Commentary Magazine


Topic: David

Taking Responsibility for Inherited Problems, and Other GOP Dilemmas

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way. Read More

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way.

As for Senator DeMint wanting to show that Republicans have a “strong commitment to cut spending and debt”: as I pointed out several months ago, it was DeMint who went on NBC’s Meet the Press to declare, “Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting — I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big ObamaCare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.”

The junior senator from South Carolina has things exactly backward. He wants Republicans to oppose raising the debt ceiling even though that doesn’t involve new spending (it needs to be raised simply to meet our existing obligations). But when it comes to entitlement programs, which is the locus of our fiscal crisis, he is assuring the public that no cuts in benefits are necessary.

It’s not clear to me why Senator DeMint (and Representative Michelle Bachman) is setting up his party up for a fight it cannot possibly win. (The debt ceiling will be raised.) More broadly, the key to success for the GOP (and conservatism) is for it to be seen as principled, reasonable, and prudent. Republicans need to be perceived as people of conviction and competence, not as revolutionaries (see Edmund Burke for more). What Senator DeMint is counseling is exactly the kind of thing that will discredit the GOP and conservatism in a hurry.

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Another ‘Bigot’ Comes Out Against the Mosque

No, Sheldon Silver is no more a bigot than Howard Dean or the legions of conservatives who oppose the Ground Zero mosque. But he — arguably the most powerful Democrat in New York — has come out against the mosque:

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents the lower Manhattan district where ground zero is, suggested Tuesday that Islamic leaders should move the proposed mosque. [Gov. David] Paterson has made the same point. Organizers have the right to build the center at a building two blocks from ground zero but should be open to compromise, Silver said. “In the spirit of living with others, they should be cognizant of the feelings of others and try to find a location that doesn’t engender the deep feelings the currently exist about this site,” Silver said.

“I think the sponsors should take into very serious consideration the kind of turmoil that’s been created and look to compromise,” he added.

The charge that opposition to the Ground Zero mosque is just a function of conservative Islamophobia gets more ridiculous every day. It might be time for the pro–Ground Zero left to give up the fight. With each day, the mosque supporters appear increasingly shrill and isolated from reality. Unfortunately, the out-to-lunch group includes the president.

No, Sheldon Silver is no more a bigot than Howard Dean or the legions of conservatives who oppose the Ground Zero mosque. But he — arguably the most powerful Democrat in New York — has come out against the mosque:

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents the lower Manhattan district where ground zero is, suggested Tuesday that Islamic leaders should move the proposed mosque. [Gov. David] Paterson has made the same point. Organizers have the right to build the center at a building two blocks from ground zero but should be open to compromise, Silver said. “In the spirit of living with others, they should be cognizant of the feelings of others and try to find a location that doesn’t engender the deep feelings the currently exist about this site,” Silver said.

“I think the sponsors should take into very serious consideration the kind of turmoil that’s been created and look to compromise,” he added.

The charge that opposition to the Ground Zero mosque is just a function of conservative Islamophobia gets more ridiculous every day. It might be time for the pro–Ground Zero left to give up the fight. With each day, the mosque supporters appear increasingly shrill and isolated from reality. Unfortunately, the out-to-lunch group includes the president.

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Jerusalem Dig Yields Another Historical Gem

Does it matter whether Jerusalem was a major city 3,500 years ago? Surely, nothing that happened that long ago could mean much today, especially since the Israelite Kingdom of David and Solomon — from which Jewish claims date — did not come along until a few centuries later. But the recent find of a clay fragment at the site of the City of David from this long ago actually has a great deal of meaning for the debate over both the Davidic kingdom’s significance and the depth of Jewish ties to the holy city.

The fragment, found in the Ophel area, in a dig carried out by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology and funded by New York philanthropists Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman, is a small piece of what appears to have been a larger tablet. What makes it important is that it contains writing in ancient cuneiform symbols. This makes it the oldest written document ever found in Jerusalem. That alone is fascinating but what makes it truly significant is the high quality of the writing that seems to be the work of a highly skilled scribe who was probably part of a royal household. Analysis of the writing by Hebrew University experts shows that it may well have been part of a message sent from a king of Jerusalem to the pharaoh in Egypt.

This matters because many influential archaeologists, as well as Palestinian propagandists, have dismissed Jewish ties to Jerusalem by claiming that the Kingdom of David mentioned in the Bible was an insignificant entity and that its capital in Jerusalem was nothing more than a village. These people scoff at the notion that the effort to restore Jewish sovereignty to the area is based on historical precedent rather than biblical romance.

The lesson of this most recent find is that if Jerusalem were already an important walled city in the centuries before David, it is very difficult to argue that it was a backwater only when the Jews took over, some 3,000 years ago. Since anti-Zionists wish to claim that King David and his kingdom never really existed and that the great city from which he ruled it is a myth, this evidence of the city’s significance even before his time is more proof of the falsity of anti-Israel historical polemics.

The stakes involved in these seemingly arcane archaeological disputes are quite high. That is why anti-Zionists have been at such pains to dismiss or minimize the importance of Mazar’s amazing finds in the course of her exploration of the City of David site. As COMMENTARY wrote back in February, when Mazar released findings that showed that she had found a portion of an ancient city wall as well as other possible royal structures dating to the 10th century B.C.E., the greatest threat to those who think that parts of Jerusalem should be off-limits to Jews comes not when Jewish-owned buildings go up but when Jews start digging into the ground.

The area in which in the City of David dig is located is often referred to in the press as “traditionally Palestinian” or merely “Arab Jerusalem.” The point is, Israel’s enemies — both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders — have specifically opposed the effort to explore the rich history of the City of David area and they consider the creation of an archaeological park there to be just another “illegal” Jewish settlement. That is why the City of David is an important intellectual and political battleground. As has been the case on the Temple Mount, where the Muslim religious authority that runs the enclosure without Israeli interference has routinely trashed any evidence that contradicts their false claims that Jerusalem has no Jewish history prior to the 20th century, this is no mere academic argument but a rather concerted effort by anti-Zionists to falsify history. What Eilat Mazar has done with the help of her American donors is to establish even more firmly that those who trash biblical history and the ancient kingdom of Israel — and, by extension, the modern Jewish state — are ideologically motivated liars.

Does it matter whether Jerusalem was a major city 3,500 years ago? Surely, nothing that happened that long ago could mean much today, especially since the Israelite Kingdom of David and Solomon — from which Jewish claims date — did not come along until a few centuries later. But the recent find of a clay fragment at the site of the City of David from this long ago actually has a great deal of meaning for the debate over both the Davidic kingdom’s significance and the depth of Jewish ties to the holy city.

The fragment, found in the Ophel area, in a dig carried out by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology and funded by New York philanthropists Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman, is a small piece of what appears to have been a larger tablet. What makes it important is that it contains writing in ancient cuneiform symbols. This makes it the oldest written document ever found in Jerusalem. That alone is fascinating but what makes it truly significant is the high quality of the writing that seems to be the work of a highly skilled scribe who was probably part of a royal household. Analysis of the writing by Hebrew University experts shows that it may well have been part of a message sent from a king of Jerusalem to the pharaoh in Egypt.

This matters because many influential archaeologists, as well as Palestinian propagandists, have dismissed Jewish ties to Jerusalem by claiming that the Kingdom of David mentioned in the Bible was an insignificant entity and that its capital in Jerusalem was nothing more than a village. These people scoff at the notion that the effort to restore Jewish sovereignty to the area is based on historical precedent rather than biblical romance.

The lesson of this most recent find is that if Jerusalem were already an important walled city in the centuries before David, it is very difficult to argue that it was a backwater only when the Jews took over, some 3,000 years ago. Since anti-Zionists wish to claim that King David and his kingdom never really existed and that the great city from which he ruled it is a myth, this evidence of the city’s significance even before his time is more proof of the falsity of anti-Israel historical polemics.

The stakes involved in these seemingly arcane archaeological disputes are quite high. That is why anti-Zionists have been at such pains to dismiss or minimize the importance of Mazar’s amazing finds in the course of her exploration of the City of David site. As COMMENTARY wrote back in February, when Mazar released findings that showed that she had found a portion of an ancient city wall as well as other possible royal structures dating to the 10th century B.C.E., the greatest threat to those who think that parts of Jerusalem should be off-limits to Jews comes not when Jewish-owned buildings go up but when Jews start digging into the ground.

The area in which in the City of David dig is located is often referred to in the press as “traditionally Palestinian” or merely “Arab Jerusalem.” The point is, Israel’s enemies — both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders — have specifically opposed the effort to explore the rich history of the City of David area and they consider the creation of an archaeological park there to be just another “illegal” Jewish settlement. That is why the City of David is an important intellectual and political battleground. As has been the case on the Temple Mount, where the Muslim religious authority that runs the enclosure without Israeli interference has routinely trashed any evidence that contradicts their false claims that Jerusalem has no Jewish history prior to the 20th century, this is no mere academic argument but a rather concerted effort by anti-Zionists to falsify history. What Eilat Mazar has done with the help of her American donors is to establish even more firmly that those who trash biblical history and the ancient kingdom of Israel — and, by extension, the modern Jewish state — are ideologically motivated liars.

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Why Don’t the Jews Do This?

Christians United for Israel (CUFI) did something extraordinary on Sunday, according to a news release on its second annual CUFI Sunday:

Christian clergy at more than 1,500 churches in all 50 states and more than 50 foreign countries dedicated their Sunday sermons to discussing the Christian imperative of support for the State of Israel.

“We were able to reach churches on almost every continent,” said Pastor John Hagee, CUFI’s founder and Chairman.

“Israel is an outpost of freedom and democracy in one of the most undemocratic regions in the world,” Hagee added. “Now is the time for Israel’s supporters, regardless of faith or political ideology, to unite in standing with Israel as she confronts such serious threats from Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran.”

In a recent opinion piece penned for The Jewish Daily Forward Hagee wrote that attendees at CUFI Sunday services “will leave Church with a better understanding of the dangers of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Palestinian terror, and the international campaign against Israel’s legitimacy.” . . .

“Israel needs support now more than ever; I am very proud that CUFI is playing an ever increasing role in making that happen,” [executive director David] Brog said.

Now, some rabbis do devote time on the bimah to Israel, but many do not, and certainly there has not been an organized “Shabbat for Israel,” despite the extraordinary threats Israel currently faces. That’s more than a little trouble — not to mention that it’s embarrassing that Christians are doing what the Jewish community is not. But alas, I think we might sooner see a “Shabbat for Global Warming” or a “Shabbat for Nuclear Disarmament” in the vast number of  Reform shuls (which represent the majority of American Jewry). Indeed, Obama seemed able to rope the rabbinate into a High Holy Day for ObamaCare.

It is all a matter of priorities. Perhaps “leaders” in the American Jewish community should re-examine theirs.

Christians United for Israel (CUFI) did something extraordinary on Sunday, according to a news release on its second annual CUFI Sunday:

Christian clergy at more than 1,500 churches in all 50 states and more than 50 foreign countries dedicated their Sunday sermons to discussing the Christian imperative of support for the State of Israel.

“We were able to reach churches on almost every continent,” said Pastor John Hagee, CUFI’s founder and Chairman.

“Israel is an outpost of freedom and democracy in one of the most undemocratic regions in the world,” Hagee added. “Now is the time for Israel’s supporters, regardless of faith or political ideology, to unite in standing with Israel as she confronts such serious threats from Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran.”

In a recent opinion piece penned for The Jewish Daily Forward Hagee wrote that attendees at CUFI Sunday services “will leave Church with a better understanding of the dangers of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Palestinian terror, and the international campaign against Israel’s legitimacy.” . . .

“Israel needs support now more than ever; I am very proud that CUFI is playing an ever increasing role in making that happen,” [executive director David] Brog said.

Now, some rabbis do devote time on the bimah to Israel, but many do not, and certainly there has not been an organized “Shabbat for Israel,” despite the extraordinary threats Israel currently faces. That’s more than a little trouble — not to mention that it’s embarrassing that Christians are doing what the Jewish community is not. But alas, I think we might sooner see a “Shabbat for Global Warming” or a “Shabbat for Nuclear Disarmament” in the vast number of  Reform shuls (which represent the majority of American Jewry). Indeed, Obama seemed able to rope the rabbinate into a High Holy Day for ObamaCare.

It is all a matter of priorities. Perhaps “leaders” in the American Jewish community should re-examine theirs.

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Mideast Peace Gap: A Tale of Two Murderers

The dustup over the badly timed announcement of the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem this week has rightly provoked comment about the competence of the Netanyahu government. But for all the talk about the Palestinians’ being so offended by the idea of Jews living in East Jerusalem that they wouldn’t talk peace, it bears repeating that there is no indication that Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority it controls are willing to actually sign a peace agreement with Israel no matter what the terms of such a deal might be. Palestinian political culture remains anchored in an extremist interpretation of their national identity, which views the Jewish state as inherently illegitimate and all violence against it and its citizens as laudatory.

This was graphically illustrated yesterday in Ramallah, when Fatah’s youth division gathered to dedicate a square in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, the Fatah operative that led the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, a terrorist attack that took the lives of 37 Israelis and one American. As David noted earlier this morning, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Palestinian Authority was postponing the event that was timed to honor the 30th anniversary of this case of mass murder for “technical reasons” that may have more to do with a desire to put it off until media coverage abates (i.e., after Vice President Biden has left the country). Yet the New York Times account published today makes it clear that followers and officials of Abbas’s Fatah were by no means embarrassed by their connection with the most notorious terrorist attack in Israel’s history.

The story was in the best tradition of the fallacy about one man’s terrorist being another’s “freedom fighter.” The Times headline reflected this moral ambivalence: “Palestinians Honor Figure Reviled in Israel as a Terrorist.” For Palestinians quoted in the piece, including Fatah officials, Mughrabi was a heroine who was “every Palestinian girl,” rather than a heartless killer who helped mow down 38 human beings, including 13 children, before being killed herself by Israeli forces. As for this being an isolated incident, as Palestinian Media Watch has reported, the drumbeat of incitement against Israel and the glorification of violence against Jews is unceasing. Indeed, as even the Times notes, “the Palestinians also named two girls’ high schools, a computer center, a soccer championship and two summer camps for Ms. Mughrabi in the last two years.”

But those seeking moral equivalence between the two sides are largely undaunted. At the Times news blog, the Lede, Robert Mackey, who on Wednesday erroneously referred to East Jerusalem as “traditionally Arab,” wrote on Thursday that there are Jews who are extremists as well. He posted a video on the Times site purporting to be a Purim celebration by a few Jews living in a house in East Jerusalem. The “boisterous celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim by Israelis living in a home in East Jerusalem … appeared to be a calculated affront to their new Arab neighbors.”

That leads us to ask the Lede blogger whether he would sympathize with complaints by Jews should they witness “a boisterous celebration” of a Muslim holiday anywhere in Israel, where Arabs and Christians, as well as Jews, are free to practice their religions.

It is true that the video did include a bit where one man sang a song in praise of Baruch Goldstein, the mad Israeli who murdered 29 Muslims in Hebron on Purim in 1994. That is offensive. But for those who see this as the equivalent of Arab incitement, it is worth pointing out that this is just one Jewish extremist. No one could credibly assert that the Israeli government or the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people share his views. In fact, such despicable beliefs are completely marginal in Israel. But while Baruch Goldstein is a hero only to a tiny fragment of a percentage of Israelis, Dalal Mughrabi is a heroine to virtually all Palestinians. Rather than an illustration of how both sides are mired in mutual hate, the reaction of the Israeli and Palestinian publics to these two names actually shows how different the two cultures are at this point in time.

Indeed, true peace will only be possible when Palestinians think of Mughrabi the same way most Israelis view Goldstein.

The dustup over the badly timed announcement of the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem this week has rightly provoked comment about the competence of the Netanyahu government. But for all the talk about the Palestinians’ being so offended by the idea of Jews living in East Jerusalem that they wouldn’t talk peace, it bears repeating that there is no indication that Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority it controls are willing to actually sign a peace agreement with Israel no matter what the terms of such a deal might be. Palestinian political culture remains anchored in an extremist interpretation of their national identity, which views the Jewish state as inherently illegitimate and all violence against it and its citizens as laudatory.

This was graphically illustrated yesterday in Ramallah, when Fatah’s youth division gathered to dedicate a square in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, the Fatah operative that led the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, a terrorist attack that took the lives of 37 Israelis and one American. As David noted earlier this morning, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Palestinian Authority was postponing the event that was timed to honor the 30th anniversary of this case of mass murder for “technical reasons” that may have more to do with a desire to put it off until media coverage abates (i.e., after Vice President Biden has left the country). Yet the New York Times account published today makes it clear that followers and officials of Abbas’s Fatah were by no means embarrassed by their connection with the most notorious terrorist attack in Israel’s history.

The story was in the best tradition of the fallacy about one man’s terrorist being another’s “freedom fighter.” The Times headline reflected this moral ambivalence: “Palestinians Honor Figure Reviled in Israel as a Terrorist.” For Palestinians quoted in the piece, including Fatah officials, Mughrabi was a heroine who was “every Palestinian girl,” rather than a heartless killer who helped mow down 38 human beings, including 13 children, before being killed herself by Israeli forces. As for this being an isolated incident, as Palestinian Media Watch has reported, the drumbeat of incitement against Israel and the glorification of violence against Jews is unceasing. Indeed, as even the Times notes, “the Palestinians also named two girls’ high schools, a computer center, a soccer championship and two summer camps for Ms. Mughrabi in the last two years.”

But those seeking moral equivalence between the two sides are largely undaunted. At the Times news blog, the Lede, Robert Mackey, who on Wednesday erroneously referred to East Jerusalem as “traditionally Arab,” wrote on Thursday that there are Jews who are extremists as well. He posted a video on the Times site purporting to be a Purim celebration by a few Jews living in a house in East Jerusalem. The “boisterous celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim by Israelis living in a home in East Jerusalem … appeared to be a calculated affront to their new Arab neighbors.”

That leads us to ask the Lede blogger whether he would sympathize with complaints by Jews should they witness “a boisterous celebration” of a Muslim holiday anywhere in Israel, where Arabs and Christians, as well as Jews, are free to practice their religions.

It is true that the video did include a bit where one man sang a song in praise of Baruch Goldstein, the mad Israeli who murdered 29 Muslims in Hebron on Purim in 1994. That is offensive. But for those who see this as the equivalent of Arab incitement, it is worth pointing out that this is just one Jewish extremist. No one could credibly assert that the Israeli government or the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people share his views. In fact, such despicable beliefs are completely marginal in Israel. But while Baruch Goldstein is a hero only to a tiny fragment of a percentage of Israelis, Dalal Mughrabi is a heroine to virtually all Palestinians. Rather than an illustration of how both sides are mired in mutual hate, the reaction of the Israeli and Palestinian publics to these two names actually shows how different the two cultures are at this point in time.

Indeed, true peace will only be possible when Palestinians think of Mughrabi the same way most Israelis view Goldstein.

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Olmert & Assad, Strange Bedfellows

To add my two cents to the four cents already thrown in by John and David, there is an appalling similarity in tactics shared by the Israeli prime minister and the Syrian dictator. When they both feel the heat — for Assad, it comes in the form of the Hariri tribunal, international outrage over his meddling in Lebanon, Arab contempt for his alliance with Iran, and for Olmert, a criminal investigation that portends his ouster — they attempt a big peacemaking head-fake. Obviously, in moral terms Olmert is a saint compared to Assad. But in order to cling to power, right now they are clinging to . . . each other. After many years of practice, Assad has the tactic down to something like a laboratory science, while Olmert does not. The prime minister will be gone far sooner than the dictator.

To add my two cents to the four cents already thrown in by John and David, there is an appalling similarity in tactics shared by the Israeli prime minister and the Syrian dictator. When they both feel the heat — for Assad, it comes in the form of the Hariri tribunal, international outrage over his meddling in Lebanon, Arab contempt for his alliance with Iran, and for Olmert, a criminal investigation that portends his ouster — they attempt a big peacemaking head-fake. Obviously, in moral terms Olmert is a saint compared to Assad. But in order to cling to power, right now they are clinging to . . . each other. After many years of practice, Assad has the tactic down to something like a laboratory science, while Olmert does not. The prime minister will be gone far sooner than the dictator.

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Scaring Them Already

Much of Barack Obama’s foreign policy doctrine hinges on the notion that he will be able to “repair” the image other nations now have of America. This line, which his supporters continue to iterate, is that a “new face“–one that looks different, and behind which sits a brain with a great understanding of others–will allow America to fix its PR problems abroad. However, if recent newspaper articles from outside the U.S. are any indication, Obama’s platform on trade signals that his presidency might not successfully accomplish this much-vaunted task.

Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that “The British foreign secretary has sent a warning to the Democratic presidential hopefuls that the UK is concerned by their campaign-trail attacks on free trade.”

Amid signs that the UK is troubled by calls from Barack Obama for measures such as trade tariffs on China, [UK foreign secretary David] Miliband said: “American internationalism has been a feature of all periods of global progress . . . It’s absolutely clear that the world needs an America that’s engaged with the global trading system in a very fundamental, very committed way . . . The problem is not too much trade, the problem is too little trade. That is our position as a British government, and it will be articulated clearly and consistently.”

This sentiment, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown tried to quell in his recent visit to America, was previously expounded upon in other British media:

[Gordon Brown’s] most difficult meetings were expected to be with Obama and Clinton, rather than McCain. The two Democrats are at odds with Brown on what he regards as the most important issue on the agenda during his US trip: trade.

Brown, like McCain and the US president, George Bush, is a passionate advocate of free trade, while Clinton and Obama have been trying outbid one another on the campaign trail in proposing protectionist measures.

The Australian maintains a reticent attitude towards Obama’s stance on trade:

A new mood is already evident in the US, for example, where Democrat candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been trying to outdo one another on the need to protect American jobs.

Likewise, Canada’s National Post, in a recent editorial, decried the presumptive nominee’s (at that time, still undecided) anti-trade rhetoric:

It is not yet time, though, to play hardball. For now, Ottawa should concentrate on gently making American legislators and voters aware that good ole reliable, stable, friendly Canada is their #1 energy partner.

That way, if an anti-NAFTA Democrat wins the presidency next fall, she or he will have a harder time painting Canada as a threat to Americans’ lifestyle and jobs.

Of course, it is hard to determine whether Obama is actually serious about suppressing free trade. Regardless, other nations seem to view his candidacy with particular skepticism on this issue. Sounds like Old Politics to me.

Much of Barack Obama’s foreign policy doctrine hinges on the notion that he will be able to “repair” the image other nations now have of America. This line, which his supporters continue to iterate, is that a “new face“–one that looks different, and behind which sits a brain with a great understanding of others–will allow America to fix its PR problems abroad. However, if recent newspaper articles from outside the U.S. are any indication, Obama’s platform on trade signals that his presidency might not successfully accomplish this much-vaunted task.

Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that “The British foreign secretary has sent a warning to the Democratic presidential hopefuls that the UK is concerned by their campaign-trail attacks on free trade.”

Amid signs that the UK is troubled by calls from Barack Obama for measures such as trade tariffs on China, [UK foreign secretary David] Miliband said: “American internationalism has been a feature of all periods of global progress . . . It’s absolutely clear that the world needs an America that’s engaged with the global trading system in a very fundamental, very committed way . . . The problem is not too much trade, the problem is too little trade. That is our position as a British government, and it will be articulated clearly and consistently.”

This sentiment, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown tried to quell in his recent visit to America, was previously expounded upon in other British media:

[Gordon Brown’s] most difficult meetings were expected to be with Obama and Clinton, rather than McCain. The two Democrats are at odds with Brown on what he regards as the most important issue on the agenda during his US trip: trade.

Brown, like McCain and the US president, George Bush, is a passionate advocate of free trade, while Clinton and Obama have been trying outbid one another on the campaign trail in proposing protectionist measures.

The Australian maintains a reticent attitude towards Obama’s stance on trade:

A new mood is already evident in the US, for example, where Democrat candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been trying to outdo one another on the need to protect American jobs.

Likewise, Canada’s National Post, in a recent editorial, decried the presumptive nominee’s (at that time, still undecided) anti-trade rhetoric:

It is not yet time, though, to play hardball. For now, Ottawa should concentrate on gently making American legislators and voters aware that good ole reliable, stable, friendly Canada is their #1 energy partner.

That way, if an anti-NAFTA Democrat wins the presidency next fall, she or he will have a harder time painting Canada as a threat to Americans’ lifestyle and jobs.

Of course, it is hard to determine whether Obama is actually serious about suppressing free trade. Regardless, other nations seem to view his candidacy with particular skepticism on this issue. Sounds like Old Politics to me.

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Against (Archaeological) Interpretation

This week, archaeologists in Jerusalem reported the discovery of a great wall dating to the sixth century B.C.E., likely to be part of the very city walls built by the Israelite leader Nehemia as described in the Bible. The archaeologist, Eilat Mazar, of Hebrew University and the Shalem Center, made major headlines two years ago with the discovery of what is likely the remains of King David’s palace. (I wrote an essay in Azure about this at the time.)

The debate over archaeological support for the Bible has, over the past years, gotten weirder and weirder. As more evidence like Mazar’s discovery emerges supporting the historical account of an Israelite people centered in Jerusalem, opponents are driven further into the arms of post-modernism: Not that the evidence doesn’t prove the hypothesis, but that all evidence and hypothesis are not real but political manipulation. I remember hearing a talk by Israel Finkelstein, head of Tel Aviv University’s archaeology department and the leading promoter of the theory that David and Solomon’s kingdom never really existed. When asked to provide proofs for his alternative theory of how to know the dates of archaeological finds (upon which he based his whole pitch), he began citing the 1960’s philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn—who famously argued that science is not about truth but about shifting “paradigms,” driven as much by politics as anything else—to justify why he didn’t need proofs at all.

Now comes Barnard anthropologist Nadia Abu El-Haj, who received tenure for a book she wrote claiming that the entire field of biblical archaeology is nothing but a political manipulation to justify the Jewish state and the oppression of Palestinians. But unlike Finkelstein, whose post-modern approach is often obscured by his archaeological knowledge, El-Haj is up-front about her intentions. As cited in Haaretz this week, she describes her research as building upon “post-structuralism, philosophical critiques of foundationalism, Marxism, and critical theory”—and therefore on “rejecting a positivist commitment to scientific method.” Ultimately, she is guided by a “commitment to understanding archaeology as necessarily political.”

This is a sign of desperation. As the evidence continues to mount, and the truthful nature of much of the biblical history becomes increasingly clear, these critics have little left to say but that evidence doesn’t matter. Students of Said, take note.

This week, archaeologists in Jerusalem reported the discovery of a great wall dating to the sixth century B.C.E., likely to be part of the very city walls built by the Israelite leader Nehemia as described in the Bible. The archaeologist, Eilat Mazar, of Hebrew University and the Shalem Center, made major headlines two years ago with the discovery of what is likely the remains of King David’s palace. (I wrote an essay in Azure about this at the time.)

The debate over archaeological support for the Bible has, over the past years, gotten weirder and weirder. As more evidence like Mazar’s discovery emerges supporting the historical account of an Israelite people centered in Jerusalem, opponents are driven further into the arms of post-modernism: Not that the evidence doesn’t prove the hypothesis, but that all evidence and hypothesis are not real but political manipulation. I remember hearing a talk by Israel Finkelstein, head of Tel Aviv University’s archaeology department and the leading promoter of the theory that David and Solomon’s kingdom never really existed. When asked to provide proofs for his alternative theory of how to know the dates of archaeological finds (upon which he based his whole pitch), he began citing the 1960’s philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn—who famously argued that science is not about truth but about shifting “paradigms,” driven as much by politics as anything else—to justify why he didn’t need proofs at all.

Now comes Barnard anthropologist Nadia Abu El-Haj, who received tenure for a book she wrote claiming that the entire field of biblical archaeology is nothing but a political manipulation to justify the Jewish state and the oppression of Palestinians. But unlike Finkelstein, whose post-modern approach is often obscured by his archaeological knowledge, El-Haj is up-front about her intentions. As cited in Haaretz this week, she describes her research as building upon “post-structuralism, philosophical critiques of foundationalism, Marxism, and critical theory”—and therefore on “rejecting a positivist commitment to scientific method.” Ultimately, she is guided by a “commitment to understanding archaeology as necessarily political.”

This is a sign of desperation. As the evidence continues to mount, and the truthful nature of much of the biblical history becomes increasingly clear, these critics have little left to say but that evidence doesn’t matter. Students of Said, take note.

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The Arabs’ Turn

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just spent three days visiting Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. She spoke seven times, including interviews, press roundtables, and press conferences with assorted leaders. But reporters did not find much to say about Rice’s tour, beyond noting her announcement that henceforth Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas will hold meetings twice a month. (Perhaps she reasoned that the two leaders would end the conflict just to get out of having such frequent meetings.)

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just spent three days visiting Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. She spoke seven times, including interviews, press roundtables, and press conferences with assorted leaders. But reporters did not find much to say about Rice’s tour, beyond noting her announcement that henceforth Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas will hold meetings twice a month. (Perhaps she reasoned that the two leaders would end the conflict just to get out of having such frequent meetings.)

What wasn’t given due notice was Rice’s unveiling of a new philosophical component of the peace process, even though it cropped up across her whole trip, from her press roundtable in Washington on Friday to her closing statement in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning. Here it is, from that summary statement:

Just as Israelis and Palestinians must clarify a political horizon together, the Arab states must clarify a political horizon for Israel. These paths do not substitute for one another; they reinforce one another.

The Arab states should begin reaching out to Israel—to reassure Israel that its place in the region will be more, not less secure, by an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state; to show Israel that they accept its place in the Middle East; and to demonstrate that the peace they seek is greater than just the absence of war. Such bold outreach can turn the Arab League’s words into the basis of active diplomacy, and it can hasten the day when a state called Palestine will take its rightful place in the international community.

If pursued seriously, this new approach could be revolutionary. Rice is challenging a premise that has stood since the last Arab peace treaty with Israel over a decade ago: the idea that the Arab states can sit back and complain to the U.S. about Israel while taking no responsibility for moderating the Palestinians through their own example.

After Ehud Barak put a state on the table at Camp David, and Ariel Sharon disengaged from settlements in order to create one in 2005, there was not much more that Israel could do to demonstrate the obvious: it actively wants a Palestinian state. The Palestinians reacted to all this not by meeting Israel halfway, but by running in the other direction—becoming more violent and radicalized. And while all this was going on, the Sunni Arab world has been much more concerned about Iranian power in the region than about the Arab-Israel conflict, which has become a tool in Iran’s hands.

Rice is right: the Arab states need to help the Palestinians out of their radical spiral, and this means thawing Arab relations with Israel. But opening trade offices and holding low-level meetings will not be enough. Ultimately, the boulder that must be rolled aside to unblock the road to a Palestinian state is the Palestinian claim to a right of return, which infringes gravely on Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

The Palestinians are too weak and radicalized to make this move, so the Arab states have to start by saying there will be no “right of return” to Israel, only to Palestine. But why should the Arabs say this when even the U.S. hesitates to talk about it? Now that Israel has taken massive risks for peace and paid dearly, it is time for the U.S. and the Arab states to take much smaller risks with much greater chances of bearing fruit.

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