlegger. Okrent’s research shows that despite his other nefarious activities, Kennedy’s involvement in the liquor industry was strictly legal. Prior to the repeal of Prohibition, he had sold liquor via legal “medicinal” permits. After it ended, with the help of FDR’s son James, Kennedy obtained import agreements to sell various British whiskey and gin, which added to his already considerable fortune. But, the former New York Times ombudsman says, there is no evidence that he illegally brought in hooch during Prohibition. The “bootlegger” charge is, he believes, a legend that grew up long after the time when these actions supposedly took place.

It’s an interesting point but shouldn’t change anyone’s opinion of the old reprobate. Joseph P. Kennedy was a despicable person on so many levels and his involvement in our national life was generally so malevolent that the fact that there is one less crime on his charge sheet doesn’t make him more attractive. Indeed, as one reader said in a response to the excerpt posted by the Daily Beast, “I would have respected Joseph Kennedy more if he HAD been a bootlegger.”

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Assassinating Tocqueville

Reading François Furstenberg’s ill-founded assault on Alexis de Tocqueville on Slate.com, one is left wondering whether the history-professor-turned-reviewer has ever actually read Democracy in America.

Furstenberg, in reviewing Tocqueville’s Discovery of America by Leo Damrosch, purports to answer “what Tocqueville and his friend really did on their travels.” Because collecting material for what would become a political-science classic must have been a paltry time commitment, the reviewer suggests that Tocqueville “flirted his way through salons and dinner parties, stumbling along in mediocre English, complaining about the prudishness of American women.”

This review makes several ungrounded criticisms of poor Alexis, who is quite regrettably too long gone to defend himself. But because Democracy in America is such an enduring work, and because some of Tocqueville’s warnings are at their most relevant today, the review deserves to be dismantled piece by piece, pairing Furstenberg’s cheap shots with Tocqueville’s actual words.

(Furstenberg might be thrilled to discover that Democracy in America is not only found in libraries around the country, including at the New York Public Library, to which he has full access through May 2010 as a fellow there — it is also available online in its entirety, both Volume 1 and Volume 2 — searchable, even, for the sake of convenience. Given Furstenberg’s demonstrated interest in the topic, I highly recommend it to him.)

Furstenberg’s criticism centers on class and race, both of which Tocqueville treats at length. He repeatedly takes out of context Tocqueville’s writings on race relations. “[Tocqueville] bumped into Native Americans being expelled from the eastern states on the infamous Trail of Tears. But he didn’t make much of it, failing to connect that experience to his own reflections on the danger of the tyranny of the majority,” writes Furstenberg.

He must have somehow missed Tocqueville’s lengthy analysis of the injustices committed against the Native Americans, to be found in Volume 1, where he describes how, through trickery and coercion, American settlers “obtain, at a very low price, whole provinces, which the richest sovereigns of Europe could not purchase. … These are great evils; and it must be added that they appear to me to be irremediable.” In fact, Tocqueville portrays the Native Americans as the last remnants of the noble warrior-aristocracy, and he bemoans their degradation and the loss of their civilization.

Yet Furstenberg continues with his race-based criticism. He wrongly implies that slavery was not a big issue for Tocqueville:

Clearly Tocqueville, unlike Beaumont, believed that slavery and racism did not touch on “the essential nature of democracy,” as Damrosch puts it. … When he did turn his mind to the subjects [of race and slavery], moreover, Tocqueville was exceedingly gloomy, convinced that a multiracial democracy was impossible. If slaves ever gained their freedom, he predicted a genocidal war: ‘the most horrible of all civil wars, and perhaps the destruction of one of the two races.’ … One of the most striking features of emancipation, as it actually happened a generation later, was the lack of violence foreseen by Tocqueville and many others.

But Democracy in America clearly outlines Tocqueville’s strong concern about slavery and its consequences for the future of American democracy. He describes slavery as a “permanent evil,” a “calamity,” and a “wound thus inflicted on humanity.” The consequences of slavery would be even more far-reaching and disastrous, Tocqueville supposes, because “the abstract and transient fact of slavery is fatally united with the physical and permanent fact of color.” He expects that “the moderns, then, after they have abolished slavery, have three prejudices to contend against, which are less easy to attack, and far less easy to conquer than the mere fact of servitude, — the prejudice of the master, the prejudice of the race, and the prejudice of color.”

Furstenberg seems to misunderstand Tocqueville entirely on this point. Far from downplaying the importance of slavery, Tocqueville questions how it can be overcome, and without the violence and devastation of the kind seen in the French Revolution. Furthermore, one might wonder what sort of historical rejiggering has led Furstenberg to think emancipation or civil-rights strides occurred in an atmosphere “lack[ing] of violence.” Democracy in America predicts the ways slavery has promoted racism and acknowledges that the abolition of slavery will not solve America’s racism problem. It is especially baffling that Furstenberg, who has written a book about slavery and U.S. nationalism, missed this.

But the writer is not only wrong about Tocqueville’s ideas about race. He also writes, “Busy chatting in the parlors of wealthy Americans, Tocqueville didn’t seem to notice the artisans slowly being forced into unskilled labor, or immigrant dockworkers, or freed blacks struggling to eke out a living on the margins of American life.” He must have missed entirely the portion of Democracy in America where Tocqueville worries about the intellectual consequences of division of labor:

What can be expected of a man who has spent twenty years of his life in making heads for pins? And to what can that mighty human intelligence, which has so often stirred the world, be applied to him, except it be to investigate the best method of making pins’ heads? … Thus at the very time at which the science of manufactures lowers the class of workmen, it raises the class of masters.

Tocqueville goes on to acknowledge that the supervisor-worker relationship begins to look like that between the aristocratic master and the “brute” — and “what is this but aristocracy?” he asks. More broadly, Furstenberg overlooks Tocqueville’s plentiful examples of working-class Americans who find both their work and the profit earned from it honorable. A close reading of Democracy in America proves the author both realistic and respectful about the working class.

The bigger point is that, read in context, Tocqueville’s writing often portrays the working class favorably and emphatically condemns slavery and racism. The advocates of Big Government may have good reason to go after Tocqueville, who was one of the first to warn about the dangers of the welfare state in democratic societies. Perhaps their bone with Tocqueville is that he prizes liberty and dares to note the risks of absolute equality, even after fairly observing the conditions of workers and minorities. If this book review is not an academic oversight on Furstenberg’s part, it is certainly character assassination.

Reading François Furstenberg’s ill-founded assault on Alexis de Tocqueville on Slate.com, one is left wondering whether the history-professor-turned-reviewer has ever actually read Democracy in America.

Furstenberg, in reviewing Tocqueville’s Discovery of America by Leo Damrosch, purports to answer “what Tocqueville and his friend really did on their travels.” Because collecting material for what would become a political-science classic must have been a paltry time commitment, the reviewer suggests that Tocqueville “flirted his way through salons and dinner parties, stumbling along in mediocre English, complaining about the prudishness of American women.”

This review makes several ungrounded criticisms of poor Alexis, who is quite regrettably too long gone to defend himself. But because Democracy in America is such an enduring work, and because some of Tocqueville’s warnings are at their most relevant today, the review deserves to be dismantled piece by piece, pairing Furstenberg’s cheap shots with Tocqueville’s actual words.

(Furstenberg might be thrilled to discover that Democracy in America is not only found in libraries around the country, including at the New York Public Library, to which he has full access through May 2010 as a fellow there — it is also available online in its entirety, both Volume 1 and Volume 2 — searchable, even, for the sake of convenience. Given Furstenberg’s demonstrated interest in the topic, I highly recommend it to him.)

Furstenberg’s criticism centers on class and race, both of which Tocqueville treats at length. He repeatedly takes out of context Tocqueville’s writings on race relations. “[Tocqueville] bumped into Native Americans being expelled from the eastern states on the infamous Trail of Tears. But he didn’t make much of it, failing to connect that experience to his own reflections on the danger of the tyranny of the majority,” writes Furstenberg.

He must have somehow missed Tocqueville’s lengthy analysis of the injustices committed against the Native Americans, to be found in Volume 1, where he describes how, through trickery and coercion, American settlers “obtain, at a very low price, whole provinces, which the richest sovereigns of Europe could not purchase. … These are great evils; and it must be added that they appear to me to be irremediable.” In fact, Tocqueville portrays the Native Americans as the last remnants of the noble warrior-aristocracy, and he bemoans their degradation and the loss of their civilization.

Yet Furstenberg continues with his race-based criticism. He wrongly implies that slavery was not a big issue for Tocqueville:

Clearly Tocqueville, unlike Beaumont, believed that slavery and racism did not touch on “the essential nature of democracy,” as Damrosch puts it. … When he did turn his mind to the subjects [of race and slavery], moreover, Tocqueville was exceedingly gloomy, convinced that a multiracial democracy was impossible. If slaves ever gained their freedom, he predicted a genocidal war: ‘the most horrible of all civil wars, and perhaps the destruction of one of the two races.’ … One of the most striking features of emancipation, as it actually happened a generation later, was the lack of violence foreseen by Tocqueville and many others.

But Democracy in America clearly outlines Tocqueville’s strong concern about slavery and its consequences for the future of American democracy. He describes slavery as a “permanent evil,” a “calamity,” and a “wound thus inflicted on humanity.” The consequences of slavery would be even more far-reaching and disastrous, Tocqueville supposes, because “the abstract and transient fact of slavery is fatally united with the physical and permanent fact of color.” He expects that “the moderns, then, after they have abolished slavery, have three prejudices to contend against, which are less easy to attack, and far less easy to conquer than the mere fact of servitude, — the prejudice of the master, the prejudice of the race, and the prejudice of color.”

Furstenberg seems to misunderstand Tocqueville entirely on this point. Far from downplaying the importance of slavery, Tocqueville questions how it can be overcome, and without the violence and devastation of the kind seen in the French Revolution. Furthermore, one might wonder what sort of historical rejiggering has led Furstenberg to think emancipation or civil-rights strides occurred in an atmosphere “lack[ing] of violence.” Democracy in America predicts the ways slavery has promoted racism and acknowledges that the abolition of slavery will not solve America’s racism problem. It is especially baffling that Furstenberg, who has written a book about slavery and U.S. nationalism, missed this.

But the writer is not only wrong about Tocqueville’s ideas about race. He also writes, “Busy chatting in the parlors of wealthy Americans, Tocqueville didn’t seem to notice the artisans slowly being forced into unskilled labor, or immigrant dockworkers, or freed blacks struggling to eke out a living on the margins of American life.” He must have missed entirely the portion of Democracy in America where Tocqueville worries about the intellectual consequences of division of labor:

What can be expected of a man who has spent twenty years of his life in making heads for pins? And to what can that mighty human intelligence, which has so often stirred the world, be applied to him, except it be to investigate the best method of making pins’ heads? … Thus at the very time at which the science of manufactures lowers the class of workmen, it raises the class of masters.

Tocqueville goes on to acknowledge that the supervisor-worker relationship begins to look like that between the aristocratic master and the “brute” — and “what is this but aristocracy?” he asks. More broadly, Furstenberg overlooks Tocqueville’s plentiful examples of working-class Americans who find both their work and the profit earned from it honorable. A close reading of Democracy in America proves the author both realistic and respectful about the working class.

The bigger point is that, read in context, Tocqueville’s writing often portrays the working class favorably and emphatically condemns slavery and racism. The advocates of Big Government may have good reason to go after Tocqueville, who was one of the first to warn about the dangers of the welfare state in democratic societies. Perhaps their bone with Tocqueville is that he prizes liberty and dares to note the risks of absolute equality, even after fairly observing the conditions of workers and minorities. If this book review is not an academic oversight on Furstenberg’s part, it is certainly character assassination.

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Dialogue with the Wrong American Muslim Partners

The New York Times is reporting that the Obama administration has come a long way from the president’s campaign practices that had him keeping his distance from Muslims. According to the paper’s Andrea Elliott, “his administration has reached out to this politically isolated constituency in a sustained and widening effort that has left even skeptics surprised.”

There is, of course, nothing wrong with a man who once considered the notion that he might be a Muslim to be a “smear” now having members of his administration meet with representatives of a minority group. However, when this same administration has banned the use of language that might give anyone the notion that America is fighting Islamist extremists, it places stories such as Elliott’s in a different light. The problem here is not talking with Muslims or Arab-Americans or even attempts to rectify any potential injustices that might have occurred in the course of pursuing the war on Islamic terror. Rather it is the fact that the groups that are the subject of this attention are themselves questionable.

One example of the president’s outreach cited by the Times is the fact that senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett spoke at the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America, a group that has consistently served to rationalize anti-Western and anti-Israel terrorism and that was an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation, whose leaders were convicted in 2008 of funneling American funds to Hamas terrorists. When the administration grants its official seal of approval to radical groups such as the ISNA, it helps these people drown out the voices of genuine moderates who are far more representative of most American Muslims. As investigative journalist Steve Emerson told the Times: “I think dialogue is good, but it has to be with genuine moderates. These are the wrong groups to legitimize.”

Moreover, if the influence of such people on the administration is to reinforce its desire to literally walk away from the war on terror and to pretend that radical Islam is not the driving force behind America’s foes through the banning of such terms as “jihad” and “Islamic terrorism” in comments by officials, then it must be acknowledged that the problem here goes deeper than public relations.

Yet the blame for whitewashing radical institutions and players isn’t all the fault of the White House. Another driving force behind this trend is the New York Times itself. It should be noted that Andrea Elliott, the author of today’s piece, won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for her 2007 series about the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn and the lives of immigrant Muslims. Yet nowhere in the three-part 11,000-word story did she mention that one of the Islamic Society’s congregants went on a shooting spree in 1994 at the Brooklyn Bridge, where he murdered a 16-year-old Jew named Ari Halberstam after hearing an anti-Semitic sermon at this mosque. Later it turned out that Elliott was completely unaware (or at least claimed to be unaware) of the most famous incident involving the institution on which her story centered.

The point is, for those who want to ignore the truth about the danger from homegrown Islamist radicals, the tendency is to deny any link between Islam and terror, even if this means pretending that radicals who support violence are really peaceful moderates. This is a bad recipe for journalism as well as for public policy.

The New York Times is reporting that the Obama administration has come a long way from the president’s campaign practices that had him keeping his distance from Muslims. According to the paper’s Andrea Elliott, “his administration has reached out to this politically isolated constituency in a sustained and widening effort that has left even skeptics surprised.”

There is, of course, nothing wrong with a man who once considered the notion that he might be a Muslim to be a “smear” now having members of his administration meet with representatives of a minority group. However, when this same administration has banned the use of language that might give anyone the notion that America is fighting Islamist extremists, it places stories such as Elliott’s in a different light. The problem here is not talking with Muslims or Arab-Americans or even attempts to rectify any potential injustices that might have occurred in the course of pursuing the war on Islamic terror. Rather it is the fact that the groups that are the subject of this attention are themselves questionable.

One example of the president’s outreach cited by the Times is the fact that senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett spoke at the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America, a group that has consistently served to rationalize anti-Western and anti-Israel terrorism and that was an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation, whose leaders were convicted in 2008 of funneling American funds to Hamas terrorists. When the administration grants its official seal of approval to radical groups such as the ISNA, it helps these people drown out the voices of genuine moderates who are far more representative of most American Muslims. As investigative journalist Steve Emerson told the Times: “I think dialogue is good, but it has to be with genuine moderates. These are the wrong groups to legitimize.”

Moreover, if the influence of such people on the administration is to reinforce its desire to literally walk away from the war on terror and to pretend that radical Islam is not the driving force behind America’s foes through the banning of such terms as “jihad” and “Islamic terrorism” in comments by officials, then it must be acknowledged that the problem here goes deeper than public relations.

Yet the blame for whitewashing radical institutions and players isn’t all the fault of the White House. Another driving force behind this trend is the New York Times itself. It should be noted that Andrea Elliott, the author of today’s piece, won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for her 2007 series about the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn and the lives of immigrant Muslims. Yet nowhere in the three-part 11,000-word story did she mention that one of the Islamic Society’s congregants went on a shooting spree in 1994 at the Brooklyn Bridge, where he murdered a 16-year-old Jew named Ari Halberstam after hearing an anti-Semitic sermon at this mosque. Later it turned out that Elliott was completely unaware (or at least claimed to be unaware) of the most famous incident involving the institution on which her story centered.

The point is, for those who want to ignore the truth about the danger from homegrown Islamist radicals, the tendency is to deny any link between Islam and terror, even if this means pretending that radicals who support violence are really peaceful moderates. This is a bad recipe for journalism as well as for public policy.

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Obama’s Priorities

Obama’s dismal record on human rights and democracy promotion is increasingly evident to those on the Right and the Left. It extends from major policy decisions (indifference and hostility to the Green Movement) to appointments, or lack thereof. For example, 15 months into his term, he has yet to name an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom despite the pleas of advocacy groups. We know that anti-Semitic incidents doubled last year and Christian advocacy groups have likewise tracked “a surge in incidents of violence against Christians.” Obama did however appoint an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. But the post of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom goes unfilled.

Writing last month, Thomas Farr explained:

Almost 14 months into the Obama presidency, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom — a position mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act — has not been named, even though other positions of less weight and importance to our national interests have long been filled.

The leading candidate for the religious freedom job is said to be a highly intelligent and charismatic pastor, an author and a thoroughly good person who has the friendship of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Those are important attributes. Indeed, having the trust of the Secretary is vital. But more is needed. To be successful, this ambassador at large needs foreign policy experience. Without it, it will be extremely difficult to succeed within Foggy Bottom’s notoriously thorny bureaucracy, let alone deal with foreign officials who believe (as many do) that U.S. international religious freedom policy is a vehicle of cultural imperialism.

Worse, it appears that the new ambassador will be demoted before she is even nominated. Like her predecessors under Presidents Clinton and Bush, she will not be treated as an ambassador at large at all, but will report to a lower ranking official – the assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Her placement alone will signal to American diplomats and foreign governments that they need not take U.S. religious freedom policy seriously.

And then there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the National Holocaust Museum. General David Petraeus spoke at the National Day of Remembrance sponsored by the museum. (His moving speech is worth reading in full here.) But Obama has yet to fill open slots on the Council, an informed observer tells me. Again, the disinterest in the organization is hard to miss.

Presidents make policy both by affirmative action as well as by signaling what is of little or no importance. When it comes to religious freedom and the Jewish community in particular, Obama’s actions and lack thereof are unmistakable, running from indifferent to hostile. So much for his campaign effort to make headway in the “faith based community.” One would have to show some dedication to the community he holds dear in order to do that.

UPDATE: A Council spokesman tells me there have been ten openings for four months.

Obama’s dismal record on human rights and democracy promotion is increasingly evident to those on the Right and the Left. It extends from major policy decisions (indifference and hostility to the Green Movement) to appointments, or lack thereof. For example, 15 months into his term, he has yet to name an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom despite the pleas of advocacy groups. We know that anti-Semitic incidents doubled last year and Christian advocacy groups have likewise tracked “a surge in incidents of violence against Christians.” Obama did however appoint an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. But the post of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom goes unfilled.

Writing last month, Thomas Farr explained:

Almost 14 months into the Obama presidency, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom — a position mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act — has not been named, even though other positions of less weight and importance to our national interests have long been filled.

The leading candidate for the religious freedom job is said to be a highly intelligent and charismatic pastor, an author and a thoroughly good person who has the friendship of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Those are important attributes. Indeed, having the trust of the Secretary is vital. But more is needed. To be successful, this ambassador at large needs foreign policy experience. Without it, it will be extremely difficult to succeed within Foggy Bottom’s notoriously thorny bureaucracy, let alone deal with foreign officials who believe (as many do) that U.S. international religious freedom policy is a vehicle of cultural imperialism.

Worse, it appears that the new ambassador will be demoted before she is even nominated. Like her predecessors under Presidents Clinton and Bush, she will not be treated as an ambassador at large at all, but will report to a lower ranking official – the assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Her placement alone will signal to American diplomats and foreign governments that they need not take U.S. religious freedom policy seriously.

And then there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the National Holocaust Museum. General David Petraeus spoke at the National Day of Remembrance sponsored by the museum. (His moving speech is worth reading in full here.) But Obama has yet to fill open slots on the Council, an informed observer tells me. Again, the disinterest in the organization is hard to miss.

Presidents make policy both by affirmative action as well as by signaling what is of little or no importance. When it comes to religious freedom and the Jewish community in particular, Obama’s actions and lack thereof are unmistakable, running from indifferent to hostile. So much for his campaign effort to make headway in the “faith based community.” One would have to show some dedication to the community he holds dear in order to do that.

UPDATE: A Council spokesman tells me there have been ten openings for four months.

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The Innocents Pack for Damascus

Lebanese scholar Tony Badran quotes Robert Ford, President Barack Obama’s unconfirmed pick for ambassador to Syria, and Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making statements last week that are breathtaking in their disconnection from reality.

Kerry said he believes Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, “understands that his country’s long-term interests … are not well served by aligning Syria with a revolutionary Shiite regime in Iran and its terrorist clients.” Ford, at the same time, said the U.S. “must persuade Syria that neither Iran nor Hezbollah shares Syria’s long-term strategic interest in … peace.”

These statements are simply off-planet. Either Kerry and Ford don’t know the first thing about how the Syrian government perceives its own interests, or they’re making stuff up for the sake of diplomacy.

It could be the latter. That happens. In Baghdad in 2008, a U.S. Army officer told me that the U.S. said things that weren’t strictly true about Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia to make it easier for him to save face, climb down out of his tree, and cut a deal. The American and Iraqi armies were still fighting his men in the streets but pretended they were only battling it out with rogue forces called “Special Groups.”

“We are giving the office of Moqtada al-Sadr a door,” the officer said. “We want them to be a political entity, not a military entity. So if you’re fighting coalition forces or the Iraqi army, we’ll say you’re a Special Groups leader or a Special Groups member.”

“So,” I said, “this is like the make-believe distinctions between military wings and political wings of Hamas and Hezbollah?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s it. That’s exactly it.”

I’d like to give Kerry and Ford the benefit of the doubt here and assume that that’s what they’re doing with Assad, that they know Syria’s alliance with Iran is three decades old and therefore well thought-out and durable, that they know his foreign policy goal is one of “resistance” rather than peace, but I have my doubts. They otherwise shouldn’t find engaging him worth the humiliation and bother.

The U.S. military used diplomatic fictions to help convince Sadr to cool it, but he was actively losing a war at the time. He was, shall we say, open to constructive suggestions. Assad is not losing anything. On the contrary, he has all but reconsolidated his overlordship in Lebanon through terrorism and warlordism, and his patron regime in Tehran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear-armed mini regional superpower. Kerry and Ford should know they can no more flip Syria into our column than they could have lured East Germany out of the Soviet bloc during the Brezhnev era.

Diplomatic fictions have their time and place, but there’s a downside. Unsophisticated players, observers, and analysts begin to believe them and no longer understand what is actually happening. Residents of the Washington, D.C., bubble are especially susceptible, but I’ve met American journalists who live in the Middle East who don’t understand that Assad strives not for peace and stability but rather for revolution, terrorism, and war. (They might want to reread The Truth About Syria by Barry Rubin and Syria’s Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process by Marius Deeb.)

If some Americans who live in and write about the Middle East have a hard time with this, I am not optimistic that the truth has fully penetrated the Beltway, especially when policy, as well as public statements, seems to be based on this fantasy.

Kerry and Ford are undoubtedly intelligent people, or they’d be in a different line of work, but getting leverage and results in the Middle East requires something more. “American elites have a hard time distinguishing between intelligence and cunning,” Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse, said to me recently, “largely because their lives do not depend on them outwitting murderous rivals. In hard places, intelligent people is what the cunning eat for lunch.”

Engaging Syria and describing Assad as a reasonable man would make sense if something epic had just happened that might convince him to run his calculations again, such as the overthrow or collapse of Ali Khamenei’s government in Iran. Otherwise, the administration is setting itself up for another failure in the Middle East that will damage its — no, our — credibility. One good thing will probably come of it, though. The naifs will learn. They’ll learn it the hard way, which seems to be the only way most of us learn anything over there. But they’ll learn.

Lebanese scholar Tony Badran quotes Robert Ford, President Barack Obama’s unconfirmed pick for ambassador to Syria, and Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making statements last week that are breathtaking in their disconnection from reality.

Kerry said he believes Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, “understands that his country’s long-term interests … are not well served by aligning Syria with a revolutionary Shiite regime in Iran and its terrorist clients.” Ford, at the same time, said the U.S. “must persuade Syria that neither Iran nor Hezbollah shares Syria’s long-term strategic interest in … peace.”

These statements are simply off-planet. Either Kerry and Ford don’t know the first thing about how the Syrian government perceives its own interests, or they’re making stuff up for the sake of diplomacy.

It could be the latter. That happens. In Baghdad in 2008, a U.S. Army officer told me that the U.S. said things that weren’t strictly true about Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia to make it easier for him to save face, climb down out of his tree, and cut a deal. The American and Iraqi armies were still fighting his men in the streets but pretended they were only battling it out with rogue forces called “Special Groups.”

“We are giving the office of Moqtada al-Sadr a door,” the officer said. “We want them to be a political entity, not a military entity. So if you’re fighting coalition forces or the Iraqi army, we’ll say you’re a Special Groups leader or a Special Groups member.”

“So,” I said, “this is like the make-believe distinctions between military wings and political wings of Hamas and Hezbollah?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s it. That’s exactly it.”

I’d like to give Kerry and Ford the benefit of the doubt here and assume that that’s what they’re doing with Assad, that they know Syria’s alliance with Iran is three decades old and therefore well thought-out and durable, that they know his foreign policy goal is one of “resistance” rather than peace, but I have my doubts. They otherwise shouldn’t find engaging him worth the humiliation and bother.

The U.S. military used diplomatic fictions to help convince Sadr to cool it, but he was actively losing a war at the time. He was, shall we say, open to constructive suggestions. Assad is not losing anything. On the contrary, he has all but reconsolidated his overlordship in Lebanon through terrorism and warlordism, and his patron regime in Tehran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear-armed mini regional superpower. Kerry and Ford should know they can no more flip Syria into our column than they could have lured East Germany out of the Soviet bloc during the Brezhnev era.

Diplomatic fictions have their time and place, but there’s a downside. Unsophisticated players, observers, and analysts begin to believe them and no longer understand what is actually happening. Residents of the Washington, D.C., bubble are especially susceptible, but I’ve met American journalists who live in the Middle East who don’t understand that Assad strives not for peace and stability but rather for revolution, terrorism, and war. (They might want to reread The Truth About Syria by Barry Rubin and Syria’s Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process by Marius Deeb.)

If some Americans who live in and write about the Middle East have a hard time with this, I am not optimistic that the truth has fully penetrated the Beltway, especially when policy, as well as public statements, seems to be based on this fantasy.

Kerry and Ford are undoubtedly intelligent people, or they’d be in a different line of work, but getting leverage and results in the Middle East requires something more. “American elites have a hard time distinguishing between intelligence and cunning,” Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse, said to me recently, “largely because their lives do not depend on them outwitting murderous rivals. In hard places, intelligent people is what the cunning eat for lunch.”

Engaging Syria and describing Assad as a reasonable man would make sense if something epic had just happened that might convince him to run his calculations again, such as the overthrow or collapse of Ali Khamenei’s government in Iran. Otherwise, the administration is setting itself up for another failure in the Middle East that will damage its — no, our — credibility. One good thing will probably come of it, though. The naifs will learn. They’ll learn it the hard way, which seems to be the only way most of us learn anything over there. But they’ll learn.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Michael Barone on ObamaCare: “In fall 2009, Democrats could have pivoted on health care to craft a popular bill or a watered-down unpopular bill to be passed by a bipartisan safe-seat coalition. Instead, they plunged ahead and rammed through unpopular bills on party-line votes. … It’s beginning to look like the goal of health care legislation was a bridge too far. There’s a reason it’s hard to pass unpopular legislation on party-line votes. It’s not the Senate rules. It’s called democracy.”

Prospects don’t look bright for ObamaCare: “House Democratic leaders hoping to pass a health care reform bill by the Easter congressional recess face increasingly difficult odds, as several of the party’s rank-and-file have come out against the plan passed by the Senate in December. According to an ongoing CNN survey, 17 House Democrats indicate that they would vote no on the Senate plan as currently written, including six members who voted in favor of the House bill passed in November.”

Especially without the pro-life Democrats: “House Democratic leaders abandoned a long struggle to appease the most ardent abortion opponents in their ranks, gambling Thursday that they can secure the support for President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care legislation with showdown votes looming next week. … Congressional leaders are hoping they can find enough support from other wavering Democrats to pass legislation that only cleared the House by five votes in an earlier incarnation.” But where are such votes?

No one has spotted them yet: “Our latest whip count shows no progress for House Dem leadership. In fact, more members are sneaking onto the watch list, as Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI) voiced concern over whether the Senate would actually pass a sidecar bill.”

More cringey news from Illinois for Democrats: “The owner of the Boston Blackie’s restaurant chain — a man with strong political ties to U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias — was charged today with bank fraud, along with the owner’s son and an employee. Boston Blackie’s owner Nick Giannis, 62, his son, Chris Giannis, 38, and Boston Blackie’s manager Andy Bakopoulos, 38, allegedly defrauded Charter One and Washington Mutual banks of nearly $2 million, Cook County prosecutors said.”

In the New York Senate race: “Encouraged by state and national Republican Party leaders, Dan Senor, an author, private equity executive and Defense Department adviser in the last Bush administration, is seriously considering a political challenge against Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, according to three people told of the discussions. … The Republican leaders, who cautioned that they were not backing any single candidate, have told Mr. Senor that his deep ties in the party, expertise on national security and background as a businessman would make him a formidable candidate.” Well, if you’re a Republican with political ambitions, this is certainly the year to make a run.

Mark Levin pierces the fog of sanctimony surrounding the Justice Department lawyers who previously represented terrorists: “And on what basis do we think the Obama administration selected these seven lawyers (there may be more) from 1 million other lawyers to serve in top political positions at Justice? Is it a coincidence that they had roles (direct or related) in defending detainees? … Personnel makes policy, and that includes lawyers in policy positions. So, while the selection of these lawyers clearly has some relationship to their private practices, the attempt to identify who they are and what they’re doing since being appointed is said to be off limits, unless, of course, you appointed them. Preposterous.”

Let’s face it: the”most transparent administration in history” isn’t. Sen. Jeff Sessions, for one, wants to know why Eric Holder didn’t disclose in his confirmation hearing an amicus brief in support of Jose Padilla.

A wonderful suggestion by George Will: no one should go to the State of the Union. “Next year, Roberts and the rest of the justices should stay away from the president’s address. So should the uniformed military, who are out of place in a setting of competitive political grandstanding. For that matter, the 535 legislators should boycott these undignified events. They would, if there were that many congressional grown-ups averse to being props in the childishness of popping up from their seats to cheer, or remaining sullenly seated in semi-pouts, as the politics of the moment dictates.”

Michael Barone on ObamaCare: “In fall 2009, Democrats could have pivoted on health care to craft a popular bill or a watered-down unpopular bill to be passed by a bipartisan safe-seat coalition. Instead, they plunged ahead and rammed through unpopular bills on party-line votes. … It’s beginning to look like the goal of health care legislation was a bridge too far. There’s a reason it’s hard to pass unpopular legislation on party-line votes. It’s not the Senate rules. It’s called democracy.”

Prospects don’t look bright for ObamaCare: “House Democratic leaders hoping to pass a health care reform bill by the Easter congressional recess face increasingly difficult odds, as several of the party’s rank-and-file have come out against the plan passed by the Senate in December. According to an ongoing CNN survey, 17 House Democrats indicate that they would vote no on the Senate plan as currently written, including six members who voted in favor of the House bill passed in November.”

Especially without the pro-life Democrats: “House Democratic leaders abandoned a long struggle to appease the most ardent abortion opponents in their ranks, gambling Thursday that they can secure the support for President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care legislation with showdown votes looming next week. … Congressional leaders are hoping they can find enough support from other wavering Democrats to pass legislation that only cleared the House by five votes in an earlier incarnation.” But where are such votes?

No one has spotted them yet: “Our latest whip count shows no progress for House Dem leadership. In fact, more members are sneaking onto the watch list, as Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI) voiced concern over whether the Senate would actually pass a sidecar bill.”

More cringey news from Illinois for Democrats: “The owner of the Boston Blackie’s restaurant chain — a man with strong political ties to U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias — was charged today with bank fraud, along with the owner’s son and an employee. Boston Blackie’s owner Nick Giannis, 62, his son, Chris Giannis, 38, and Boston Blackie’s manager Andy Bakopoulos, 38, allegedly defrauded Charter One and Washington Mutual banks of nearly $2 million, Cook County prosecutors said.”

In the New York Senate race: “Encouraged by state and national Republican Party leaders, Dan Senor, an author, private equity executive and Defense Department adviser in the last Bush administration, is seriously considering a political challenge against Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, according to three people told of the discussions. … The Republican leaders, who cautioned that they were not backing any single candidate, have told Mr. Senor that his deep ties in the party, expertise on national security and background as a businessman would make him a formidable candidate.” Well, if you’re a Republican with political ambitions, this is certainly the year to make a run.

Mark Levin pierces the fog of sanctimony surrounding the Justice Department lawyers who previously represented terrorists: “And on what basis do we think the Obama administration selected these seven lawyers (there may be more) from 1 million other lawyers to serve in top political positions at Justice? Is it a coincidence that they had roles (direct or related) in defending detainees? … Personnel makes policy, and that includes lawyers in policy positions. So, while the selection of these lawyers clearly has some relationship to their private practices, the attempt to identify who they are and what they’re doing since being appointed is said to be off limits, unless, of course, you appointed them. Preposterous.”

Let’s face it: the”most transparent administration in history” isn’t. Sen. Jeff Sessions, for one, wants to know why Eric Holder didn’t disclose in his confirmation hearing an amicus brief in support of Jose Padilla.

A wonderful suggestion by George Will: no one should go to the State of the Union. “Next year, Roberts and the rest of the justices should stay away from the president’s address. So should the uniformed military, who are out of place in a setting of competitive political grandstanding. For that matter, the 535 legislators should boycott these undignified events. They would, if there were that many congressional grown-ups averse to being props in the childishness of popping up from their seats to cheer, or remaining sullenly seated in semi-pouts, as the politics of the moment dictates.”

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Peace Plans and Palestinian Politics

Writing in the widely circulated Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”), Israeli journalist Dan Margalit reviews the prospects for the new peace process. The article is in Hebrew, but is summarized by the Israel Foreign Ministry:

The author recalls that in 2000, at Camp David, “Ehud Barak agreed to discuss the division of Jerusalem and the Palestinians fled the negotiations,” and adds that “In 2009, Ehud Olmert even offered to soften on the principle against ‘the right of return’ and again they fled.” The paper speculates that “In the current round, Israel is in a more complex position. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot offer Abu Mazen what came up in Ehud Olmert’s plan and if Ramallah rejected the previous move, what will it accept now?” The author notes that the Palestinians will, apparently, proffer a plan of their own in the hope that an Israeli rejection will draw the Obama administration to their side.

Presenting a plan they know Israel will not accept — to generate a condemnation of Israel for not accepting it – would be, in the weird world of the peace process, a step forward: at least the Palestinians would be proffering a plan. The last three times Israel offered the Palestinians a state – at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer – the Palestinians rejected the offer without making a counterproposal.

If the process plays out as Margalit predicts, here is one way to determine the seriousness of the Palestinians’ plan: will they release it to their public before July 17? July 17 is the date set for local elections in the West Bank – coincidentally (or maybe not) a week after the four-month period the Palestinians have set for the new indirect talks. In an analysis for Ynet News, Alex Fishman discusses how that election relates to the peace process:

Abbas and Fayyad are aspiring to win at least 50% of the vote this time around. With such support, they would be able to move on to negotiations with Israel with the legitimacy of the Palestinian public, and not only with the backwind provided by moderate members of the Arab League. This would be a real source of power, not a bogus one. Hamas has already announced that it will not take part in the elections. The PA will go to elections even without it.

It will be a real source of power, however, and not a bogus one, only if the Palestinian public knows what it is voting for — and only if the plan, itself, addresses the criteria set forth in the 2004 Bush letter to Israel: a Jewish state with defensible borders encompassing the major Jewish population centers in the West Bank (which are necessary for such borders). But the chances of Abbas and Fayyad proposing such a plan in the indirect talks, or discussing it with the Palestinian public before an election, are slight. In Fishman’s words:

[T]he PA cannot show up at the July 17 elections with a record of concessions on the national front. The opposite is true. It has a clear interest in creating a crisis in order to prompt a warm public embrace and reach the elections with an image of national strength, clear of any indication of “collaboration.”

After the death of Yasser Arafat, it was thought that Palestinian democracy would lead to peace. But the 2006 election resulted in a victory for Hamas; the PA president’s term expired more than a year ago with no new presidential election in sight; PA leaders are afraid to make concessions in the peace process lest they lose even uncontested local elections. The tragedy of Palestinian politics is that the Palestinian electorate will not vote for anyone willing to make the concessions necessary to get them a state — in part because they lack leaders who will tell their public that painful compromises are necessary to achieve one.

Writing in the widely circulated Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”), Israeli journalist Dan Margalit reviews the prospects for the new peace process. The article is in Hebrew, but is summarized by the Israel Foreign Ministry:

The author recalls that in 2000, at Camp David, “Ehud Barak agreed to discuss the division of Jerusalem and the Palestinians fled the negotiations,” and adds that “In 2009, Ehud Olmert even offered to soften on the principle against ‘the right of return’ and again they fled.” The paper speculates that “In the current round, Israel is in a more complex position. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot offer Abu Mazen what came up in Ehud Olmert’s plan and if Ramallah rejected the previous move, what will it accept now?” The author notes that the Palestinians will, apparently, proffer a plan of their own in the hope that an Israeli rejection will draw the Obama administration to their side.

Presenting a plan they know Israel will not accept — to generate a condemnation of Israel for not accepting it – would be, in the weird world of the peace process, a step forward: at least the Palestinians would be proffering a plan. The last three times Israel offered the Palestinians a state – at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer – the Palestinians rejected the offer without making a counterproposal.

If the process plays out as Margalit predicts, here is one way to determine the seriousness of the Palestinians’ plan: will they release it to their public before July 17? July 17 is the date set for local elections in the West Bank – coincidentally (or maybe not) a week after the four-month period the Palestinians have set for the new indirect talks. In an analysis for Ynet News, Alex Fishman discusses how that election relates to the peace process:

Abbas and Fayyad are aspiring to win at least 50% of the vote this time around. With such support, they would be able to move on to negotiations with Israel with the legitimacy of the Palestinian public, and not only with the backwind provided by moderate members of the Arab League. This would be a real source of power, not a bogus one. Hamas has already announced that it will not take part in the elections. The PA will go to elections even without it.

It will be a real source of power, however, and not a bogus one, only if the Palestinian public knows what it is voting for — and only if the plan, itself, addresses the criteria set forth in the 2004 Bush letter to Israel: a Jewish state with defensible borders encompassing the major Jewish population centers in the West Bank (which are necessary for such borders). But the chances of Abbas and Fayyad proposing such a plan in the indirect talks, or discussing it with the Palestinian public before an election, are slight. In Fishman’s words:

[T]he PA cannot show up at the July 17 elections with a record of concessions on the national front. The opposite is true. It has a clear interest in creating a crisis in order to prompt a warm public embrace and reach the elections with an image of national strength, clear of any indication of “collaboration.”

After the death of Yasser Arafat, it was thought that Palestinian democracy would lead to peace. But the 2006 election resulted in a victory for Hamas; the PA president’s term expired more than a year ago with no new presidential election in sight; PA leaders are afraid to make concessions in the peace process lest they lose even uncontested local elections. The tragedy of Palestinian politics is that the Palestinian electorate will not vote for anyone willing to make the concessions necessary to get them a state — in part because they lack leaders who will tell their public that painful compromises are necessary to achieve one.

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On the Success Rate of Counterinsurgencies

Last night I took part in an interesting panel discussion at the Asia Society in New York examining lessons from Vietnam that might apply to the current war in Afghanistan. (The video is here.) One of my fellow panelists, Gordon Goldstein, author of Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam, a book widely read in the Obama White House during the deliberations over Afghanistan last fall, claimed in the course of our discussion that counterinsurgencies are only successful 25 percent of the time. He was challenged on this claim by the third panelist, Rufus Phillips — an old counterinsurgency hand who first went to Vietnam in 1954 with the legendary Edward Lansdale. Goldstein replied that he had got this figure from the journal International Security.

Today my colleague Rick Bennet searched that journal’s database and could find no such figure. The closest he could find was this recent article: “The Myth of Military Myopia,” by Jonathan D. Caverley. In it, Caverley, citing another International Affairs article by Alexander Downes, claims that democracies win 47 percent of counterinsurgencies and non-democracies win 58 percent.

That’s broadly in line with this article, which ran last August in Foreign Policy. Based on a sample of 66 20th-century counterinsurgencies, the authors find that “militaries succeeded about 60 percent of the time” but that after 1945 “this rate dropped to 48 percent.” But the authors also found that adopting of a hearts-and-minds strategy — of the kind the U.S. is now employing in Afghanistan — had a much higher probability of success: 75 percent. They add, however, that “Our analysis indicates that all foreign states that shifted to a hearts-and-minds strategy after eight years of counterinsurgency ultimately failed to defeat the insurgents, a pattern that does not bode well for Afghanistan.”

I take all such quantitative analyses with a big grain of salt because I’ve looked at the data sets employed by political scientists and they are invariably skewed in scope and full of dubious assumptions. (Downes’s International Security article notes that one such data set claims that Britain and America initiated World War II in Europe and that the United States started the Vietnam War!) Generating such numbers often gives an aura of faux certainty to what are in fact highly subjective judgments. That said, even in this flawed data, I could find no support for the extremely gloomy claim that counterinsurgencies win only 25 percent of the time. The actual figure generated by social scientists is at least twice as high.

Last night I took part in an interesting panel discussion at the Asia Society in New York examining lessons from Vietnam that might apply to the current war in Afghanistan. (The video is here.) One of my fellow panelists, Gordon Goldstein, author of Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam, a book widely read in the Obama White House during the deliberations over Afghanistan last fall, claimed in the course of our discussion that counterinsurgencies are only successful 25 percent of the time. He was challenged on this claim by the third panelist, Rufus Phillips — an old counterinsurgency hand who first went to Vietnam in 1954 with the legendary Edward Lansdale. Goldstein replied that he had got this figure from the journal International Security.

Today my colleague Rick Bennet searched that journal’s database and could find no such figure. The closest he could find was this recent article: “The Myth of Military Myopia,” by Jonathan D. Caverley. In it, Caverley, citing another International Affairs article by Alexander Downes, claims that democracies win 47 percent of counterinsurgencies and non-democracies win 58 percent.

That’s broadly in line with this article, which ran last August in Foreign Policy. Based on a sample of 66 20th-century counterinsurgencies, the authors find that “militaries succeeded about 60 percent of the time” but that after 1945 “this rate dropped to 48 percent.” But the authors also found that adopting of a hearts-and-minds strategy — of the kind the U.S. is now employing in Afghanistan — had a much higher probability of success: 75 percent. They add, however, that “Our analysis indicates that all foreign states that shifted to a hearts-and-minds strategy after eight years of counterinsurgency ultimately failed to defeat the insurgents, a pattern that does not bode well for Afghanistan.”

I take all such quantitative analyses with a big grain of salt because I’ve looked at the data sets employed by political scientists and they are invariably skewed in scope and full of dubious assumptions. (Downes’s International Security article notes that one such data set claims that Britain and America initiated World War II in Europe and that the United States started the Vietnam War!) Generating such numbers often gives an aura of faux certainty to what are in fact highly subjective judgments. That said, even in this flawed data, I could find no support for the extremely gloomy claim that counterinsurgencies win only 25 percent of the time. The actual figure generated by social scientists is at least twice as high.

Read Less

Tom Campbell and Israel (Updated)

Philip Klein’s must-read post details more Tom Campbell comments concerning Israel. There was his remark that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, but it’s wrong to say it can’t also be the capital of Palestine.”  And there was his comment to Yasser Arafat, following a minor mishap in the West Bank, that “this makes me the first American to have shed blood in your country.” In isolation, this or that comment might not seem extraordinary. But, in addition to his record of anti-Israel votes, Campbell tosses about praise and encouragement to some extreme figures who are hostile to Israel.

A case in point is his praise for Israel-hater and conspiracy-monger Alison Weir. Others have noted that Weir runs an outfit, If Americans Only Knew, that is replete with her calls to cut aid to Israel and her vile anti-Israel bashing, which includes her fanning of the organ-harvesting libel. This escaped the attention of David Frum, who recently rose in support of Tom Campbell. It was just last week that Frum wrote movingly about a Swedish newspaper that saw fit to give space to a freelance journalist, Donald Bostrom, “to charge that the Israeli army regularly harvested organs from the bodies of slain Palestinians.” Frum explained:

After briefly acknowledging that the vast majority of the world’s illegally harvested organs come from China, Pakistan, and the Philippines, Bostrom then hurled this astounding charge: “Palestinians also harbor strong suspicions that young men have been seized, and made to serve as organ reserve, just as in China and Pakistan, before being killed.”

Jewish vampirism is an ancient fantasy, dating back to the Middle Ages. Yet it remains current in the contemporary Middle East. A Syrian film company created a multipart TV drama out of the story in 2003. The drama was broadcast worldwide on Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite network. Iranian state TV broadcast a drama in 2004 in which the plot turns on an Israeli plan to steal Palestinian children’s eyes.

It’s a winding road from medieval folktales to Hezbollah TV to the New Jersey mob to a Swedish daily to the British House of Lords.

But it’s a road traveled by more and more people. On February 11, Tel Aviv’s Reut Institute presented a paper to the Israeli cabinet warning of “delegitimization” aimed at the Jewish state. As reported by Ha’aretz, the paper warns:

“The ‘delegitimizers’ cooperate with organizations engaging in legitimate criticism of Israel’s policy in the territories such as Amnesty [International] and Human Rights Watch, blurring the line between legitimate censure and delegitimization. … The network’s activists are not mostly Palestinian, Arab or Muslim. Many of them are European and North American left-wing activists,” who portray Israel as a pariah state and deny its right to exist.

It is that very Swedish newspaper report, among many, that Weir touts on her website. Well, I’m sure then Frum would be appalled to learn that Campbell fancies Weir as “an intelligent, careful, and critical” scholar and urges that “American policy makers would benefit greatly from hearing her first-hand observations and attempting to answer the questions she poses.”

Frum also quoted from a recent interview given by Campbell, in which Campbell professes support for Israel. Frum perhaps did not have access to (and hence did not include) the two final questions and responses, which were not included in the web article he cites. However, these have now circulated in the California Jewish community, a copy of which I obtained:

What is Campbellʼs position on his 1990 Jerusalem vote [ opposing support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital]

When George Bush, Sr., was President, then Secretary of State James Baker announced that Israel was not serious about stopping settlements in East Jerusalem, and that when they were serious, they could call the White House. As a rebuke to Secretary Baker, a resolution was introduced by a prominent Democrat in the House recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided, permanent, and not-to-be-shared capital of Israel. The resolution was intended to undermine the position Secretary Baker was attempting to maintain, and which is still official American policy, that the status of Jerusalem is a matter to be resolved between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Declaring all of Jerusalem as sovereign Israeli territory, not to be shared, was equivalent to an endorsement of putting more settlements in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The Bush Administration opposed the resolution, and I voted against it.

What is Campbellʼs position regarding his vote in 1999 against a resolution expressing congressional opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state?

Regarding the resolution disapproving a unilateral declaration of the statehood of Palestine, this was one of those occasions where having taught international law, and studied this particular issue, probably hurt me more than helped me. I know “Wikipedia” is not necessarily the most authoritative source, but look at the selection below dealing with the various legal scholars’ opinions regarding Palestinian statehood. It lays out the complexity of the issue. The international law sources cited support the case that a State of Palestine was already twice declared by the international community, in the Treaty of Lausanne, and then by the UN at the termination of the British Palestinian mandate. Suffice it to say that I could not vote for the proposed resolution, which took absolutely no account of this international history or international law. As things have subsequently worked out, I believe Israel’s official position now is in favor of a State of Palestine.

As to the last answer, I have no idea what Campbell is talking about and how he thinks his opposition to a unilateral declaration of statehood matches Israel’s current position. (Hint: Israel demands the Palestinians actually recognize the Jewish state’s existence and renounce terrorism.)  As one informed staffer and expert on Israel issues put it, “Tom Campbell has the questionable distinction as being the only politician ever to cite the Treaty of Lausanne in order to justify an anti-Israel vote.” And as to his invocation of James “F*** the Jews” Baker and the curious reference to stopping “settlements in East Jerusalem” (What “settlements” is he talking about?), one can only say, as an official of a prominent Jewish organization put it with understated disdain, it suggests “someone with a pronounced anti-Israel perspective.”  (The vote on the measure was not, as Campbell argued, a partisan affair. It passed with 378 votes; Campbell was one of only 34 opposed.) A Jewish official who works on Capitol Hill sums it up:

“I am hard pressed to remember any member of Congress who targeted Israel’s aid to cut, voted the wrong way in an overwhelming bipartisan vote on Jerusalem, supported Hamas terrorist Sami Al-Aryian and others convicted of supporting Islamic Jihad terrorists – even appearing at rallies with Al-Aryian and others as the spewed their anti-Israel bile, took campaign cash from them, wrote letters on Al Ariyan’s behalf, spoke at CAIR events – a group notoriously hostile to Israel and which is at the heart of the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts in America, and publicly supports Alison Weir – lately a purveyor of the organ harvesting blood libel against Israel.  That is quite a public record.  Now maybe Tom Campbell has become more pro-Israel than the Chief Rabbi on Minsk, but that would truly be the world’s most miraculous conversion.  The facts are the facts.  Mr. Campbell’s record speaks for itself and no amount of lipstik can pretty up this pig.”

The voters of California concerned about the candidates’ position on Israel will need to decide for themselves whether Campbell’s record and judgment justify their support. Frankly, he’s got some explaining to do.

UPDATE: Bruce Kesler, who identifies himself as the author of the Tom Campbell  Q&A that David Frum cited, denies that the final two questions and answers I referenced above were part of his interview with Campbell. A document containing those two questions and answers as well as the other questions and answers Kesler did report on his website was circulated in California in the Jewish community by a representative of the Campbell campaign with the purpose of bolstering Campbell’s position on these issues. Campbell’s answers and other materials accompanying the Q&A match other materials that have been sent by the Campbell campaign.

Philip Klein’s must-read post details more Tom Campbell comments concerning Israel. There was his remark that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, but it’s wrong to say it can’t also be the capital of Palestine.”  And there was his comment to Yasser Arafat, following a minor mishap in the West Bank, that “this makes me the first American to have shed blood in your country.” In isolation, this or that comment might not seem extraordinary. But, in addition to his record of anti-Israel votes, Campbell tosses about praise and encouragement to some extreme figures who are hostile to Israel.

A case in point is his praise for Israel-hater and conspiracy-monger Alison Weir. Others have noted that Weir runs an outfit, If Americans Only Knew, that is replete with her calls to cut aid to Israel and her vile anti-Israel bashing, which includes her fanning of the organ-harvesting libel. This escaped the attention of David Frum, who recently rose in support of Tom Campbell. It was just last week that Frum wrote movingly about a Swedish newspaper that saw fit to give space to a freelance journalist, Donald Bostrom, “to charge that the Israeli army regularly harvested organs from the bodies of slain Palestinians.” Frum explained:

After briefly acknowledging that the vast majority of the world’s illegally harvested organs come from China, Pakistan, and the Philippines, Bostrom then hurled this astounding charge: “Palestinians also harbor strong suspicions that young men have been seized, and made to serve as organ reserve, just as in China and Pakistan, before being killed.”

Jewish vampirism is an ancient fantasy, dating back to the Middle Ages. Yet it remains current in the contemporary Middle East. A Syrian film company created a multipart TV drama out of the story in 2003. The drama was broadcast worldwide on Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite network. Iranian state TV broadcast a drama in 2004 in which the plot turns on an Israeli plan to steal Palestinian children’s eyes.

It’s a winding road from medieval folktales to Hezbollah TV to the New Jersey mob to a Swedish daily to the British House of Lords.

But it’s a road traveled by more and more people. On February 11, Tel Aviv’s Reut Institute presented a paper to the Israeli cabinet warning of “delegitimization” aimed at the Jewish state. As reported by Ha’aretz, the paper warns:

“The ‘delegitimizers’ cooperate with organizations engaging in legitimate criticism of Israel’s policy in the territories such as Amnesty [International] and Human Rights Watch, blurring the line between legitimate censure and delegitimization. … The network’s activists are not mostly Palestinian, Arab or Muslim. Many of them are European and North American left-wing activists,” who portray Israel as a pariah state and deny its right to exist.

It is that very Swedish newspaper report, among many, that Weir touts on her website. Well, I’m sure then Frum would be appalled to learn that Campbell fancies Weir as “an intelligent, careful, and critical” scholar and urges that “American policy makers would benefit greatly from hearing her first-hand observations and attempting to answer the questions she poses.”

Frum also quoted from a recent interview given by Campbell, in which Campbell professes support for Israel. Frum perhaps did not have access to (and hence did not include) the two final questions and responses, which were not included in the web article he cites. However, these have now circulated in the California Jewish community, a copy of which I obtained:

What is Campbellʼs position on his 1990 Jerusalem vote [ opposing support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital]

When George Bush, Sr., was President, then Secretary of State James Baker announced that Israel was not serious about stopping settlements in East Jerusalem, and that when they were serious, they could call the White House. As a rebuke to Secretary Baker, a resolution was introduced by a prominent Democrat in the House recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided, permanent, and not-to-be-shared capital of Israel. The resolution was intended to undermine the position Secretary Baker was attempting to maintain, and which is still official American policy, that the status of Jerusalem is a matter to be resolved between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Declaring all of Jerusalem as sovereign Israeli territory, not to be shared, was equivalent to an endorsement of putting more settlements in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The Bush Administration opposed the resolution, and I voted against it.

What is Campbellʼs position regarding his vote in 1999 against a resolution expressing congressional opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state?

Regarding the resolution disapproving a unilateral declaration of the statehood of Palestine, this was one of those occasions where having taught international law, and studied this particular issue, probably hurt me more than helped me. I know “Wikipedia” is not necessarily the most authoritative source, but look at the selection below dealing with the various legal scholars’ opinions regarding Palestinian statehood. It lays out the complexity of the issue. The international law sources cited support the case that a State of Palestine was already twice declared by the international community, in the Treaty of Lausanne, and then by the UN at the termination of the British Palestinian mandate. Suffice it to say that I could not vote for the proposed resolution, which took absolutely no account of this international history or international law. As things have subsequently worked out, I believe Israel’s official position now is in favor of a State of Palestine.

As to the last answer, I have no idea what Campbell is talking about and how he thinks his opposition to a unilateral declaration of statehood matches Israel’s current position. (Hint: Israel demands the Palestinians actually recognize the Jewish state’s existence and renounce terrorism.)  As one informed staffer and expert on Israel issues put it, “Tom Campbell has the questionable distinction as being the only politician ever to cite the Treaty of Lausanne in order to justify an anti-Israel vote.” And as to his invocation of James “F*** the Jews” Baker and the curious reference to stopping “settlements in East Jerusalem” (What “settlements” is he talking about?), one can only say, as an official of a prominent Jewish organization put it with understated disdain, it suggests “someone with a pronounced anti-Israel perspective.”  (The vote on the measure was not, as Campbell argued, a partisan affair. It passed with 378 votes; Campbell was one of only 34 opposed.) A Jewish official who works on Capitol Hill sums it up:

“I am hard pressed to remember any member of Congress who targeted Israel’s aid to cut, voted the wrong way in an overwhelming bipartisan vote on Jerusalem, supported Hamas terrorist Sami Al-Aryian and others convicted of supporting Islamic Jihad terrorists – even appearing at rallies with Al-Aryian and others as the spewed their anti-Israel bile, took campaign cash from them, wrote letters on Al Ariyan’s behalf, spoke at CAIR events – a group notoriously hostile to Israel and which is at the heart of the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts in America, and publicly supports Alison Weir – lately a purveyor of the organ harvesting blood libel against Israel.  That is quite a public record.  Now maybe Tom Campbell has become more pro-Israel than the Chief Rabbi on Minsk, but that would truly be the world’s most miraculous conversion.  The facts are the facts.  Mr. Campbell’s record speaks for itself and no amount of lipstik can pretty up this pig.”

The voters of California concerned about the candidates’ position on Israel will need to decide for themselves whether Campbell’s record and judgment justify their support. Frankly, he’s got some explaining to do.

UPDATE: Bruce Kesler, who identifies himself as the author of the Tom Campbell  Q&A that David Frum cited, denies that the final two questions and answers I referenced above were part of his interview with Campbell. A document containing those two questions and answers as well as the other questions and answers Kesler did report on his website was circulated in California in the Jewish community by a representative of the Campbell campaign with the purpose of bolstering Campbell’s position on these issues. Campbell’s answers and other materials accompanying the Q&A match other materials that have been sent by the Campbell campaign.

Read Less




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