Commentary Magazine


Topic: Elie Wiesel

Illegal Immigrants Are Illegal

Is it racist or wrong to use the term “illegal immigrant?” That’s a position that is getting more of a hearing these days as liberals seek to change not just the laws, but also the way we talk about the issue. To date, the New York Times has resisted the pressure to abolish the term, but the debate is heating up, and no one should be surprised if eventually the mainstream media replaces it with something more neutral like “undocumented immigrant” that makes the act of crossing the border without permission sound more like a bureaucratic oversight than an actual crime.

The latest blow struck on behalf of this effort came from NPR’s Maria Hinojosa who claimed that Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel likened the term to the way Nazis treated Jews. Wiesel is a person who stands above politics, and his moral authority to discuss just about any issue is not likely to be challenged. But whatever one might think about immigration or the plight of those who come here illegally, the attempt to eliminate the term, much less compare illegal immigrants to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, is absurd. Illegal immigrants are called illegal not because Americans view them with malice but because they are in this country illegally.

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Is it racist or wrong to use the term “illegal immigrant?” That’s a position that is getting more of a hearing these days as liberals seek to change not just the laws, but also the way we talk about the issue. To date, the New York Times has resisted the pressure to abolish the term, but the debate is heating up, and no one should be surprised if eventually the mainstream media replaces it with something more neutral like “undocumented immigrant” that makes the act of crossing the border without permission sound more like a bureaucratic oversight than an actual crime.

The latest blow struck on behalf of this effort came from NPR’s Maria Hinojosa who claimed that Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel likened the term to the way Nazis treated Jews. Wiesel is a person who stands above politics, and his moral authority to discuss just about any issue is not likely to be challenged. But whatever one might think about immigration or the plight of those who come here illegally, the attempt to eliminate the term, much less compare illegal immigrants to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, is absurd. Illegal immigrants are called illegal not because Americans view them with malice but because they are in this country illegally.

Hinojosa spoke of a conversation she said she had with Wiesel on Chris Hayes’s  MSNBC show on Sunday:

If there is an authority, you [Wiesel] should be it. And he said, ‘Maria, don’t ever use the term ‘illegal immigrant.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘Because once you label a people ‘illegal,’ that is exactly what the Nazis did to Jews.’ You do not label a people ‘illegal.’ They have committed an illegal act. They are immigrants who crossed illegally. They are immigrants who crossed without papers. They are immigrants who crossed without permission. They are living in this country without permission. But they are not an illegal people.”

While anyone who grew up admiring Wiesel as a moral voice must approach any criticism of him with reluctance, if Hinojosa’s recollection is correct, he has, unfortunately, done something that he has often criticized: made an inappropriate use of a Holocaust analogy.

The implicit comparison here between Nazi race laws and the simple fact that the United States, like any sovereign nation, has the right to control entry into its borders is an abominable misuse of the legacy of the Holocaust. The analogy is also false because the dehumanization of the Jews was a pretext for their murder. No one, not even the most radical Know-Nothing anti-immigrant rabble-rousers, want to harm the illegals or deprive them of their humanity or destroy them as a people. They just want them to be deported for violating the law. It should also be pointed out that the Jews were not only not “illegal” in Europe, they were a people whose citizenship was illegally revoked by a criminal regime.

This argument is also disingenuous. This is not about language or humanity, but the desire of some people to treat immigration law as a mere technicality the violation of which ought to be treated as no worse than a traffic ticket. We understand that people like Jose Antonio Vargas, the well known journalist who is himself an illegal (and who appeared on the same MSNBC show with Hinojosa) have a vested interest in our doing so. But when he argues as he did on MSNBC that “conversations about immigration begin and end with the word illegal,” most Americans would be justified in replying that this is exactly as it should be.

Even those who believe that onerous restrictions on legal immigration ought to be loosened must acknowledge that violations of the law cannot be treated as trivial. While it is reasonable to argue that the laws should be changed, no one has a “right” to enter the United States illegally or to remain here.

The Democratic Party gave a full-throated defense of their right to be here at their recent convention, though President Obama has been shy about raising the issue at forums where he might have an audience that is not solely composed of adoring liberals. But whatever the country may ultimately decide to do about the situation, the attempt to treat a straightforward and descriptive term as a sign of racism that is reminiscent of the Nazis is unacceptable. If, as has often been said, the first person to invoke the Nazis in a political debate loses, it would appear Hinojosa, and by extension, Wiesel, has done just that.

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The Most Disgraceful Piece of Anti-Semitism Published in Years

I thought quite a while before deciding to write this item, because it deals with an online publication that is kind of a distant cousin to COMMENTARY. But after spending years calling out anti-Semitism committed primarily by paleoconservative publications and anti-Zionism on the part of liberal Jewish publications of a kind all but indistinguishable from anti-Semitism, I decided it would be improper for me to be silent on something published by Tablet. It is, without question, the most disgusting piece of anti-Semitism I think I’ve ever read outside of the arrant lunacy of schizophrenic letter writers, and the fact that it was written by a Jew trumpeting her connection to the Holocaust only makes it all the more repugnant.

You can find it here. I’m not going to quote from it, because to do so would be to provide a forum for words and sentences so noxious they hardly justify description. Suffice it to say that in an article taking off from the cable-TV series “Breaking Bad,” the contemptible author of this article denounces her Holocaust-survivor grandparents for fulfilling the Nazi perception of Jews, libels Elie Wiesel, and likens the survival of Jews in the camps to the behavior of a fictional gangster meth dealer.

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I thought quite a while before deciding to write this item, because it deals with an online publication that is kind of a distant cousin to COMMENTARY. But after spending years calling out anti-Semitism committed primarily by paleoconservative publications and anti-Zionism on the part of liberal Jewish publications of a kind all but indistinguishable from anti-Semitism, I decided it would be improper for me to be silent on something published by Tablet. It is, without question, the most disgusting piece of anti-Semitism I think I’ve ever read outside of the arrant lunacy of schizophrenic letter writers, and the fact that it was written by a Jew trumpeting her connection to the Holocaust only makes it all the more repugnant.

You can find it here. I’m not going to quote from it, because to do so would be to provide a forum for words and sentences so noxious they hardly justify description. Suffice it to say that in an article taking off from the cable-TV series “Breaking Bad,” the contemptible author of this article denounces her Holocaust-survivor grandparents for fulfilling the Nazi perception of Jews, libels Elie Wiesel, and likens the survival of Jews in the camps to the behavior of a fictional gangster meth dealer.

How anyone at Tablet responsible for the acceptance and publication of this piece of evil filth—no other term will do—can look at herself or himself in the mirror today is a mystery that surpasseth understanding.

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Where is Atrocity Prevention on Syria?

Lee Smith has already noted at the Weekly Standard’s site the irony of the Obama administration creating the Atrocities Prevention Board at the very moment the administration is choosing to do nothing substantive to stop the atrocities being perpetrated in Syria.

There is another layer of irony, as noted by Michael Dobbs at Foreign Policy, namely that the driving force behind the Atrocities Prevention Board, NSC staffer Samantha Power, the author of an important history of American responses to genocide, had noted the propensity of U.S. officials to oppose “genocide in the abstract while simultaneously opposing American involvement in the moment.” It is hard to better that as a description of the U.S. response, or lack thereof, to the massacres occurring in Syria.

The U.S. has responded with empty calls for Bashar al-Assad’s resignation and tough sanctions which have done much damage to the Syrian economy but have not stopped the killing or shaken the regime, which continues to be supported by Iran, Russia, and other unsavory actors. The latest attempt to save the Syrian people has come courtesy of the UN, which is introducing monitors to Syria. Not surprisingly, the Syrian regime has not been cowed by the presence of these unarmed observers; Syrian security forces have cracked down hard in cities such as Homs where the people have dared to protest the regime during the fleeting visits of the UN observers.

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Lee Smith has already noted at the Weekly Standard’s site the irony of the Obama administration creating the Atrocities Prevention Board at the very moment the administration is choosing to do nothing substantive to stop the atrocities being perpetrated in Syria.

There is another layer of irony, as noted by Michael Dobbs at Foreign Policy, namely that the driving force behind the Atrocities Prevention Board, NSC staffer Samantha Power, the author of an important history of American responses to genocide, had noted the propensity of U.S. officials to oppose “genocide in the abstract while simultaneously opposing American involvement in the moment.” It is hard to better that as a description of the U.S. response, or lack thereof, to the massacres occurring in Syria.

The U.S. has responded with empty calls for Bashar al-Assad’s resignation and tough sanctions which have done much damage to the Syrian economy but have not stopped the killing or shaken the regime, which continues to be supported by Iran, Russia, and other unsavory actors. The latest attempt to save the Syrian people has come courtesy of the UN, which is introducing monitors to Syria. Not surprisingly, the Syrian regime has not been cowed by the presence of these unarmed observers; Syrian security forces have cracked down hard in cities such as Homs where the people have dared to protest the regime during the fleeting visits of the UN observers.

This is not a serious policy; it is in fact the absence of a policy. As Elie Wiesel said at the Holocaust Museum, in introducing President Obama to give a speech on how he would prevent atrocities, “How is it that Assad is still in power?…Have we not learned? We must know that evil has power. It is almost too late.” (Wiesel also demanded to know how it is that Ahamedinejad remains in power in Iran and how it is that Iran is on the cusp of acquiring nuclear weapons.)

That situation does not appear likely to change anytime soon. Barring greater action led by the U.S., Assad will remain in power. And I fear that the U.S. may not do anything serious until after the November presidential election. Unfortunately, the way things are going, the killing will still be in full swing then.

 

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Should Romney Tell Mormon Church to Stop Proxy-Baptizing Jews?

Keep a close eye on this issue, because if Mitt Romney wins the nomination it’s going to be a big component of Democratic attacks. Elie Wiesel has been a longtime critic of the Mormon Church’s proxy-baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims, a practice the church has now officially prohibited. But apparently there was a breakdown in the safeguards used to prevent Holocaust victims from being entered into the Mormon Church database, and the deceased parents of Simon Wiesenthal, the notorious Nazi-hunter, were recently proxy-baptized:

Nobel-laureate Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and a top official from the Simon Wiesenthal Center said Tuesday that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney should use his stature in the Mormon Church to block its members from posthumously baptizing Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Their comments followed reports that Mormons had baptized the deceased parents of Wiesenthal, the late Holocaust survivor and Nazi-hunter. Wiesel appeared in a church database used to identify potential subjects of baptisms. …

Romney “is now the most famous and important Mormon in the country,” Wiesel said. “I’m not saying it’s his fault, but once he knows, morally he must respond. . . . He should come out and say, ‘Stop it.’”

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Keep a close eye on this issue, because if Mitt Romney wins the nomination it’s going to be a big component of Democratic attacks. Elie Wiesel has been a longtime critic of the Mormon Church’s proxy-baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims, a practice the church has now officially prohibited. But apparently there was a breakdown in the safeguards used to prevent Holocaust victims from being entered into the Mormon Church database, and the deceased parents of Simon Wiesenthal, the notorious Nazi-hunter, were recently proxy-baptized:

Nobel-laureate Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and a top official from the Simon Wiesenthal Center said Tuesday that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney should use his stature in the Mormon Church to block its members from posthumously baptizing Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Their comments followed reports that Mormons had baptized the deceased parents of Wiesenthal, the late Holocaust survivor and Nazi-hunter. Wiesel appeared in a church database used to identify potential subjects of baptisms. …

Romney “is now the most famous and important Mormon in the country,” Wiesel said. “I’m not saying it’s his fault, but once he knows, morally he must respond. . . . He should come out and say, ‘Stop it.’”

As a Jew, getting “proxy-baptized” by the Mormon Church seems akin to somebody casting a magic spell on you or sticking needles in a voodoo doll. But for historical reasons, the practice is seen as disrespectful to Holocaust victims from a symbolic perspective, and the church has rightly promised to avoid it.

It’s an issue Democrats will undoubtedly raise if Romney’s the nominee, as it’s a way to bring up the unorthodox practices of the Mormon Church under the auspices of religious tolerance and respect for Holocaust victims.

So why hasn’t Romney come out and condemned the baptism of the Wiesenthal parents yet? He has every reason to do so. The church has already officially prohibited them, and Romney’s family has a history of standing up to controversial practices in the Mormon Church.

Then again, he may be nervous about drawing attention to his Mormon faith during the primary out of concern GOP voters will hold it against him. There’s also this:

The practice of baptizing Holocaust victims has long been offensive to Jews. After years of negotiations, Mormon officials have prohibited posthumous baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims.

There is no indication that Romney has ever been involved in the proxy baptism of a Holocaust victim. Asked if he had ever participated in posthumous baptisms, Romney told Newsweek in 2007 that “I have in my life, but I haven’t recently.”

Again: There’s “no indication” that Romney’s been involved in proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims. But that doesn’t mean it’s never happened. If Romney comes out and condemns them, and it’s later revealed he was involved – that would be a big, big problem.

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A Man Like Bush

At the New Yorker, George Packer has a harsh assessment of George Bush’s Decision Points, a book he predicts “will not endure.”  Packer’s 3,300-word piece has only two sentences of praise, stuck in a parenthetical: “(The chapter on AIDS in Africa shows Bush at his best. His desire to display American caring led directly to a generous policy.)”

In the paragraph to which that parenthetical is appended, Packer relates that “one of the voices in the President’s ear [in the run-up to the Iraq war] was Elie Wiesel’s, speaking of ‘a moral obligation to act against evil.’” Packer writes that:

The words were bound to move a man like Bush. “Many of those who demonstrated against military action in Iraq were devoted advocates of human rights,” he says. “I understood why people might disagree on the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the United States. But I didn’t see how anyone could deny that liberating Iraq advanced the cause of human rights.” Some of Bush’s critics found this argument specious and hypocritical; they failed to grasp the President’s profound need to be on the side of the redeeming angels.

Packer treats Bush’s motivation as an idiosyncratic psychological trait (apparently admirable if limited to a “desire to display caring” in Africa). But Bush’s reaction to Iraq tracked that of a knowledgeable observer writing in 2004:

I can’t wish the fall of Saddam’s regime undone. Before going to Iraq I knew abstractly that it was one of the worst in modern history and there’s been plenty of stiff competition. After five weeks there, my appreciation of its terribleness is more concrete and emotional. I know that’s hardly the best or only basis for foreign policy decisions, but in this case it’s decisive for me: The slaughter and misery of Iraqis (and their neighbors) justified the war. …

That was George Packer in a January 2004 Slate symposium of liberal hawks about a war they had supported but began abandoning in less than a year.

In his July 14, 2004, response to the British commission investigating the war, Tony Blair reached a similar conclusion about what Packer had called in 2004 “the moral imperative”:

And though in neither case [in Iraq and Afghanistan] was the nature of the regime the reason for conflict, it was decisive for me in the judgment as to the balance of risk for action or inaction. Both countries now face an uncertain struggle for the future. But both at least now have a future. The one country in which you will find an overwhelming majority in favor of the removal of Saddam is Iraq. I am proud of this country and the part it played and especially our magnificent armed forces, in removing two vile dictatorships and giving people oppressed, almost enslaved, the prospect of democracy and liberty.

Tony Blair was a man like Bush. So were the liberal hawks, for a while, but in contrast with that of Bush, their commitments did not endure.

At the New Yorker, George Packer has a harsh assessment of George Bush’s Decision Points, a book he predicts “will not endure.”  Packer’s 3,300-word piece has only two sentences of praise, stuck in a parenthetical: “(The chapter on AIDS in Africa shows Bush at his best. His desire to display American caring led directly to a generous policy.)”

In the paragraph to which that parenthetical is appended, Packer relates that “one of the voices in the President’s ear [in the run-up to the Iraq war] was Elie Wiesel’s, speaking of ‘a moral obligation to act against evil.’” Packer writes that:

The words were bound to move a man like Bush. “Many of those who demonstrated against military action in Iraq were devoted advocates of human rights,” he says. “I understood why people might disagree on the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the United States. But I didn’t see how anyone could deny that liberating Iraq advanced the cause of human rights.” Some of Bush’s critics found this argument specious and hypocritical; they failed to grasp the President’s profound need to be on the side of the redeeming angels.

Packer treats Bush’s motivation as an idiosyncratic psychological trait (apparently admirable if limited to a “desire to display caring” in Africa). But Bush’s reaction to Iraq tracked that of a knowledgeable observer writing in 2004:

I can’t wish the fall of Saddam’s regime undone. Before going to Iraq I knew abstractly that it was one of the worst in modern history and there’s been plenty of stiff competition. After five weeks there, my appreciation of its terribleness is more concrete and emotional. I know that’s hardly the best or only basis for foreign policy decisions, but in this case it’s decisive for me: The slaughter and misery of Iraqis (and their neighbors) justified the war. …

That was George Packer in a January 2004 Slate symposium of liberal hawks about a war they had supported but began abandoning in less than a year.

In his July 14, 2004, response to the British commission investigating the war, Tony Blair reached a similar conclusion about what Packer had called in 2004 “the moral imperative”:

And though in neither case [in Iraq and Afghanistan] was the nature of the regime the reason for conflict, it was decisive for me in the judgment as to the balance of risk for action or inaction. Both countries now face an uncertain struggle for the future. But both at least now have a future. The one country in which you will find an overwhelming majority in favor of the removal of Saddam is Iraq. I am proud of this country and the part it played and especially our magnificent armed forces, in removing two vile dictatorships and giving people oppressed, almost enslaved, the prospect of democracy and liberty.

Tony Blair was a man like Bush. So were the liberal hawks, for a while, but in contrast with that of Bush, their commitments did not endure.

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White House Retreat on Ground Zero Mosque?

David Axelrod and Elie Wiesel had a conversation at the 92nd Street Y. Axelrod, and presumably his boss, are disappointed with us — still — for our lack of moral sophistication. On the reaction to the Ground Zero mosque:

“It goes to the soul of our country — that sourness is something that is understandable in these kind of times,” said Axelrod, who arrived in Washington with Obama’s promise of a new tone in public life. “I think one of our great missions is to regenerate that sense of possibility that has always characterized the spirit of our country …

“We’ve seen in our history and the histories of other country — sometimes in tragic ways — what happens when there is a sense of economic distress and how it divides people.”

But had Axelrod come merely to grouse? Or was there an escape plan in the works for the Ground Zero debacle, which has left the president politically isolated even within his own party?

Wiesel, 82, said his solution would be to affirm to Imam Faisal Rauf that “I know your intentions are good” but that his plan would “hurt some people who have suffered.”

“Let’s turn it around — let’s do it together. Jews, Christians, and Muslims together will create this place, a center for interfaith, but sponsored together, financed together, worked out programs tighter, and show a symbol of solidarity, of religious solidarity,” Wiesel said. “It can become a very great symbol here — a great monument for humanity.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Axelrod replied, later calling it “a great idea” and one that “gives me hope.”

Umm, if it’s such a wonderful idea — and some would say one of the many obvious alternatives to a Muslim monument on the ashes of 3,000 innocents killed in the name of Islam — why didn’t the president and his crack team suggest it earlier? Why did the president refuse to engage in concerns about propriety and restraint, insisting, rather, that this was all about Muslims’ religious rights and the prejudices of the rest of us?

Now maybe Axelrod was freelancing here. But I doubt it. He is, as we’ve been told, one of the president’s inner circle of advisers, indeed one of those who egged on the president to support the Ground Zero mosque. It is, I think, a rather embarrassing retreat — some would say craven — for the administration to hide behind Elie Wiesel to resolve a political mess of its own making.

But if Axelrod is serious, shouldn’t the president follow up with a call for Rauf, asking him to rethink the essence of the project? It would, of course, be altogether fitting and indeed necessary to rename it as well. Why not the Elie Wiesel Center for Religious Tolerance? I await the enthusiastic endorsement of CAIR.

David Axelrod and Elie Wiesel had a conversation at the 92nd Street Y. Axelrod, and presumably his boss, are disappointed with us — still — for our lack of moral sophistication. On the reaction to the Ground Zero mosque:

“It goes to the soul of our country — that sourness is something that is understandable in these kind of times,” said Axelrod, who arrived in Washington with Obama’s promise of a new tone in public life. “I think one of our great missions is to regenerate that sense of possibility that has always characterized the spirit of our country …

“We’ve seen in our history and the histories of other country — sometimes in tragic ways — what happens when there is a sense of economic distress and how it divides people.”

But had Axelrod come merely to grouse? Or was there an escape plan in the works for the Ground Zero debacle, which has left the president politically isolated even within his own party?

Wiesel, 82, said his solution would be to affirm to Imam Faisal Rauf that “I know your intentions are good” but that his plan would “hurt some people who have suffered.”

“Let’s turn it around — let’s do it together. Jews, Christians, and Muslims together will create this place, a center for interfaith, but sponsored together, financed together, worked out programs tighter, and show a symbol of solidarity, of religious solidarity,” Wiesel said. “It can become a very great symbol here — a great monument for humanity.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Axelrod replied, later calling it “a great idea” and one that “gives me hope.”

Umm, if it’s such a wonderful idea — and some would say one of the many obvious alternatives to a Muslim monument on the ashes of 3,000 innocents killed in the name of Islam — why didn’t the president and his crack team suggest it earlier? Why did the president refuse to engage in concerns about propriety and restraint, insisting, rather, that this was all about Muslims’ religious rights and the prejudices of the rest of us?

Now maybe Axelrod was freelancing here. But I doubt it. He is, as we’ve been told, one of the president’s inner circle of advisers, indeed one of those who egged on the president to support the Ground Zero mosque. It is, I think, a rather embarrassing retreat — some would say craven — for the administration to hide behind Elie Wiesel to resolve a political mess of its own making.

But if Axelrod is serious, shouldn’t the president follow up with a call for Rauf, asking him to rethink the essence of the project? It would, of course, be altogether fitting and indeed necessary to rename it as well. Why not the Elie Wiesel Center for Religious Tolerance? I await the enthusiastic endorsement of CAIR.

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A Study in Contrast on Iran

Obama went to the UN and delivered namby-pamby remarks on Iran, eschewing any mention of the potential for military force. The sum total of his remarks:

As part of our effort on non-proliferation, I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community. I also said — in this hall — that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities.  And that is what we have done.

Iran is the only party to the NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, and those actions have consequences. Through UN Security Council Resolution 1929, we made it clear that international law is not an empty promise.

Now let me be clear once more: The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.

That is it. Bet they are high-fiving in Tehran.

Meanwhile, in the American reality-based community, more serious voices are being heard. Christians United for Israel have produced a remarkable video, featuring Pastor John Hagee, Harvard University Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and Nobel Laureate, author, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (Got to hand it to those community organizers). They are also circulating a petition that already has at least 118,000 signatures. The message: we should be indicting Ahmadinejad as a war criminal for “incitement to genocide.” Really, what’s the excuse not to?

Meanwhile, a letter signed by 50 Republicans yesterday to the president urged him to “take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. All options must be on the table.” They urged Obama to state “unequivocally” at the UN that we will prevent Iran from going nuclear. No such luck.

Why do private groups, members of Congress and citizens seem so much more serious than the president? Well, we’ve learned and relearned that foreign-policy commitments just aren’t Obama’s thing. Kudos to those who appeared in the CUFI video and signed the letter. Now, how about the largest Jewish organizations themselves going on record? Not only should the president be urged to take all action needed to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans but it should be clear that this is not “an Israeli” problem. It is the West’s problem. It would be a sorry state of affairs if tiny Israel had to act in our defense. Nevertheless, that looks like the direction in which we are heading. The public, Congress, and private groups should prepare themselves to insist that if Israel does act alone, the U.S. will stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel.

Obama went to the UN and delivered namby-pamby remarks on Iran, eschewing any mention of the potential for military force. The sum total of his remarks:

As part of our effort on non-proliferation, I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community. I also said — in this hall — that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities.  And that is what we have done.

Iran is the only party to the NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, and those actions have consequences. Through UN Security Council Resolution 1929, we made it clear that international law is not an empty promise.

Now let me be clear once more: The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.

That is it. Bet they are high-fiving in Tehran.

Meanwhile, in the American reality-based community, more serious voices are being heard. Christians United for Israel have produced a remarkable video, featuring Pastor John Hagee, Harvard University Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and Nobel Laureate, author, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (Got to hand it to those community organizers). They are also circulating a petition that already has at least 118,000 signatures. The message: we should be indicting Ahmadinejad as a war criminal for “incitement to genocide.” Really, what’s the excuse not to?

Meanwhile, a letter signed by 50 Republicans yesterday to the president urged him to “take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. All options must be on the table.” They urged Obama to state “unequivocally” at the UN that we will prevent Iran from going nuclear. No such luck.

Why do private groups, members of Congress and citizens seem so much more serious than the president? Well, we’ve learned and relearned that foreign-policy commitments just aren’t Obama’s thing. Kudos to those who appeared in the CUFI video and signed the letter. Now, how about the largest Jewish organizations themselves going on record? Not only should the president be urged to take all action needed to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans but it should be clear that this is not “an Israeli” problem. It is the West’s problem. It would be a sorry state of affairs if tiny Israel had to act in our defense. Nevertheless, that looks like the direction in which we are heading. The public, Congress, and private groups should prepare themselves to insist that if Israel does act alone, the U.S. will stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel.

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Bill Clinton: Giving Carter a Run for His Money

Bill Clinton’s noxious comments, complaining that Russian immigrants to Israel pose an obstacle to peace, sounded like the utterances of xenophobes in America who lament that our country is being “overrun” by outsiders. Clinton’s comments were cringe-inducing:

“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton said. “It’s a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian.”

And then to prove that decency and discretion were never Clinton’s strong suits, he cited a conversation between him and Natan Sharansky:

“I said, ‘Natan, what is the deal [about not supporting the peace deal],'” Clinton recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t vote for this, I’m Russian… I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you.'”

Clinton responded, “Don’t give me this, you came here from a jail cell. It’s a lot bigger than your jail cell.”

Classy, Bill. Maybe next he’ll go after Elie Wiesel.

As you can imagine, Israelis were not too pleased. Bibi, demonstrating the art of understatement which has marked his political maturation, had this to say:

As a friend of Israel, Clinton should know that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed and are making a great contribution to the advancement, development and strengthening of the IDF and the State of Israel. Only a strong Israel can establish solid and safe peace.

Now with Bill Clinton — it’s always a safe bet that he’s making stuff up. Sharansky’s associates hinted as much. (“Sharansky’s associates were surprised by Clinton’s remarks. The Jewish Agency chairman said, ‘I wasn’t even at Camp David. Clinton may have gotten confused with our conversations three years earlier, when I expressed my doubts over the dictatorial nature of the Palestinian Authority regime.'”)

But, as a colleague observed, the best retort was this:

Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin said he felt “great pride” following Clinton’s remarks. Elkin, who a Russian immigrant himself, told Ynet, “I am proud of former President Clinton’s distinctions. He made the right distinction that the Russian speakers and settlers have been carrying the Zionism banner in the State of Israel in recent years. “We see this in the number of people graduating from IDF officer courses, and unfortunately, in the Second Lebanon War obituaries. We also see it in the struggle for our right to settle in all of the Land of Israel.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another, as detailed in Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, is that Russians have provided much of the brainpower and entrepreneurial risk-taking that has fueled Israel’s technology boom, transforming Israel’s economy from a socialist basket-case to a vibrant, modern economy.

Why does Clinton say these things? Who knows — maybe he’s tired of Jimmy Carter and his wife getting all the headlines. Or maybe he’s just an undisciplined egomaniac who says whatever pops into his head.

Bill Clinton’s noxious comments, complaining that Russian immigrants to Israel pose an obstacle to peace, sounded like the utterances of xenophobes in America who lament that our country is being “overrun” by outsiders. Clinton’s comments were cringe-inducing:

“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton said. “It’s a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian.”

And then to prove that decency and discretion were never Clinton’s strong suits, he cited a conversation between him and Natan Sharansky:

“I said, ‘Natan, what is the deal [about not supporting the peace deal],'” Clinton recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t vote for this, I’m Russian… I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you.'”

Clinton responded, “Don’t give me this, you came here from a jail cell. It’s a lot bigger than your jail cell.”

Classy, Bill. Maybe next he’ll go after Elie Wiesel.

As you can imagine, Israelis were not too pleased. Bibi, demonstrating the art of understatement which has marked his political maturation, had this to say:

As a friend of Israel, Clinton should know that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed and are making a great contribution to the advancement, development and strengthening of the IDF and the State of Israel. Only a strong Israel can establish solid and safe peace.

Now with Bill Clinton — it’s always a safe bet that he’s making stuff up. Sharansky’s associates hinted as much. (“Sharansky’s associates were surprised by Clinton’s remarks. The Jewish Agency chairman said, ‘I wasn’t even at Camp David. Clinton may have gotten confused with our conversations three years earlier, when I expressed my doubts over the dictatorial nature of the Palestinian Authority regime.'”)

But, as a colleague observed, the best retort was this:

Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin said he felt “great pride” following Clinton’s remarks. Elkin, who a Russian immigrant himself, told Ynet, “I am proud of former President Clinton’s distinctions. He made the right distinction that the Russian speakers and settlers have been carrying the Zionism banner in the State of Israel in recent years. “We see this in the number of people graduating from IDF officer courses, and unfortunately, in the Second Lebanon War obituaries. We also see it in the struggle for our right to settle in all of the Land of Israel.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another, as detailed in Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, is that Russians have provided much of the brainpower and entrepreneurial risk-taking that has fueled Israel’s technology boom, transforming Israel’s economy from a socialist basket-case to a vibrant, modern economy.

Why does Clinton say these things? Who knows — maybe he’s tired of Jimmy Carter and his wife getting all the headlines. Or maybe he’s just an undisciplined egomaniac who says whatever pops into his head.

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Will J Street Weigh Down Its Endorsed Candidates?

Last week, I questioned whether J Street had become more trouble than its worth to liberal Democratic candidates. In its highest-profile race — the Sestak-Toomey Pennsylvania Senate contest — the answer is clearly no.

In response to the Emergency Committee for Israel’s (ECI) ad buy and the ensuing flurry of news stories, J Street, with great fanfare, announced an ad buy of its own. However, a knowledgeable source provides me with numbers that demonstrate that the buy is puny — a grand total of $6,000. The J Street movers and shakers plunked down all of $2,600 for Philly cable. In Pittsburgh, J Street has spread its largess to the tune of $3,250. In Harrisburg — hold on to your hats — $150 was thrown about for their endorsed candidate.

This, folks, is a pittance. J Street’s biggest “contribution” is to bog Joe Sestak down in controversy. The group’s Gaza 54 letter, which Sestak signed, is one of the pillars of a now widely distributed ad going after Sestak’s Israel bona fides. His endorsement by J Street and the series of positions he has taken that have met with J Street’s favor (not to mention the letter to the UN Human Rights Council, which smacks of J Street accommodation with Israel-bashers) have made prominent an issue Sestak plainly doesn’t want to be front and center. And yet it is — not only by virtue of ECI’s ad but also because of the free media attention it has garnered — with J Street’s help. Is this the sort of help a liberal candidate really needs in a very tough election year?

Moreover, J Street’s own agenda – defending Obama “unconditionally” — seems to take precedence over the needs of individual congressmen. Does Sestak really benefit from an ad with a picture of Obama speaking at the UN and praising the president’s Middle East approach? It is very hard to see how. It’s certainly not going to make Jewish voters less nervous about him.

J Street seems to want to do two contradictory things — be controversial and antagonistic toward robust supporters of Israel (e.g., AIPAC, ECI) and also be influential in House and Senate races. Unfortunately for the Democrats in those races, J Street’s behavior infects their campaigns.

Here is a small but telling example. Joel Pollak (no relation to Noah), a fresh Republican face and strong friend of Israel, has gained the support of Alan Dershowitz against the Israel-bashing and J Street–endorsed Jan Schakowsky in the Illinois 9th. Pollak relates the following on his Facebook page:

Today is Tisha B’Av, when Jews traditionally commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem and mourn other tragedies in our history. Last night, as the holiday began, the new left-wing lobby known as J Street threw a cocktail party in downtown Chicago. The featured guest was J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami. Since J Street has refused any previous request to debate the issues with me, I went down to speak to Ben-Ami & Co. myself.

One of my opponent’s senior staffers was there, as were about a dozen J Street staff and supporters. Ben-Ami was cordial, but seemed indifferent to the significance of the day. I asked him why J Street’s new ad attacks Joe Lieberman, who is well respected in the Jewish community. He described Lieberman–who supports direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians towards a two-state solution–as an “obstacle” to peace.

“If you showed the same enthusiasm in opposing Iran and Hamas as you do in fighting Alan Dershowitz, Elie Wiesel, and Joe Lieberman,” I said, “perhaps J Street would be more popular.” I also asked Ben-Ami about his organization’s attempt to use the federal government to target Jewish charities that may provide services to Israelis living across the 1949 armistice line. Why not investigate Islamic charities that fund anti-Israel views?

“I don’t give a shit about Islamic charities,” was Ben-Ami’s exact quote.

Now, does this help Pollak’s opponent or Pollak?

J Street brings its own baggage to midterm races but not much cash. Once candidates figure this out, will they really want a J Street stamp of approval?  It’s hard to see why they would.

Last week, I questioned whether J Street had become more trouble than its worth to liberal Democratic candidates. In its highest-profile race — the Sestak-Toomey Pennsylvania Senate contest — the answer is clearly no.

In response to the Emergency Committee for Israel’s (ECI) ad buy and the ensuing flurry of news stories, J Street, with great fanfare, announced an ad buy of its own. However, a knowledgeable source provides me with numbers that demonstrate that the buy is puny — a grand total of $6,000. The J Street movers and shakers plunked down all of $2,600 for Philly cable. In Pittsburgh, J Street has spread its largess to the tune of $3,250. In Harrisburg — hold on to your hats — $150 was thrown about for their endorsed candidate.

This, folks, is a pittance. J Street’s biggest “contribution” is to bog Joe Sestak down in controversy. The group’s Gaza 54 letter, which Sestak signed, is one of the pillars of a now widely distributed ad going after Sestak’s Israel bona fides. His endorsement by J Street and the series of positions he has taken that have met with J Street’s favor (not to mention the letter to the UN Human Rights Council, which smacks of J Street accommodation with Israel-bashers) have made prominent an issue Sestak plainly doesn’t want to be front and center. And yet it is — not only by virtue of ECI’s ad but also because of the free media attention it has garnered — with J Street’s help. Is this the sort of help a liberal candidate really needs in a very tough election year?

Moreover, J Street’s own agenda – defending Obama “unconditionally” — seems to take precedence over the needs of individual congressmen. Does Sestak really benefit from an ad with a picture of Obama speaking at the UN and praising the president’s Middle East approach? It is very hard to see how. It’s certainly not going to make Jewish voters less nervous about him.

J Street seems to want to do two contradictory things — be controversial and antagonistic toward robust supporters of Israel (e.g., AIPAC, ECI) and also be influential in House and Senate races. Unfortunately for the Democrats in those races, J Street’s behavior infects their campaigns.

Here is a small but telling example. Joel Pollak (no relation to Noah), a fresh Republican face and strong friend of Israel, has gained the support of Alan Dershowitz against the Israel-bashing and J Street–endorsed Jan Schakowsky in the Illinois 9th. Pollak relates the following on his Facebook page:

Today is Tisha B’Av, when Jews traditionally commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem and mourn other tragedies in our history. Last night, as the holiday began, the new left-wing lobby known as J Street threw a cocktail party in downtown Chicago. The featured guest was J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami. Since J Street has refused any previous request to debate the issues with me, I went down to speak to Ben-Ami & Co. myself.

One of my opponent’s senior staffers was there, as were about a dozen J Street staff and supporters. Ben-Ami was cordial, but seemed indifferent to the significance of the day. I asked him why J Street’s new ad attacks Joe Lieberman, who is well respected in the Jewish community. He described Lieberman–who supports direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians towards a two-state solution–as an “obstacle” to peace.

“If you showed the same enthusiasm in opposing Iran and Hamas as you do in fighting Alan Dershowitz, Elie Wiesel, and Joe Lieberman,” I said, “perhaps J Street would be more popular.” I also asked Ben-Ami about his organization’s attempt to use the federal government to target Jewish charities that may provide services to Israelis living across the 1949 armistice line. Why not investigate Islamic charities that fund anti-Israel views?

“I don’t give a shit about Islamic charities,” was Ben-Ami’s exact quote.

Now, does this help Pollak’s opponent or Pollak?

J Street brings its own baggage to midterm races but not much cash. Once candidates figure this out, will they really want a J Street stamp of approval?  It’s hard to see why they would.

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The Nod and Smile Offensive

Earlier this week, Jen cited an AP report about President Obama’s Tuesday-evening meeting with 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers, in which participants urged him to discuss publicly his commitment to Israel and to travel there. The interesting part of the report was what was missing from it: Obama’s response.

A Jerusalem Post report was slightly more informative. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) said Obama “didn’t respond directly.” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said, “I think he nodded and smiled.” In other words, he said nothing.

This was not the first time the suggestion to travel to Israel was made only to receive a non-response. Last July, Haaretz editor Aluf Benn took to the op-ed pages of the New York Times — in an article entitled Why Won’t Obama Talk to Israel? — and urged Obama to come to Israel. Benn noted that Obama had spoken to Arabs, Muslims, Iranians, Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans, Russians, and Africans – but had not bothered to speak to Israelis: “The Arabs got the Cairo speech; we got silence.”

At the time, Joe Klein wrote that “Obama needs to explain his policy to the Israeli public” and was “already planning to make this sort of effort — Israeli television interviews, etc. — in the coming weeks.” Jeffrey Goldberg thought a visit “soon” was a good idea, but when he asked two “senior administration officials” when Obama might do it, “or at least speak at length about his positive vision for a secure Israel,” the officials were “non-committal.“ Neither the trip, nor the television interviews, nor the speech ever occurred.

Over the following year, the relationship with Israel worsened further — capped by the extraordinary public castigation over future Jewish housing in a Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state, followed by the humiliation of the prime minister with an after-hours, side-door meeting with no pictures or joint statement. Administration officials are now engaged in endless “outreach events,” but the noteworthy point is that Obama has yet to speak publicly on the issue.

He held a private lunch with Elie Wiesel (no pictures or press) and a private meeting with Jewish Democrats, but there is still no trip to Israel, no interviews with Israeli media, no speech. He has also stopped holding prime-time press conferences at which questions on this and related foreign-policy issues could be asked. The charm offensive provides a kind of nod and smile to Jewish voters, but what Aluf Benn wrote a year ago remains true today — and the underlying issues remain as well.

Earlier this week, Jen cited an AP report about President Obama’s Tuesday-evening meeting with 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers, in which participants urged him to discuss publicly his commitment to Israel and to travel there. The interesting part of the report was what was missing from it: Obama’s response.

A Jerusalem Post report was slightly more informative. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) said Obama “didn’t respond directly.” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said, “I think he nodded and smiled.” In other words, he said nothing.

This was not the first time the suggestion to travel to Israel was made only to receive a non-response. Last July, Haaretz editor Aluf Benn took to the op-ed pages of the New York Times — in an article entitled Why Won’t Obama Talk to Israel? — and urged Obama to come to Israel. Benn noted that Obama had spoken to Arabs, Muslims, Iranians, Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans, Russians, and Africans – but had not bothered to speak to Israelis: “The Arabs got the Cairo speech; we got silence.”

At the time, Joe Klein wrote that “Obama needs to explain his policy to the Israeli public” and was “already planning to make this sort of effort — Israeli television interviews, etc. — in the coming weeks.” Jeffrey Goldberg thought a visit “soon” was a good idea, but when he asked two “senior administration officials” when Obama might do it, “or at least speak at length about his positive vision for a secure Israel,” the officials were “non-committal.“ Neither the trip, nor the television interviews, nor the speech ever occurred.

Over the following year, the relationship with Israel worsened further — capped by the extraordinary public castigation over future Jewish housing in a Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state, followed by the humiliation of the prime minister with an after-hours, side-door meeting with no pictures or joint statement. Administration officials are now engaged in endless “outreach events,” but the noteworthy point is that Obama has yet to speak publicly on the issue.

He held a private lunch with Elie Wiesel (no pictures or press) and a private meeting with Jewish Democrats, but there is still no trip to Israel, no interviews with Israeli media, no speech. He has also stopped holding prime-time press conferences at which questions on this and related foreign-policy issues could be asked. The charm offensive provides a kind of nod and smile to Jewish voters, but what Aluf Benn wrote a year ago remains true today — and the underlying issues remain as well.

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If Jews Back Obama’s Pressure, Why Was the ‘Charm Offensive’ Necessary?

For those who were thrilled by President Obama’s decision to distance the United States from Israel and to treat Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as illegal settlements, the recent “charm offensive” by which the White House has sought to deflect the growing criticism from friends of the Jewish state has to be a downer. With recent polls showing that a majority of American Jews disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and with most of the centrist leadership of American Jewry expressing dismay over the president’s positions on Jerusalem, the left’s assertion that the president can count on Jewish support for his pressure on Israel has been effectively debunked.

But that hasn’t stopped The New York Times from once again trotting out one of the standards of their coverage of American Jewry. The headline of the piece published today on their website couldn’t make the agenda of the article any clearer: “On Israel, Jews and Leaders Often Disagree.” The familiar conceit of the feature is that while the big names of American Jewry and the leaders of the alphabet soup of organizations still support Israel, the rank and file do not.

The piece argues that the overwhelming support for Obama in the 2008 election and the reliably liberal Democratic cast of Jewish voters must mean that they applaud his clear animus for Israel. Of course, if that were true, Obama wouldn’t have bothered campaigning as if he were a devoted friend of Israel. Despite that, the leader of the left-wing J Street lobby is still trying to promote the idea that most Jews don’t support Israel’s policies and want Washington to pressure it to accept a two-state solution. But as uneasiness over the administration’s hostility grew in recent months, it became clear that even most Jewish Democrats knew that Israel’s government has accepted such a solution but that it is the Palestinians who won’t make peace. Thus, J Street has made little headway in Washington with a Congress that is still reliably pro-Israel and unhappy about the administration’s drift. But that doesn’t stop the Times from treating its claims as self-evident.

But for all the protestations by the left of Jewish support for pressure on Israel, it has to be obvious that the White House doesn’t buy it. If they were as confident as J Street that their Jewish Democratic base liked what they were doing, then why would they have spent so much time in the last month trying to back away from a fight with Israel that they had picked in the first place. Why shlep Elie Wiesel to the White House yesterday for a private audience with the president after he published an ad in several newspapers warning Obama that Jerusalem was the “heart of our heart and the soul of our soul” if the administration wasn’t convinced that the famed Holocaust survivor’s concerns weren’t far more representative of public opinion than the partisan natterings of J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami?

While the charm offensive may not do much more than calm some panicky Jewish Democrats who are willing to believe Obama’s new promises just as they swallowed his campaign pledges, it does prove one thing: the White House knows that an open feud with Israel and its friends is political poison.

Indeed, the best the Times could do to support its thesis that Ben-Ami is right is to gather a few members of a Secular Humanist Temple in suburban Detroit to find a some Jews who are willing to attack Israel’s government. While the members of that tiny slice of Jewish demography are as entitled to their opinions as anyone else, the notion that this small splinter group of Jews who eschew religious faith in favor of a secular ethnicity is representative of American Jewry is absurd. But even there, among members of a Temple who cannot help but be far more liberal than the average Jewish congregation, the Times still discovered that there were some who were concerned about those who unfairly blame Israel for the conflict. As 87-year-old Rosetta Creed stated: “It makes me angry that the Israelis are always blamed for the problems and asked to make concessions,” Ms. Creed said. “You know, the Israelis are not the ones launching rockets and placing fighters in houses with children inside.”

For those who were thrilled by President Obama’s decision to distance the United States from Israel and to treat Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as illegal settlements, the recent “charm offensive” by which the White House has sought to deflect the growing criticism from friends of the Jewish state has to be a downer. With recent polls showing that a majority of American Jews disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and with most of the centrist leadership of American Jewry expressing dismay over the president’s positions on Jerusalem, the left’s assertion that the president can count on Jewish support for his pressure on Israel has been effectively debunked.

But that hasn’t stopped The New York Times from once again trotting out one of the standards of their coverage of American Jewry. The headline of the piece published today on their website couldn’t make the agenda of the article any clearer: “On Israel, Jews and Leaders Often Disagree.” The familiar conceit of the feature is that while the big names of American Jewry and the leaders of the alphabet soup of organizations still support Israel, the rank and file do not.

The piece argues that the overwhelming support for Obama in the 2008 election and the reliably liberal Democratic cast of Jewish voters must mean that they applaud his clear animus for Israel. Of course, if that were true, Obama wouldn’t have bothered campaigning as if he were a devoted friend of Israel. Despite that, the leader of the left-wing J Street lobby is still trying to promote the idea that most Jews don’t support Israel’s policies and want Washington to pressure it to accept a two-state solution. But as uneasiness over the administration’s hostility grew in recent months, it became clear that even most Jewish Democrats knew that Israel’s government has accepted such a solution but that it is the Palestinians who won’t make peace. Thus, J Street has made little headway in Washington with a Congress that is still reliably pro-Israel and unhappy about the administration’s drift. But that doesn’t stop the Times from treating its claims as self-evident.

But for all the protestations by the left of Jewish support for pressure on Israel, it has to be obvious that the White House doesn’t buy it. If they were as confident as J Street that their Jewish Democratic base liked what they were doing, then why would they have spent so much time in the last month trying to back away from a fight with Israel that they had picked in the first place. Why shlep Elie Wiesel to the White House yesterday for a private audience with the president after he published an ad in several newspapers warning Obama that Jerusalem was the “heart of our heart and the soul of our soul” if the administration wasn’t convinced that the famed Holocaust survivor’s concerns weren’t far more representative of public opinion than the partisan natterings of J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami?

While the charm offensive may not do much more than calm some panicky Jewish Democrats who are willing to believe Obama’s new promises just as they swallowed his campaign pledges, it does prove one thing: the White House knows that an open feud with Israel and its friends is political poison.

Indeed, the best the Times could do to support its thesis that Ben-Ami is right is to gather a few members of a Secular Humanist Temple in suburban Detroit to find a some Jews who are willing to attack Israel’s government. While the members of that tiny slice of Jewish demography are as entitled to their opinions as anyone else, the notion that this small splinter group of Jews who eschew religious faith in favor of a secular ethnicity is representative of American Jewry is absurd. But even there, among members of a Temple who cannot help but be far more liberal than the average Jewish congregation, the Times still discovered that there were some who were concerned about those who unfairly blame Israel for the conflict. As 87-year-old Rosetta Creed stated: “It makes me angry that the Israelis are always blamed for the problems and asked to make concessions,” Ms. Creed said. “You know, the Israelis are not the ones launching rockets and placing fighters in houses with children inside.”

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Are Jews That Gullible?

Ben Smith says that he was dubious about the Obama team’s charm offensive with American Jews. After all, how could they be so foolish as to take puffery seriously and be wowed by a lunch with Elie Wiesel? Aren’t Jews, you know, supposed to be smarter than that? After all, the underlying policy hasn’t changed one iota. And in fact the administration is flaunting its anti-Israel connections.

Smith also picks up this tidbit:

Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber drew the camera flashes at the White House Correspondents dinner, but foreign policy geeks took closer note of the TPM table, where National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough — probably the most powerful foreign policy staffer in the administration — was seated with the two grand old men of “realist politics,” former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Also at the table, New America’s Steve Clemons, who qualified that he and the others are “progressive realists” and added that the table also included “Sex and the City” creator Darren Starr and TPM founder Josh Marshall, the host.

Scowcroft and Brzezinski have been vying for influence in the Obama White House since Obama introduced the latter in Iowa, then distanced himself from him over Israel. They’re currently central to the efforts to persuade Obama to advance his own Mideast peace plan.

McDonough, who came up on the process-oriented Hill, tends to keep his own broader views on foreign policy close to the vest.

To translate: one of the administration’s key foreign-policy hands goes to the most highly publicized event in town to hob-nob with the advisor who Obama had sworn during the campaign not to be an advisor, who has suggested that we shoot down Israeli planes if they cross Iraqi air space on the way to Iran, and who wants to impose a peace deal on Israel. And, for good measure, he sits with the purveyors of a website infamous for puff pieces on terrorists and committed to a hard-left anti-Israel line. It was an act of defiance — see who our friends are? Well, I guess we do.

So the question remains whether the Jewish community is as easily lulled into passivity as the Obama administration believes. Can a few carefully worded speeches get American Jews off their backs? After all, they’ve been so mute about the effort by Obama to undermine sanctions. And really, they were able to “condemn” Israel without being condemned in turn by the Jewish groups, which have clung so dearly to the Democratic Party. Smith shouldn’t be skeptical: American Jewish officialdom is falling over themselves to make up with the administration. Whether rank-and-file members and the larger Jewish community are as easily swayed, remains to be seen.

Ben Smith says that he was dubious about the Obama team’s charm offensive with American Jews. After all, how could they be so foolish as to take puffery seriously and be wowed by a lunch with Elie Wiesel? Aren’t Jews, you know, supposed to be smarter than that? After all, the underlying policy hasn’t changed one iota. And in fact the administration is flaunting its anti-Israel connections.

Smith also picks up this tidbit:

Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber drew the camera flashes at the White House Correspondents dinner, but foreign policy geeks took closer note of the TPM table, where National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough — probably the most powerful foreign policy staffer in the administration — was seated with the two grand old men of “realist politics,” former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Also at the table, New America’s Steve Clemons, who qualified that he and the others are “progressive realists” and added that the table also included “Sex and the City” creator Darren Starr and TPM founder Josh Marshall, the host.

Scowcroft and Brzezinski have been vying for influence in the Obama White House since Obama introduced the latter in Iowa, then distanced himself from him over Israel. They’re currently central to the efforts to persuade Obama to advance his own Mideast peace plan.

McDonough, who came up on the process-oriented Hill, tends to keep his own broader views on foreign policy close to the vest.

To translate: one of the administration’s key foreign-policy hands goes to the most highly publicized event in town to hob-nob with the advisor who Obama had sworn during the campaign not to be an advisor, who has suggested that we shoot down Israeli planes if they cross Iraqi air space on the way to Iran, and who wants to impose a peace deal on Israel. And, for good measure, he sits with the purveyors of a website infamous for puff pieces on terrorists and committed to a hard-left anti-Israel line. It was an act of defiance — see who our friends are? Well, I guess we do.

So the question remains whether the Jewish community is as easily lulled into passivity as the Obama administration believes. Can a few carefully worded speeches get American Jews off their backs? After all, they’ve been so mute about the effort by Obama to undermine sanctions. And really, they were able to “condemn” Israel without being condemned in turn by the Jewish groups, which have clung so dearly to the Democratic Party. Smith shouldn’t be skeptical: American Jewish officialdom is falling over themselves to make up with the administration. Whether rank-and-file members and the larger Jewish community are as easily swayed, remains to be seen.

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J Street Comes Clean: It Wants to Divide the Old City

The J Street Education Fund has taken out an ad that takes issue with Elie Wiesel’s criticism of Obama on building in Jerusalem. But J Street doesn’t merely call for a housing freeze or for outlying Arab neighborhoods to be ceded to a Palestinian state. Using the mouthpiece of former Knesset member Yossi Sarid, the J Streeters want to divide the Old City. Oh, yes:

Barack Obama appears well aware of his obligations to try to resolve the world’s ills, particularly ours here. Why then undercut him and tie his hands? On the contrary, let’s allow him to use his clout to save us from ourselves, to help both bruised and battered nations and free them from their prison. Then he can push both sides to divide the city into two capitals — to give Jewish areas to the Jews and Arab areas to the Arabs – and assign the Holy Basin to an agreed on international authority.

As an alarmed reader e-mails: “They specifically want to remove Israeli sovereignty over the Old City. I mean, they want the Western Wall NOT to be in Israeli hands. Wow.”

Wow, indeed. There is no mainstream Jewish organization that takes this position, and I dare say J Street wouldn’t find 5 percent of American Jews who do. Moreover, there is zero support for such a position within Israel. So J Street’s recommendation would be what? — that this be part of an imposed settlement on the Jewish state? It seems that the mask has been dropped and that J Street now reveals its true colors — which happen to be pretty much the same as the Palestinians’. The question remains: does the Obama administration agree? Stay tuned.

The J Street Education Fund has taken out an ad that takes issue with Elie Wiesel’s criticism of Obama on building in Jerusalem. But J Street doesn’t merely call for a housing freeze or for outlying Arab neighborhoods to be ceded to a Palestinian state. Using the mouthpiece of former Knesset member Yossi Sarid, the J Streeters want to divide the Old City. Oh, yes:

Barack Obama appears well aware of his obligations to try to resolve the world’s ills, particularly ours here. Why then undercut him and tie his hands? On the contrary, let’s allow him to use his clout to save us from ourselves, to help both bruised and battered nations and free them from their prison. Then he can push both sides to divide the city into two capitals — to give Jewish areas to the Jews and Arab areas to the Arabs – and assign the Holy Basin to an agreed on international authority.

As an alarmed reader e-mails: “They specifically want to remove Israeli sovereignty over the Old City. I mean, they want the Western Wall NOT to be in Israeli hands. Wow.”

Wow, indeed. There is no mainstream Jewish organization that takes this position, and I dare say J Street wouldn’t find 5 percent of American Jews who do. Moreover, there is zero support for such a position within Israel. So J Street’s recommendation would be what? — that this be part of an imposed settlement on the Jewish state? It seems that the mask has been dropped and that J Street now reveals its true colors — which happen to be pretty much the same as the Palestinians’. The question remains: does the Obama administration agree? Stay tuned.

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Obama Picked the Wrong Issue

At the time, many of us who have been highly critical of Obama’s Israel policy noted that it was a bad idea for him to make Jerusalem housing permits the focus of his ire (at least for now). There is no issue so emotional and no aspect of the conflict with the Palestinians that so unites Jews as the historic capital of the Jewish people. And today, the depth of his misjudgment is laid bare by Elie Wiesel, who takes out full page ads in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to object to the assault on what he calls “the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul.”

He doesn’t mention Obama by name but his point could not be clearer: forget it, Mr. President. He writes, in part:

For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture — and not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming. There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem. To many theologians, is IS Jewish history, to many poets, a source of inspiration. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming. The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and joy are part of our collective memory.

He continues with a historical review of the city dating back to King David. And then he brings us up to date:

Today , for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines. And contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory.

What is the solution? Pressure will not produce a solution. Is there a solution? There must be, there will be. Why tackle the most complex and sensitive problem prematurely? Why not first take steps which allow the Israeli and Palestinian communities to find ways to live together in an atomosphere of security. Why not leave the most difficult, the most sensitive issue, for such a time?

It is significant that it is Wiesel — a Jewish figure without peer and the embodiment of Holocaust memory — who writes this. It is as powerful a rebuke to an American president as any he can receive. It is not simply a geopolitical critique; it is an indictment of Obama’s ignorance of and lack of sympathy with the Jewish people. It cannot be ignored.

At the time, many of us who have been highly critical of Obama’s Israel policy noted that it was a bad idea for him to make Jerusalem housing permits the focus of his ire (at least for now). There is no issue so emotional and no aspect of the conflict with the Palestinians that so unites Jews as the historic capital of the Jewish people. And today, the depth of his misjudgment is laid bare by Elie Wiesel, who takes out full page ads in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to object to the assault on what he calls “the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul.”

He doesn’t mention Obama by name but his point could not be clearer: forget it, Mr. President. He writes, in part:

For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture — and not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming. There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem. To many theologians, is IS Jewish history, to many poets, a source of inspiration. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming. The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and joy are part of our collective memory.

He continues with a historical review of the city dating back to King David. And then he brings us up to date:

Today , for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines. And contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory.

What is the solution? Pressure will not produce a solution. Is there a solution? There must be, there will be. Why tackle the most complex and sensitive problem prematurely? Why not first take steps which allow the Israeli and Palestinian communities to find ways to live together in an atomosphere of security. Why not leave the most difficult, the most sensitive issue, for such a time?

It is significant that it is Wiesel — a Jewish figure without peer and the embodiment of Holocaust memory — who writes this. It is as powerful a rebuke to an American president as any he can receive. It is not simply a geopolitical critique; it is an indictment of Obama’s ignorance of and lack of sympathy with the Jewish people. It cannot be ignored.

Read Less

“Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.”

What follows is the text of President Bush’s speech today in Jerusalem:

 President Peres and Mr. Prime Minister, Madam Speaker, thank very much for hosting this special session. President Beinish, Leader of the Opposition Netanyahu, Ministers, members of the Knesset, distinguished guests: Shalom. Laura and I are thrilled to be back in Israel. We have been deeply moved by the celebrations of the past two days. And this afternoon, I am honored to stand before one of the world’s great democratic assemblies and convey the wishes of the American people with these words: Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach.

It is a rare privilege for the American President to speak to the Knesset. Although the Prime Minister told me there is something even rarer — to have just one person in this chamber speaking at a time. My only regret is that one of Israel’s greatest leaders is not here to share this moment. He is a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, a friend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon.

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel’s independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world.

The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul. When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: “Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.” The founders of my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.

Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before the dream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, the tragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust — what Elie Wiesel called “the kingdom of the night.” Soulless men took away lives and broke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewish people, and they could not break the promise of God. When news of Israel’s freedom finally arrived, Golda Meir, a fearless woman raised in Wisconsin, could summon only tears. She later said: “For two thousand years we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words.”

The joy of independence was tempered by the outbreak of battle, a struggle that has continued for six decades. Yet in spite of the violence, in defiance of the threats, Israel has built a thriving democracy in the heart of the Holy Land. You have welcomed immigrants from the four corners of the Earth. You have forged a free and modern society based on the love of liberty, a passion for justice, and a respect for human dignity. You have worked tirelessly for peace. You have fought valiantly for freedom.

My country’s admiration for Israel does not end there. When Americans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agricultural miracle and now leads a high-tech revolution. We see world-class universities and a global leader in business and innovation and the arts. We see a resource more valuable than oil or gold: the talent and determination of a free people who refuse to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.

I have been fortunate to see the character of Israel up close. I have touched the Western Wall, seen the sun reflected in the Sea of Galilee, I have prayed at Yad Vashem. And earlier today, I visited Masada, an inspiring monument to courage and sacrifice. At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: “Masada shall never fall again.” Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.

This anniversary is a time to reflect on the past. It’s also an opportunity to look to the future. As we go forward, our alliance will be guided by clear principles — shared convictions rooted in moral clarity and unswayed by popularity polls or the shifting opinions of international elites.

We believe in the matchless value of every man, woman, and child. So we insist that the people of Israel have the right to a decent, normal, and peaceful life, just like the citizens of every other nation.

We believe that democracy is the only way to ensure human rights. So we consider it a source of shame that the United Nations routinely passes more human rights resolutions against the freest democracy in the Middle East than any other nation in the world.

We believe that religious liberty is fundamental to a civilized society. So we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms — whether by those who openly question Israel’s right to exist, or by others who quietly excuse them.

We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli’s leaders have made. We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction.

We believe that targeting innocent lives to achieve political objectives is always and everywhere wrong. So we stand together against terror and extremism, and we will never let down our guard or lose our resolve.

The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.

Read More

What follows is the text of President Bush’s speech today in Jerusalem:

 President Peres and Mr. Prime Minister, Madam Speaker, thank very much for hosting this special session. President Beinish, Leader of the Opposition Netanyahu, Ministers, members of the Knesset, distinguished guests: Shalom. Laura and I are thrilled to be back in Israel. We have been deeply moved by the celebrations of the past two days. And this afternoon, I am honored to stand before one of the world’s great democratic assemblies and convey the wishes of the American people with these words: Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach.

It is a rare privilege for the American President to speak to the Knesset. Although the Prime Minister told me there is something even rarer — to have just one person in this chamber speaking at a time. My only regret is that one of Israel’s greatest leaders is not here to share this moment. He is a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, a friend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon.

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel’s independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world.

The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul. When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: “Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.” The founders of my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.

Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before the dream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, the tragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust — what Elie Wiesel called “the kingdom of the night.” Soulless men took away lives and broke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewish people, and they could not break the promise of God. When news of Israel’s freedom finally arrived, Golda Meir, a fearless woman raised in Wisconsin, could summon only tears. She later said: “For two thousand years we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words.”

The joy of independence was tempered by the outbreak of battle, a struggle that has continued for six decades. Yet in spite of the violence, in defiance of the threats, Israel has built a thriving democracy in the heart of the Holy Land. You have welcomed immigrants from the four corners of the Earth. You have forged a free and modern society based on the love of liberty, a passion for justice, and a respect for human dignity. You have worked tirelessly for peace. You have fought valiantly for freedom.

My country’s admiration for Israel does not end there. When Americans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agricultural miracle and now leads a high-tech revolution. We see world-class universities and a global leader in business and innovation and the arts. We see a resource more valuable than oil or gold: the talent and determination of a free people who refuse to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.

I have been fortunate to see the character of Israel up close. I have touched the Western Wall, seen the sun reflected in the Sea of Galilee, I have prayed at Yad Vashem. And earlier today, I visited Masada, an inspiring monument to courage and sacrifice. At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: “Masada shall never fall again.” Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.

This anniversary is a time to reflect on the past. It’s also an opportunity to look to the future. As we go forward, our alliance will be guided by clear principles — shared convictions rooted in moral clarity and unswayed by popularity polls or the shifting opinions of international elites.

We believe in the matchless value of every man, woman, and child. So we insist that the people of Israel have the right to a decent, normal, and peaceful life, just like the citizens of every other nation.

We believe that democracy is the only way to ensure human rights. So we consider it a source of shame that the United Nations routinely passes more human rights resolutions against the freest democracy in the Middle East than any other nation in the world.

We believe that religious liberty is fundamental to a civilized society. So we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms — whether by those who openly question Israel’s right to exist, or by others who quietly excuse them.

We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli’s leaders have made. We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction.

We believe that targeting innocent lives to achieve political objectives is always and everywhere wrong. So we stand together against terror and extremism, and we will never let down our guard or lose our resolve.

The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.

This struggle is waged with the technology of the 21st century, but at its core it is an ancient battle between good and evil. The killers claim the mantle of Islam, but they are not religious men. No one who prays to the God of Abraham could strap a suicide vest to an innocent child, or blow up guiltless guests at a Passover Seder, or fly planes into office buildings filled with unsuspecting workers. In truth, the men who carry out these savage acts serve no higher goal than their own desire for power. They accept no God before themselves. And they reserve a special hatred for the most ardent defenders of liberty, including Americans and Israelis.

And that is why the founding charter of Hamas calls for the “elimination” of Israel. And that is why the followers of Hezbollah chant “Death to Israel, Death to America!” That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that “the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties.” And that is why the President of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.

There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain away their words. It’s natural, but it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Some people suggest if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of the enemies of peace, and America utterly rejects it. Israel’s population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because the United States of America stands with you.

America stands with you in breaking up terrorist networks and denying the extremists sanctuary. America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world’s leading sponsor of terror to possess the world’s deadliest weapons would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

Ultimately, to prevail in this struggle, we must offer an alternative to the ideology of the extremists by extending our vision of justice and tolerance and freedom and hope. These values are the self-evident right of all people, of all religions, in all the world because they are a gift from the Almighty God. Securing these rights is also the surest way to secure peace. Leaders who are accountable to their people will not pursue endless confrontation and bloodshed. Young people with a place in their society and a voice in their future are less likely to search for meaning in radicalism. Societies where citizens can express their conscience and worship their God will not export violence, they will be partners in peace.

The fundamental insight, that freedom yields peace, is the great lesson of the 20th century. Now our task is to apply it to the 21st. Nowhere is this work more urgent than here in the Middle East. We must stand with the reformers working to break the old patterns of tyranny and despair. We must give voice to millions of ordinary people who dream of a better life in a free society. We must confront the moral relativism that views all forms of government as equally acceptable and thereby consigns whole societies to slavery. Above all, we must have faith in our values and ourselves and confidently pursue the expansion of liberty as the path to a peaceful future.

That future will be a dramatic departure from the Middle East of today. So as we mark 60 years from Israel’s founding, let us try to envision the region 60 years from now. This vision is not going to arrive easily or overnight; it will encounter violent resistance. But if we and future Presidents and future Knessets maintain our resolve and have faith in our ideals, here is the Middle East that we can see:

Israel will be celebrating the 120th anniversary as one of the world’s great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people. The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved — a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects human rights, and rejects terror. From Cairo to Riyadh to Baghdad and Beirut, people will live in free and independent societies, where a desire for peace is reinforced by ties of diplomacy and tourism and trade. Iran and Syria will be peaceful nations, with today’s oppression a distant memory and where people are free to speak their minds and develop their God-given talents. Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and Hamas will be defeated, as Muslims across the region recognize the emptiness of the terrorists’ vision and the injustice of their cause.

Overall, the Middle East will be characterized by a new period of tolerance and integration. And this doesn’t mean that Israel and its neighbors will be best of friends. But when leaders across the region answer to their people, they will focus their energies on schools and jobs, not on rocket attacks and suicide bombings. With this change, Israel will open a new hopeful chapter in which its people can live a normal life, and the dream of Herzl and the founders of 1948 can be fully and finally realized.

This is a bold vision, and some will say it can never be achieved. But think about what we have witnessed in our own time. When Europe was destroying itself through total war and genocide, it was difficult to envision a continent that six decades later would be free and at peace. When Japanese pilots were flying suicide missions into American battleships, it seemed impossible that six decades later Japan would be a democracy, a lynchpin of security in Asia, and one of America’s closest friends. And when waves of refugees arrived here in the desert with nothing, surrounded by hostile armies, it was almost unimaginable that Israel would grow into one of the freest and most successful nations on the earth.

Yet each one of these transformations took place. And a future of transformation is possible in the Middle East, so long as a new generation of leaders has the courage to defeat the enemies of freedom, to make the hard choices necessary for peace, and stand firm on the solid rock of universal values.

Sixty years ago, on the eve of Israel’s independence, the last British soldiers departing Jerusalem stopped at a building in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. An officer knocked on the door and met a senior rabbi. The officer presented him with a short iron bar — the key to the Zion Gate — and said it was the first time in 18 centuries that a key to the gates of Jerusalem had belonged to a Jew. His hands trembling, the rabbi offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God, “Who had granted us life and permitted us to reach this day.” Then he turned to the officer, and uttered the words Jews had awaited for so long: “I accept this key in the name of my people.”

Over the past six decades, the Jewish people have established a state that would make that humble rabbi proud. You have raised a modern society in the Promised Land, a light unto the nations that preserves the legacy of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And you have built a mighty democracy that will endure forever and can always count on the United States of America to be at your side. God bless.

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Obama’s Church and Israel’s “Ethnic Bomb”

It is becoming clear that the Trinity United Church of Christ’s anti-Israel stance represents a significant aspect of its political agenda. The blog Sweetness & Light dug up a June 2007 missive published in the church’s newsletter accusing Israel of developing an “ethnic bomb” that kills only blacks and Arabs.

The piece was written by Ali Baghdadi, who was, among other things, “Middle East advisor” to Louis Farrakhan. The rant takes the form of a sappy and delusional open letter to Oprah Winfrey, in response to her accepting Elie Wiesel’s invitation to visit Israel. Baghdadi describes Israel’s “apartheid” regime and writes, “I must tell you that Israel was the closest ally to the white supremacists of South Africa.”

The real danger in Obama’s relationship to this church has barely been touched upon despite all the press the situation has received. There is a verifiable convergence of the ideas promoted in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s brand of black liberation theology and the anti-American, anti-Semitic doctrine of radical Islam. America’s current enemies are crazed clerics who wail about Israeli oppression and who damn America before cheering crowds. This description also fits Barack Obama’s pastor of twenty years. That the two types of hate-filled holy men have connected, at least in print, is hardly a surprise. And the slack that liberals want to extend to Jeremiah Wright is merely the “root-cause” terrorist argument re-purposed: We have to understand their reasons, etc. This is what Obama brings with him, and it’s an implausibly generous gift to those who want to destroy us.

It is becoming clear that the Trinity United Church of Christ’s anti-Israel stance represents a significant aspect of its political agenda. The blog Sweetness & Light dug up a June 2007 missive published in the church’s newsletter accusing Israel of developing an “ethnic bomb” that kills only blacks and Arabs.

The piece was written by Ali Baghdadi, who was, among other things, “Middle East advisor” to Louis Farrakhan. The rant takes the form of a sappy and delusional open letter to Oprah Winfrey, in response to her accepting Elie Wiesel’s invitation to visit Israel. Baghdadi describes Israel’s “apartheid” regime and writes, “I must tell you that Israel was the closest ally to the white supremacists of South Africa.”

The real danger in Obama’s relationship to this church has barely been touched upon despite all the press the situation has received. There is a verifiable convergence of the ideas promoted in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s brand of black liberation theology and the anti-American, anti-Semitic doctrine of radical Islam. America’s current enemies are crazed clerics who wail about Israeli oppression and who damn America before cheering crowds. This description also fits Barack Obama’s pastor of twenty years. That the two types of hate-filled holy men have connected, at least in print, is hardly a surprise. And the slack that liberals want to extend to Jeremiah Wright is merely the “root-cause” terrorist argument re-purposed: We have to understand their reasons, etc. This is what Obama brings with him, and it’s an implausibly generous gift to those who want to destroy us.

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Silence as Gesture

The world-famous mime Marcel Marceau (1923-2007), who died this week at 84, was buried on September 26 in Paris’s historic Père-Lachaise cemetery. The previous Grand Rabbi of France, Algerian-born René-Samuel Sirat, read the Kaddish over Marceau’s grave, reminding the modest crowd—France’s Culture Minister Christine Albanel did not even bother to attend—that Marceau “always defined himself as a citizen of the world, with Jewish roots.”

Indeed, he was born Marcel Mangel to a Polish Jewish family in Strasbourg in 1923. His father Charles Mangel, a butcher and amateur baritone who raised pigeons as a hobby, was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, where he was murdered. Young Marcel moved to Limoges and joined the Resistance, specializing in the counterfeiting of identity papers and helping to hide Jewish children from the Nazis. He counterfeited his own identity, choosing the name Marceau from a heroic poem by Victor Hugo in praise of a French Revolutionary general, François-Séverin Marceau.

Retaining his warrior’s name for the rest of his life, Marceau was more of a fighter than the general public—sometimes exasperated by the whimsy of his Chaplinesque flower-carrying character Bip—might perceive. Rabbi Sirat eloquently pointed to Marceau’s wartime experiences as leading him to the art of mime, with its “twin lessons of silence and gestures.” After D-Day, Marceau joined the French Army commanded by Marshal de Lattre de Tassigny, and only became a full-time performer after the Armistice. Interestingly, he chose among his first teachers the exceptional actor—and notorious collaborator with the wartime Nazi occupant—Charles Dullin.

By 1948, Marceau had established his own theater company, and his character Bip was born, named, according to Marceau, after the character Pip in Dickens’ Great Expectation. Bip is recalled for quaintly chasing butterflies and walking against the wind (a routine Michael Jackson admitted to ripping off in order to stage his own meaningless moonwalk). Bip at times expressed an inner violence, as in his early pantomime, “The Murderer,” which Marceau described as inspired by Raskolnikov, the murderer in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Marceau also claimed this mimed violence conveyed his own desire to “boot the Germans out of France.” When I myself met Marceau some fifteen years ago for an interview at the Espace Pierre-Cardin in Paris, he already seemed travel-worn, although, until very recently, he adamantly maintained a grueling international schedule of tours, with over 200 annual performances.
Read More

The world-famous mime Marcel Marceau (1923-2007), who died this week at 84, was buried on September 26 in Paris’s historic Père-Lachaise cemetery. The previous Grand Rabbi of France, Algerian-born René-Samuel Sirat, read the Kaddish over Marceau’s grave, reminding the modest crowd—France’s Culture Minister Christine Albanel did not even bother to attend—that Marceau “always defined himself as a citizen of the world, with Jewish roots.”

Indeed, he was born Marcel Mangel to a Polish Jewish family in Strasbourg in 1923. His father Charles Mangel, a butcher and amateur baritone who raised pigeons as a hobby, was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, where he was murdered. Young Marcel moved to Limoges and joined the Resistance, specializing in the counterfeiting of identity papers and helping to hide Jewish children from the Nazis. He counterfeited his own identity, choosing the name Marceau from a heroic poem by Victor Hugo in praise of a French Revolutionary general, François-Séverin Marceau.

Retaining his warrior’s name for the rest of his life, Marceau was more of a fighter than the general public—sometimes exasperated by the whimsy of his Chaplinesque flower-carrying character Bip—might perceive. Rabbi Sirat eloquently pointed to Marceau’s wartime experiences as leading him to the art of mime, with its “twin lessons of silence and gestures.” After D-Day, Marceau joined the French Army commanded by Marshal de Lattre de Tassigny, and only became a full-time performer after the Armistice. Interestingly, he chose among his first teachers the exceptional actor—and notorious collaborator with the wartime Nazi occupant—Charles Dullin.

By 1948, Marceau had established his own theater company, and his character Bip was born, named, according to Marceau, after the character Pip in Dickens’ Great Expectation. Bip is recalled for quaintly chasing butterflies and walking against the wind (a routine Michael Jackson admitted to ripping off in order to stage his own meaningless moonwalk). Bip at times expressed an inner violence, as in his early pantomime, “The Murderer,” which Marceau described as inspired by Raskolnikov, the murderer in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Marceau also claimed this mimed violence conveyed his own desire to “boot the Germans out of France.” When I myself met Marceau some fifteen years ago for an interview at the Espace Pierre-Cardin in Paris, he already seemed travel-worn, although, until very recently, he adamantly maintained a grueling international schedule of tours, with over 200 annual performances.

In the 1970’s, I saw him perform in Manhattan before unfriendly crowds who expressed their impatience with the slow pace of his act, his reliance on inferior young students who performed a good part of the mime show, and his own form, creaky even then. Years ago, a French journalist challenged him about his “conventional” pantomimes that seemed never to change. Marceau, ever revolutionary in spirit, replied, “Everything is convention, a fine word that hearkens back to the French Revolution and the notion of convening.” In his sources of inspiration, Marceau may eventually be seen as a kind of mute Elie Wiesel, a survivor who distrusted France’s wartime linguistic hypocrisy to the point of expressing his art silently.

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Jerusalem: The Scandal of Particularity

On May 24th, COMMENTARY’s editor-at-large Norman Podhoretz received the Guardian of Zion Award from the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University. The Guardian of Zion Award is one of the most prestigious in its field; past recipients include Charles Krauthammer, Cynthia Ozick, Daniel Pipes, Elie Wiesel, and Ruth Wisse. The full text of Podhoretz’s lecture—Jerusalem: The Scandal of Particularity—is now available at COMMENTARY’s website. (And make sure to read Rick Richman’s take on the lecture at Jewish Current Issues.)

On May 24th, COMMENTARY’s editor-at-large Norman Podhoretz received the Guardian of Zion Award from the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University. The Guardian of Zion Award is one of the most prestigious in its field; past recipients include Charles Krauthammer, Cynthia Ozick, Daniel Pipes, Elie Wiesel, and Ruth Wisse. The full text of Podhoretz’s lecture—Jerusalem: The Scandal of Particularity—is now available at COMMENTARY’s website. (And make sure to read Rick Richman’s take on the lecture at Jewish Current Issues.)

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