Commentary Magazine


Topic: comedian

Le Pen’s National Front and the Anti-Zionist Party

Marine Le Pen took over the party leadership of the xenophobic, far-right National Front Party this week. The Wall Street Journal noted that “Ms. Le Pen on Sunday became the party’s second leader since it was formed 38 years ago by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, and immediately promised to oppose immigration and globalization, as well as seize back powers from the European Union.”

The National Front has been, without question, a political force to be reckoned with during election cycles in France. In 2002, it defeated the French Socialists and forced a run-off election with former president Jacques Chirac. French analysts chalked up the dramatic National Front election results to a kind of infantile protest vote against the mainstream parties. In short, a post-adolescent French outburst of political disaffection but not a real flirting with French Vichy-style neo- fascism. Chirac went on to soundly prevail over the National Front.

According to a recent French poll, however, the National Front has secured 12 percent of the electorate’s support. Jean-Marie Le Pen is notorious for his statements that contain elements of Holocaust denial and crudely playing down the severity of the Holocaust, terming it a mere “detail” of history.

One “detail” that the mainstream media did not report on this week is the alliance between the National Front and those Frenchmen and Frenchwomen who loathe Israel and want to abolish the Jewish state. During the 2009 European Union parliamentary elections, the French entertainer and comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala formed the Anti-Zionist Party. He was deadly serious about his party’s aims and  has over the years been engulfed in anti-Semitic scandals.

Dieudonne’s political bedfellow at the time was the National Front. (Le Pen is purportedly the godfather of Dieudonne ‘s daughter.) What unifies Le Pen and Dieudonne, himself the son an immigrant from Cameroon, and figures from the left, such as ex-Communist Alain Soral and former Green Party member Ginette Skandrani, is hatred of Israel. It should also be noted that Yahia Gouasmi, head of the Zahra Center in Paris, which is affiliated with Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran, was a candidate on the Anti-Zionist party.

(Not unrelated: Hezbollah enjoys wide organizational latitude in France. Germany also recognizes Hezbollah as a legal political entity, and there are 900 active members in the Federal Republic.)

In 2009, the Anti-Zionist Party platform called for an end to “Zionist interference in the nation’s public affairs,” as well as a rebuke of “politicians who apologize for Zionism.” The radical anti-Israeli party demands that France “free our state, our government, our institutions from the possession and pressure of Zionist organizations; eradicate all forms of Zionism in the nation” and “prevent enterprises and institutions from contributing to the war efforts of a foreign nation, which does not respect International Law.”

With French President Nicholas Sarkozy faltering in the polls and his Socialist opposition still seen as floundering, a repeat of the National Front’s coup of making it to the second round of the next presidential election is not out of the question. This formal alliance with the Anti-Zionist Party makes such a development even more ominous.

Marine Le Pen took over the party leadership of the xenophobic, far-right National Front Party this week. The Wall Street Journal noted that “Ms. Le Pen on Sunday became the party’s second leader since it was formed 38 years ago by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, and immediately promised to oppose immigration and globalization, as well as seize back powers from the European Union.”

The National Front has been, without question, a political force to be reckoned with during election cycles in France. In 2002, it defeated the French Socialists and forced a run-off election with former president Jacques Chirac. French analysts chalked up the dramatic National Front election results to a kind of infantile protest vote against the mainstream parties. In short, a post-adolescent French outburst of political disaffection but not a real flirting with French Vichy-style neo- fascism. Chirac went on to soundly prevail over the National Front.

According to a recent French poll, however, the National Front has secured 12 percent of the electorate’s support. Jean-Marie Le Pen is notorious for his statements that contain elements of Holocaust denial and crudely playing down the severity of the Holocaust, terming it a mere “detail” of history.

One “detail” that the mainstream media did not report on this week is the alliance between the National Front and those Frenchmen and Frenchwomen who loathe Israel and want to abolish the Jewish state. During the 2009 European Union parliamentary elections, the French entertainer and comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala formed the Anti-Zionist Party. He was deadly serious about his party’s aims and  has over the years been engulfed in anti-Semitic scandals.

Dieudonne’s political bedfellow at the time was the National Front. (Le Pen is purportedly the godfather of Dieudonne ‘s daughter.) What unifies Le Pen and Dieudonne, himself the son an immigrant from Cameroon, and figures from the left, such as ex-Communist Alain Soral and former Green Party member Ginette Skandrani, is hatred of Israel. It should also be noted that Yahia Gouasmi, head of the Zahra Center in Paris, which is affiliated with Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran, was a candidate on the Anti-Zionist party.

(Not unrelated: Hezbollah enjoys wide organizational latitude in France. Germany also recognizes Hezbollah as a legal political entity, and there are 900 active members in the Federal Republic.)

In 2009, the Anti-Zionist Party platform called for an end to “Zionist interference in the nation’s public affairs,” as well as a rebuke of “politicians who apologize for Zionism.” The radical anti-Israeli party demands that France “free our state, our government, our institutions from the possession and pressure of Zionist organizations; eradicate all forms of Zionism in the nation” and “prevent enterprises and institutions from contributing to the war efforts of a foreign nation, which does not respect International Law.”

With French President Nicholas Sarkozy faltering in the polls and his Socialist opposition still seen as floundering, a repeat of the National Front’s coup of making it to the second round of the next presidential election is not out of the question. This formal alliance with the Anti-Zionist Party makes such a development even more ominous.

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Media Star Blames … the Media?

Jon Stewart is a media star. He’s rich and famous because he has perfected the art of news-tainment that a key demographic (young TV viewers with lots of dispensable income) can’t get enough of. So he holds a rally, is savvy enough to steer clear of real political issues, and slams the media, which has made him who he is. No, really:

Did Stewart and Colbert strike a blow for sanity, or just furnish an afternoon’s ephemeral entertainment? Jon turned serious at the end, even while acknowledging that “there are boundaries for a comedian/pundit/talker guy.”

And did he take aim at Washington? No, it was once again the low-hanging fruit of the 24-hour cable news “conflictinator.” This machine “did not cause our problems”—whew, I thought he might call for banning the channels—”but its existence makes solving them that much harder. … If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

So is Stewart part of the problem — the leading purveyor of snark in lieu of substance? Or is it lame to hold him — and those on the other 500 channels — responsible for what ails us? It reminds me of the Comedy Channel’s favorite pol, who proclaimed:

Meanwhile, you’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t rank all that high on the truth meter. With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations; information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment. All of this is not only putting new pressures on you; it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy.

Yes, that was Obama. He, too, was once a media darling who now blames too much on the 24/7 news cycle.

It seems the media is a scapegoat, even for those who have benefited the most from it. You’d think that those who’ve attained fame and fortune would show a little more gratitude for the plethora of outlets that allow their message to reach hundreds of millions of Americans. And it would be swell if Obama and his liberal cheerleaders would show a little more enthusiasm for the vibrant, unruly, and delightfully robust political debate that is the hallmark of a free country and a functioning democracy.

Jon Stewart is a media star. He’s rich and famous because he has perfected the art of news-tainment that a key demographic (young TV viewers with lots of dispensable income) can’t get enough of. So he holds a rally, is savvy enough to steer clear of real political issues, and slams the media, which has made him who he is. No, really:

Did Stewart and Colbert strike a blow for sanity, or just furnish an afternoon’s ephemeral entertainment? Jon turned serious at the end, even while acknowledging that “there are boundaries for a comedian/pundit/talker guy.”

And did he take aim at Washington? No, it was once again the low-hanging fruit of the 24-hour cable news “conflictinator.” This machine “did not cause our problems”—whew, I thought he might call for banning the channels—”but its existence makes solving them that much harder. … If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

So is Stewart part of the problem — the leading purveyor of snark in lieu of substance? Or is it lame to hold him — and those on the other 500 channels — responsible for what ails us? It reminds me of the Comedy Channel’s favorite pol, who proclaimed:

Meanwhile, you’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t rank all that high on the truth meter. With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations; information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment. All of this is not only putting new pressures on you; it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy.

Yes, that was Obama. He, too, was once a media darling who now blames too much on the 24/7 news cycle.

It seems the media is a scapegoat, even for those who have benefited the most from it. You’d think that those who’ve attained fame and fortune would show a little more gratitude for the plethora of outlets that allow their message to reach hundreds of millions of Americans. And it would be swell if Obama and his liberal cheerleaders would show a little more enthusiasm for the vibrant, unruly, and delightfully robust political debate that is the hallmark of a free country and a functioning democracy.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Democrats catch flak for their Stephen Colbert stunt. Steny Hoyer is embarrassed: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Sunday that comedian Stephen Colbert should not have appeared before a House subcommittee last week, blasting the move as ‘an embarrassment.’” Nancy Pelosi defends the move, affirming the sense that she’s going to be booted out of the House leadership.

The U.S. and Israeli media are catching on: Soros Street is a fraud. “The Washington Times report also revealed that one of J Street’s major donors was a Hong Kong-based businesswoman named Consolacion Esdicul. According to the tax returns, Esdicul donated $811,697 over three years. Asked if J Street had conducted a background check on Esdicul, [Amy] Spitalnick said she was not at liberty to divulge the process by which it examines whether to accept money from donors.” So maybe the money is Saudi? Or Iranian? Who knows?

Republican Charles Baker catches Gov. Patrick Duval: “With just five weeks to the election, Republican Charles D. Baker has pulled even with Governor Deval Patrick in a gubernatorial race shaped by anti-incumbent sentiment and unusually high excitement among Republican voters, according to a new Boston Globe poll. … Patrick, a Democrat, won support from 35 percent of likely voters, compared with 34 percent for Baker, a statistical tie given the poll’s margin of error.”

It’s not likely that Democrat Lee Fisher will catch Rob Portman in Ohio. “The numbers on the race to replace retiring Republican George Voinovich in the U.S. Senate … were in line with a number of other polls conducted in recent months, with the Republican — former Cincinnati congressman and Bush administration official Rob Portman — holding a 15 percentage point lead over the Democrat Lee Fisher, the state’s lieutenant governor.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s dismal record as senator is catching up with her. The liberal San Francisco Chronicle won’t endorse her: “The incumbent, Democrat Barbara Boxer, has failed to distinguish herself during her 18 years in office. There is no reason to believe that another six-year term would bring anything but more of the same uninspired representation. … It is extremely rare that this editorial page would offer no recommendation on any race, particularly one of this importance. This is one necessary exception. Boxer, first elected in 1992, would not rate on anyone’s list of most influential senators. Her most famous moments on Capitol Hill have not been ones of legislative accomplishment, but of delivering partisan shots.” Wow.

You really have to catch Candy Crowley’s State of the Union. After Dick Durbin declares that the Democrats have done everything right, Crowley asks: “So absolutely no culpability on the part of Democrats or the White House. This is all the Republicans’ fault that people are turning away from President Obama?” Priceless.

Chris Wallace catches Mara Liasson: Hasn’t the Obama agenda contributed to business uncertainty and kept billions on the sidelines of the economy? “Yes, I, on that part I totally agree,” admits Liasson.

The Democrats catch flak for their Stephen Colbert stunt. Steny Hoyer is embarrassed: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Sunday that comedian Stephen Colbert should not have appeared before a House subcommittee last week, blasting the move as ‘an embarrassment.’” Nancy Pelosi defends the move, affirming the sense that she’s going to be booted out of the House leadership.

The U.S. and Israeli media are catching on: Soros Street is a fraud. “The Washington Times report also revealed that one of J Street’s major donors was a Hong Kong-based businesswoman named Consolacion Esdicul. According to the tax returns, Esdicul donated $811,697 over three years. Asked if J Street had conducted a background check on Esdicul, [Amy] Spitalnick said she was not at liberty to divulge the process by which it examines whether to accept money from donors.” So maybe the money is Saudi? Or Iranian? Who knows?

Republican Charles Baker catches Gov. Patrick Duval: “With just five weeks to the election, Republican Charles D. Baker has pulled even with Governor Deval Patrick in a gubernatorial race shaped by anti-incumbent sentiment and unusually high excitement among Republican voters, according to a new Boston Globe poll. … Patrick, a Democrat, won support from 35 percent of likely voters, compared with 34 percent for Baker, a statistical tie given the poll’s margin of error.”

It’s not likely that Democrat Lee Fisher will catch Rob Portman in Ohio. “The numbers on the race to replace retiring Republican George Voinovich in the U.S. Senate … were in line with a number of other polls conducted in recent months, with the Republican — former Cincinnati congressman and Bush administration official Rob Portman — holding a 15 percentage point lead over the Democrat Lee Fisher, the state’s lieutenant governor.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s dismal record as senator is catching up with her. The liberal San Francisco Chronicle won’t endorse her: “The incumbent, Democrat Barbara Boxer, has failed to distinguish herself during her 18 years in office. There is no reason to believe that another six-year term would bring anything but more of the same uninspired representation. … It is extremely rare that this editorial page would offer no recommendation on any race, particularly one of this importance. This is one necessary exception. Boxer, first elected in 1992, would not rate on anyone’s list of most influential senators. Her most famous moments on Capitol Hill have not been ones of legislative accomplishment, but of delivering partisan shots.” Wow.

You really have to catch Candy Crowley’s State of the Union. After Dick Durbin declares that the Democrats have done everything right, Crowley asks: “So absolutely no culpability on the part of Democrats or the White House. This is all the Republicans’ fault that people are turning away from President Obama?” Priceless.

Chris Wallace catches Mara Liasson: Hasn’t the Obama agenda contributed to business uncertainty and kept billions on the sidelines of the economy? “Yes, I, on that part I totally agree,” admits Liasson.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It’s getting harder for Jeffrey Goldberg to be protective of J Street when Jeremy Ben Ami lies to Goldberg’s colleague.

It’s getting harder to pretend that this election will be anything but a Democratic disaster. “With a little over a month until Election Day, Congressional Republicans have the clear advantage with voters nationwide, a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll says. In a generic ballot match-up, the Republican leads the Democrat by 9 points among likely voters — 53 percent to 44 percent. … But the new survey suggests Republicans could be in even a better position than they were in 1994, when the GOP stunned the Democrats with their gain of 54 seats in the House and eight seats in the upper chamber.”

It’s getting harder to maintain the position that the Democrats deserve to govern. “Amid a high stakes struggle to connect with voters, House Democrats turned Friday to celebrity comedian Stephen Colbert to highlight the plight of migrant farm workers. He promptly returned the favor by turning Congress — specifically a Judiciary subcommittee — into his personal comedy club.”

It’s getting harder for Democrats to keep their base in line. “Liberals are expressing outrage that Democrats are not holding a vote to extend tax cuts for the middle class before the elections.”

It’s getting harder for Obama to come up with a plausible rationale for why his Iranian engagement policy makes sense. “To have a President [Ahmadinejad] who makes outrageous, offensive statements like this does not serve the interests of the Iranian people, does not strengthen Iran’s stature in the world community. And there is an easy solution to this, which is to have a Iranian government act responsibly in the international community, along the lines of not just basic codes of conduct or diplomatic norms, but just basic humanity and common decency.” Umm, but doesn’t Ahmadinejad’s speech suggest that … oh, never mind. I think Obama is hopeless (and also unwilling to suggest military force as a viable option).

It’s getting harder for Democrats to keep their heads about them. Bill Kristol writes, “[T]he Democratic party is in meltdown, the Obama White House is in disarray, and the voters are in rebellion against both of them. … It looks as if 2010 will be a bigger electoral landslide than 1994, and more significant as well.”

It’s getting harder to pretend the Tea Partiers are unsophisticated. Larry Kudlow points out that they are a lot brighter than the Beltway economic geniuses: “With all the Fed’s pump-priming since late 2008, there is still $1 trillion of excess bank reserves sitting on deposit at the central bank. This massive cash hoard suggests that liquidity is not the problem for the financial system or the economy. And putting another $1 trillion into excess reserves only doubles the problem. A much better idea would be a fiscal freeze on spending, tax rates and regulations. This is apparently what the tea-party-driven Republican congressional leaders intend for their election platform.” Sure is.

It’s getting harder for Jeffrey Goldberg to be protective of J Street when Jeremy Ben Ami lies to Goldberg’s colleague.

It’s getting harder to pretend that this election will be anything but a Democratic disaster. “With a little over a month until Election Day, Congressional Republicans have the clear advantage with voters nationwide, a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll says. In a generic ballot match-up, the Republican leads the Democrat by 9 points among likely voters — 53 percent to 44 percent. … But the new survey suggests Republicans could be in even a better position than they were in 1994, when the GOP stunned the Democrats with their gain of 54 seats in the House and eight seats in the upper chamber.”

It’s getting harder to maintain the position that the Democrats deserve to govern. “Amid a high stakes struggle to connect with voters, House Democrats turned Friday to celebrity comedian Stephen Colbert to highlight the plight of migrant farm workers. He promptly returned the favor by turning Congress — specifically a Judiciary subcommittee — into his personal comedy club.”

It’s getting harder for Democrats to keep their base in line. “Liberals are expressing outrage that Democrats are not holding a vote to extend tax cuts for the middle class before the elections.”

It’s getting harder for Obama to come up with a plausible rationale for why his Iranian engagement policy makes sense. “To have a President [Ahmadinejad] who makes outrageous, offensive statements like this does not serve the interests of the Iranian people, does not strengthen Iran’s stature in the world community. And there is an easy solution to this, which is to have a Iranian government act responsibly in the international community, along the lines of not just basic codes of conduct or diplomatic norms, but just basic humanity and common decency.” Umm, but doesn’t Ahmadinejad’s speech suggest that … oh, never mind. I think Obama is hopeless (and also unwilling to suggest military force as a viable option).

It’s getting harder for Democrats to keep their heads about them. Bill Kristol writes, “[T]he Democratic party is in meltdown, the Obama White House is in disarray, and the voters are in rebellion against both of them. … It looks as if 2010 will be a bigger electoral landslide than 1994, and more significant as well.”

It’s getting harder to pretend the Tea Partiers are unsophisticated. Larry Kudlow points out that they are a lot brighter than the Beltway economic geniuses: “With all the Fed’s pump-priming since late 2008, there is still $1 trillion of excess bank reserves sitting on deposit at the central bank. This massive cash hoard suggests that liquidity is not the problem for the financial system or the economy. And putting another $1 trillion into excess reserves only doubles the problem. A much better idea would be a fiscal freeze on spending, tax rates and regulations. This is apparently what the tea-party-driven Republican congressional leaders intend for their election platform.” Sure is.

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The Jews Won’t Go Back Because They’re in Their Own Country

Despite Helen Thomas’s apology and resignation, the controversy over her call for Israel’s Jews to be thrown out of their country and “go back” to Germany and Poland isn’t quite over. Not to be outdone by the anti-Semitic octogenarian scribe, radio talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell defended or at the very least rationalized Thomas’s slur on her radio show, the audio of which can be heard on YouTube. The comedian and her “friends” on the show think Thomas’s remarks are merely “politically incorrect.” O’Donnell claims that in 2010, no one could possibly believe that Thomas thinks Jews should go back to Auschwitz (as one of the Gaza flotilla “humanitarians” allegedly told the Israeli navy) and that her main point was justified because “What she was saying was, the homeland was originally Palestinian and it’s now occupied by Israel.”

O’Donnell’s rants are not particularly significant, but her assertion about whose land the Israelis currently occupy is important because it represents a common misconception about the Middle East conflict that often goes without contradiction.

Indeed, even those pundits that reacted appropriately to Thomas’s remarks, such as the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who wrote an admirable column about what happened when some Jews did, in fact, attempt to go back to Poland after the Holocaust, failed to point out that Jewish rights to historic Palestine predate the tragic events of the 1940s. Cohen described the Kielce massacre, in which Poles slaughtered returning Jews, as well as the hostility of even some Americans, such as General George Patton, toward displaced survivors. He rightly noted that the plight of these homeless Jews helped galvanize support for Zionism at that crucial moment in history in the years leading up to Israel’s independence.

But as with President Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world, which posed a false moral equivalence between the sufferings of Jews in the Holocaust and the displacement of Palestinian Arab refugees, the idea that Jewish rights to the land are merely a matter of compensation for events in Europe is a pernicious myth that must be refuted at every opportunity. Jews need not be required to leave Israel for Europe not only because to do so would be insensitive but also because the place Arabs call Palestine is the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Despite the dispersion of the Jews, the Jewish presence in the land was never eradicated. For example, Jerusalem had a Jewish majority in the 1840s. Palestinian nationalism grew not as an attempt to reconstitute an ancient people or to solidify an existing political culture but strictly as a negative reaction to the return of the Jews and does not exist outside the context of trying to deny the country to the Zionists. That is why even moderate Palestinians find it impossible to sign a peace agreement legitimizing a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn.

The idea of Jews as colonists in the Middle East is a staple of anti-Zionist hatred, but it surfaces even in respectable forums and in the work of writers who are nominally sympathetic to Israel. Earlier this week, Ross Douthat wrote a column in the New York Times comparing the State of Israel to the Christian Crusader kingdoms that sprouted in what is now Israel during the Middle Ages before being swept away by a Muslim tide. Douthat doesn’t seem to wish the same fate for the Jews and acknowledged that the analogy between the Crusaders and Israel is one invoked by Arabs who wish to wipe out the Jewish state. But his analogy between Israel’s demographic and strategic problems and that of the Crusaders is itself specious. Unlike the Christian noblemen who ruled the country and its mainly non-Christian inhabitants from castles that are now historic ruins, the Jews settled on the land en masse and developed it in an unprecedented manner. Contrary to his evaluation of Israel’s current position, its economy has flourished despite war; and though it has many problems (as do all countries), it is no danger of being swept away except by the sort of cataclysmic threat that a nuclear Iran poses. Moreover, and contrary to the land grab of European knights who massacred Jews in Europe on their way to further atrocities in the Holy Land, the Jews came back to their country as a matter of historic justice, as a people reclaiming what was rightly theirs.

Friends of Israel and those representing the Jewish state generally ignore the need to point out the myths about Zionism that have resulted in all too many people accepting the idea that the Jews are “occupiers” of an exclusively Arab land. They fear boring their listeners or seeming too strident. But the costs of this neglect are to be measured in the growing numbers of people in the West who accept the lies spread by Palestinian propagandists or who don’t know enough to challenge them.

Despite Helen Thomas’s apology and resignation, the controversy over her call for Israel’s Jews to be thrown out of their country and “go back” to Germany and Poland isn’t quite over. Not to be outdone by the anti-Semitic octogenarian scribe, radio talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell defended or at the very least rationalized Thomas’s slur on her radio show, the audio of which can be heard on YouTube. The comedian and her “friends” on the show think Thomas’s remarks are merely “politically incorrect.” O’Donnell claims that in 2010, no one could possibly believe that Thomas thinks Jews should go back to Auschwitz (as one of the Gaza flotilla “humanitarians” allegedly told the Israeli navy) and that her main point was justified because “What she was saying was, the homeland was originally Palestinian and it’s now occupied by Israel.”

O’Donnell’s rants are not particularly significant, but her assertion about whose land the Israelis currently occupy is important because it represents a common misconception about the Middle East conflict that often goes without contradiction.

Indeed, even those pundits that reacted appropriately to Thomas’s remarks, such as the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who wrote an admirable column about what happened when some Jews did, in fact, attempt to go back to Poland after the Holocaust, failed to point out that Jewish rights to historic Palestine predate the tragic events of the 1940s. Cohen described the Kielce massacre, in which Poles slaughtered returning Jews, as well as the hostility of even some Americans, such as General George Patton, toward displaced survivors. He rightly noted that the plight of these homeless Jews helped galvanize support for Zionism at that crucial moment in history in the years leading up to Israel’s independence.

But as with President Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world, which posed a false moral equivalence between the sufferings of Jews in the Holocaust and the displacement of Palestinian Arab refugees, the idea that Jewish rights to the land are merely a matter of compensation for events in Europe is a pernicious myth that must be refuted at every opportunity. Jews need not be required to leave Israel for Europe not only because to do so would be insensitive but also because the place Arabs call Palestine is the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Despite the dispersion of the Jews, the Jewish presence in the land was never eradicated. For example, Jerusalem had a Jewish majority in the 1840s. Palestinian nationalism grew not as an attempt to reconstitute an ancient people or to solidify an existing political culture but strictly as a negative reaction to the return of the Jews and does not exist outside the context of trying to deny the country to the Zionists. That is why even moderate Palestinians find it impossible to sign a peace agreement legitimizing a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn.

The idea of Jews as colonists in the Middle East is a staple of anti-Zionist hatred, but it surfaces even in respectable forums and in the work of writers who are nominally sympathetic to Israel. Earlier this week, Ross Douthat wrote a column in the New York Times comparing the State of Israel to the Christian Crusader kingdoms that sprouted in what is now Israel during the Middle Ages before being swept away by a Muslim tide. Douthat doesn’t seem to wish the same fate for the Jews and acknowledged that the analogy between the Crusaders and Israel is one invoked by Arabs who wish to wipe out the Jewish state. But his analogy between Israel’s demographic and strategic problems and that of the Crusaders is itself specious. Unlike the Christian noblemen who ruled the country and its mainly non-Christian inhabitants from castles that are now historic ruins, the Jews settled on the land en masse and developed it in an unprecedented manner. Contrary to his evaluation of Israel’s current position, its economy has flourished despite war; and though it has many problems (as do all countries), it is no danger of being swept away except by the sort of cataclysmic threat that a nuclear Iran poses. Moreover, and contrary to the land grab of European knights who massacred Jews in Europe on their way to further atrocities in the Holy Land, the Jews came back to their country as a matter of historic justice, as a people reclaiming what was rightly theirs.

Friends of Israel and those representing the Jewish state generally ignore the need to point out the myths about Zionism that have resulted in all too many people accepting the idea that the Jews are “occupiers” of an exclusively Arab land. They fear boring their listeners or seeming too strident. But the costs of this neglect are to be measured in the growing numbers of people in the West who accept the lies spread by Palestinian propagandists or who don’t know enough to challenge them.

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Coitus Uninterruptus (and Endless)

You may have heard about the impending release of the movie version of Sex and the City, the long-running HBO show about the travails of four women on the prowl in New York City. The show was actually quite inventive for a half-hour sitcom, since every episode managed to tell four separate stories in the course of 27 minutes, which is actually no small task (most sitcoms have one major plot and one minor plot per half hour). Sex and the City was compressed and therefore seemed to move like a freight train.

So it is horrifying to learn that the movie version of Sex and the City runs — get this — 2 hours and 25 minutes. That’s a whole lot of Kim Cattrall acting more like a drag queen than a woman. Way too much. Which reminds me of the comedian Mort Sahl’s line at the premiere of Otto Preminger’s movie version of Exodus, the story of Israel’s founding. As the movie hit the three-hour mark with no end in sight, Sahl stood up and shouted, “Otto! Let my people go!”

Sarah Jessica Parker! Let the women of America go!

You may have heard about the impending release of the movie version of Sex and the City, the long-running HBO show about the travails of four women on the prowl in New York City. The show was actually quite inventive for a half-hour sitcom, since every episode managed to tell four separate stories in the course of 27 minutes, which is actually no small task (most sitcoms have one major plot and one minor plot per half hour). Sex and the City was compressed and therefore seemed to move like a freight train.

So it is horrifying to learn that the movie version of Sex and the City runs — get this — 2 hours and 25 minutes. That’s a whole lot of Kim Cattrall acting more like a drag queen than a woman. Way too much. Which reminds me of the comedian Mort Sahl’s line at the premiere of Otto Preminger’s movie version of Exodus, the story of Israel’s founding. As the movie hit the three-hour mark with no end in sight, Sahl stood up and shouted, “Otto! Let my people go!”

Sarah Jessica Parker! Let the women of America go!

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The Dennis and Mike Show

The Nation is holding a poll on its website where readers can choose their ideal choice for the Democratic presidential nomination. Online polls are usually meaningless (the popularity of Ron Paul in such internet venues is a testament to his rabidly enthusiastic and technically savvy online fan base, rather than to his actual popularity among Republican primary voters) and the magazine’s editors at least note, in the fine print, that the poll is “not statistically valid.”

Though it’s true that the poll is “not statistically valid” in the sense that it is not an accurate prediction of what will happen in the Democratic primaries, the poll is nonetheless a useful barometer of where the magazine’s readership lies on the political spectrum. And thus it’s no surprise that Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich—whose most novel proposal has been the creation of a cabinet level “Department of Peace”takes the lead at 34 percent (at the time of this posting), trouncing the actual front runners Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama. Indeed, the fact that the presumptive nominee, Clinton, garners only 5 percent, speaks volumes about how radical the magazine’s readership is. That former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel (no longer invited to Democratic Party debates and given to holding his own, one-man rants across the street) has more than double her support (11 percent) speaks to the outright self-delusion of the Nation‘s readership. Kucinich’s campaign slogan is the inversion of an old Ronald Reagan saying: “Strength through Peace,” which makes about as much sense as “Satiation through Starvation.”

Earlier this month, Democratic Party officials in South Carolina rejected Stephen Colbert’s attempt to make it onto the state’s primary ballot on the grounds that he is a comedian and would distract from the real business of presidential politicking. But that’s nonsense. There are already at least two comedians running for president in the Democratic primary.

The Nation is holding a poll on its website where readers can choose their ideal choice for the Democratic presidential nomination. Online polls are usually meaningless (the popularity of Ron Paul in such internet venues is a testament to his rabidly enthusiastic and technically savvy online fan base, rather than to his actual popularity among Republican primary voters) and the magazine’s editors at least note, in the fine print, that the poll is “not statistically valid.”

Though it’s true that the poll is “not statistically valid” in the sense that it is not an accurate prediction of what will happen in the Democratic primaries, the poll is nonetheless a useful barometer of where the magazine’s readership lies on the political spectrum. And thus it’s no surprise that Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich—whose most novel proposal has been the creation of a cabinet level “Department of Peace”takes the lead at 34 percent (at the time of this posting), trouncing the actual front runners Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama. Indeed, the fact that the presumptive nominee, Clinton, garners only 5 percent, speaks volumes about how radical the magazine’s readership is. That former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel (no longer invited to Democratic Party debates and given to holding his own, one-man rants across the street) has more than double her support (11 percent) speaks to the outright self-delusion of the Nation‘s readership. Kucinich’s campaign slogan is the inversion of an old Ronald Reagan saying: “Strength through Peace,” which makes about as much sense as “Satiation through Starvation.”

Earlier this month, Democratic Party officials in South Carolina rejected Stephen Colbert’s attempt to make it onto the state’s primary ballot on the grounds that he is a comedian and would distract from the real business of presidential politicking. But that’s nonsense. There are already at least two comedians running for president in the Democratic primary.

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“Throw the Jew down the Well”

Comedy fans with strong stomachs may chuckle when Borat Sagdiyev, the faux-Kazakh journalist played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, sings the pseudo-folksong “In My Country There Is Problem”: “Throw the Jew down the well/ So my country can be free/ You must grab him by his horns/ Then we have a big party.” The song, praised by Slate as “hilarious” and “catchy,” raised concerns from the Anti-Defamation League last September: “One serious pitfall is that the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke, and that some may even find it reinforcing their bigotry.”

This precise worry has become tragically current. In Kazakhstan’s neighbor Uzbekistan it is now clear that Jews are still being lynched. As Ynetnews reports, last week the noted Jewish-Uzbek stage director Mark Weil was stabbed to death outside his Tashkent home. “Uzbek police suspect the murder was an anti-Semitic attack,” according to Ynetnews. Last April, the 55-year-old theater director, founder in 1976 of the Ilkhom Theater (one of the oldest independent theaters in the former USSR), had hosted a festival in Tashkent of Contemporary Israeli Literature and Drama. Weil was stabbed to death by two men, “possibly due to his Jewish identity,” as the director was well known for his close ties to the local Jewish community. Despite U. S. State Department warnings, Weil had assured friends and colleagues that his theater “had no enemies,” although its avant-garde subject matter on occasion included gay love, which in the Central Asian Muslim country of Uzbekistan is still punishable by a prison sentence.

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Comedy fans with strong stomachs may chuckle when Borat Sagdiyev, the faux-Kazakh journalist played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, sings the pseudo-folksong “In My Country There Is Problem”: “Throw the Jew down the well/ So my country can be free/ You must grab him by his horns/ Then we have a big party.” The song, praised by Slate as “hilarious” and “catchy,” raised concerns from the Anti-Defamation League last September: “One serious pitfall is that the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke, and that some may even find it reinforcing their bigotry.”

This precise worry has become tragically current. In Kazakhstan’s neighbor Uzbekistan it is now clear that Jews are still being lynched. As Ynetnews reports, last week the noted Jewish-Uzbek stage director Mark Weil was stabbed to death outside his Tashkent home. “Uzbek police suspect the murder was an anti-Semitic attack,” according to Ynetnews. Last April, the 55-year-old theater director, founder in 1976 of the Ilkhom Theater (one of the oldest independent theaters in the former USSR), had hosted a festival in Tashkent of Contemporary Israeli Literature and Drama. Weil was stabbed to death by two men, “possibly due to his Jewish identity,” as the director was well known for his close ties to the local Jewish community. Despite U. S. State Department warnings, Weil had assured friends and colleagues that his theater “had no enemies,” although its avant-garde subject matter on occasion included gay love, which in the Central Asian Muslim country of Uzbekistan is still punishable by a prison sentence.

Weil, who is survived by a wife and two daughters, is scarcely the first victim of recent anti-Semitic violence in Uzbekistan. Last year, 33-year-old Avraham Hakohen Yagudayev, a Jewish leader, died of cranial injuries in Tashkent after what local authorities called a traffic accident, but what local Hillel director asserted “was no accident,” pointing to overt anti-Semitism as the motive. (In 2000, his synagogue had been gutted by a fire that authorities pooh-poohed, claiming it was caused by a short circuit.) Since 1989, some 83,000 Uzbeki Jews have fled to Israel, with only around 17,000 remaining. As the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress explains, anti-Semitic violence in Uzbekistan is prevalent and a matter of ongoing concern.

During the filming of Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 The Great Dictator (a satire about Europe’s evolving historical tragedies), Chaplin realized that “Hitler [was] a horrible menace to civilization rather than someone to laugh at.” As the death toll of Central Asian Jews continues to increase, cinema audiences may wish to reconsider whether it is really timely to laugh at Borat, a character from a region of the world where (at least for Jews) the laughs have dried up entirely.

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Bookshelf

• Kingsley Amis, who specialized in writing pithy comic novels that cut to the chase in the very first sentence, would doubtless have been amused to find himself the subject of a thousand-page authorized biography. I don’t presume to know how he would have felt if he’d known how brutally revealing it was going to be. Zachary Leader’s The Life of Kingsley Amis (Pantheon, 1,008 pp., $39.95) leaves no doubt whatsoever that the author of Lucky Jim was a dreadful, pitiful man who, like so many other great comedians, contrived through inexplicable acts of literary alchemy to wrench amusement out of his awfulness.

I led with my chin in that last sentence. I do indeed think Amis was a “great” comedian, by which I don’t mean great as in Shakespeare—but not as in Jack Benny, either. He wrote laugh-out-loud novels in which he cast the coldest possible eye on the manners and morals of postwar England. A highly intelligent middle-class populist with a powerful aesthetic streak and a long nose for humbug, he listened to Mozart with the same gusto that he read the novels of Ian Fleming. (He even turned out a fair amount of far-better-than-average poetry.) For all his love of art in its myriad manifestations, rage was the fuel on which Amis’s engine ran, and he was never funnier than when he was most disgusted. As a no-longer-young man he became ferociously conservative, having decided that the enemies of all he held dear were (mostly) on the Left. Yet even in his belligerently crusty old age, he never ceased to live by Noël Coward’s credo: “Laugh at everything, all their sacred shibboleths. Flippancy brings out the acid in their damned sweetness and light.”

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• Kingsley Amis, who specialized in writing pithy comic novels that cut to the chase in the very first sentence, would doubtless have been amused to find himself the subject of a thousand-page authorized biography. I don’t presume to know how he would have felt if he’d known how brutally revealing it was going to be. Zachary Leader’s The Life of Kingsley Amis (Pantheon, 1,008 pp., $39.95) leaves no doubt whatsoever that the author of Lucky Jim was a dreadful, pitiful man who, like so many other great comedians, contrived through inexplicable acts of literary alchemy to wrench amusement out of his awfulness.

I led with my chin in that last sentence. I do indeed think Amis was a “great” comedian, by which I don’t mean great as in Shakespeare—but not as in Jack Benny, either. He wrote laugh-out-loud novels in which he cast the coldest possible eye on the manners and morals of postwar England. A highly intelligent middle-class populist with a powerful aesthetic streak and a long nose for humbug, he listened to Mozart with the same gusto that he read the novels of Ian Fleming. (He even turned out a fair amount of far-better-than-average poetry.) For all his love of art in its myriad manifestations, rage was the fuel on which Amis’s engine ran, and he was never funnier than when he was most disgusted. As a no-longer-young man he became ferociously conservative, having decided that the enemies of all he held dear were (mostly) on the Left. Yet even in his belligerently crusty old age, he never ceased to live by Noël Coward’s credo: “Laugh at everything, all their sacred shibboleths. Flippancy brings out the acid in their damned sweetness and light.”

In private life, alas, Amis was a caddish, self-absorbed pleasure-seeker not unlike Roger Micheldene, the hideous anti-hero of One Fat Englishman, one of his sharpest and least appreciated novels, and The Life of Kingsley Amis is crammed to overflowing with well-sourced tales of his beastliness. Such things should of course be known, but Leader could have made his point four times as effectively in half the space, though he writes well enough to make his excesses palatable. He also has a sharp eye for self-revealing passages in Amis’s novels, as in this striking excerpt from The Green Man: “You just have your own ideas about what to do and when and how, about everything, and they always stay the same, doesn’t matter who you’re dealing with or what they say to you. . . . I don’t know what you think about people, which is bad enough, but you certainly go on as if they’re all in the way.”

By all means read The Life of Kingsley Amis if you’re familiar with his work. It will tell you everything you could ever want to know about him, along with a lot of things you’d just as soon not know. If, on the other hand, Amis is only a name to you, go first to Lucky Jim, which is as funny as anything by Waugh or Wodehouse (from both of whom he learned a lot). Thereafter I suggest Girl, 20, The Green Man, That Uncertain Feeling, One Fat Englishman, The Alteration, and The Russian Girl, in that order. Somewhere along the way, you should also dip into Amis’s Memoirs, which are as irresistible as they are unreliable. From there you can branch out to the lesser novels, poetry and nonfiction (The Amis Collection contains a representative selection of essays and reviews). Not all of Amis’s books are worth the trouble—Russian Hide-and-Seek is a dud—but few 20th-century writers have been more consistently entertaining.

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Franken’s Shtick

The comedian Al Franken, author of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, recently announced that he is running for Senate from Minnesota, where he grew up. An alumnus of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Franken made his name satirizing conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and National Review’s Rich Lowry, whom he challenged to a fist fight in his garage.

His candidacy has been greeted with predictable enthusiasm. As Time gushed, “Enter the clown, who’s ready to play not Hamlet but Disraeli.” But is Franken really ready? Obviously, Americans have taken a political chance on ex-entertainers before, most notably with Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Franken’s case poses special difficulties because his work has always been so harshly political and partisan.

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The comedian Al Franken, author of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, recently announced that he is running for Senate from Minnesota, where he grew up. An alumnus of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Franken made his name satirizing conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and National Review’s Rich Lowry, whom he challenged to a fist fight in his garage.

His candidacy has been greeted with predictable enthusiasm. As Time gushed, “Enter the clown, who’s ready to play not Hamlet but Disraeli.” But is Franken really ready? Obviously, Americans have taken a political chance on ex-entertainers before, most notably with Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Franken’s case poses special difficulties because his work has always been so harshly political and partisan.

In the final episode of his program on Air America, the now-bankrupt liberal radio station, Franken announced his candidacy with old-fashioned American optimism. “I know I have an awful lot to learn from the people of Minnesota,” he declared. I want “to help our country become everything I hope it can be and everything I know it can be.”

But reconciling aw-shucks populist rhetoric with the well-established cynicism of Franken’s public persona won’t be easy. After all, this is a “comedian” who once ironically raised the possibility that George Bush and Dick Cheney should be executed for treason, quickly adding that “we should never ever, ever, ever execute a sitting President.” He has also made snide comments about McCain’s POW experience: “I don’t understand why all this war hero stuff. I mean, anybody can get captured. Isn’t the idea to capture the other guy? As far as I’m concerned, he sat out the war.”

There are many who find humor in Franken’s shtick, and his candidacy can’t be judged solely on the basis of his stand-up routine and the books he has written. But episodes like the one at a Dean fundraiser in 2003, when Franken went on an expletive-laced, demagogic rant about Brit Hume and Fox News, are among many troubling instances when he has seemed authentically malicious–and out of control.

At Franken’s official campaign website, you can listen to him talk about middle-class values and his hardscrabble family history; you can even hear this Harvard grad use the expression “guv’ment.” But his attempts at folksy spontaneity seem flat and scripted. After ten minutes of self-mythologizing, he finally gets to a subject he can warm to: his agenda, which sounds like leftovers from a 2003 John Kerry press release.

Franken is clearly an intelligent man. He knows that rural-style charm and meat-and-potatoes liberalism play well in Minnesota. But unless he is a preternaturally gifted politician, his humble-pie charade will not survive the extreme rhetoric and partisan titillation in which he has always trafficked. In the run-up to the election in 2008, Minnesotans will have to be on the look-out for the real Al Franken.

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Putin the Comedian

Move over, Borat. The hottest new voice in comedy is Vladimir Putin, otherwise known as the man who saved Russia from freedom and democracy. Putin convulsed his audience at the Munich Conference on Security with this sparkling one-liner: “Nobody feels secure any more, because nobody can take safety behind the stone wall of international law.”

International law has been likened to many things—gauze, cotton, clouds, tissue paper, vapor—but a “stone wall?” Where did Putin come up with this utterly original metaphor? Perhaps from the idealistic years of his youth, when he proved his devotion to making people secure by going to work for the Committee for State Security (KGB). In his proudest assignment, Putin found safety behind an actual stone wall in Berlin and helped millions of East Germans to enjoy that safety with him, even those flighty individuals who, if left to their own devices, might have preferred to be someplace less secure.

Putin is understandably peeved that the expansion of NATO has already diminished Russia’s security by depriving it of its historic freedom to invade its neighbors. Now, adding insult to injury, Washington is considering placing anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. This would mean that Russia could not even fire rockets at these countries just to send them a message about, say, the advantages of buying more Russian gas at higher prices.

Putin has been forced to parry further assaults on Russia’s security, waged by American NGO’s that have set up operations inside Russia to promote democracy and human rights. “Russia is constantly being taught democracy,” he protested.

Is this how we repay Putin for all that he has done to enhance our security? He has furnished Iran with nuclear technology in order, so he explained, to make sure that Iran does not “feel cornered.” He has gone to great lengths to protect us from the likes of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Anna Politkovskaya, and Alexander Litvinenko. Above all, is this the reward that Putin deserves for having worked so hard to keep the world safe from Chechnya?

Move over, Borat. The hottest new voice in comedy is Vladimir Putin, otherwise known as the man who saved Russia from freedom and democracy. Putin convulsed his audience at the Munich Conference on Security with this sparkling one-liner: “Nobody feels secure any more, because nobody can take safety behind the stone wall of international law.”

International law has been likened to many things—gauze, cotton, clouds, tissue paper, vapor—but a “stone wall?” Where did Putin come up with this utterly original metaphor? Perhaps from the idealistic years of his youth, when he proved his devotion to making people secure by going to work for the Committee for State Security (KGB). In his proudest assignment, Putin found safety behind an actual stone wall in Berlin and helped millions of East Germans to enjoy that safety with him, even those flighty individuals who, if left to their own devices, might have preferred to be someplace less secure.

Putin is understandably peeved that the expansion of NATO has already diminished Russia’s security by depriving it of its historic freedom to invade its neighbors. Now, adding insult to injury, Washington is considering placing anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. This would mean that Russia could not even fire rockets at these countries just to send them a message about, say, the advantages of buying more Russian gas at higher prices.

Putin has been forced to parry further assaults on Russia’s security, waged by American NGO’s that have set up operations inside Russia to promote democracy and human rights. “Russia is constantly being taught democracy,” he protested.

Is this how we repay Putin for all that he has done to enhance our security? He has furnished Iran with nuclear technology in order, so he explained, to make sure that Iran does not “feel cornered.” He has gone to great lengths to protect us from the likes of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Anna Politkovskaya, and Alexander Litvinenko. Above all, is this the reward that Putin deserves for having worked so hard to keep the world safe from Chechnya?

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