Commentary Magazine


Topic: Even President

In the Shadow of Iran, Holocaust Remembrance Must Have a Purpose

At synagogues and community centers, as well as city halls and statehouses around the country, Americans gathered yesterday and today to mark Yom HaShoah, the date in the Jewish calendar that commemorates the tragedy of the Holocaust. The choreography of these events is invariably the same. Community leaders, clergymen, and politicians, as well as representatives of the dwindling band of survivors, will speak of the importance of remembrance of this great crime and vow that “Never again” will the world stand by and watch as a people is slaughtered. Prayers will be said and songs that invoke the pathos of the victims as well as the heroism of those who resisted the Nazis and their collaborators will be sung. All this is right and proper and appropriate. And it is also utterly insufficient.

The notion that the example of the Holocaust would be used to mobilize the world to prevent subsequent acts of genocide was always a bit optimistic.  Yet some well-meaning educators thought the memory of the Shoah must be morphed into a more general concern for humanity lest it be seen as merely a parochial concern. In addition, those who sought to downplay contemporary threats to Jewish life particularly derided the idea that Holocaust remembrance must have specific lessons for Jews about powerlessness and sovereignty. For those like New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who once referred to Israel as “Yad Vashem with an air force,” the worry was that Israel and its friends were so obsessed by the Holocaust that they were unwilling to make peace with the Arabs. This was an absurd charge against a country that would spend two decades making concessions and peace offers to Palestinian groups that still refuse to recognize the Jewish state’s legitimacy within any borders.

But in 2010 these post-Zionist dismissals of the existential threats to Israel are even more out of touch with reality than in the past. Even as the speakers at Yom Hashoah ceremonies recited the words “never again,” the leaders of the Islamist regime in Iran (whose president ironically denies the Holocaust while plotting a new one) were happily noting the international community’s weak response to their plans for the development of a nuclear weapon. The entire world is threatened by this prospect but we all know that the priority target for Iran and its terrorist allies Hezbollah and Hamas is the State of Israel. Whether the Iranians actually detonate such a weapon or merely use it to blackmail other countries, the peril to Israel and its population of more than 6 million Jews must be seen as imminent.

Yet the idea that America, let alone an indifferent Europe, is prepared to actually do something to stop Iran is not taken seriously by anyone. Last week even President Obama, who spent his first year in office attempting to engage and appease Iran, more or less acknowledged that his weak attempts to enact toothless sanctions on Tehran might not convince the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime to change course. That means that it is only a matter of time until the day comes (perhaps on Obama’s watch) when the world will wake up to the nightmare of an Iranian bomb.

The question is, what are American Jews — the vast majority of whom voted for Obama as loyal Democrats — prepared to do to convince their president to act before it is too late? There is no evidence to suggest that there is a pervasive sense of alarm or outrage about the administration’s feckless Iran policy or its perverse insistence on hostility toward the democratically elected government of Israel. Thus, for all of the attention devoted to observances of Yom Hashoah among American Jews, it appears as if the actual lesson of the Holocaust has no resonance for all too many. Though it was always true, this year the mere recital of expressions of sorrow for the Six Million are not enough. Acts of remembrance that do not lead us to draw conclusions about the present are of little use. For all the care and money that has gone into the proliferation of Holocaust memorials around the United States, it must be understood that the best and only true memorial to the Shoah is to be found in the creation and the survival of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people itself. Those who weep over fate of the Six Million but say nothing as Barack Obama lets Iran off the hook have learned nothing.

At synagogues and community centers, as well as city halls and statehouses around the country, Americans gathered yesterday and today to mark Yom HaShoah, the date in the Jewish calendar that commemorates the tragedy of the Holocaust. The choreography of these events is invariably the same. Community leaders, clergymen, and politicians, as well as representatives of the dwindling band of survivors, will speak of the importance of remembrance of this great crime and vow that “Never again” will the world stand by and watch as a people is slaughtered. Prayers will be said and songs that invoke the pathos of the victims as well as the heroism of those who resisted the Nazis and their collaborators will be sung. All this is right and proper and appropriate. And it is also utterly insufficient.

The notion that the example of the Holocaust would be used to mobilize the world to prevent subsequent acts of genocide was always a bit optimistic.  Yet some well-meaning educators thought the memory of the Shoah must be morphed into a more general concern for humanity lest it be seen as merely a parochial concern. In addition, those who sought to downplay contemporary threats to Jewish life particularly derided the idea that Holocaust remembrance must have specific lessons for Jews about powerlessness and sovereignty. For those like New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who once referred to Israel as “Yad Vashem with an air force,” the worry was that Israel and its friends were so obsessed by the Holocaust that they were unwilling to make peace with the Arabs. This was an absurd charge against a country that would spend two decades making concessions and peace offers to Palestinian groups that still refuse to recognize the Jewish state’s legitimacy within any borders.

But in 2010 these post-Zionist dismissals of the existential threats to Israel are even more out of touch with reality than in the past. Even as the speakers at Yom Hashoah ceremonies recited the words “never again,” the leaders of the Islamist regime in Iran (whose president ironically denies the Holocaust while plotting a new one) were happily noting the international community’s weak response to their plans for the development of a nuclear weapon. The entire world is threatened by this prospect but we all know that the priority target for Iran and its terrorist allies Hezbollah and Hamas is the State of Israel. Whether the Iranians actually detonate such a weapon or merely use it to blackmail other countries, the peril to Israel and its population of more than 6 million Jews must be seen as imminent.

Yet the idea that America, let alone an indifferent Europe, is prepared to actually do something to stop Iran is not taken seriously by anyone. Last week even President Obama, who spent his first year in office attempting to engage and appease Iran, more or less acknowledged that his weak attempts to enact toothless sanctions on Tehran might not convince the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime to change course. That means that it is only a matter of time until the day comes (perhaps on Obama’s watch) when the world will wake up to the nightmare of an Iranian bomb.

The question is, what are American Jews — the vast majority of whom voted for Obama as loyal Democrats — prepared to do to convince their president to act before it is too late? There is no evidence to suggest that there is a pervasive sense of alarm or outrage about the administration’s feckless Iran policy or its perverse insistence on hostility toward the democratically elected government of Israel. Thus, for all of the attention devoted to observances of Yom Hashoah among American Jews, it appears as if the actual lesson of the Holocaust has no resonance for all too many. Though it was always true, this year the mere recital of expressions of sorrow for the Six Million are not enough. Acts of remembrance that do not lead us to draw conclusions about the present are of little use. For all the care and money that has gone into the proliferation of Holocaust memorials around the United States, it must be understood that the best and only true memorial to the Shoah is to be found in the creation and the survival of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people itself. Those who weep over fate of the Six Million but say nothing as Barack Obama lets Iran off the hook have learned nothing.

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Reconciliation — The Last Gasp of the Left

Obama is going to pitch the country on reconciliation. If he’s as persuasive as he’s been on the underlying bill that he’s trying to ram through Congress, the public will recoil. And well they should. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors explain that it’s an effort ”to permanently expand the American entitlement state with a vast apparatus of subsidies and regulations while the political window is still (barely) open, regardless of the consequences or the overwhelming popular condemnation.” It’s the final gambit (which might never come about unless Nancy Pelosi digs up some votes), made necessary because the president has failed to garner broad-based support for the bill:

Reconciliation is the last mathematical gasp for ObamaCare because Democrats can’t sell their policy to Senator Snowe, any other Republican, or even dozens of Democrats. This raw exercise of political power is of a piece with the copious corruption and bribery—such as the Cornhusker kickbacks and special tax benefits for union members—that liberals had to use to get even this far.

Democrats often point to welfare reform in 1996 as a reconciliation precedent, yet that bill passed the Senate with 78 votes, including Joe Biden and half of the Democratic caucus. The children’s health insurance program in 1997 was steered through Congress with reconciliation, but it, too, was built on strong (if misguided) bipartisan support. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that created Schip passed 85-15, including 43 Republicans. Even President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts, another case in reconciliation point, were endorsed by 12 Senate Democrats.

We’ll see if we get that far. The House Democrats may nip this in the bud, after all. But this is in some way the epitome of the modern Left: impervious to public opinion, indifferent to fiscal reality, and willing to operate through brute political force. Obama, when challenged on his ObamaCare fetish, pronounces “that’s what elections are for.” Well, suffice it to say that a majority of voters in 2008 never thought that this was what they were getting. But they can certainly comply with the president’s request for electoral clarity this time around.

Obama is going to pitch the country on reconciliation. If he’s as persuasive as he’s been on the underlying bill that he’s trying to ram through Congress, the public will recoil. And well they should. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors explain that it’s an effort ”to permanently expand the American entitlement state with a vast apparatus of subsidies and regulations while the political window is still (barely) open, regardless of the consequences or the overwhelming popular condemnation.” It’s the final gambit (which might never come about unless Nancy Pelosi digs up some votes), made necessary because the president has failed to garner broad-based support for the bill:

Reconciliation is the last mathematical gasp for ObamaCare because Democrats can’t sell their policy to Senator Snowe, any other Republican, or even dozens of Democrats. This raw exercise of political power is of a piece with the copious corruption and bribery—such as the Cornhusker kickbacks and special tax benefits for union members—that liberals had to use to get even this far.

Democrats often point to welfare reform in 1996 as a reconciliation precedent, yet that bill passed the Senate with 78 votes, including Joe Biden and half of the Democratic caucus. The children’s health insurance program in 1997 was steered through Congress with reconciliation, but it, too, was built on strong (if misguided) bipartisan support. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that created Schip passed 85-15, including 43 Republicans. Even President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts, another case in reconciliation point, were endorsed by 12 Senate Democrats.

We’ll see if we get that far. The House Democrats may nip this in the bud, after all. But this is in some way the epitome of the modern Left: impervious to public opinion, indifferent to fiscal reality, and willing to operate through brute political force. Obama, when challenged on his ObamaCare fetish, pronounces “that’s what elections are for.” Well, suffice it to say that a majority of voters in 2008 never thought that this was what they were getting. But they can certainly comply with the president’s request for electoral clarity this time around.

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Obama’s Achievements?

I commented the other day on Jessica Matthews’s defense of Obama’s foreign-policy record, which I found highly unconvincing. I am more impressed by this article by the Financial Timess Washington bureau chief, Ed Luce. Straying from the realm of security policy, he gives Obama credit for helping to stabilize the American economy — indeed, the global economy:

Mr. Obama began his term in the midst of the biggest economic maelstrom in two generations and a climate of panic. He ends his first year on the calm seas of an economy that has returned to moderate growth and a financial system returned to solvency (in the case of bonus pools, too much solvency for most people’s liking).

I think that’s right, and it’s an achievement that should not go underestimated. In this instance, Obama proved a deft crisis manager. But Luce also underscores the lack of substantive achievements from Obama’s stress on “diplomacy” as opposed to the presumed war-mongering of his predecessor. He concedes (as Matthews does not):

Mr. Obama’s trip to China last month looked amateur when it became clear his hosts interpreted his warm “G2” overtures as a sign of weakness. His attempts to revive the Arab-Israeli peace process were sincere but they have been badly handled. And Iran is no closer to coming to the negotiating table.

That’s right too. And the “grudging agreement” reached by participants in the Copenhagen climate-change conference won’t change that judgment substantially. As the New York Times notes: “Even President Obama, a principal force behind the final deal, said the accord would take only a modest step toward healing the Earth’s fragile atmosphere.”

I commented the other day on Jessica Matthews’s defense of Obama’s foreign-policy record, which I found highly unconvincing. I am more impressed by this article by the Financial Timess Washington bureau chief, Ed Luce. Straying from the realm of security policy, he gives Obama credit for helping to stabilize the American economy — indeed, the global economy:

Mr. Obama began his term in the midst of the biggest economic maelstrom in two generations and a climate of panic. He ends his first year on the calm seas of an economy that has returned to moderate growth and a financial system returned to solvency (in the case of bonus pools, too much solvency for most people’s liking).

I think that’s right, and it’s an achievement that should not go underestimated. In this instance, Obama proved a deft crisis manager. But Luce also underscores the lack of substantive achievements from Obama’s stress on “diplomacy” as opposed to the presumed war-mongering of his predecessor. He concedes (as Matthews does not):

Mr. Obama’s trip to China last month looked amateur when it became clear his hosts interpreted his warm “G2” overtures as a sign of weakness. His attempts to revive the Arab-Israeli peace process were sincere but they have been badly handled. And Iran is no closer to coming to the negotiating table.

That’s right too. And the “grudging agreement” reached by participants in the Copenhagen climate-change conference won’t change that judgment substantially. As the New York Times notes: “Even President Obama, a principal force behind the final deal, said the accord would take only a modest step toward healing the Earth’s fragile atmosphere.”

Read Less