Commentary Magazine


Topic: commentator

Was Tim Russert Olbermann’s ‘Greatest Protector’?

The divorce between Keith Olbermann and MSNBC is no surprise. Mr. Olbermann is a notoriously difficult personality; he left on bad terms with ESPN, FOX sports, and now, for a second time, MSNBC.

Olbermann proved to be a ratings draw for MSNBC and helped it secure a solid second place among cable news networks — far behind FOX but still ahead of CNN. Yet higher ratings came at a high cost. Olbermann’s presence stained the journalistic reputation of not only MSNBC but also NBC News. After all, it was the home for, and gave a platform to, an individual who embodied liberalism at its most enraged, most extreme, and most irresponsible. Moreover, for a time Olbermann was not simply a commentator for MSNBC; he was also (with Chris Matthews) an anchor for its political coverage. Having Olbermann as one of the stars in NBC’s journalistic galaxy revealed its biases and also made them more pronounced.

One other thing is worth calling attention to — Olbermann’s statement, in his final broadcast, that Tim Russert was Olbermann’s “greatest protector and most indefatigable cheerleader.”

Since Tim died in 2008, it’s impossible to know whether he would agree with Olbermann’s characterization. But count me a skeptic.

We know Russert was himself an outstanding journalist, a man of impressive fairness who cared deeply about NBC’s reputation. It has also been widely reported that one of Russert’s best friends, Tom Brokaw, felt that Olbermann was doing significant damage to MSNBC. (“After Russert died and Brokaw appointed himself the custodian of the Russert legend, he began beating on Steve Capus and Jeff Zucker and Jeff Immelt that MSNBC was an embarrassment,” one source familiar with the inner workings of the newsroom has said.)

Is it possible that Russert saw in Olbermann what no other serious person did? Could Russert have actually considered Olbermann a jewel in the NBC News crown? Perhaps. But it would take a lot more for me to believe Russert was an “indefatigable cheerleader” for Olbermann than simply Olbermann’s claim that this was the case. After all, Olbermann fashioned himself as not simply a journalist but a modern-day Edward R. Murrow, which tells you everything you need to know about the scale of his self-deception and conceit.

The divorce between Keith Olbermann and MSNBC is no surprise. Mr. Olbermann is a notoriously difficult personality; he left on bad terms with ESPN, FOX sports, and now, for a second time, MSNBC.

Olbermann proved to be a ratings draw for MSNBC and helped it secure a solid second place among cable news networks — far behind FOX but still ahead of CNN. Yet higher ratings came at a high cost. Olbermann’s presence stained the journalistic reputation of not only MSNBC but also NBC News. After all, it was the home for, and gave a platform to, an individual who embodied liberalism at its most enraged, most extreme, and most irresponsible. Moreover, for a time Olbermann was not simply a commentator for MSNBC; he was also (with Chris Matthews) an anchor for its political coverage. Having Olbermann as one of the stars in NBC’s journalistic galaxy revealed its biases and also made them more pronounced.

One other thing is worth calling attention to — Olbermann’s statement, in his final broadcast, that Tim Russert was Olbermann’s “greatest protector and most indefatigable cheerleader.”

Since Tim died in 2008, it’s impossible to know whether he would agree with Olbermann’s characterization. But count me a skeptic.

We know Russert was himself an outstanding journalist, a man of impressive fairness who cared deeply about NBC’s reputation. It has also been widely reported that one of Russert’s best friends, Tom Brokaw, felt that Olbermann was doing significant damage to MSNBC. (“After Russert died and Brokaw appointed himself the custodian of the Russert legend, he began beating on Steve Capus and Jeff Zucker and Jeff Immelt that MSNBC was an embarrassment,” one source familiar with the inner workings of the newsroom has said.)

Is it possible that Russert saw in Olbermann what no other serious person did? Could Russert have actually considered Olbermann a jewel in the NBC News crown? Perhaps. But it would take a lot more for me to believe Russert was an “indefatigable cheerleader” for Olbermann than simply Olbermann’s claim that this was the case. After all, Olbermann fashioned himself as not simply a journalist but a modern-day Edward R. Murrow, which tells you everything you need to know about the scale of his self-deception and conceit.

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Tunisia’s Anti-Israel Eliza Doolittle

Christian Ortner, a commentator for the Austrian dailies Wiener Zeitung and Die Presse, picked up a golden journalistic nugget about Leila Trabelsi, the wife of Tunisia’s former authoritarian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Ortner cites a 2002 French radio interview with Trabelsi in which she discussed the economic malaise of Tunisia and her revolutionary austerity program to help the Palestinians.

“She acknowledged certain difficulties,” Ortner writes (and I translate), “but attributed them not to the corruption, patronage and monumental kleptocracy of her husband’s regime, but to the ‘necessary sacrifices ‘ that had to be made for the Palestinian cause. That is — the Jews are responsible for Tunisia’s misery. Who would imagine …”

With his bitter irony, Ortner captures the fundamental madness of turning Israel into a punching bag and thereby cleverly sidetracking critical examinations about the real causes of dysfunctional regimes in the Muslim world.

The former hair stylist Trabelsi — who appears to have had a kind of Eliza Doolittle rise to the top echelon of Tunisian society — reportedly fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia with 1.5 tons of gold. Perhaps she will convert her gold bars into hard currency and fund some of the anti-Israeli and excessively pro-Palestinian NGOs like Human Rights Watch, notorious for its fundraising in Saudi Arabia. Given her avarice, however, one should not hold one’s breath.

All this means is that Tunisian civil society showed the same utter bankruptcy of the explanatory model employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Arab world, namely, that the unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict is the be-all and end-all of Arab and Muslim economic and political misery. It should be added that the EU endorses a water-downed version of this very model with its bizarre fixation on apartment-complex construction in East Jerusalem and the disputed territories at the expense of confronting the Iranian nuclear-weapons threat.

As Amir Taheri highlighted in yesterday’s New York Post, Tunisia “has cast aside tired ideologies such as pan-Arabism, Islamism and Baathism. Instead, it is calling for democracy, human rights and economic development. ” In short, the protesters reorganized politics by turning inward, rejecting the external nonsense that despots invoke to solidify their regimes.

While I believe Taheri is excessively optimistic about the rock-bottom nature of change in the Tunisian social order, his line of reasoning shows that Leila Trabelsi’s “necessary sacrifices ” for the PLO is a perverse adaptation of Pygmalion that hoodwinked many EU countries, particularly France.

Christian Ortner, a commentator for the Austrian dailies Wiener Zeitung and Die Presse, picked up a golden journalistic nugget about Leila Trabelsi, the wife of Tunisia’s former authoritarian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Ortner cites a 2002 French radio interview with Trabelsi in which she discussed the economic malaise of Tunisia and her revolutionary austerity program to help the Palestinians.

“She acknowledged certain difficulties,” Ortner writes (and I translate), “but attributed them not to the corruption, patronage and monumental kleptocracy of her husband’s regime, but to the ‘necessary sacrifices ‘ that had to be made for the Palestinian cause. That is — the Jews are responsible for Tunisia’s misery. Who would imagine …”

With his bitter irony, Ortner captures the fundamental madness of turning Israel into a punching bag and thereby cleverly sidetracking critical examinations about the real causes of dysfunctional regimes in the Muslim world.

The former hair stylist Trabelsi — who appears to have had a kind of Eliza Doolittle rise to the top echelon of Tunisian society — reportedly fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia with 1.5 tons of gold. Perhaps she will convert her gold bars into hard currency and fund some of the anti-Israeli and excessively pro-Palestinian NGOs like Human Rights Watch, notorious for its fundraising in Saudi Arabia. Given her avarice, however, one should not hold one’s breath.

All this means is that Tunisian civil society showed the same utter bankruptcy of the explanatory model employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Arab world, namely, that the unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict is the be-all and end-all of Arab and Muslim economic and political misery. It should be added that the EU endorses a water-downed version of this very model with its bizarre fixation on apartment-complex construction in East Jerusalem and the disputed territories at the expense of confronting the Iranian nuclear-weapons threat.

As Amir Taheri highlighted in yesterday’s New York Post, Tunisia “has cast aside tired ideologies such as pan-Arabism, Islamism and Baathism. Instead, it is calling for democracy, human rights and economic development. ” In short, the protesters reorganized politics by turning inward, rejecting the external nonsense that despots invoke to solidify their regimes.

While I believe Taheri is excessively optimistic about the rock-bottom nature of change in the Tunisian social order, his line of reasoning shows that Leila Trabelsi’s “necessary sacrifices ” for the PLO is a perverse adaptation of Pygmalion that hoodwinked many EU countries, particularly France.

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Three Months, Three Speeches

Mike Pence’s speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club was his third major address on national issues in three months. Combined with his speech at Hillsdale College in September and his speech in Iowa in October, Pence has been setting forth proposals that might engage an electorate that wants something more than “hope and change.”

Yesterday Pence proposed a program he labeled “S.T.A.R.T.” — Sound monetary policy, Tax relief and reform, Access to American energy, Regulatory reform, and Trade — with a lengthy discussion of each topic. The section on taxes was a 1,500-word discussion that read in part:

In an upcoming study written by the legendary Dr. Art Laffer, Wayne Winegarden and John Childs, they found the cost of compliance with today’s tax code to be over $540 billion annually and that individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours on their taxes. … The Laffer study predicts that by simplifying the tax code and cutting complexity costs in half, our economy would grow $1.3 trillion more over ten years than if we maintain the status quo. …

There is one system that [provides the necessary revenue without discouraging economic growth and imposing undue compliance burdens] … a flat tax. …

Individuals would pay taxes on their wages or salary after receiving a basic income exemption and an exemption for any dependents, including children and elderly family members and others who you care for in your home. Imagine how easy this would be for people. Gross income minus a generous standard deduction minus any dependent exemptions and you’ve got your taxable income. Apply the rate and your taxes are done.  Everyone pays the same rate, and the more money you make, the more you pay. It’s fair, simple and effective.

We’ve heard this proposal before, and figures like $540 billion of compliance costs, 7.6 billion hours on taxes, and $1.3 trillion in projected economic growth deserve the same skepticism that properly greets projections of savings from eliminating “fraud, waste, and abuse” (or from enacting ObamaCare). The estimates are only as good as the assumptions underlying them — many of which are inherently speculative and none of which can be forecast accurately for 10 years (or even a few years). But Pence made the case that the time for a flat tax may be approaching:

A flat tax is in use in more than twenty countries around the world, and they have been proposed and supported by various legislators and economists in America over the past 30 years, such as Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, Dick Armey, Steve Forbes, Art Laffer, Jack Kemp and Richard Gephardt. We don’t think about it, but we already use flat taxes in America as taxes for Social Security, Medicare taxes, sales and property taxes. …

If you look back at history, the Kennedy, Reagan and 2001/2003 tax reforms were all followed by strong economic growth.  The flat tax goes beyond these tax cuts and provides not just lower taxes but a greatly simplified system.

It is not clear that Pence wants to run for president; some think he plans to run for governor of Indiana (one of the other lessons of “hope and change” is that executive experience is at least as important for the presidency as the ability to give a good speech). He may simply want his ideas in the arena (a commentator who has written frequently about him describes him as fundamentally a man of ideas).

But we should know soon: the presidential race will start in roughly two months, if Barack Obama’s February 2007 presidential announcement is any indication of the lead time that now governs such a race.

Mike Pence’s speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club was his third major address on national issues in three months. Combined with his speech at Hillsdale College in September and his speech in Iowa in October, Pence has been setting forth proposals that might engage an electorate that wants something more than “hope and change.”

Yesterday Pence proposed a program he labeled “S.T.A.R.T.” — Sound monetary policy, Tax relief and reform, Access to American energy, Regulatory reform, and Trade — with a lengthy discussion of each topic. The section on taxes was a 1,500-word discussion that read in part:

In an upcoming study written by the legendary Dr. Art Laffer, Wayne Winegarden and John Childs, they found the cost of compliance with today’s tax code to be over $540 billion annually and that individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours on their taxes. … The Laffer study predicts that by simplifying the tax code and cutting complexity costs in half, our economy would grow $1.3 trillion more over ten years than if we maintain the status quo. …

There is one system that [provides the necessary revenue without discouraging economic growth and imposing undue compliance burdens] … a flat tax. …

Individuals would pay taxes on their wages or salary after receiving a basic income exemption and an exemption for any dependents, including children and elderly family members and others who you care for in your home. Imagine how easy this would be for people. Gross income minus a generous standard deduction minus any dependent exemptions and you’ve got your taxable income. Apply the rate and your taxes are done.  Everyone pays the same rate, and the more money you make, the more you pay. It’s fair, simple and effective.

We’ve heard this proposal before, and figures like $540 billion of compliance costs, 7.6 billion hours on taxes, and $1.3 trillion in projected economic growth deserve the same skepticism that properly greets projections of savings from eliminating “fraud, waste, and abuse” (or from enacting ObamaCare). The estimates are only as good as the assumptions underlying them — many of which are inherently speculative and none of which can be forecast accurately for 10 years (or even a few years). But Pence made the case that the time for a flat tax may be approaching:

A flat tax is in use in more than twenty countries around the world, and they have been proposed and supported by various legislators and economists in America over the past 30 years, such as Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, Dick Armey, Steve Forbes, Art Laffer, Jack Kemp and Richard Gephardt. We don’t think about it, but we already use flat taxes in America as taxes for Social Security, Medicare taxes, sales and property taxes. …

If you look back at history, the Kennedy, Reagan and 2001/2003 tax reforms were all followed by strong economic growth.  The flat tax goes beyond these tax cuts and provides not just lower taxes but a greatly simplified system.

It is not clear that Pence wants to run for president; some think he plans to run for governor of Indiana (one of the other lessons of “hope and change” is that executive experience is at least as important for the presidency as the ability to give a good speech). He may simply want his ideas in the arena (a commentator who has written frequently about him describes him as fundamentally a man of ideas).

But we should know soon: the presidential race will start in roughly two months, if Barack Obama’s February 2007 presidential announcement is any indication of the lead time that now governs such a race.

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Could NPR Survive Without the Taxpayers?

As I previously noted, NPR’s perennial claim that only a sliver of its funding comes from the taxpayers is misleading. Now CEO Vivian Schiller comes clean:

“If defunding to public broadcasting were to occur, it would be devastating to public broadcasting. That’s a fact,” Schiller said.

After Schiller fired commentator Juan Williams several weeks ago for comments he made about Muslims on Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor,” calls for defunding NPR erupted again.

“Almost all federal funding goes to member stations,” Schiller said. “Very, very little of it goes to NPR, but a lot goes to stations.”

While NPR headquarters only receives about 1 percent of funding from tax dollars, member stations receive about 9 percent of their funding from tax dollars, Schiller said. She said that the 9 percent NPR member stations receive from taxpayer dollars is essential for them to stay on the air.

“For small stations, and even for large stations, that’s a big chunk of their revenue,” she said. “It’s been a critical part of keeping those stations vibrant and, so, we take these calls for defunding very, very seriously.”

But not seriously enough to curtail its blatant left-leaning bias or to apply its internal rules in an evenhanded manner. (She sneers, however, at cable news for “its partisan nature.” News exec, heal thyself!)

In the big scheme of things, the public financial support for NPR is chump change. But there could be no better example of unnecessary and unhelpful government spending. If the public loves NPR as much as Schiller seems to believe it does, then let the listeners, or NPR’s largest donor, pay for it. And according to her, the NPR audience is so very educated and special (wow wee — its blog commenters debated the dimensions of the Colorado balloon, which was the subject of a media hoax). Such people are just the types to support NPR — unless, of course, they figure that over-the-air and satellite radio stations are more than enough to satisfy their listening needs.

Schiller finds that thought — fending for herself in the free market — petrifying. She should.

As I previously noted, NPR’s perennial claim that only a sliver of its funding comes from the taxpayers is misleading. Now CEO Vivian Schiller comes clean:

“If defunding to public broadcasting were to occur, it would be devastating to public broadcasting. That’s a fact,” Schiller said.

After Schiller fired commentator Juan Williams several weeks ago for comments he made about Muslims on Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor,” calls for defunding NPR erupted again.

“Almost all federal funding goes to member stations,” Schiller said. “Very, very little of it goes to NPR, but a lot goes to stations.”

While NPR headquarters only receives about 1 percent of funding from tax dollars, member stations receive about 9 percent of their funding from tax dollars, Schiller said. She said that the 9 percent NPR member stations receive from taxpayer dollars is essential for them to stay on the air.

“For small stations, and even for large stations, that’s a big chunk of their revenue,” she said. “It’s been a critical part of keeping those stations vibrant and, so, we take these calls for defunding very, very seriously.”

But not seriously enough to curtail its blatant left-leaning bias or to apply its internal rules in an evenhanded manner. (She sneers, however, at cable news for “its partisan nature.” News exec, heal thyself!)

In the big scheme of things, the public financial support for NPR is chump change. But there could be no better example of unnecessary and unhelpful government spending. If the public loves NPR as much as Schiller seems to believe it does, then let the listeners, or NPR’s largest donor, pay for it. And according to her, the NPR audience is so very educated and special (wow wee — its blog commenters debated the dimensions of the Colorado balloon, which was the subject of a media hoax). Such people are just the types to support NPR — unless, of course, they figure that over-the-air and satellite radio stations are more than enough to satisfy their listening needs.

Schiller finds that thought — fending for herself in the free market — petrifying. She should.

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Why We Don’t Have Peace

Here’s how it works in the Middle East. An Israeli security guard travels through a section of the nation’s capital (no, dear liberals, East Jerusalem is not a “settlement”). Palestinians set upon him, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. Afraid for his life, the guard shoots in self defense, killing one assailant. (“The guard, fearing for his life, allegedly opened fire with his personal firearm at a group of rock throwers and killed a resident. Police found two knives and screwdriver on the body of the victim, who had a previous criminal history and was known to police.”) The Palestinians commence a riot, injuring innocent Israelis. The world blames Israel.

Here’s the Palestinian mindset, displaying all its splendid victimology. The residents complain that the assailants should have been “warned” (before of after the Molotov cocktails rained down?) .Everyone gets into the act:

There’s going to be a huge mess in Silwan, something big will happen. They killed a man, what should I do, be quiet? What about his family, his little kids?” asked another neighbor of the victim, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of police reprisal.

“This was a calculated, violent act with political goals,” Dimitri Diliani, the head of Fatah’s Social Development Committee, told the Jerusalem Post as he was standing with mourners outside the family’s house. “We view it as a right-wing Israeli effort to undermine the peace process and to draw Palestinians into violent action so that the right-wing government will be provided with a window of opportunity to escape into national pressure regarding illegal settlement activities.”

Not sure if the “calculated” maneuver he refers to is meant to suggest that Israelis deployed the rock throwers, but then the facts are utterly irrelevant here.

Meanwhile the rioters — calculated and violent, one would say — injured ten (including “a 35-year-old Israeli in moderate condition who was stabbed in the back near the Mount of Olives”) and destroyed vehicles.

This certainly highlights the delusional nature of the peace process. The Israelis can only make peace with those who want it and are prepared to put down the guns, the stones, the knives, the rocks, and the Molotov cocktails to build a civil (in both senses of the word) society. Peace won’t come from any conference room. We’ll have peace, as a commentator elegantly described it, when and if Palestinians “can renounce once and for all the creeping Islamism that would sooner see them suffering the miseries and oppression of twelfth-century religious and cultural practice than thriving in a modern society; if they can cast off at last the self-strangling mythology of their own victimhood;  and if they can shed their century-old yearning to set the blood of their Jewish neighbors flowing in the streets.” No sign of that so far.

Here’s how it works in the Middle East. An Israeli security guard travels through a section of the nation’s capital (no, dear liberals, East Jerusalem is not a “settlement”). Palestinians set upon him, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. Afraid for his life, the guard shoots in self defense, killing one assailant. (“The guard, fearing for his life, allegedly opened fire with his personal firearm at a group of rock throwers and killed a resident. Police found two knives and screwdriver on the body of the victim, who had a previous criminal history and was known to police.”) The Palestinians commence a riot, injuring innocent Israelis. The world blames Israel.

Here’s the Palestinian mindset, displaying all its splendid victimology. The residents complain that the assailants should have been “warned” (before of after the Molotov cocktails rained down?) .Everyone gets into the act:

There’s going to be a huge mess in Silwan, something big will happen. They killed a man, what should I do, be quiet? What about his family, his little kids?” asked another neighbor of the victim, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of police reprisal.

“This was a calculated, violent act with political goals,” Dimitri Diliani, the head of Fatah’s Social Development Committee, told the Jerusalem Post as he was standing with mourners outside the family’s house. “We view it as a right-wing Israeli effort to undermine the peace process and to draw Palestinians into violent action so that the right-wing government will be provided with a window of opportunity to escape into national pressure regarding illegal settlement activities.”

Not sure if the “calculated” maneuver he refers to is meant to suggest that Israelis deployed the rock throwers, but then the facts are utterly irrelevant here.

Meanwhile the rioters — calculated and violent, one would say — injured ten (including “a 35-year-old Israeli in moderate condition who was stabbed in the back near the Mount of Olives”) and destroyed vehicles.

This certainly highlights the delusional nature of the peace process. The Israelis can only make peace with those who want it and are prepared to put down the guns, the stones, the knives, the rocks, and the Molotov cocktails to build a civil (in both senses of the word) society. Peace won’t come from any conference room. We’ll have peace, as a commentator elegantly described it, when and if Palestinians “can renounce once and for all the creeping Islamism that would sooner see them suffering the miseries and oppression of twelfth-century religious and cultural practice than thriving in a modern society; if they can cast off at last the self-strangling mythology of their own victimhood;  and if they can shed their century-old yearning to set the blood of their Jewish neighbors flowing in the streets.” No sign of that so far.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Good advice to conservative pundits from Michael Gerson (in defending Karl Rove): “[A commentator] owes his readers or viewers his best judgment — which means he cannot simply be a tool of someone else’s ideological agenda. Some conservatives have adopted the Bolshevik approach to information and the media: Every personal feeling, every independent thought, every inconvenient fact, must be subordinated to the party line — the Tea Party line.” Read the whole thing.

Good time, actually, for those ferocious Rove critics to apologize. It seems she is a loon: “The story of Christine O’Donnell’s past got a little stranger Friday. Bill Maher — on whose former show, ‘Politically Incorrect,’ O’Donnell appeared repeatedly in the late 1990s — showed a previously unaired clip from Oct. 29, 1999, on his current HBO program, ‘Real Time,’ in which the GOP Senate nominee from Delaware said she ‘dabbled into witchcraft.”’

Good line from Mitt Romney at the Value Voters Summit: “Welcome to the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid-President Obama farewell party. This has been a pretty tough year for those three—their numbers have gone down the chute faster than a Jet Blue flight attendant.” And a good speech on Obamanomics.

Good critique of the problem(s) with Newt Gingrich: “Like the former and would-be next California governor [Jerry Brown], Gingrich talks big, but has no loyalty to his ideas. He was for tax cuts before he was against them. He supported a $35,000 congressional pay raise and leaner government. Like Brown, Gingrich’s real skill has been in seeing a trend early and jumping on it, unencumbered by any past positions. … The last time Gingrich set out to save America, he ended up burning his career. He taught a college course called ‘Renewing American Civilization.’ That would not have been a problem except that this modern-day John Adams felt the need to raise $300,000 and $450,000 to bankroll his discourses on American ‘core values.’ That’s a long pricey schlep from the log cabin.”

Good move. “Since General Petraeus took on the commander’s job in June, several aides said, the president has struck a more deferential tone toward him than he used with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, General Petraeus’s predecessor. Often during pauses in meetings, one White House official said, Mr. Obama will stop and say, ‘Dave, what do you think?'” Less Axelrod and Emanuel and more Petraeus, and we might win this.

Good golly. “Two Los Angeles departments have received $111 million in federal stimulus funds yet have created only 55 jobs so far, according to a pair of reports issued Thursday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.”

Good luck to Tom Joscelyn trying to explain to David Ignatius (and the Obami): “For the umpteenth time, Iran is not on our side in Afghanistan. They are currently allied with the Taliban, the mullahs’ one-time enemy. Iran is not going to help us ‘undermine the Taliban.’ They are working with the Taliban to undermine the U.S.-led coalition.”

Good job, Madam Speaker! Now 38 Democrats favor full extension of the Bush tax cuts. Maybe more: “Other Democrats have indicated privately that they prefer an extension instead of allowing rates to expire for top earners, and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads Democratic campaign efforts, has argued behind closed doors for taking a political issue off the table by giving a short reprieve to wealthy folks before the midterm elections.”

Good for her. “A politically vulnerable Democratic lawmaker blasted her party’s House leadership as she demanded a vote to cut the salaries of lawmakers by $8,700 next year. In a letter sent Thursday afternoon, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) pressured Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to hold a vote on her bill to cut congressional pay by five percent and save taxpayers $4.7 million next year before Congress breaks for its fall recess.”

Good for him. Greg Sargent rises above partisan cheerleading: “It isn’t every day that Democrats target Latino challengers with nasty anti-immigrant ads, but these are apparently desperate times for certain embattled Dems. … [Rep. Walt] Minnick apparently sees the need to run an ad that stinks of fear and desperation. Quite a specimen.”

Good news for Republicans in the Hoosier state: “The Indiana Senate seat now held by Democrat Evan Bayh remains a likely Republican pickup on Election Day. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Indiana finds Republican Dan Coats leading Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth 50% to 34% in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Goodbye, Charlie: “Gov. Charlie Crist and the disgraced former chairman of the Florida Republican Party took family vacations on party money, an audit released Friday shows. The two men and their families vacationed at Disney World in June 2009 and put the $13,435.99 bill on the party’s American Express credit card, the audit found. Greer also took three personal vacations to fashionable Fisher Island near Miami Beach, one including Crist, at a cost of $10,992.17, auditors reported.”

Good advice to conservative pundits from Michael Gerson (in defending Karl Rove): “[A commentator] owes his readers or viewers his best judgment — which means he cannot simply be a tool of someone else’s ideological agenda. Some conservatives have adopted the Bolshevik approach to information and the media: Every personal feeling, every independent thought, every inconvenient fact, must be subordinated to the party line — the Tea Party line.” Read the whole thing.

Good time, actually, for those ferocious Rove critics to apologize. It seems she is a loon: “The story of Christine O’Donnell’s past got a little stranger Friday. Bill Maher — on whose former show, ‘Politically Incorrect,’ O’Donnell appeared repeatedly in the late 1990s — showed a previously unaired clip from Oct. 29, 1999, on his current HBO program, ‘Real Time,’ in which the GOP Senate nominee from Delaware said she ‘dabbled into witchcraft.”’

Good line from Mitt Romney at the Value Voters Summit: “Welcome to the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid-President Obama farewell party. This has been a pretty tough year for those three—their numbers have gone down the chute faster than a Jet Blue flight attendant.” And a good speech on Obamanomics.

Good critique of the problem(s) with Newt Gingrich: “Like the former and would-be next California governor [Jerry Brown], Gingrich talks big, but has no loyalty to his ideas. He was for tax cuts before he was against them. He supported a $35,000 congressional pay raise and leaner government. Like Brown, Gingrich’s real skill has been in seeing a trend early and jumping on it, unencumbered by any past positions. … The last time Gingrich set out to save America, he ended up burning his career. He taught a college course called ‘Renewing American Civilization.’ That would not have been a problem except that this modern-day John Adams felt the need to raise $300,000 and $450,000 to bankroll his discourses on American ‘core values.’ That’s a long pricey schlep from the log cabin.”

Good move. “Since General Petraeus took on the commander’s job in June, several aides said, the president has struck a more deferential tone toward him than he used with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, General Petraeus’s predecessor. Often during pauses in meetings, one White House official said, Mr. Obama will stop and say, ‘Dave, what do you think?'” Less Axelrod and Emanuel and more Petraeus, and we might win this.

Good golly. “Two Los Angeles departments have received $111 million in federal stimulus funds yet have created only 55 jobs so far, according to a pair of reports issued Thursday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.”

Good luck to Tom Joscelyn trying to explain to David Ignatius (and the Obami): “For the umpteenth time, Iran is not on our side in Afghanistan. They are currently allied with the Taliban, the mullahs’ one-time enemy. Iran is not going to help us ‘undermine the Taliban.’ They are working with the Taliban to undermine the U.S.-led coalition.”

Good job, Madam Speaker! Now 38 Democrats favor full extension of the Bush tax cuts. Maybe more: “Other Democrats have indicated privately that they prefer an extension instead of allowing rates to expire for top earners, and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads Democratic campaign efforts, has argued behind closed doors for taking a political issue off the table by giving a short reprieve to wealthy folks before the midterm elections.”

Good for her. “A politically vulnerable Democratic lawmaker blasted her party’s House leadership as she demanded a vote to cut the salaries of lawmakers by $8,700 next year. In a letter sent Thursday afternoon, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) pressured Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to hold a vote on her bill to cut congressional pay by five percent and save taxpayers $4.7 million next year before Congress breaks for its fall recess.”

Good for him. Greg Sargent rises above partisan cheerleading: “It isn’t every day that Democrats target Latino challengers with nasty anti-immigrant ads, but these are apparently desperate times for certain embattled Dems. … [Rep. Walt] Minnick apparently sees the need to run an ad that stinks of fear and desperation. Quite a specimen.”

Good news for Republicans in the Hoosier state: “The Indiana Senate seat now held by Democrat Evan Bayh remains a likely Republican pickup on Election Day. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Indiana finds Republican Dan Coats leading Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth 50% to 34% in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Goodbye, Charlie: “Gov. Charlie Crist and the disgraced former chairman of the Florida Republican Party took family vacations on party money, an audit released Friday shows. The two men and their families vacationed at Disney World in June 2009 and put the $13,435.99 bill on the party’s American Express credit card, the audit found. Greer also took three personal vacations to fashionable Fisher Island near Miami Beach, one including Crist, at a cost of $10,992.17, auditors reported.”

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Lessons from Tony Blair’s Memoir

In his excellent memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, Tony Blair writes about his electoral victory in 1997:

We were very quickly appreciating the daunting revelation of the gap between saying and doing. In Opposition, the gap is nothing because “saying” is all you can do; in government, where “doing” is what it’s all about, the gap is suddenly revealed as a chasm of bureaucracy, frustration and disappointment … I was afraid because, at that instant, suddenly I thought of myself no longer as the up-and-coming, the challenger, the prophet, but the owner of the responsibility, the person not explaining why things were wrong but taking the decisions to put them right.

Blair’s words touch on a truth which those of us who have served in government, and especially in different administrations and in the White House, can attest:

A president’s capacity to control and influence events is often more limited than it’s imagined. It’s not unusual for presidential directives to be ignored or undermined by the bureaucracy. Thousands of personnel decisions, some seemingly insignificant, can come back to bite you. An administration is held responsible for what happens on its watch, whether or not that’s justified. Urgent, complex problems demand a response even if the information needed to act on them is incomplete. The political culture is unforgiving. And all presidents and their aides, like all people, are flawed and fallible.

When you’re out of power and in the opposition, these truths are quickly tossed aside or simply forgotten. Governing seems much easier when all one is doing is critiquing others in columns and blogs, in speeches and on television. Position papers are simpler to write than policies are to enact. This tendency is particularly pronounced among political commentators, many of whom have no first-hand experience at what it means to govern.

The appropriate role of the opposition party, as well as of the commentariat, is to hold those in power accountable. Some presidential decisions deserve criticism – at times scathing. So to argue that there should be a moratorium on expressing disapprobation would be unwise as well as unrealistic.

What is required, however, is perspective — the realization that being chief executive is more challenging than being a commentator on Hardball with Chris Matthews. And from time to time, it’s worth showing understanding and even some sympathy toward those who have, in Blair’s words, gone from “scaling the walls of the citadel, to sitting in the ruler’s palace in charge of all we surveyed.”

The Obama administration, which came to office after having set expectations at stratospheric levels, is now learning the wisdom of Blair’s words. There is some rough justice in seeing brought low by events a president bestowed with an unusual degree of vanity and who has been so unfair and unforgiving in his critique of others. Still, the truth is that Republicans, once they begin to take the reins of power again in November, will experience something similar. What Henry Kissinger called the “moment of charmed innocence” and the “exhilaration of imminent authority” is soon buffeted by events. And so all us, myself included, need to temper our judgments with the realization that explaining why things are wrong will always be a far easier task than putting them right.

In his excellent memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, Tony Blair writes about his electoral victory in 1997:

We were very quickly appreciating the daunting revelation of the gap between saying and doing. In Opposition, the gap is nothing because “saying” is all you can do; in government, where “doing” is what it’s all about, the gap is suddenly revealed as a chasm of bureaucracy, frustration and disappointment … I was afraid because, at that instant, suddenly I thought of myself no longer as the up-and-coming, the challenger, the prophet, but the owner of the responsibility, the person not explaining why things were wrong but taking the decisions to put them right.

Blair’s words touch on a truth which those of us who have served in government, and especially in different administrations and in the White House, can attest:

A president’s capacity to control and influence events is often more limited than it’s imagined. It’s not unusual for presidential directives to be ignored or undermined by the bureaucracy. Thousands of personnel decisions, some seemingly insignificant, can come back to bite you. An administration is held responsible for what happens on its watch, whether or not that’s justified. Urgent, complex problems demand a response even if the information needed to act on them is incomplete. The political culture is unforgiving. And all presidents and their aides, like all people, are flawed and fallible.

When you’re out of power and in the opposition, these truths are quickly tossed aside or simply forgotten. Governing seems much easier when all one is doing is critiquing others in columns and blogs, in speeches and on television. Position papers are simpler to write than policies are to enact. This tendency is particularly pronounced among political commentators, many of whom have no first-hand experience at what it means to govern.

The appropriate role of the opposition party, as well as of the commentariat, is to hold those in power accountable. Some presidential decisions deserve criticism – at times scathing. So to argue that there should be a moratorium on expressing disapprobation would be unwise as well as unrealistic.

What is required, however, is perspective — the realization that being chief executive is more challenging than being a commentator on Hardball with Chris Matthews. And from time to time, it’s worth showing understanding and even some sympathy toward those who have, in Blair’s words, gone from “scaling the walls of the citadel, to sitting in the ruler’s palace in charge of all we surveyed.”

The Obama administration, which came to office after having set expectations at stratospheric levels, is now learning the wisdom of Blair’s words. There is some rough justice in seeing brought low by events a president bestowed with an unusual degree of vanity and who has been so unfair and unforgiving in his critique of others. Still, the truth is that Republicans, once they begin to take the reins of power again in November, will experience something similar. What Henry Kissinger called the “moment of charmed innocence” and the “exhilaration of imminent authority” is soon buffeted by events. And so all us, myself included, need to temper our judgments with the realization that explaining why things are wrong will always be a far easier task than putting them right.

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Attacking American Muslims

Some of those who favor placing Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposal to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero have used malicious rhetoric to characterize those who oppose them. They are said to be anti-Muslim, anti-Constitutional, and acting, in the words of MSNBC’s resident deep thinker Norah O’Donnell, “like the people who stole freedom from Americans, the people who attacked America and killed 3,000 people.”

This is ugly and unfortunate stuff.

At the same time, those who oppose building the mosque near Ground Zero have an obligation to be careful about the rhetoric they employ. For example, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has said: “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.” He later added, by way of analogy, “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”

Let’s take these assertions in order. Regarding the first one, Saudi Arabia is not the standard Americans should use on the matter of religious freedom. As for the second argument: the analogy breaks down because Nazism was intrinsically malevolent, whereas mosques are not.

It is true, of course, that far too many Muslims in the world embrace a form of militant Islam; to deny that would be to deny reality. Those who attacked us on September 11 did so in the name of Islam. And those are not, by any means, the only attacks the world (or America) has witnessed.

At the same time, we have to be very careful not to conflate American Muslims with al-Qaeda and Wahhabism or argue, explicitly or implicitly, that mosques qua mosques are comparable to Nazism. Some mosques do fan the flames of hatred and violence; but of course many more do not.

It was a tribute to America that, in the aftermath of 9/11, it showed impressive tolerance and respect toward Muslims in this nation. President Bush went out of his way, early and often, to strike just the right tone.

“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country,” Bush said at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., just six days after the attacks. “Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”

Those words apply now as they did then.

I have argued before that the effort to build the mosque near Ground Zero is terribly imprudent because it was sure to ignite a debate in this country that is divisive and dangerous. Many Americans, for completely understandable reasons, would rather have this particular mosque run by this particular imam built elsewhere in New York. To characterize that opposition as bigoted, malicious, and un-American has evoked a perfectly predictable counterreaction. “It’s about damn time that Muslims around the world and in the United States — I’m talking about this particular imam — be sensitive to American values,” is how one commentator put it.

Because the debate on the mosque near Ground Zero deals with extremely sensitive matters, it’s easy for things to spin out of control. So it’s particularly important that arguments be made with precision, with care, and even with some measure of grace and understanding.

As usual, it’s wise to look to Lincoln to guide our way. In the words of the historian William Lee Miller:

[Lincoln] led one side in a bloody war not by arousing the aggressive tribalism, the assertive collective will, that war leaders often summon and that war publics often display, but by rather reasoning and eloquence. He gave careful arguments for his position, implying that he and his followers and their adversaries – their “dissatisfied countrymen” – were all part of a universal community of human reason. … He did not demean or demonize the enemy … he did not deal in disdain or contempt for the adversary.

Neither should we.

Some of those who favor placing Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposal to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero have used malicious rhetoric to characterize those who oppose them. They are said to be anti-Muslim, anti-Constitutional, and acting, in the words of MSNBC’s resident deep thinker Norah O’Donnell, “like the people who stole freedom from Americans, the people who attacked America and killed 3,000 people.”

This is ugly and unfortunate stuff.

At the same time, those who oppose building the mosque near Ground Zero have an obligation to be careful about the rhetoric they employ. For example, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has said: “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.” He later added, by way of analogy, “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”

Let’s take these assertions in order. Regarding the first one, Saudi Arabia is not the standard Americans should use on the matter of religious freedom. As for the second argument: the analogy breaks down because Nazism was intrinsically malevolent, whereas mosques are not.

It is true, of course, that far too many Muslims in the world embrace a form of militant Islam; to deny that would be to deny reality. Those who attacked us on September 11 did so in the name of Islam. And those are not, by any means, the only attacks the world (or America) has witnessed.

At the same time, we have to be very careful not to conflate American Muslims with al-Qaeda and Wahhabism or argue, explicitly or implicitly, that mosques qua mosques are comparable to Nazism. Some mosques do fan the flames of hatred and violence; but of course many more do not.

It was a tribute to America that, in the aftermath of 9/11, it showed impressive tolerance and respect toward Muslims in this nation. President Bush went out of his way, early and often, to strike just the right tone.

“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country,” Bush said at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., just six days after the attacks. “Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”

Those words apply now as they did then.

I have argued before that the effort to build the mosque near Ground Zero is terribly imprudent because it was sure to ignite a debate in this country that is divisive and dangerous. Many Americans, for completely understandable reasons, would rather have this particular mosque run by this particular imam built elsewhere in New York. To characterize that opposition as bigoted, malicious, and un-American has evoked a perfectly predictable counterreaction. “It’s about damn time that Muslims around the world and in the United States — I’m talking about this particular imam — be sensitive to American values,” is how one commentator put it.

Because the debate on the mosque near Ground Zero deals with extremely sensitive matters, it’s easy for things to spin out of control. So it’s particularly important that arguments be made with precision, with care, and even with some measure of grace and understanding.

As usual, it’s wise to look to Lincoln to guide our way. In the words of the historian William Lee Miller:

[Lincoln] led one side in a bloody war not by arousing the aggressive tribalism, the assertive collective will, that war leaders often summon and that war publics often display, but by rather reasoning and eloquence. He gave careful arguments for his position, implying that he and his followers and their adversaries – their “dissatisfied countrymen” – were all part of a universal community of human reason. … He did not demean or demonize the enemy … he did not deal in disdain or contempt for the adversary.

Neither should we.

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Bemoaning the Bigot’s Retirement

Helen Thomas’s “enlightened” colleagues are sad, oh so very sad, about the departure of their “friend.” Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell seem to be trying out eulogies as they look back admiringly on her long (way too long) career. (Remember, P.J. O’Rourke says we should plan ahead!) Todd, who has a flair for making the ridiculous sound serious, intones:

And you know the definition of reporter and columnist has gotten, the lines have been blurred now for over a decade. It gets even worse in this case in distinguishing the two. And this was something that was a topic, frankly that I think a lot, in the White House Correspondents Association, everybody was kind of avoiding.

It’s not the anti-Semitism they should have been keeping an eye on, says the man from MSNBC (you can’t make this up), but all those opinion makers masquerading as newsmen.

But if you want unintentional hilarity, nothing beats the Gray Lady, which coos: “Especially in her latter years as a journalist, she posed questions in a provocative and opinionated manner that was highly unusual for a member of the White House press corps.” Er, I think maybe Dana Perino and Ari Fleischer among others have a different take on that one.

Meanwhile, we should be thankful for a final blast of sanity from Robert Zelnick, who reminds us:

Her bias regarding Israel has long been known to anyone — including this commentator — who has spent five minutes in her company. Also no secret has the more skillfully administered appeals to bigotry of Pat Buchanan, who can’t seem to resist disparaging remarks about the excessive representation of Jews in appointive positions, especially the Supreme Court.

(The rest of his comments on the flotilla are worth a read as well.)

It seems that what “sophisticated” media circles abhor and what would result in ostracism  — e.g., racism, anti-gay bias — does not include anti-Semitism. Remember that the next time the liberal media lectures us on diversity and bigotry.

Helen Thomas’s “enlightened” colleagues are sad, oh so very sad, about the departure of their “friend.” Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell seem to be trying out eulogies as they look back admiringly on her long (way too long) career. (Remember, P.J. O’Rourke says we should plan ahead!) Todd, who has a flair for making the ridiculous sound serious, intones:

And you know the definition of reporter and columnist has gotten, the lines have been blurred now for over a decade. It gets even worse in this case in distinguishing the two. And this was something that was a topic, frankly that I think a lot, in the White House Correspondents Association, everybody was kind of avoiding.

It’s not the anti-Semitism they should have been keeping an eye on, says the man from MSNBC (you can’t make this up), but all those opinion makers masquerading as newsmen.

But if you want unintentional hilarity, nothing beats the Gray Lady, which coos: “Especially in her latter years as a journalist, she posed questions in a provocative and opinionated manner that was highly unusual for a member of the White House press corps.” Er, I think maybe Dana Perino and Ari Fleischer among others have a different take on that one.

Meanwhile, we should be thankful for a final blast of sanity from Robert Zelnick, who reminds us:

Her bias regarding Israel has long been known to anyone — including this commentator — who has spent five minutes in her company. Also no secret has the more skillfully administered appeals to bigotry of Pat Buchanan, who can’t seem to resist disparaging remarks about the excessive representation of Jews in appointive positions, especially the Supreme Court.

(The rest of his comments on the flotilla are worth a read as well.)

It seems that what “sophisticated” media circles abhor and what would result in ostracism  — e.g., racism, anti-gay bias — does not include anti-Semitism. Remember that the next time the liberal media lectures us on diversity and bigotry.

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Farcical Proximity Talks

The “peace process” is underway, George Mitchell boasts. But the first “achievement” reveals how inane the entire exercise is. This report explains that the State Department crows that “Israel had pledged not to build in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of East Jerusalem for two years.” But wait:

Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the American announcement later Sunday, confirming that the housing project intended for the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood would not be built in the coming two years. The sources added that even when the Ramat Shlomo crisis first erupted, when the housing project was announced just as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, Israel told the U.S. administration that the project was only in very initial stages and construction would not begin for at least two years.

So what was the cause of an international incident is now touted as a success. That’s the Orwellian world of peace talks. And the PA’s contribution? They promise not to incite violence. Hmm. Will they rename Dalal Mughrabi square after someone who did not slaughter 38 Israeli civilians? Will we hear a call to end the days of rage? For now, each party pretends something is happening. Meanwhile, the “achievements” remain ephemeral, their only purpose being to secure further employment for George Mitchell.

Thus, the “peace process” exercise, to any knowledgeable onlooker, devolves into farce. And in the end, it is counterproductive, tragically so. For, of course, the Palestinians could have had their own state 60 years ago. Or 10 years ago. Or last year. They’ve been offered one over and over again. Perhaps it’s time to try something new. One clear-eyed commentator suggested:

If the Palestinians free themselves, finally, of the Jew-hatred that has for so long permeated their history books, if they overcome the odds against them of a leadership that for generations has enriched itself on the backs of their misery and preferred their wretchedness to nationhood, if they actually succeed in building a state, not a single one of the nearly infinite number of hours wasted on that goal by all the James Bakers and Dennis Rosses and Condoleeeza Rices and George Mitchells of the world will have been responsible. Their own will, and the outstretched hands of the people they’ve spent all those decades blaming for their desolation and trying to destroy will have helped them get there. And that’s a peace process we can believe in.

But so long as the Palestinians have George Mitchell to carry their water and strong-arm Israel, why not stick — quite literally — to their guns? Obama might just deliver a Palestinian state, and an emaciated and indefensible Israel, to them.

The “peace process” is underway, George Mitchell boasts. But the first “achievement” reveals how inane the entire exercise is. This report explains that the State Department crows that “Israel had pledged not to build in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of East Jerusalem for two years.” But wait:

Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the American announcement later Sunday, confirming that the housing project intended for the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood would not be built in the coming two years. The sources added that even when the Ramat Shlomo crisis first erupted, when the housing project was announced just as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, Israel told the U.S. administration that the project was only in very initial stages and construction would not begin for at least two years.

So what was the cause of an international incident is now touted as a success. That’s the Orwellian world of peace talks. And the PA’s contribution? They promise not to incite violence. Hmm. Will they rename Dalal Mughrabi square after someone who did not slaughter 38 Israeli civilians? Will we hear a call to end the days of rage? For now, each party pretends something is happening. Meanwhile, the “achievements” remain ephemeral, their only purpose being to secure further employment for George Mitchell.

Thus, the “peace process” exercise, to any knowledgeable onlooker, devolves into farce. And in the end, it is counterproductive, tragically so. For, of course, the Palestinians could have had their own state 60 years ago. Or 10 years ago. Or last year. They’ve been offered one over and over again. Perhaps it’s time to try something new. One clear-eyed commentator suggested:

If the Palestinians free themselves, finally, of the Jew-hatred that has for so long permeated their history books, if they overcome the odds against them of a leadership that for generations has enriched itself on the backs of their misery and preferred their wretchedness to nationhood, if they actually succeed in building a state, not a single one of the nearly infinite number of hours wasted on that goal by all the James Bakers and Dennis Rosses and Condoleeeza Rices and George Mitchells of the world will have been responsible. Their own will, and the outstretched hands of the people they’ve spent all those decades blaming for their desolation and trying to destroy will have helped them get there. And that’s a peace process we can believe in.

But so long as the Palestinians have George Mitchell to carry their water and strong-arm Israel, why not stick — quite literally — to their guns? Obama might just deliver a Palestinian state, and an emaciated and indefensible Israel, to them.

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Where Is the Secretary of 19 Million Cracks?

Hillary Clinton periodically expresses a spasm of concern that her reputation and legacy are going down the drain with the Obami. She trotted out a defense lawyer’s case at AIPAC for her own pro-Israel credentials. She gives a human-rights speech now and then. But largely she dutifully follows the administration’s line — which is to strongarm Israel and shove human rights under the bus. It must be particularly galling to her feminist admirers to watch her passivity in the face of outrage after outrage perpetrated by the “Muslim World” against women and girls. She is seemingly unmoved to do much of anything about what one sharp commentator described as the “dual impulses to demonize and dehumanize females” that is not merely tolerated, but codified in the “Muslim World,” which Hillary and her boss so ardently suck up to.

The latest comes to us from Foreign Policy:

The sad case of Elham Assi, a 13-year old Yemeni girl who died from internal hemorrhaging after being raped by her 23-year-old husband, has certainly sparked conversation in Yemen over the longstanding practice of child marriage. But the conversations — taking place everywhere from Sanaa kitchens to the parliament building — aren’t exactly what you’d expect.

Instead of addressing the question of children’s rights in a country where a quarter of all girls are married before they’re 15 and half before they’re 18, some Yemenis are treating Elham Assi’sdeath as a rallying point against the so-called imposition of a Western agenda. Instead of catalyzing protective legislation for children in Yemen, as the tragic 1911 Triangle Factory fire did for industrial laborers in the United States, her death may actually make it more likely that others will share her fate.

Rather than rush to raise the legal age of marriage and unburden their shame — well, that would mean they experienced shame — the Yemenis take umbrage at the notion that NGOs should press them to outlaw child brides:

Over the past few months, Sheikh Mohammed Hamzi, an official in the powerful Islamist party, al-Islaah, along with hundreds of other conservative lawmakers and clerics, has issued a clarion call to “true believers” to oppose the law, arguing that it is a first step toward allowing the West to take over Yemeni affairs. “We will not bend to the demands of Western NGOs. We have our own laws, our own values,” said Hamzi, who made headlines again this week when a coalition of Yemeni rights groups announced it would take legal action against the sheikh for maligning activists as infidels and agents of the West during his regular sermons at a Sanaa mosque.

Where is our secretary of state? Why do we allow brutalizers of women to assume spots on the UN Commission on the Status of Women? Well, Hillary is now in the service of an administration which seeks to ingratiate itself with regimes whose laws and “values” include the notion that “to deprive little girls of conjugation with men old enough to be their grandfathers is to treat them ‘unfairly.'” For those who imagined Hillary — who never tires of counting the votes she achieved on the way to losing the Democratic presidential nomination — was a great defender of women and children, it must come as a great shock that they rank so low on her list of priorities.

Hillary Clinton periodically expresses a spasm of concern that her reputation and legacy are going down the drain with the Obami. She trotted out a defense lawyer’s case at AIPAC for her own pro-Israel credentials. She gives a human-rights speech now and then. But largely she dutifully follows the administration’s line — which is to strongarm Israel and shove human rights under the bus. It must be particularly galling to her feminist admirers to watch her passivity in the face of outrage after outrage perpetrated by the “Muslim World” against women and girls. She is seemingly unmoved to do much of anything about what one sharp commentator described as the “dual impulses to demonize and dehumanize females” that is not merely tolerated, but codified in the “Muslim World,” which Hillary and her boss so ardently suck up to.

The latest comes to us from Foreign Policy:

The sad case of Elham Assi, a 13-year old Yemeni girl who died from internal hemorrhaging after being raped by her 23-year-old husband, has certainly sparked conversation in Yemen over the longstanding practice of child marriage. But the conversations — taking place everywhere from Sanaa kitchens to the parliament building — aren’t exactly what you’d expect.

Instead of addressing the question of children’s rights in a country where a quarter of all girls are married before they’re 15 and half before they’re 18, some Yemenis are treating Elham Assi’sdeath as a rallying point against the so-called imposition of a Western agenda. Instead of catalyzing protective legislation for children in Yemen, as the tragic 1911 Triangle Factory fire did for industrial laborers in the United States, her death may actually make it more likely that others will share her fate.

Rather than rush to raise the legal age of marriage and unburden their shame — well, that would mean they experienced shame — the Yemenis take umbrage at the notion that NGOs should press them to outlaw child brides:

Over the past few months, Sheikh Mohammed Hamzi, an official in the powerful Islamist party, al-Islaah, along with hundreds of other conservative lawmakers and clerics, has issued a clarion call to “true believers” to oppose the law, arguing that it is a first step toward allowing the West to take over Yemeni affairs. “We will not bend to the demands of Western NGOs. We have our own laws, our own values,” said Hamzi, who made headlines again this week when a coalition of Yemeni rights groups announced it would take legal action against the sheikh for maligning activists as infidels and agents of the West during his regular sermons at a Sanaa mosque.

Where is our secretary of state? Why do we allow brutalizers of women to assume spots on the UN Commission on the Status of Women? Well, Hillary is now in the service of an administration which seeks to ingratiate itself with regimes whose laws and “values” include the notion that “to deprive little girls of conjugation with men old enough to be their grandfathers is to treat them ‘unfairly.'” For those who imagined Hillary — who never tires of counting the votes she achieved on the way to losing the Democratic presidential nomination — was a great defender of women and children, it must come as a great shock that they rank so low on her list of priorities.

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Uh, Mr. Brown, the Microphone’s Live

Shades of Frank Drebin: Gordon Brown may have sunk his chances in Britain’s general election with an unguarded comment into a microphone he didn’t realize he was still wearing. After campaigning in Rochdale in northern England, he muttered, amid a stream of invective directed at his aides, that 61-year-old Labour supporter Gillian Duffy was a “bigoted woman” for questioning him about the impact on the British job market of immigration from Eastern Europe.

Brown’s since made an in-person apology and e-mailed a fulsome “personal” letter to all Labour activists, but the damage seems to have been done. As one commentator put it, showing a nice grasp of British understatement, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to call voters bigots.”

On one level, of course, it’s possible to have some sympathy for Brown. This is the kind of thing that happens when you’re around microphones so much: few of us would want our every comment recorded and aired in prime time. On another level, as Andrew Rawnsley points out, this is just another example of one of Brown’s more unattractive attributes: his volcanic temper and his eagerness to pour vitriol on his aides and anyone else who gets in his way.

But this isn’t really about Brown’s bad luck or his bed temper. Poll after poll shows that immigration is a central issue in the election, or at least a central concern for many voters. There is every reason to believe that it lies behind the erosion of Labour support in places just like Rochdale, where many — like Mrs. Duffy — believe privately that the Labour elite view their concerns with contempt. Brown’s outburst is evidence that they’re right.

Not that more evidence is needed. Back in October, Andrew Neather, who was closely involved in the making of policy on immigration in the early Labour years, was sufficiently outraged by the televised appearance of Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, to make the following case — and yes, he did think he was making the positive case — for mass migration:

[T]he deliberate policy of ministers from late 2000 until at least February last year, when the Government introduced a points-based system, was to open up the UK to mass migration. …

It’s not simply a question of foreign nannies, cleaners and gardeners — although frankly it’s hard to see how the capital could function without them. Their place certainly wouldn’t be taken by unemployed BNP voters from Barking or Burnley — fascist au pair, anyone? …

I wrote the landmark speech given by then immigration minister Barbara Roche in September 2000, calling for a loosening of controls … the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural. I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended — even if this wasn’t its main purpose — to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. …

But ministers wouldn’t talk about it. In part they probably realised the conservatism of their core voters: while ministers might have been passionately in favour of a more diverse society, it wasn’t necessarily a debate they wanted to have in working men’s clubs in Sheffield or Sunderland.

The only thing more arrogant and out of touch than Neather’s acknowledgement that Britain’s immigration policy was covertly run for the benefit of those who employ foreign nannies was his slap at the “unemployed BNP voters from Barking.” His was the worst possible defense of mass migration into Britain because it was so obviously elitist. And all it really did was display at greater length the contempt that Brown spat at his aides and, unknowingly, into the microphone on Wednesday.

And that is the real political significance of Brown’s open-mike flub: it reminded a significant element in the core Old Labour vote — the vote Labour has to win if it’s to have any chance of playing a role in government-making after May 6 — that quite a bit of New Labour’s leadership quietly detests them and regards them as bigots.

Curiously, the real loser in this may be Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, not Gordon Brown. Neither Clegg nor Brown was ever going to form a government on his own, but Clegg badly needs Labour to do well enough to keep the Tories from winning. Every alienated Labour voter that stays home is another constituency that’s in play for the Tories, and therefore another nail in Clegg’s chances.

Shades of Frank Drebin: Gordon Brown may have sunk his chances in Britain’s general election with an unguarded comment into a microphone he didn’t realize he was still wearing. After campaigning in Rochdale in northern England, he muttered, amid a stream of invective directed at his aides, that 61-year-old Labour supporter Gillian Duffy was a “bigoted woman” for questioning him about the impact on the British job market of immigration from Eastern Europe.

Brown’s since made an in-person apology and e-mailed a fulsome “personal” letter to all Labour activists, but the damage seems to have been done. As one commentator put it, showing a nice grasp of British understatement, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to call voters bigots.”

On one level, of course, it’s possible to have some sympathy for Brown. This is the kind of thing that happens when you’re around microphones so much: few of us would want our every comment recorded and aired in prime time. On another level, as Andrew Rawnsley points out, this is just another example of one of Brown’s more unattractive attributes: his volcanic temper and his eagerness to pour vitriol on his aides and anyone else who gets in his way.

But this isn’t really about Brown’s bad luck or his bed temper. Poll after poll shows that immigration is a central issue in the election, or at least a central concern for many voters. There is every reason to believe that it lies behind the erosion of Labour support in places just like Rochdale, where many — like Mrs. Duffy — believe privately that the Labour elite view their concerns with contempt. Brown’s outburst is evidence that they’re right.

Not that more evidence is needed. Back in October, Andrew Neather, who was closely involved in the making of policy on immigration in the early Labour years, was sufficiently outraged by the televised appearance of Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, to make the following case — and yes, he did think he was making the positive case — for mass migration:

[T]he deliberate policy of ministers from late 2000 until at least February last year, when the Government introduced a points-based system, was to open up the UK to mass migration. …

It’s not simply a question of foreign nannies, cleaners and gardeners — although frankly it’s hard to see how the capital could function without them. Their place certainly wouldn’t be taken by unemployed BNP voters from Barking or Burnley — fascist au pair, anyone? …

I wrote the landmark speech given by then immigration minister Barbara Roche in September 2000, calling for a loosening of controls … the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural. I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended — even if this wasn’t its main purpose — to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. …

But ministers wouldn’t talk about it. In part they probably realised the conservatism of their core voters: while ministers might have been passionately in favour of a more diverse society, it wasn’t necessarily a debate they wanted to have in working men’s clubs in Sheffield or Sunderland.

The only thing more arrogant and out of touch than Neather’s acknowledgement that Britain’s immigration policy was covertly run for the benefit of those who employ foreign nannies was his slap at the “unemployed BNP voters from Barking.” His was the worst possible defense of mass migration into Britain because it was so obviously elitist. And all it really did was display at greater length the contempt that Brown spat at his aides and, unknowingly, into the microphone on Wednesday.

And that is the real political significance of Brown’s open-mike flub: it reminded a significant element in the core Old Labour vote — the vote Labour has to win if it’s to have any chance of playing a role in government-making after May 6 — that quite a bit of New Labour’s leadership quietly detests them and regards them as bigots.

Curiously, the real loser in this may be Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, not Gordon Brown. Neither Clegg nor Brown was ever going to form a government on his own, but Clegg badly needs Labour to do well enough to keep the Tories from winning. Every alienated Labour voter that stays home is another constituency that’s in play for the Tories, and therefore another nail in Clegg’s chances.

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Will Jews Ever Part with the Democratic Party?

Eli Lake reports on the Obami’s anti-Israel bent and its impact on American Jews’ support for Democrats. On the Republican side, Lake finds an opportunity:

In the recent diplomatic rift between Israel and the United States, Republicans see a chance to attract votes and contributions from a demographic group that has voted overwhelmingly for Democrats — Jewish Americans.

Meanwhile, the White House has launched a charm offensive to smooth over its relationship with the Jewish community after two of the most tense months in recent memory between Israel and the U.S. …

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said he has detected what he called “buyer’s remorse” among Obama voters. Mr. Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, and no Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1980 has received less than 60 percent of the Jewish vote.

“I do think there is a sense of disbelief on the part of many in the American Jewish community after this administration’s desire seemingly to pressure Israel in as forceful a way as possible while it is trying to solicit the support and friendship of countries that have not been allies of the United States,” said Mr. Cantor, who is Jewish.

The administration’s response has been a “charm offensive” with American Jews, but little sign they are reconsidering their Israel policy. For now, Jewish leaders are wary. Malcolm I. Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, tells Lake that “many people will want to see what the administration does before they will restore trust.” And Abe Foxman of the ADL says, “To what extent this is cosmetic, rather than substantive, time will tell.”

But really, do the Obami have anything to fear? It seems that nothing short of a crow bar will separate the Jews from the Democratic Party. The degree to which Democrats take Jewish votes for granted is aptly summed up by Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, who pooh-poohs poll numbers showing a  drop in Jewish support for Obama and points to a recent special election in Florida: “If Republicans, as they say every election cycle for at least 18 years, are correct that Jewish votes are turning to their party, you’d think they would see it in the last special election, which took place in the most heavily Jewish congressional district in the country.” Translation: we don’t think Jews will ever actually vote against Democrats, no matter what Israel policy they adopt. Another Democrat echoes that view:

Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, who is Jewish, said there is concern in the Jewish community, but he does not think it has reached the point where Jewish voters will abandon Mr. Obama or the Democratic Party.

“I think people are watching and waiting and looking at the future, and people will be making judgments accordingly,” Mr. Engel said. “There has been a lot of angst over what is regarded in many circles as needless clashing with the Netanyahu administration and with Israel, and let’s hope this is a passing blip in an otherwise strong relationship.”

Are they right? Are Jews that indifferent to Obama’s policy toward Israel or that dense that they would continue to fund and vote for those antagonistic to the Jewish state’s fundamental interests? They grouse in private and tell pollsters they don’t like Obama’s approach, but if they write the checks and vote as they have, Obama’s gamble will have paid off. Plainly, he doesn’t see any domestic political fallout. After all, that strategy guru Robert Gibbs told him that the Jewish community wouldn’t balk. He may prove right — and the question that one sharp commentator asked wistfully remains: “Why do they despise their familiars and love The Stranger who hates them—and hates them all the more for their craven pursuit of him?”

Eli Lake reports on the Obami’s anti-Israel bent and its impact on American Jews’ support for Democrats. On the Republican side, Lake finds an opportunity:

In the recent diplomatic rift between Israel and the United States, Republicans see a chance to attract votes and contributions from a demographic group that has voted overwhelmingly for Democrats — Jewish Americans.

Meanwhile, the White House has launched a charm offensive to smooth over its relationship with the Jewish community after two of the most tense months in recent memory between Israel and the U.S. …

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said he has detected what he called “buyer’s remorse” among Obama voters. Mr. Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, and no Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1980 has received less than 60 percent of the Jewish vote.

“I do think there is a sense of disbelief on the part of many in the American Jewish community after this administration’s desire seemingly to pressure Israel in as forceful a way as possible while it is trying to solicit the support and friendship of countries that have not been allies of the United States,” said Mr. Cantor, who is Jewish.

The administration’s response has been a “charm offensive” with American Jews, but little sign they are reconsidering their Israel policy. For now, Jewish leaders are wary. Malcolm I. Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, tells Lake that “many people will want to see what the administration does before they will restore trust.” And Abe Foxman of the ADL says, “To what extent this is cosmetic, rather than substantive, time will tell.”

But really, do the Obami have anything to fear? It seems that nothing short of a crow bar will separate the Jews from the Democratic Party. The degree to which Democrats take Jewish votes for granted is aptly summed up by Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, who pooh-poohs poll numbers showing a  drop in Jewish support for Obama and points to a recent special election in Florida: “If Republicans, as they say every election cycle for at least 18 years, are correct that Jewish votes are turning to their party, you’d think they would see it in the last special election, which took place in the most heavily Jewish congressional district in the country.” Translation: we don’t think Jews will ever actually vote against Democrats, no matter what Israel policy they adopt. Another Democrat echoes that view:

Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, who is Jewish, said there is concern in the Jewish community, but he does not think it has reached the point where Jewish voters will abandon Mr. Obama or the Democratic Party.

“I think people are watching and waiting and looking at the future, and people will be making judgments accordingly,” Mr. Engel said. “There has been a lot of angst over what is regarded in many circles as needless clashing with the Netanyahu administration and with Israel, and let’s hope this is a passing blip in an otherwise strong relationship.”

Are they right? Are Jews that indifferent to Obama’s policy toward Israel or that dense that they would continue to fund and vote for those antagonistic to the Jewish state’s fundamental interests? They grouse in private and tell pollsters they don’t like Obama’s approach, but if they write the checks and vote as they have, Obama’s gamble will have paid off. Plainly, he doesn’t see any domestic political fallout. After all, that strategy guru Robert Gibbs told him that the Jewish community wouldn’t balk. He may prove right — and the question that one sharp commentator asked wistfully remains: “Why do they despise their familiars and love The Stranger who hates them—and hates them all the more for their craven pursuit of him?”

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The Women of Morocco

We have had a series of horror stories reminding us of atrocious treatment of girls and women in a great number of Muslim countries. Whether it is Yemen or Turkey or Saudi Arabia, the picture of brutality is grim, indeed. But there is an exception in the region, one that gets little attention.

I had the opportunity to meet today with two Moroccan female legislators (yes, that’s noteworthy enough). Morocco suffers what might be considered the fate of pro-Western, modernizing countries of the Middle East — it is ignored rather than held up as an example and an alternative to the oppression and repression of Muslim fundamentalism and to the institutionalization of misogyny one finds in so much of what Obama lumps into the “Muslim World.”  Zahra Chagaf is the elected representative from Tarfaya in southern Morocco, which is the focus of the dispute over the fate of the Western Sahara (and the dangerous exploitation by the Polisario Front and Algeria. More about all that in a later post.) She is fluent in  multiple languages, and on the topic of women, she speaks in French. (My rusty high school French is assisted by an able translator.) She explains that twelve years ago, a huge legal and political change occurred in Morocco. ” There were only two female legislators in parliament in 2000,” she explains. “Now there are 40 of us. On the municipal level [the equivalent of our state level], 0.5 percent were women in 2000. Now there are 12 percent, about 4,000 people.” She emphasizes that this was accompanied by a new family code that afforded women new rights, and by the outlawing of sexual harassment and discrimination. Five government ministers are women, and there are 15 female ambassadors.

How did this come about, I ask — why is Morocco so different?  She explains that it came from “civil society.” The groundswell came both from “women in the country and men with an open outlook.” She emphasizes that in the south, her own region, women have always been involved in the “social, political, cultural” life of the country, and unlike in other Muslim countries, within the home, Moroccan women also exercise power and influence. She stresses: “It is the women who raise the children… Education is more important than any legal change.”

Mbarka Bouaida is another member of parliament, elected to represent TanTan, also in southern Morocco. She could be any New York investment banker or associate in a large law firm, smartly dressed in a gray pantsuit, sporting shoulder length hair. She also speaks multiple language and converses with me in fluent English. What’s different about Morocco? She smiles. “It is a matriarchal society,” she begins. She also emphasizes the role of women in southern Moroccan society but adds that Morocco is also a Mediterranean country, culturally distinct from much of the rest of the Middle East. In southern Morocco, she notes: “Women were much more active in society before the legal environment changed. Women have been active in business. Most of the business people in the south are women. Women have always acted very freely in deciding matrimonial aspects  and who they marry.” (The contrast to other Muslim countries is plain.) Even in the naiton’s resistance to French and Spanish rule, women were active, she continues, and also recalls that in the 1950s, the princess was among the first Muslim women to give a speech in public without the veil.

The challenge to Morocco, the women explain, is to expand the role of women and hold back the threat of Muslim fundamentalism that would reverse the nation’s progress. Mbaraka explains: “We need to have more [freedom for women] and protect against extremism. We see extremists interpreting the Koran… We need to continue to communicate and provide education.” And what of the women in the rest of the Middle East? Well, Zahra explains that they do meet with women from Yemen, Syria, and Saudi Arabia — where she emphasizes, “The  women have no rights!” The effort of other Muslim countries to repress and brutalize their own women is made more difficult in the modern era. As she explains, “You can see what is going on [in other countries], and you don’t have to put up with it.”

The Morocco example leaves one with mixed  emotions. On one hand, it is a shining example of reform and modernization, one we hope is emulated by its neighbors. But as  the women made so very clear, Morocco is different than many of his Muslim neighbors. And in emphasizing the differences, one comes back to the bleak condition of women in those other Muslim countries in which the cultural and social predicate for the advancement of women is sorely lacking. As another commentator observed with regard to Afghan women, the challenge for America (and one could say for enlightened nations like Morocco as well) is great, namely to help women:

“…unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

We and our Moroccan allies have our work cut out for us.

UPDATE: An informed reader emails to add that the King of Morocco deserves a share of the credit for this societal transformation — “for siding with these women against the more reactionary forces in society. In a poll last year that found him very popular, the one area where there was a lot of criticism was… women’s rights! Lots of men thought he was going too fast.” (More on the poll and on the family code can be found here.) If only other Muslim nations were fortunate enough to have such leadership.

We have had a series of horror stories reminding us of atrocious treatment of girls and women in a great number of Muslim countries. Whether it is Yemen or Turkey or Saudi Arabia, the picture of brutality is grim, indeed. But there is an exception in the region, one that gets little attention.

I had the opportunity to meet today with two Moroccan female legislators (yes, that’s noteworthy enough). Morocco suffers what might be considered the fate of pro-Western, modernizing countries of the Middle East — it is ignored rather than held up as an example and an alternative to the oppression and repression of Muslim fundamentalism and to the institutionalization of misogyny one finds in so much of what Obama lumps into the “Muslim World.”  Zahra Chagaf is the elected representative from Tarfaya in southern Morocco, which is the focus of the dispute over the fate of the Western Sahara (and the dangerous exploitation by the Polisario Front and Algeria. More about all that in a later post.) She is fluent in  multiple languages, and on the topic of women, she speaks in French. (My rusty high school French is assisted by an able translator.) She explains that twelve years ago, a huge legal and political change occurred in Morocco. ” There were only two female legislators in parliament in 2000,” she explains. “Now there are 40 of us. On the municipal level [the equivalent of our state level], 0.5 percent were women in 2000. Now there are 12 percent, about 4,000 people.” She emphasizes that this was accompanied by a new family code that afforded women new rights, and by the outlawing of sexual harassment and discrimination. Five government ministers are women, and there are 15 female ambassadors.

How did this come about, I ask — why is Morocco so different?  She explains that it came from “civil society.” The groundswell came both from “women in the country and men with an open outlook.” She emphasizes that in the south, her own region, women have always been involved in the “social, political, cultural” life of the country, and unlike in other Muslim countries, within the home, Moroccan women also exercise power and influence. She stresses: “It is the women who raise the children… Education is more important than any legal change.”

Mbarka Bouaida is another member of parliament, elected to represent TanTan, also in southern Morocco. She could be any New York investment banker or associate in a large law firm, smartly dressed in a gray pantsuit, sporting shoulder length hair. She also speaks multiple language and converses with me in fluent English. What’s different about Morocco? She smiles. “It is a matriarchal society,” she begins. She also emphasizes the role of women in southern Moroccan society but adds that Morocco is also a Mediterranean country, culturally distinct from much of the rest of the Middle East. In southern Morocco, she notes: “Women were much more active in society before the legal environment changed. Women have been active in business. Most of the business people in the south are women. Women have always acted very freely in deciding matrimonial aspects  and who they marry.” (The contrast to other Muslim countries is plain.) Even in the naiton’s resistance to French and Spanish rule, women were active, she continues, and also recalls that in the 1950s, the princess was among the first Muslim women to give a speech in public without the veil.

The challenge to Morocco, the women explain, is to expand the role of women and hold back the threat of Muslim fundamentalism that would reverse the nation’s progress. Mbaraka explains: “We need to have more [freedom for women] and protect against extremism. We see extremists interpreting the Koran… We need to continue to communicate and provide education.” And what of the women in the rest of the Middle East? Well, Zahra explains that they do meet with women from Yemen, Syria, and Saudi Arabia — where she emphasizes, “The  women have no rights!” The effort of other Muslim countries to repress and brutalize their own women is made more difficult in the modern era. As she explains, “You can see what is going on [in other countries], and you don’t have to put up with it.”

The Morocco example leaves one with mixed  emotions. On one hand, it is a shining example of reform and modernization, one we hope is emulated by its neighbors. But as  the women made so very clear, Morocco is different than many of his Muslim neighbors. And in emphasizing the differences, one comes back to the bleak condition of women in those other Muslim countries in which the cultural and social predicate for the advancement of women is sorely lacking. As another commentator observed with regard to Afghan women, the challenge for America (and one could say for enlightened nations like Morocco as well) is great, namely to help women:

“…unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

We and our Moroccan allies have our work cut out for us.

UPDATE: An informed reader emails to add that the King of Morocco deserves a share of the credit for this societal transformation — “for siding with these women against the more reactionary forces in society. In a poll last year that found him very popular, the one area where there was a lot of criticism was… women’s rights! Lots of men thought he was going too fast.” (More on the poll and on the family code can be found here.) If only other Muslim nations were fortunate enough to have such leadership.

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Do They Know What Obama Is up To?

The latest AJC poll on American Jewish opinion is a reminder that there is a disturbing tendency among my co-religionists, as one commentator poignantly put it, to “despise their familiars and love The Stranger who hates them — and hates them all the more for their craven pursuit of him.” What do American Jews think of Obama’s Israel policy? 55 percent approve and only 37 percent disapprove. And they still are among thee presidents’ most loyal supporters: 57 percent of Jews approve of Obama’s performance. (By contrast, his RCP poll average is hovering around 47 percent.) But then this gets really wacky.

What about a Palestinian state? Only 48 percent approve of the idea. What about compromising on Jerusalem? Oh, 61 percent disapprove of that idea. 75 percent of Jews agree with this statement: “The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel.” Do they know what Obama’s Israel policy is? It’s hard to fathom how their support for his policy meshes with their policy preferences, which are antithetical to Obama’s. One is forced to conclude that this is a near Pavlovian response: “Obama=approval.” (One caveat: the poll was taken between March 2 and 23 so it may be that many responses were registered before the full Obama onslaught against Israel was apparent.)

On Iran it’s a slightly more mixed picture. Here only 47 percent approve of Obama’s policy and 42 percent don’t. But again, asked about the component parts of that policy, Jews sound a decidedly un-Obama-like note. 68 percent say there is little to no chance that sanctions will halt Iran’s nuclear program. On a military strike, 53 percent favor a U.S. action and 62 support an Israeli one. Again, do they know (or care) what Obama’s actual Iran policy is? Hard to tell.

If Israel supporters hope to apply pressure on the administration to reverse its approach to Israel and Iran, I have a suggestion: get some gentile support. Left to their own devices, a great number of American Jews seem to be out to lunch when it comes to the damage that Obama is inflicting on the U.S.-Israel relationship and on Israel’s security.

The latest AJC poll on American Jewish opinion is a reminder that there is a disturbing tendency among my co-religionists, as one commentator poignantly put it, to “despise their familiars and love The Stranger who hates them — and hates them all the more for their craven pursuit of him.” What do American Jews think of Obama’s Israel policy? 55 percent approve and only 37 percent disapprove. And they still are among thee presidents’ most loyal supporters: 57 percent of Jews approve of Obama’s performance. (By contrast, his RCP poll average is hovering around 47 percent.) But then this gets really wacky.

What about a Palestinian state? Only 48 percent approve of the idea. What about compromising on Jerusalem? Oh, 61 percent disapprove of that idea. 75 percent of Jews agree with this statement: “The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel.” Do they know what Obama’s Israel policy is? It’s hard to fathom how their support for his policy meshes with their policy preferences, which are antithetical to Obama’s. One is forced to conclude that this is a near Pavlovian response: “Obama=approval.” (One caveat: the poll was taken between March 2 and 23 so it may be that many responses were registered before the full Obama onslaught against Israel was apparent.)

On Iran it’s a slightly more mixed picture. Here only 47 percent approve of Obama’s policy and 42 percent don’t. But again, asked about the component parts of that policy, Jews sound a decidedly un-Obama-like note. 68 percent say there is little to no chance that sanctions will halt Iran’s nuclear program. On a military strike, 53 percent favor a U.S. action and 62 support an Israeli one. Again, do they know (or care) what Obama’s actual Iran policy is? Hard to tell.

If Israel supporters hope to apply pressure on the administration to reverse its approach to Israel and Iran, I have a suggestion: get some gentile support. Left to their own devices, a great number of American Jews seem to be out to lunch when it comes to the damage that Obama is inflicting on the U.S.-Israel relationship and on Israel’s security.

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Rare Praise for Andrew Sullivan

I don’t often give props these days to Andrew Sullivan, but give credit where it’s due: Andrew is willing to (tacitly) concede error. After accusing me of “glossing over” General Petraeus’s supposed criticisms of Israel, he now links to my Commentary item and to an item I had linked to by Philip Klein of the American Spectator explicating Petraeus’s actual, even-handed position — in the general’s own words. Andrew quotes another commentator acknowledging, “There really does seem to be not very much to the story about Petraeus,” and says the point is well taken.

True, Andrew does make a weak attempt to salvage something out of a story that has not gone his way:

Nonetheless, the paper Petraeus presented made a clear distinction between American interests and Israeli interests in the wider war on Jihadist terrorism. Until recently, Washington polite opinion could not publicly concede that. Now it’s taken for granted.

Whatever. I don’t think even the most rabid pro-Israel partisan would argue that American and Israeli interests are 100 percent the same. For instance, the U.S. had a major interest in toppling Saddam Hussein, whereas most Israelis didn’t care much whether he stayed in power or not. (Putting the lie, incidentally, to the risible Walt-Mearsheimer claims that the Zionist Lobby was behind the Iraq War.)

But in the present instance, Andrew is a model of intellectual honesty compared to Diana West and her acolytes on the extreme Right who continue to fulminate against Petraeus (and me) — see, e.g., this and this – posts that display, as usual with this crowd, an utter disregard for basic facts and the conventions of rational debate. Ironically, after suggesting that Petraeus is an “Islamic tool” and that General Stanley McChrystal is “a zealot” and “a high priest of the multicultural orthodoxy,” La West accuses me of engaging in “ad hominem attacks.” Pot, kettle.

I’ve probably given West and her ilk more attention than they deserve because their work is so utterly inconsequential and uninfluential. But I do believe there is a duty to police one’s own ideological precincts, and because West & Co. claim to be conservatives, I think it is important for conservatives to condemn their extremist rhetoric — as has previously happened with Pat Buchanan, Joe Sobran, and other right-wing embarrassments.

I don’t often give props these days to Andrew Sullivan, but give credit where it’s due: Andrew is willing to (tacitly) concede error. After accusing me of “glossing over” General Petraeus’s supposed criticisms of Israel, he now links to my Commentary item and to an item I had linked to by Philip Klein of the American Spectator explicating Petraeus’s actual, even-handed position — in the general’s own words. Andrew quotes another commentator acknowledging, “There really does seem to be not very much to the story about Petraeus,” and says the point is well taken.

True, Andrew does make a weak attempt to salvage something out of a story that has not gone his way:

Nonetheless, the paper Petraeus presented made a clear distinction between American interests and Israeli interests in the wider war on Jihadist terrorism. Until recently, Washington polite opinion could not publicly concede that. Now it’s taken for granted.

Whatever. I don’t think even the most rabid pro-Israel partisan would argue that American and Israeli interests are 100 percent the same. For instance, the U.S. had a major interest in toppling Saddam Hussein, whereas most Israelis didn’t care much whether he stayed in power or not. (Putting the lie, incidentally, to the risible Walt-Mearsheimer claims that the Zionist Lobby was behind the Iraq War.)

But in the present instance, Andrew is a model of intellectual honesty compared to Diana West and her acolytes on the extreme Right who continue to fulminate against Petraeus (and me) — see, e.g., this and this – posts that display, as usual with this crowd, an utter disregard for basic facts and the conventions of rational debate. Ironically, after suggesting that Petraeus is an “Islamic tool” and that General Stanley McChrystal is “a zealot” and “a high priest of the multicultural orthodoxy,” La West accuses me of engaging in “ad hominem attacks.” Pot, kettle.

I’ve probably given West and her ilk more attention than they deserve because their work is so utterly inconsequential and uninfluential. But I do believe there is a duty to police one’s own ideological precincts, and because West & Co. claim to be conservatives, I think it is important for conservatives to condemn their extremist rhetoric — as has previously happened with Pat Buchanan, Joe Sobran, and other right-wing embarrassments.

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No, Goldstone Is Not a Threat to the Democracies

Peter Berkowitz, a commentator I admire greatly, has a piece at NRO that criticizes the “astonishing attempt to shift power from sovereign states to international institutions” being undertaken by the NGO/international-law community. It’s an excellent analysis, and Berkowitz has been doing important work on the subject, but I have one quibble:

It would be a mistake to think that Israel’s lawyerly self-defense is of purely legal interest. This battle reflects a continuation of war and politics by other means. Indeed, the battle is fraught with weighty implications for all liberal democracies struggling against transnational terrorists.

This point has been made by many people, including the Israeli government itself, and it is a form of the old adage that “first they came for Israel, and I did not speak out because I am not an Israeli.” But I don’t think it’s true in this case. If “lawfare,” as it’s known, were truly a danger to powerful democratic nations, there would be more done to push back against it. Instead, what we see today is democratic nations that pay lip service to its tenets, safe in the knowledge that, while carrying few downsides, endorsing the abstract concepts of international law wins approval from the self-appointed arbiters of international virtue.

This is a war that probably will never spread to the great powers or even to the medium powers. For lawfare to work, several conditions have to be met. The target of lawfare must be: 1) a small and diplomatically weak nation; 2) a democracy whose citizens desire international acceptance; 3) a country surrounded by enemies that force it to fight frequent and indecisive wars, providing a constant supply of fresh “evidence” of criminality.

There is really only one country that meets these conditions — Israel. The U.S. is far too powerful to allow a Richard Goldstone to even bite at its ankles. Indeed, the U.S. has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for almost a decade, and nothing close to a Goldstone Report has been produced. The Russians and Chinese could care less about “international humanitarian law” (Grozny, anyone?), and more important, the IHL fetishists have never been passionate about campaigning against non-Western nations. As Charles Jacobs pointed out several years ago, “To predict what the human rights community (and the media) focus on, look not at the oppressed; look instead at the party seen as the oppressor.”

Lawfare, as I’ve been saying lately, is not about law or ethics. If it were, its proponents would be vastly more scrupulous and reputable than they are. Lawfare is about power, specifically the attempt by a group of political radicals who have very little power to gain it in the only way they can — by negating sovereignty and pursuing a Gulliver strategy that only has a chance of working against small, embattled countries. The United States probably won’t pay that much attention to this fight, because the United States doesn’t have much to fear from it.

Peter Berkowitz, a commentator I admire greatly, has a piece at NRO that criticizes the “astonishing attempt to shift power from sovereign states to international institutions” being undertaken by the NGO/international-law community. It’s an excellent analysis, and Berkowitz has been doing important work on the subject, but I have one quibble:

It would be a mistake to think that Israel’s lawyerly self-defense is of purely legal interest. This battle reflects a continuation of war and politics by other means. Indeed, the battle is fraught with weighty implications for all liberal democracies struggling against transnational terrorists.

This point has been made by many people, including the Israeli government itself, and it is a form of the old adage that “first they came for Israel, and I did not speak out because I am not an Israeli.” But I don’t think it’s true in this case. If “lawfare,” as it’s known, were truly a danger to powerful democratic nations, there would be more done to push back against it. Instead, what we see today is democratic nations that pay lip service to its tenets, safe in the knowledge that, while carrying few downsides, endorsing the abstract concepts of international law wins approval from the self-appointed arbiters of international virtue.

This is a war that probably will never spread to the great powers or even to the medium powers. For lawfare to work, several conditions have to be met. The target of lawfare must be: 1) a small and diplomatically weak nation; 2) a democracy whose citizens desire international acceptance; 3) a country surrounded by enemies that force it to fight frequent and indecisive wars, providing a constant supply of fresh “evidence” of criminality.

There is really only one country that meets these conditions — Israel. The U.S. is far too powerful to allow a Richard Goldstone to even bite at its ankles. Indeed, the U.S. has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for almost a decade, and nothing close to a Goldstone Report has been produced. The Russians and Chinese could care less about “international humanitarian law” (Grozny, anyone?), and more important, the IHL fetishists have never been passionate about campaigning against non-Western nations. As Charles Jacobs pointed out several years ago, “To predict what the human rights community (and the media) focus on, look not at the oppressed; look instead at the party seen as the oppressor.”

Lawfare, as I’ve been saying lately, is not about law or ethics. If it were, its proponents would be vastly more scrupulous and reputable than they are. Lawfare is about power, specifically the attempt by a group of political radicals who have very little power to gain it in the only way they can — by negating sovereignty and pursuing a Gulliver strategy that only has a chance of working against small, embattled countries. The United States probably won’t pay that much attention to this fight, because the United States doesn’t have much to fear from it.

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The President Who Grovels

Could someone in the Chief of Protocol’s Office at the State Department please tell Barack Obama that heads of state do not bow to other heads of state? And for the head of state of the country founded on the idea that “all men are created equal,” that goes double.

When Obama bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the White House denied it: “It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than King Abdullah,” said one aide. As a commentator on CNN said, “Ray Charles could see that he bowed.” (h/t PowerLine)

Now he has bowed, extravagantly, to Emperor Akihito of Japan. The Los Angeles Times called it a “wow bow” in its headline and asked “How low will he go?”

President Obama goes abroad apologizing for the supposed sins of a country that defended and extended freedom around the world at a staggering cost in lives and treasure and then grovels before the man whose country has yet to apologize for the Rape of Nanking.

As my mother used to say, “Pardon me while I throw up.”

Could someone in the Chief of Protocol’s Office at the State Department please tell Barack Obama that heads of state do not bow to other heads of state? And for the head of state of the country founded on the idea that “all men are created equal,” that goes double.

When Obama bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the White House denied it: “It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than King Abdullah,” said one aide. As a commentator on CNN said, “Ray Charles could see that he bowed.” (h/t PowerLine)

Now he has bowed, extravagantly, to Emperor Akihito of Japan. The Los Angeles Times called it a “wow bow” in its headline and asked “How low will he go?”

President Obama goes abroad apologizing for the supposed sins of a country that defended and extended freedom around the world at a staggering cost in lives and treasure and then grovels before the man whose country has yet to apologize for the Rape of Nanking.

As my mother used to say, “Pardon me while I throw up.”

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Obama Acts Like Obama

True to form, Barack Obama’s explanation yesterday of his reasons for leaving Trinity Church are a model of double-talk. (And the remarkably passive media pack doesn’t make it very hard for him to avoid further scrutiny.) He has, he explained

“tremendous regard” for the church community, but said he could not live with a situation where everything said in the church, including comments by a guest pastor, “will be imputed to me, even if they conflict with my long-held, views, statements and principles.”

And he would have remained in a church for two decades where regularly people spoke out in ways which conflicted with his principles because . . . why, exactly? We don’t know. And no one in the press thought to ask.

But it gets worse. ABC reports:

He insisted that Trinity itself is not a church worth denouncing. “I’m not denouncing the church and I’m not interested in people who want me to denounce the church, because it’s not a church worthy of denouncing, and so if they’ve seen caricatures of the church and except [sic] those caricatures despite my insistence that that’s not what the church is about, then there’s not much I can do about it.”

Yes, remember Obama does not do denouncing. There is nothing a Wright or Pfleger or Ayers can do which deserve condemnation. Unless, of course they visit the National Press Club and critique his sincerity.

And Obama concedes that:

[A]t the start of the campaign he never would have expected this much scrutiny to be put on his faith, “which we knew there was going to be some things that we didn’t see coming, this was one. You know I did not anticipate my fairly conventional Christian faith being subject to such challenge and such scrutiny. Initially with emails suggesting that I was a Muslim, later with you know the controversy that Trinity generated.”

This one gets the trifecta for dishonesty, or perhaps cluelessness. First, it is, of course, not the case that his Christian faith is being questioned. I know of no commentator, critic, or political opponent who has done that. What is at issue is his propensity to hang out with hatemongers who suggest his current post-racial theme is a pose. Second, he apparently lacks any cultural or political compass if he really believed that Wright et al. would not become an issue. Was it self-delusion? Or is he so out of touch with average Americans that he was unable to predict what would be deeply offensive to millions of Americans? And finally, notice how he impugns the motives of those who raise concerns about his association with Trinity. They are on a footing, in his book, with those perpetrating the “He’s a Muslim” canard. But the former are not perpetrating a lie. They are discussing and probing the beliefs, sincerity, and character of the man who wants to be President.

The Trinity cast of characters and Obama’s reaction to them have been more revealing than more a dozen-plus debates, all the speeches, and just about anything that has happened in over a year of campaigning. It might be even more revealing if the media would take their role seriously and press Obama on some of these obvious points. But Obama, however inadvertently, has done a fairly good job of letting us know how he makes both political and moral judgments. And that is perhaps the most important thing to know about a potential President.

True to form, Barack Obama’s explanation yesterday of his reasons for leaving Trinity Church are a model of double-talk. (And the remarkably passive media pack doesn’t make it very hard for him to avoid further scrutiny.) He has, he explained

“tremendous regard” for the church community, but said he could not live with a situation where everything said in the church, including comments by a guest pastor, “will be imputed to me, even if they conflict with my long-held, views, statements and principles.”

And he would have remained in a church for two decades where regularly people spoke out in ways which conflicted with his principles because . . . why, exactly? We don’t know. And no one in the press thought to ask.

But it gets worse. ABC reports:

He insisted that Trinity itself is not a church worth denouncing. “I’m not denouncing the church and I’m not interested in people who want me to denounce the church, because it’s not a church worthy of denouncing, and so if they’ve seen caricatures of the church and except [sic] those caricatures despite my insistence that that’s not what the church is about, then there’s not much I can do about it.”

Yes, remember Obama does not do denouncing. There is nothing a Wright or Pfleger or Ayers can do which deserve condemnation. Unless, of course they visit the National Press Club and critique his sincerity.

And Obama concedes that:

[A]t the start of the campaign he never would have expected this much scrutiny to be put on his faith, “which we knew there was going to be some things that we didn’t see coming, this was one. You know I did not anticipate my fairly conventional Christian faith being subject to such challenge and such scrutiny. Initially with emails suggesting that I was a Muslim, later with you know the controversy that Trinity generated.”

This one gets the trifecta for dishonesty, or perhaps cluelessness. First, it is, of course, not the case that his Christian faith is being questioned. I know of no commentator, critic, or political opponent who has done that. What is at issue is his propensity to hang out with hatemongers who suggest his current post-racial theme is a pose. Second, he apparently lacks any cultural or political compass if he really believed that Wright et al. would not become an issue. Was it self-delusion? Or is he so out of touch with average Americans that he was unable to predict what would be deeply offensive to millions of Americans? And finally, notice how he impugns the motives of those who raise concerns about his association with Trinity. They are on a footing, in his book, with those perpetrating the “He’s a Muslim” canard. But the former are not perpetrating a lie. They are discussing and probing the beliefs, sincerity, and character of the man who wants to be President.

The Trinity cast of characters and Obama’s reaction to them have been more revealing than more a dozen-plus debates, all the speeches, and just about anything that has happened in over a year of campaigning. It might be even more revealing if the media would take their role seriously and press Obama on some of these obvious points. But Obama, however inadvertently, has done a fairly good job of letting us know how he makes both political and moral judgments. And that is perhaps the most important thing to know about a potential President.

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“In a Word: Disgusting”

A follow-up to Olmert’s day of disgrace. Here’s the veteran political commentator Sima Kadmon, on the revelations about Ehud Olmert’s financial dealings:

In a word: Disgusting. And even that doesn’t serve to fully express the sense of nausea that emerges from the testimony of donor and fundraiser Morris Talansky, who for 15 years, it appears, made sure to maintain the lavish lifestyle of an Israeli mayor and minister.

The testimony that was heard Tuesday at the Jerusalem District Court is not only dramatic; it’s shocking. It is shocking that a public servant demands and receives cash donations, with no receipts, and without any records being kept. It is shocking to think that such senior public figure uses the credit card of an American Jew in order to finance his expenses.

It is shocking that an Israeli public servant receives a $25,000 gift in order to finance a family vacation. It is shocking that a public figure receives gifts worth tens of thousands of shekels for first class upgrades, luxury hotels, restaurants, and vacations. It is shocking to hear about huge loans that were never paid back, even though they loaner demanded payment.

It is possible that parts of the testimony we heard Tuesday are untrue. Other parts may be inaccurate. There are also things that must have an explanation. And perhaps it will turn out that there was no criminal offense here. Yet the behavior described by Talansky is embarrassing and revolting even if we weren’t talking about a public figure: There is nothing sexy about people who live at the expense of others only to satisfy their desires and ostentatious lifestyle. It is much more shocking and horrifying when we are talking about a minister in the Israeli government.

Kadmon’s feelings reflect a wave of revulsion currently sweeping the Israeli media over the Olmert affair. Yet there’s something a little strange about it. Maybe it’s because I live in Jerusalem, where Olmert reigned as mayor for eight years, and every cab driver seems to know about his corruption. Or maybe it’s just that everybody in Israel already knew that this stuff went on, but it never really made the newspapers, and the official public discourse insisted on being much more naive than the man-in-the-street conventional wisdom.

One hopeful sign of the effect of all this loathing: The Olmert affair has the potential to do for financial accountability among public officials what the Katzav affair did for sexual misconduct. As Haaretz commentator Uzi Benziman put it today:

Just as the revelation of how former president Moshe Katsav behaved toward his female subordinates led to a decline in sexual harassment in the public service, so too a peek at Olmert’s behavior with regard to Talansky may well generate a real turning point in the pattern of relationships between the country’s leaders and wealthy Jews from abroad. So far, this seems to be Olmert’s only salient contribution during his term as prime minister.

A follow-up to Olmert’s day of disgrace. Here’s the veteran political commentator Sima Kadmon, on the revelations about Ehud Olmert’s financial dealings:

In a word: Disgusting. And even that doesn’t serve to fully express the sense of nausea that emerges from the testimony of donor and fundraiser Morris Talansky, who for 15 years, it appears, made sure to maintain the lavish lifestyle of an Israeli mayor and minister.

The testimony that was heard Tuesday at the Jerusalem District Court is not only dramatic; it’s shocking. It is shocking that a public servant demands and receives cash donations, with no receipts, and without any records being kept. It is shocking to think that such senior public figure uses the credit card of an American Jew in order to finance his expenses.

It is shocking that an Israeli public servant receives a $25,000 gift in order to finance a family vacation. It is shocking that a public figure receives gifts worth tens of thousands of shekels for first class upgrades, luxury hotels, restaurants, and vacations. It is shocking to hear about huge loans that were never paid back, even though they loaner demanded payment.

It is possible that parts of the testimony we heard Tuesday are untrue. Other parts may be inaccurate. There are also things that must have an explanation. And perhaps it will turn out that there was no criminal offense here. Yet the behavior described by Talansky is embarrassing and revolting even if we weren’t talking about a public figure: There is nothing sexy about people who live at the expense of others only to satisfy their desires and ostentatious lifestyle. It is much more shocking and horrifying when we are talking about a minister in the Israeli government.

Kadmon’s feelings reflect a wave of revulsion currently sweeping the Israeli media over the Olmert affair. Yet there’s something a little strange about it. Maybe it’s because I live in Jerusalem, where Olmert reigned as mayor for eight years, and every cab driver seems to know about his corruption. Or maybe it’s just that everybody in Israel already knew that this stuff went on, but it never really made the newspapers, and the official public discourse insisted on being much more naive than the man-in-the-street conventional wisdom.

One hopeful sign of the effect of all this loathing: The Olmert affair has the potential to do for financial accountability among public officials what the Katzav affair did for sexual misconduct. As Haaretz commentator Uzi Benziman put it today:

Just as the revelation of how former president Moshe Katsav behaved toward his female subordinates led to a decline in sexual harassment in the public service, so too a peek at Olmert’s behavior with regard to Talansky may well generate a real turning point in the pattern of relationships between the country’s leaders and wealthy Jews from abroad. So far, this seems to be Olmert’s only salient contribution during his term as prime minister.

Read Less




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