Commentary Magazine


Topic: editor-in-chief

The Beginning of the End of Swiss ‘Active Neutrality’?

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

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A Settlement Freeze Makes Serious Talks Less Likely

Jennifer listed several good reasons to dislike Barack Obama’s latest proposal for a settlement freeze. Here’s one more: it makes serious final-status negotiations even less likely.

To see why, consider last week’s astonishing editorial in the Kuwaiti daily Arab Times. In it, editor-in-chief Ahmed Al-Jarallah urged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to imitate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat “and start unconditional negotiations” with Israel.

It’s a remarkable piece in many respects: its clear-eyed recognition that the Arab world exploits the Palestinians rather than helping them (“the slogan traders in Iran, Lebanon and Syria … [are] using these poor people as fighting tools”); its candid acknowledgement that Palestinians have blown previous opportunities, like the autonomy plan mandated by the 1978 peace treaty with Egypt (“they should have taken this opportunity and built on it”); and its call for unconditional negotiations, defying the Arab consensus, to avoid missing another opportunity (Sadat, he noted, regained his land by so doing, while if talks fail, that would at least “cause international embarrassment for Israel”). No Western leader has said anything half so honest or courageous.

But the minute Al-Jarallah explains why he deems this necessary, it’s obvious why neither Abbas nor the West discerns the same necessity: Palestinians, he said, must act, because Israeli settlement construction means “the longer the waiting period, the lesser the space” for the Palestinian state-to-be.

In reality, as both Abbas and Western leaders know, refusing to make a deal has proven a surefire way for Palestinians to increase the amount of land on offer. Four decades ago, Israel’s left proposed the Allon Plan, under which Israel would cede 70 percent of the territories. By 2000, Ehud Barak was offering 88 percent. The Clinton plan upped the figure to about 94 percent, and in 2008, Ehud Olmert offered almost 100 percent (after territorial swaps). Each time the Palestinians refused an offer, either Jerusalem or Washington sweetened the deal in the hopes of finally getting them to say yes.

There aren’t many territorial sweeteners left to add, but plenty of concessions remain available on other issues. And there’s no risk of losing the territorial gains because no offer, once made, has ever been taken off the table: Olmert’s offer, for instance, is now viewed by the West as the starting point for new talks, and Israel faces enormous pressure to accept that dictate.

Abbas thus has every incentive to keep saying no: he won’t lose any concession already pocketed, and he’ll probably gain new ones.

Therefore, if the West really wants a deal, it must ensure that saying no does have consequences: that far from netting the Palestinians additional gains, it will endanger those already achieved. In other words, it needs to make them think time is running out for a viable deal. And there’s only one way to do that — by settlement construction massive enough to threaten to make additional settlements too big to be evacuated.

By instead demanding a settlement freeze, Obama ensures the Palestinians can drag their feet with no negative consequences because nothing will change on the ground. So nobody should be surprised if that’s exactly what they do.

Jennifer listed several good reasons to dislike Barack Obama’s latest proposal for a settlement freeze. Here’s one more: it makes serious final-status negotiations even less likely.

To see why, consider last week’s astonishing editorial in the Kuwaiti daily Arab Times. In it, editor-in-chief Ahmed Al-Jarallah urged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to imitate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat “and start unconditional negotiations” with Israel.

It’s a remarkable piece in many respects: its clear-eyed recognition that the Arab world exploits the Palestinians rather than helping them (“the slogan traders in Iran, Lebanon and Syria … [are] using these poor people as fighting tools”); its candid acknowledgement that Palestinians have blown previous opportunities, like the autonomy plan mandated by the 1978 peace treaty with Egypt (“they should have taken this opportunity and built on it”); and its call for unconditional negotiations, defying the Arab consensus, to avoid missing another opportunity (Sadat, he noted, regained his land by so doing, while if talks fail, that would at least “cause international embarrassment for Israel”). No Western leader has said anything half so honest or courageous.

But the minute Al-Jarallah explains why he deems this necessary, it’s obvious why neither Abbas nor the West discerns the same necessity: Palestinians, he said, must act, because Israeli settlement construction means “the longer the waiting period, the lesser the space” for the Palestinian state-to-be.

In reality, as both Abbas and Western leaders know, refusing to make a deal has proven a surefire way for Palestinians to increase the amount of land on offer. Four decades ago, Israel’s left proposed the Allon Plan, under which Israel would cede 70 percent of the territories. By 2000, Ehud Barak was offering 88 percent. The Clinton plan upped the figure to about 94 percent, and in 2008, Ehud Olmert offered almost 100 percent (after territorial swaps). Each time the Palestinians refused an offer, either Jerusalem or Washington sweetened the deal in the hopes of finally getting them to say yes.

There aren’t many territorial sweeteners left to add, but plenty of concessions remain available on other issues. And there’s no risk of losing the territorial gains because no offer, once made, has ever been taken off the table: Olmert’s offer, for instance, is now viewed by the West as the starting point for new talks, and Israel faces enormous pressure to accept that dictate.

Abbas thus has every incentive to keep saying no: he won’t lose any concession already pocketed, and he’ll probably gain new ones.

Therefore, if the West really wants a deal, it must ensure that saying no does have consequences: that far from netting the Palestinians additional gains, it will endanger those already achieved. In other words, it needs to make them think time is running out for a viable deal. And there’s only one way to do that — by settlement construction massive enough to threaten to make additional settlements too big to be evacuated.

By instead demanding a settlement freeze, Obama ensures the Palestinians can drag their feet with no negative consequences because nothing will change on the ground. So nobody should be surprised if that’s exactly what they do.

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You Can’t Get Much More Anti-Israel Than This

From the inception of J Street, I and other conservatives have argued that its “pro-Israel” label was false. Both in actions and in words it has revealed itself to be in league with Israel’s foes. It has fanned the flames of delegitimization efforts. It has incorporated Hamas’s talking points as its own. It has supported candidates most hostile to Israel and to a robust U.S.-Israel relationship.

In case you had any doubt (but really, who but Ron Kampeas does?), this report should clear things up. “J Street co-founder, advisory board member, and international socialite Daniel Levy” helped escort Richard Goldstone around Capitol Hill, and it was his ” New America Foundation that hosted a high-caliber lunch for Goldstone.”

According to the report, Levy was on an all-star panel of Israel-haters last May (“with Abdel al-Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of al-Quds al-Arabi, NAF Strategic Program Director Steve Clemons, surreal Hamas apologist and one-stater Allister Sparks, and accused terrorist Basheer Nafi”) when he shared this:

One can be a utilitarian two-stater, in other words think that the practical pragmatic way forward is two states. This is my understanding of the current Hamas position. One can be an ideological two-stater, someone who believes in exclusively the Palestinian self-determination and in Zionism; I don’t believe that it’s impossible to have a progressive Zionism. Or one can be a one-stater. But in either of those outcomes we’re going to live next door to each other or in a one state disposition. And that means wrapping one’s head around the humanity of both sides. I believe the way Jewish history was in 1948 excused — for me, it was good enough for me — an act that was wrong. I don’t expect Palestinians to think that. I have no reason — there’s no reason a Palestinian should think there was justice in the creation of Israel.

His remarks also apparently included the assertion that it was “‘natural’ for Gazans to want to attack Israelis.” I await the denial by Soros Street, the production of the complete transcript, and then the emergence of the pro-J Street spin squad to explain that Levy didn’t really mean what he said. Or J Street doesn’t believe this. Or whatever. But I think those who have given money to J Street or accepted endorsements or cash from it under the pretense that it was a pro-Israel group were defrauded. And I think J Street is kaput.

From the inception of J Street, I and other conservatives have argued that its “pro-Israel” label was false. Both in actions and in words it has revealed itself to be in league with Israel’s foes. It has fanned the flames of delegitimization efforts. It has incorporated Hamas’s talking points as its own. It has supported candidates most hostile to Israel and to a robust U.S.-Israel relationship.

In case you had any doubt (but really, who but Ron Kampeas does?), this report should clear things up. “J Street co-founder, advisory board member, and international socialite Daniel Levy” helped escort Richard Goldstone around Capitol Hill, and it was his ” New America Foundation that hosted a high-caliber lunch for Goldstone.”

According to the report, Levy was on an all-star panel of Israel-haters last May (“with Abdel al-Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of al-Quds al-Arabi, NAF Strategic Program Director Steve Clemons, surreal Hamas apologist and one-stater Allister Sparks, and accused terrorist Basheer Nafi”) when he shared this:

One can be a utilitarian two-stater, in other words think that the practical pragmatic way forward is two states. This is my understanding of the current Hamas position. One can be an ideological two-stater, someone who believes in exclusively the Palestinian self-determination and in Zionism; I don’t believe that it’s impossible to have a progressive Zionism. Or one can be a one-stater. But in either of those outcomes we’re going to live next door to each other or in a one state disposition. And that means wrapping one’s head around the humanity of both sides. I believe the way Jewish history was in 1948 excused — for me, it was good enough for me — an act that was wrong. I don’t expect Palestinians to think that. I have no reason — there’s no reason a Palestinian should think there was justice in the creation of Israel.

His remarks also apparently included the assertion that it was “‘natural’ for Gazans to want to attack Israelis.” I await the denial by Soros Street, the production of the complete transcript, and then the emergence of the pro-J Street spin squad to explain that Levy didn’t really mean what he said. Or J Street doesn’t believe this. Or whatever. But I think those who have given money to J Street or accepted endorsements or cash from it under the pretense that it was a pro-Israel group were defrauded. And I think J Street is kaput.

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Gallup Poll Results in Perspective

Yesterday I referenced the Gallup survey showing that Republicans lead by 51 percent to 41 percent among registered voters in Gallup’s weekly tracking of 2010 congressional voting preferences. The poll is getting a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Frank Newport, editor in chief of Gallup, put the results in context:

The Republican leads of 6, 7, and 10 points this month are all higher than any previous midterm Republican advantage in Gallup’s history of tracking the generic ballot, which dates to 1942. Prior to this year, the highest such gap was five points, measured in June 2002 and July 1994. Elections in both of these years resulted in significant Republican gains in House seats.

As a further reference point: in August 1994, Republicans and Democrats were tied in Gallup’s generic ballot (46/46). And in the final pre-election poll in 1994, when asked if the elections for Congress were held today which party’s candidate (Republican or Democrat) would you vote for in your congressional district, the public preferred the Democratic candidate by a two-point margin (43 v. 41).

The GOP gained 54 seats in the House.

(A caveat: the data do not appear to have Gallup’s likely-voter screen applied to them, a practice the organization now employs starting in October. Data of national adults, rather than likely voters, usually will add several points more to Democratic candidates.)

Now, the generic ballot question, though significant, is not dispositive. The problem for Democrats is that almost across the board, the polling news is awful. President Obama is witnessing a hemorrhaging of support from among independent voters. And the enthusiasm gap, which favors the GOP by 20-25 points, is also an ominous sign for Democrats.

“The intensity gap is the biggest I’ve seen in 30 years,” the Republican pollster Bill McInturff told Bloomberg News’s Al Hunt. “This is going to be a massive election like 1974, except it will happen to the Democrats this time,” according to McInturff. In 1974 Democrats, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal (Nixon resigned in August), took 49 seats from the Republican Party and increased their majority above the two-thirds mark (from 242 to 291).

“Today,” proclaimed the Democratic strategist James Carville in the wake of 2008 Obama’s victory, “a Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.”

It looks like Carville’s Democratic majority may fall around 38 years short of his prediction.

Yesterday I referenced the Gallup survey showing that Republicans lead by 51 percent to 41 percent among registered voters in Gallup’s weekly tracking of 2010 congressional voting preferences. The poll is getting a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Frank Newport, editor in chief of Gallup, put the results in context:

The Republican leads of 6, 7, and 10 points this month are all higher than any previous midterm Republican advantage in Gallup’s history of tracking the generic ballot, which dates to 1942. Prior to this year, the highest such gap was five points, measured in June 2002 and July 1994. Elections in both of these years resulted in significant Republican gains in House seats.

As a further reference point: in August 1994, Republicans and Democrats were tied in Gallup’s generic ballot (46/46). And in the final pre-election poll in 1994, when asked if the elections for Congress were held today which party’s candidate (Republican or Democrat) would you vote for in your congressional district, the public preferred the Democratic candidate by a two-point margin (43 v. 41).

The GOP gained 54 seats in the House.

(A caveat: the data do not appear to have Gallup’s likely-voter screen applied to them, a practice the organization now employs starting in October. Data of national adults, rather than likely voters, usually will add several points more to Democratic candidates.)

Now, the generic ballot question, though significant, is not dispositive. The problem for Democrats is that almost across the board, the polling news is awful. President Obama is witnessing a hemorrhaging of support from among independent voters. And the enthusiasm gap, which favors the GOP by 20-25 points, is also an ominous sign for Democrats.

“The intensity gap is the biggest I’ve seen in 30 years,” the Republican pollster Bill McInturff told Bloomberg News’s Al Hunt. “This is going to be a massive election like 1974, except it will happen to the Democrats this time,” according to McInturff. In 1974 Democrats, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal (Nixon resigned in August), took 49 seats from the Republican Party and increased their majority above the two-thirds mark (from 242 to 291).

“Today,” proclaimed the Democratic strategist James Carville in the wake of 2008 Obama’s victory, “a Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.”

It looks like Carville’s Democratic majority may fall around 38 years short of his prediction.

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Friends, Enemies, and Liberal Inanity

In reviewing the latest Emergency Committee for Israel ad and the coverage thereof, the New Jersey Jewish News editor in chief pronounces: “I think it is possible to be a friend of Israel, on the right or the left, and still take positions that are antithetical to Israel’s interests.” There’s no typo, and that’s what he said. Is he mocking the J Street set? Is this a coy parody of the not-at-all-pro-Israel set? No, he apparently is quite serious that a “friend” can want you dead or hobbled and still be a “friend.” Sort of like an enemy but more friendly-like.

He continues: “If Israel weren’t complicated, and its citizenry itself so divided over the issues, this thing would have been solved decades ago. Good friends can disagree.” Actually there’s quite a lot of agreement in Israel these days — land for peace was a bust, Iran is an existential threat, the Palestinians don’t want peace, and Obama isn’t a friend (in the old-fashioned sense). And this thing wouldn’t have been solved long ago, because Palestinians still are killing Jews and pining for the one-state solution.

And in a final tour de force of moral relativism, he sums up: “I just wish we could talk about it without labeling one another ‘enemies’ or ‘friends.’ But then I’m not trying to win elections.” Because if we start labeling who is a friend and who isn’t, we’ll know who is a friend-friend and who is an enemy-friend, right? He’s not only trying not to win elections; he’s trying not to exercise his God-given powers of moral reasoning and whatever common sense has not dribbled out on the altar of “tolerance.”

This is the best and brightest of New Jersey’s Jewish press, it seems. I would despair over yet another example of the inanity of liberal American Jewry, but thankfully not all Jews are quite this daft. And best of all, Israel has legions of supporters who have no problem calling it like they see it and figuring our who’s on the Jewish state’s side. Contrast the above drivel with this:

But while we don’t presume to dictate to Israel’s government, we have every right – and every responsibility – to speak to our own government. We have every right to demand that our government not pressure Israel into making concessions that the Israelis themselves do not wish to make. If history proves one thing, it proves that Israelis want peace so desperately that they will place themselves in peril to achieve it. If the Israelis are not willing to take a particular risk, this is a strong sign it is not a reasonable risk to take.

That sounds like a true friend — in the doesn’t-want-Israel-decimated sense of “friend.”

In reviewing the latest Emergency Committee for Israel ad and the coverage thereof, the New Jersey Jewish News editor in chief pronounces: “I think it is possible to be a friend of Israel, on the right or the left, and still take positions that are antithetical to Israel’s interests.” There’s no typo, and that’s what he said. Is he mocking the J Street set? Is this a coy parody of the not-at-all-pro-Israel set? No, he apparently is quite serious that a “friend” can want you dead or hobbled and still be a “friend.” Sort of like an enemy but more friendly-like.

He continues: “If Israel weren’t complicated, and its citizenry itself so divided over the issues, this thing would have been solved decades ago. Good friends can disagree.” Actually there’s quite a lot of agreement in Israel these days — land for peace was a bust, Iran is an existential threat, the Palestinians don’t want peace, and Obama isn’t a friend (in the old-fashioned sense). And this thing wouldn’t have been solved long ago, because Palestinians still are killing Jews and pining for the one-state solution.

And in a final tour de force of moral relativism, he sums up: “I just wish we could talk about it without labeling one another ‘enemies’ or ‘friends.’ But then I’m not trying to win elections.” Because if we start labeling who is a friend and who isn’t, we’ll know who is a friend-friend and who is an enemy-friend, right? He’s not only trying not to win elections; he’s trying not to exercise his God-given powers of moral reasoning and whatever common sense has not dribbled out on the altar of “tolerance.”

This is the best and brightest of New Jersey’s Jewish press, it seems. I would despair over yet another example of the inanity of liberal American Jewry, but thankfully not all Jews are quite this daft. And best of all, Israel has legions of supporters who have no problem calling it like they see it and figuring our who’s on the Jewish state’s side. Contrast the above drivel with this:

But while we don’t presume to dictate to Israel’s government, we have every right – and every responsibility – to speak to our own government. We have every right to demand that our government not pressure Israel into making concessions that the Israelis themselves do not wish to make. If history proves one thing, it proves that Israelis want peace so desperately that they will place themselves in peril to achieve it. If the Israelis are not willing to take a particular risk, this is a strong sign it is not a reasonable risk to take.

That sounds like a true friend — in the doesn’t-want-Israel-decimated sense of “friend.”

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Jews Go Nuts over a Counseling Group for Pregnant Jewish Teens — Really

It is no secret that American Jews, especially Jewish women, are staunchly pro-choice. Norman Podhoretz has written that many Jewish women “think that the absolute right to an abortion had been inscribed on the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai.” It is no exaggeration to say that abortion rights are a much more significant factor (as are the environment, health care, and every item on the domestic wish list of the left) than Israel in determining the votes of a sizeable segment of Jewish voters.

So you can imagine the reaction when a new Jewish organization dedicated to providing resources, counseling, and ample information to pregnant Jewish women and teens — one not even pro-life in its core message — arrived on the scene. Yes, liberal Jews went bonkers.

The group is In Shifra’s Arms, headed by a young Jewish woman, Erica Pelman. Pelman was inspired to start the organization after a life-altering experience — she found herself unable and uncertain about how to provide advice to a friend who was pregnant and who felt she had no choice but to have an abortion. The group does not advocate politically or tout a pro-life line. Rather, its focus is on providing resources to pregnant girls and women should they choose to have their baby and making clear that no woman should feel that abortion is her only option. Its website explains:

We know that many women do not feel free to choose parenting or adoption when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and therefore feel they must abort. In one study, 64% of American women who aborted reported being pressured by others to abort and 84% reported that they did not receive adequate counseling prior to aborting (1). Additionally, research has found that college campuses in particular are very unlikely to provide support for pregnant students and this lack of support becomes a pressure to abort; about a third of abortions take place amongst college-aged women (2). …

We respect each woman’s ability to determine her future.  We would not judge any woman for becoming pregnant unintentionally or for considering abortion.  We believe in the inner strength, independence, and capabilities of the women who call us.

Now could that be controversial?  How could giving a girl maternity clothes, an internship in D.C. (so her gap in schooling is not a hindrance in her future career), and explaining that there is a huge demand among Jewish women to adopt (all of which Shifra’s Arms does) objectionable?  After all, there are many Christian and non-denominational counseling organizations, but none other than Shifra’s Arms that is aimed at the Jewish community. Well, to those who shudder at the notion that abortion may have adverse psychological consequences or that an abortion is not any bigger deal than have your nails done, Shifra’s Arms is an anathema.

In a piece by the Jewish Weekly, critics pounced. Alyssa Zucker, professor of psychology and women’s studies at George Washington University, asserted “while these organizations say they are about choice, they are really not. Their goal is to convince women not to have abortions.” Nancy Ratzan, the president of the National Council of Jewish Women, declared that Sifra’s Arms’s website “looks like it fits the model that targets young women in a deceptive way. … [We are] greatly concerned about pregnancy crisis centers and their focus to limit women’s choice and undermine the rights of women.”

What seems to get under these groups’ skins is the mere suggestion that abortion may be a traumatic event with long-term consequences to women. (In the Jewish Weekly, Zucker proclaimed: “From looking at the In Shifra’s Arms Web site, it is talking about emotional risks, but it is citing studies that show extreme results. … The majority of studies show women are fine.”) The Shifra’s Arms’s website provides links to research studies and websites regarding the impact of abortion. In measured language, it explains:

Every abortion procedure involves some potential risk of harm and side effects. You have the legal right to know what type of procedure will be performed upon you and what specific risks of harm or side effects are associated with the performance of this procedure on you. Many women, particularly women who have felt rushed or coerced into abortion, or who felt they did not have access to other options, report significant emotional side effects. Other women feel relieved in the short term, but later feel significant loss or regret.

But that is too much for many rabidly pro-abortion groups. Attacks sprang up at a variety of websites. At the Reproductive Health website, the editor in chief, Jodi Jacobson, attacked Shifra’s Arms and all pregnancy-counseling organizations as frauds and menaces that seek to “channel” women’s choices (unlike the pristinly neutral Planned Parenthood?). Over at the Sisterhood blog at the Forward, they were outraged that women might not get an undiluted pro-abortion message, but they were heartened as well: “At least we can get comfort in the backlash from other Jewish groups and bloggers, and the fact that out of thousands of these centers, only one is aimed at Jewish women.” Good to know that the hysteria from fellow Jews was solace.

The critics also complain that Shifra’s Arms doesn’t provide contraception or medical advice. Pelman explains to me that the employees are not medical professionals and don’t dispense medical advice. Instead, they provide mentors to young women, explain adoption rules, assist in dealing with school administrators, and, for clients who want to either keep the baby or pursue adoption, support them in counteracting the overwhelming pressure they may face to abort and “get on” with their lives. Perlman says simply, “There are two ways to terminate a pregnancy — abortion and giving birth.”

The critics of Shifra’s Arms reveal far more about themselves than the object of their ire. It seems there is nothing quite so dangerous in their eyes as providing Jewish women with information and an alternative that clashes with the abortion-on-demand inscription on those liberal tablets. And abortion-rights activists certainly don’t appreciate the reminder that there are Jewish couples waiting in some cases more than a decade to adopt a Jewish baby.

Abortion-rights advocates insist they aren’t “pro-abortion,” but their vehement reaction to a group offering real choice (and an opportunity for Jewish women to contemplate a critical life decision) is the most telling evidence that this is precisely what they are.

It is no secret that American Jews, especially Jewish women, are staunchly pro-choice. Norman Podhoretz has written that many Jewish women “think that the absolute right to an abortion had been inscribed on the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai.” It is no exaggeration to say that abortion rights are a much more significant factor (as are the environment, health care, and every item on the domestic wish list of the left) than Israel in determining the votes of a sizeable segment of Jewish voters.

So you can imagine the reaction when a new Jewish organization dedicated to providing resources, counseling, and ample information to pregnant Jewish women and teens — one not even pro-life in its core message — arrived on the scene. Yes, liberal Jews went bonkers.

The group is In Shifra’s Arms, headed by a young Jewish woman, Erica Pelman. Pelman was inspired to start the organization after a life-altering experience — she found herself unable and uncertain about how to provide advice to a friend who was pregnant and who felt she had no choice but to have an abortion. The group does not advocate politically or tout a pro-life line. Rather, its focus is on providing resources to pregnant girls and women should they choose to have their baby and making clear that no woman should feel that abortion is her only option. Its website explains:

We know that many women do not feel free to choose parenting or adoption when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and therefore feel they must abort. In one study, 64% of American women who aborted reported being pressured by others to abort and 84% reported that they did not receive adequate counseling prior to aborting (1). Additionally, research has found that college campuses in particular are very unlikely to provide support for pregnant students and this lack of support becomes a pressure to abort; about a third of abortions take place amongst college-aged women (2). …

We respect each woman’s ability to determine her future.  We would not judge any woman for becoming pregnant unintentionally or for considering abortion.  We believe in the inner strength, independence, and capabilities of the women who call us.

Now could that be controversial?  How could giving a girl maternity clothes, an internship in D.C. (so her gap in schooling is not a hindrance in her future career), and explaining that there is a huge demand among Jewish women to adopt (all of which Shifra’s Arms does) objectionable?  After all, there are many Christian and non-denominational counseling organizations, but none other than Shifra’s Arms that is aimed at the Jewish community. Well, to those who shudder at the notion that abortion may have adverse psychological consequences or that an abortion is not any bigger deal than have your nails done, Shifra’s Arms is an anathema.

In a piece by the Jewish Weekly, critics pounced. Alyssa Zucker, professor of psychology and women’s studies at George Washington University, asserted “while these organizations say they are about choice, they are really not. Their goal is to convince women not to have abortions.” Nancy Ratzan, the president of the National Council of Jewish Women, declared that Sifra’s Arms’s website “looks like it fits the model that targets young women in a deceptive way. … [We are] greatly concerned about pregnancy crisis centers and their focus to limit women’s choice and undermine the rights of women.”

What seems to get under these groups’ skins is the mere suggestion that abortion may be a traumatic event with long-term consequences to women. (In the Jewish Weekly, Zucker proclaimed: “From looking at the In Shifra’s Arms Web site, it is talking about emotional risks, but it is citing studies that show extreme results. … The majority of studies show women are fine.”) The Shifra’s Arms’s website provides links to research studies and websites regarding the impact of abortion. In measured language, it explains:

Every abortion procedure involves some potential risk of harm and side effects. You have the legal right to know what type of procedure will be performed upon you and what specific risks of harm or side effects are associated with the performance of this procedure on you. Many women, particularly women who have felt rushed or coerced into abortion, or who felt they did not have access to other options, report significant emotional side effects. Other women feel relieved in the short term, but later feel significant loss or regret.

But that is too much for many rabidly pro-abortion groups. Attacks sprang up at a variety of websites. At the Reproductive Health website, the editor in chief, Jodi Jacobson, attacked Shifra’s Arms and all pregnancy-counseling organizations as frauds and menaces that seek to “channel” women’s choices (unlike the pristinly neutral Planned Parenthood?). Over at the Sisterhood blog at the Forward, they were outraged that women might not get an undiluted pro-abortion message, but they were heartened as well: “At least we can get comfort in the backlash from other Jewish groups and bloggers, and the fact that out of thousands of these centers, only one is aimed at Jewish women.” Good to know that the hysteria from fellow Jews was solace.

The critics also complain that Shifra’s Arms doesn’t provide contraception or medical advice. Pelman explains to me that the employees are not medical professionals and don’t dispense medical advice. Instead, they provide mentors to young women, explain adoption rules, assist in dealing with school administrators, and, for clients who want to either keep the baby or pursue adoption, support them in counteracting the overwhelming pressure they may face to abort and “get on” with their lives. Perlman says simply, “There are two ways to terminate a pregnancy — abortion and giving birth.”

The critics of Shifra’s Arms reveal far more about themselves than the object of their ire. It seems there is nothing quite so dangerous in their eyes as providing Jewish women with information and an alternative that clashes with the abortion-on-demand inscription on those liberal tablets. And abortion-rights activists certainly don’t appreciate the reminder that there are Jewish couples waiting in some cases more than a decade to adopt a Jewish baby.

Abortion-rights advocates insist they aren’t “pro-abortion,” but their vehement reaction to a group offering real choice (and an opportunity for Jewish women to contemplate a critical life decision) is the most telling evidence that this is precisely what they are.

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How About a Proximity Speech?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — currently in the 64th month of his 48-month term; unable since 2007 to set foot in half his putative state; rejecting in 2008 an offer of a state from the most pliant prime minister in Israeli history; unwilling throughout 2009 to consider negotiations without a pre-negotiation concession he knew no Israeli government could accept; currently considering a proposal for “proximity talks” (better described as nearby non-talks) to obviate the need to talk to Israelis — will be coming to the White House. He will probably get a better reception than Gordon Brown, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Dalai Lama.

Yesterday Abbas gave a speech that undoubtedly previews the message he will bring:

“Mr. President (Barack Obama) and members of the American administration, since you believe in this (an independent Palestinian state), it is your duty to take steps toward a solution and to impose this solution,” Abbas said in a speech. …

“We’ve asked them (the Obama administration) more than once: ‘Impose a solution’,” Abbas said.

Jerusalem Post editor in chief David Horovitz has a more modest suggestion, writing that Abbas should give a speech comparable to the “two-state” address Netanyahu made last year — one that would indicate a Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state:

Let Abbas speak in Arabic, to his own people — with his leadership colleagues on hand to publicly support and applaud him — and let him tell them that the Jews, too, have historic rights to Palestine. … Let him recall that the international community, in partitioning British mandatory Palestine, provided for a Jewish and an Arab entity side by side – that, in other words,  the provision for revived Jewish sovereignty was integral to the right the Palestinians seek to realize for their own historically unprecedented independence. And let him declare, therefore, that he recognizes that the demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians to what is now Israel is a dream that must be abandoned, for the Jewish nation has the right to that small sliver of sovereign land of its own.

Memo to the Obama administration: before trying to impose a peace plan, try imposing that. Call it a confidence-building gesture.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — currently in the 64th month of his 48-month term; unable since 2007 to set foot in half his putative state; rejecting in 2008 an offer of a state from the most pliant prime minister in Israeli history; unwilling throughout 2009 to consider negotiations without a pre-negotiation concession he knew no Israeli government could accept; currently considering a proposal for “proximity talks” (better described as nearby non-talks) to obviate the need to talk to Israelis — will be coming to the White House. He will probably get a better reception than Gordon Brown, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Dalai Lama.

Yesterday Abbas gave a speech that undoubtedly previews the message he will bring:

“Mr. President (Barack Obama) and members of the American administration, since you believe in this (an independent Palestinian state), it is your duty to take steps toward a solution and to impose this solution,” Abbas said in a speech. …

“We’ve asked them (the Obama administration) more than once: ‘Impose a solution’,” Abbas said.

Jerusalem Post editor in chief David Horovitz has a more modest suggestion, writing that Abbas should give a speech comparable to the “two-state” address Netanyahu made last year — one that would indicate a Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state:

Let Abbas speak in Arabic, to his own people — with his leadership colleagues on hand to publicly support and applaud him — and let him tell them that the Jews, too, have historic rights to Palestine. … Let him recall that the international community, in partitioning British mandatory Palestine, provided for a Jewish and an Arab entity side by side – that, in other words,  the provision for revived Jewish sovereignty was integral to the right the Palestinians seek to realize for their own historically unprecedented independence. And let him declare, therefore, that he recognizes that the demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians to what is now Israel is a dream that must be abandoned, for the Jewish nation has the right to that small sliver of sovereign land of its own.

Memo to the Obama administration: before trying to impose a peace plan, try imposing that. Call it a confidence-building gesture.

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Another Plagiarist at the New York Times

What could be worse for the Gray Lady than yet another plagiarist? They have had their cheating problems, of course. Jayson Blair fabricated stories. Maureen Dowd fabricated excuses. And now they have another. To make matters worse, their archrival, the irritatingly successful Wall Street Journal (owned by the dark prince of conservative media, Rupert Murdoch), ratted out the New York Times phony:

On Friday, Feb. 12, Robert Thomson, the editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal wrote Times executive editor Bill Keller to inform him of “apparent plagiarism in The New York Times.”

In the letter, Mr. Thomson cites six examples of material where he believes Times reporter Zachery Kouwe plagiarized Journal reporter Amir Efrati from a story that was published on Feb. 5.

The Times fessed up, but avoided the “P” word:

In a number of business articles in The Times over the past year, and in posts on the DealBook blog on NYTimes.com, a Times reporter appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations.

The reporter, Zachery Kouwe, reused language from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other sources without attribution or acknowledgment.

The Times concedes that this is a serious matter and says cryptically that it “remains under investigation.” But why should anything happen to the literary kleptomaniac, Kouwe? Nothing happened to Dowd. She came up with a silly excuse that not even Clark Hoyt would buy. She’s still there, churning out (up?) bile twice a week. And then there is the ongoing question as to how such august publications as the Times, the Washington Post, and the New Republic attract the likes of Blair, Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, and their ilk. It seems as though between the fakes and the “avoiding the news that’s bad for the Left” problem, these outfits have a bit of a quality-control issue.

In any case, Mr. Kouwe, I think, has a handy argument in his favor should he be fired: why is Dowd still there if plagiarism is such a big deal at the Times?

What could be worse for the Gray Lady than yet another plagiarist? They have had their cheating problems, of course. Jayson Blair fabricated stories. Maureen Dowd fabricated excuses. And now they have another. To make matters worse, their archrival, the irritatingly successful Wall Street Journal (owned by the dark prince of conservative media, Rupert Murdoch), ratted out the New York Times phony:

On Friday, Feb. 12, Robert Thomson, the editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal wrote Times executive editor Bill Keller to inform him of “apparent plagiarism in The New York Times.”

In the letter, Mr. Thomson cites six examples of material where he believes Times reporter Zachery Kouwe plagiarized Journal reporter Amir Efrati from a story that was published on Feb. 5.

The Times fessed up, but avoided the “P” word:

In a number of business articles in The Times over the past year, and in posts on the DealBook blog on NYTimes.com, a Times reporter appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations.

The reporter, Zachery Kouwe, reused language from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other sources without attribution or acknowledgment.

The Times concedes that this is a serious matter and says cryptically that it “remains under investigation.” But why should anything happen to the literary kleptomaniac, Kouwe? Nothing happened to Dowd. She came up with a silly excuse that not even Clark Hoyt would buy. She’s still there, churning out (up?) bile twice a week. And then there is the ongoing question as to how such august publications as the Times, the Washington Post, and the New Republic attract the likes of Blair, Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, and their ilk. It seems as though between the fakes and the “avoiding the news that’s bad for the Left” problem, these outfits have a bit of a quality-control issue.

In any case, Mr. Kouwe, I think, has a handy argument in his favor should he be fired: why is Dowd still there if plagiarism is such a big deal at the Times?

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Goldberg Vituperations

An editorial that appeared today in the New York Sun goes a long way toward straightening out the record on what it calls “a kerfuffle [that] has been sputtering on the World Wide Web over a question [Norman] Podhoretz asked in respect of the Kurds.”

Mr. Podhoretz asked the question five years ago at a banquet in New York honoring Robert L. Bartley of the Wall Street Journal, Bernard Lewis of Princeton, and Jeffrey Goldberg, then of the New Yorker. Mr. Goldberg, a marvelous reporter, was being saluted for a dispatch from Kurdistan that had helped light the way for American entry into the Battle of Iraq. Mr. Goldberg had just come in from Northern Iraq and spoke about Kurdistan. In a tour d’horizon of the Middle East in the January/February number of the Atlantic, Mr. Goldberg relates that after the event, Mr. Podhoretz asked him, “What’s a Kurd, anyway?” Mr. Podhoretz, in Mr. Goldberg’s account, “seemed authentically bewildered.”

Goldberg is surely capable of giving an accurate description of an event in which he himself was a participant. Yet what he does here is to make it sound as though I had never even heard of the Kurds. And this indeed is precisely how the story has been widely interpreted.

That his portrayal is false is confirmed by the author of the Sun editorial, who was also present at the banquet:

As it happens, we were either in the same or a similar conversation with Mr. Podhoretz at the same banquet, and we took him not as being ignorant of the Kurdish question; after all, Commentary during his years as editor in chief contained plenty of references to Kurdistan. We took him to be curious as to how Mr. Goldberg would answer a question of ethnography that has never been resolved.

The Sun editorial is right: I was, in fact, asking Goldberg about the ethnic and/or racial character of the Kurds. And that, as it happens, was and is a very good question — since, as I have since discovered, no one seems to know the answer. According to Wikipedia, “There are many different and diverging views on the origin of the Kurds,” and according to no less an authority than the Encyclopaedia Britannica, their ethnic origins remain uncertain. The only points on which there seems to be general agreement are (1) that they are not Arabs; (2) that they are mainly Sunni Muslims; and (3) that they speak “an Indo-European language of the Iranian branch.”

To tell the truth, after five years I don’t remember what Goldberg said in answer to my question, and neither, I would bet, does he. Why then does he go out of his way to bring it up after such a long time?

The answer is that, in his Atlantic article, Goldberg was trying to show that “neoconservative ideologues” are not “interested in the Kurdish cause, or even particularly knowledgeable about its history,” and having no solid evidence to back up this smear, he settled for a malicious representation of an old conversation with me (“the vicariously martial neoconservative who is now a Middle East adviser to Rudolph Giuliani”).

Thus did an animus against neoconservatism lead Goldberg to violate the most elementary standards of journalistic fairness. And there is an additional factor, which is that Goldberg, whose views are often dangerously close to those held by us “neoconservative ideologues,” is (like others I could name) so fearful of being stigmatized by that dread label that he can never resist an opportunity to demonstrate through smears and sneers that he is nothing of the kind. But that is another story, for another day.

An editorial that appeared today in the New York Sun goes a long way toward straightening out the record on what it calls “a kerfuffle [that] has been sputtering on the World Wide Web over a question [Norman] Podhoretz asked in respect of the Kurds.”

Mr. Podhoretz asked the question five years ago at a banquet in New York honoring Robert L. Bartley of the Wall Street Journal, Bernard Lewis of Princeton, and Jeffrey Goldberg, then of the New Yorker. Mr. Goldberg, a marvelous reporter, was being saluted for a dispatch from Kurdistan that had helped light the way for American entry into the Battle of Iraq. Mr. Goldberg had just come in from Northern Iraq and spoke about Kurdistan. In a tour d’horizon of the Middle East in the January/February number of the Atlantic, Mr. Goldberg relates that after the event, Mr. Podhoretz asked him, “What’s a Kurd, anyway?” Mr. Podhoretz, in Mr. Goldberg’s account, “seemed authentically bewildered.”

Goldberg is surely capable of giving an accurate description of an event in which he himself was a participant. Yet what he does here is to make it sound as though I had never even heard of the Kurds. And this indeed is precisely how the story has been widely interpreted.

That his portrayal is false is confirmed by the author of the Sun editorial, who was also present at the banquet:

As it happens, we were either in the same or a similar conversation with Mr. Podhoretz at the same banquet, and we took him not as being ignorant of the Kurdish question; after all, Commentary during his years as editor in chief contained plenty of references to Kurdistan. We took him to be curious as to how Mr. Goldberg would answer a question of ethnography that has never been resolved.

The Sun editorial is right: I was, in fact, asking Goldberg about the ethnic and/or racial character of the Kurds. And that, as it happens, was and is a very good question — since, as I have since discovered, no one seems to know the answer. According to Wikipedia, “There are many different and diverging views on the origin of the Kurds,” and according to no less an authority than the Encyclopaedia Britannica, their ethnic origins remain uncertain. The only points on which there seems to be general agreement are (1) that they are not Arabs; (2) that they are mainly Sunni Muslims; and (3) that they speak “an Indo-European language of the Iranian branch.”

To tell the truth, after five years I don’t remember what Goldberg said in answer to my question, and neither, I would bet, does he. Why then does he go out of his way to bring it up after such a long time?

The answer is that, in his Atlantic article, Goldberg was trying to show that “neoconservative ideologues” are not “interested in the Kurdish cause, or even particularly knowledgeable about its history,” and having no solid evidence to back up this smear, he settled for a malicious representation of an old conversation with me (“the vicariously martial neoconservative who is now a Middle East adviser to Rudolph Giuliani”).

Thus did an animus against neoconservatism lead Goldberg to violate the most elementary standards of journalistic fairness. And there is an additional factor, which is that Goldberg, whose views are often dangerously close to those held by us “neoconservative ideologues,” is (like others I could name) so fearful of being stigmatized by that dread label that he can never resist an opportunity to demonstrate through smears and sneers that he is nothing of the kind. But that is another story, for another day.

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The Norman Podhoretz Lecture: John Bolton

Last week, on May 16, COMMENTARY held its annual dinner at the Union League Club. Giving this year’s Norman Podhoretz Lecture—the dinner’s main event—was our former ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Bolton was given stellar introductions by COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief Neal Kozodoy and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Here are a few highlights of Bolton’s speech, on regime change, preventative action, Iran, North Korea, and the general outlook for U.S. foreign policy going into the 2008 elections.

Last week, on May 16, COMMENTARY held its annual dinner at the Union League Club. Giving this year’s Norman Podhoretz Lecture—the dinner’s main event—was our former ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Bolton was given stellar introductions by COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief Neal Kozodoy and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Here are a few highlights of Bolton’s speech, on regime change, preventative action, Iran, North Korea, and the general outlook for U.S. foreign policy going into the 2008 elections.

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Weekend Reading

From 1970 to 1973, Norman Podhoretz, then COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief (and now its editor-at-large), wrote a monthly column to introduce and expand on the themes and points raised in the issue’s most important articles. The column, titled “Issues,” lasted only three years, but it ranged over a huge variety of subjects and illuminated some of the most pressing cultural, political, and intellectual questions of the day. This weekend, we offer several of the best of “Issues.”

Laws, Kings, and Cures
October 1970

Liberty and the Intellectuals
November 1971

The Idea of a Common Culture
June 1972

Between Nixon and the New Politics
September 1972

Vietnam and Collective Guilt
March 1973

From 1970 to 1973, Norman Podhoretz, then COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief (and now its editor-at-large), wrote a monthly column to introduce and expand on the themes and points raised in the issue’s most important articles. The column, titled “Issues,” lasted only three years, but it ranged over a huge variety of subjects and illuminated some of the most pressing cultural, political, and intellectual questions of the day. This weekend, we offer several of the best of “Issues.”

Laws, Kings, and Cures
October 1970

Liberty and the Intellectuals
November 1971

The Idea of a Common Culture
June 1972

Between Nixon and the New Politics
September 1972

Vietnam and Collective Guilt
March 1973

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Bookshelf

• “For God’s sake, don’t fill the paper with Bach in B minor,” one of George Bernard Shaw’s editors warned him back in the days when he was writing music criticism. I sympathize, but sometimes you can’t get around it, which may explain why I’ve never read a good book about Bach that was fully accessible to non-musicians. The problem is that we know a fair amount about the details of Bach’s life but very little about his personality, since he left behind no diary and next to no correspondence. Like Shakespeare, we can only “know” him through his art, which is hard to talk about intelligibly (much less intelligently) without at least some resort to the kind of technical language against which Shaw’s editor warned him.

Martin Geck’s Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work (Harcourt, 738 pp., $40) is unapologetically written for musicians, but laymen will be able to make sense of most of it, and I commend it to anyone in search of a deeper understanding of Bach and his world. Geck does an admirable job of summarizing what is known about Bach’s life without overstating the extent to which it sheds light on his music: “Whichever way we turn in hopes of discovering more intimate, ‘personal’ information about Bach, we encounter obstacles, because few opportunities existed for expressing the private life of a kapellmeister and cantor in the first half of the eighteenth century . . . Bach no more composed for us than he lived for us. His music comes from far away; it speaks a language that we understand yet in which we hear echoes of another language, outside our expressive range.” That’s well said, as is the rest of this fine book. Don’t let the musical examples throw you—Johann Sebastian Bach is full of good things from start to finish.

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• “For God’s sake, don’t fill the paper with Bach in B minor,” one of George Bernard Shaw’s editors warned him back in the days when he was writing music criticism. I sympathize, but sometimes you can’t get around it, which may explain why I’ve never read a good book about Bach that was fully accessible to non-musicians. The problem is that we know a fair amount about the details of Bach’s life but very little about his personality, since he left behind no diary and next to no correspondence. Like Shakespeare, we can only “know” him through his art, which is hard to talk about intelligibly (much less intelligently) without at least some resort to the kind of technical language against which Shaw’s editor warned him.

Martin Geck’s Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work (Harcourt, 738 pp., $40) is unapologetically written for musicians, but laymen will be able to make sense of most of it, and I commend it to anyone in search of a deeper understanding of Bach and his world. Geck does an admirable job of summarizing what is known about Bach’s life without overstating the extent to which it sheds light on his music: “Whichever way we turn in hopes of discovering more intimate, ‘personal’ information about Bach, we encounter obstacles, because few opportunities existed for expressing the private life of a kapellmeister and cantor in the first half of the eighteenth century . . . Bach no more composed for us than he lived for us. His music comes from far away; it speaks a language that we understand yet in which we hear echoes of another language, outside our expressive range.” That’s well said, as is the rest of this fine book. Don’t let the musical examples throw you—Johann Sebastian Bach is full of good things from start to finish.

The Yale Book of Quotations (Yale University Press, 1067 pp., $50) is the first all-new reference book of its kind to come along in years, and the first ever to make systematic use of what Fred Shapiro, the editor-in-chief, describes as “state-of-the-art research methods,” meaning the searchable online databases that are revolutionizing scholarly research. It has a strongly American bias (Ambrose Bierce has 144 entries, Karl Kraus two) and an equally strong pop-culture slant (Woody Allen has 43 entries, Emily Dickinson 29). It also has an introduction by Joseph Epstein, who approves of the fresh tack taken by Shapiro and his collaborators: “Although I am normally conservative in matters of culture, I think Mr. Shapiro is correct to make these changes in emphasis . . . Even though, as Henry James well said, ‘It takes a great deal of history to produce even a little literature,’ cultural leadership usually follows political power, and for the past fifty or so years it has become apparent that the United States has been playing with far and away the largest stacks of chips before it.”

Far be it from me to disagree with Epstein, so I won’t—much. Having read The Yale Book of Quotations from cover to cover, I found a number of suspicious-looking attributions, one or two outright errors, and many glaring instances of the variegated forms of bias one expects to find in any book produced by a team of academic scholars (somehow I doubt that George W. Bush’s slips of the tongue really deserve as much space as Shapiro gives them). As for the countless snippets lifted by the editors from pop-song lyrics of the past couple of decades, I doubt that many of them will be long remembered (indeed, a goodly number of them are already forgotten). I should also note that Raymond Chandler, Noël Coward, Johnny Mercer, and P.G. Wodehouse are all severely underrepresented, though G.K. Chesterton, Mark Twain, and Satchel Paige receive their due. All these quibbles notwithstanding, The Yale Book of Quotations is useful, diverting, and full of surprises, and while I don’t plan to throw away my well-thumbed copy of H.L. Mencken’s invaluable New Dictionary of Quotations, I’m making space next to it for this satisfying piece of work.

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