Commentary Magazine


Topic: George Soros

When Dedicating a Synagogue Is a War Crime

Yes, really. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights — one of a myriad of NGOs waging a war of delegitimization against Israel — has issued a press release declaring that:

The inauguration of a Jewish synagogue in East Jerusalem [sic] is considered a form of settlement activity, and thus constitutes a war crime under international humanitarian law.

Of course, this was not the inauguration of a synagogue — it was the rededication of a synagogue that dates to the Ottoman empire and was destroyed by the Jordanians during their occupation of Jerusalem. The Hurva synagogue was built in the 1860’s (even then on the ruins of a synagogue that had been built during the previous century) and demolished intentionally by the Arab Legion in 1948, during the War of Independence. Oh, and I almost forgot: it’s not in “East Jerusalem” — it’s in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Just a stroll away from the Western Wall, whose existence by this logic is also a war crime.

But this is not just another anecdote in the larger story of the derangement of the human-rights world. It is an example of how American and European money is funding the delegitimization campaign against Israel and the spreading of false war-crimes charges. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is bankrolled in part by the Open Society Institute (George Soros) and the Ford Foundation. (Click here for the complete list, including the European donors.) It would be time well spent for U.S.-based Jewish organizations to apply pressure to OSI and the Ford Foundation on the question of why they’re funding an organization claiming that the revival of a centuries-old Jerusalem synagogue is a war crime.

Yes, really. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights — one of a myriad of NGOs waging a war of delegitimization against Israel — has issued a press release declaring that:

The inauguration of a Jewish synagogue in East Jerusalem [sic] is considered a form of settlement activity, and thus constitutes a war crime under international humanitarian law.

Of course, this was not the inauguration of a synagogue — it was the rededication of a synagogue that dates to the Ottoman empire and was destroyed by the Jordanians during their occupation of Jerusalem. The Hurva synagogue was built in the 1860’s (even then on the ruins of a synagogue that had been built during the previous century) and demolished intentionally by the Arab Legion in 1948, during the War of Independence. Oh, and I almost forgot: it’s not in “East Jerusalem” — it’s in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Just a stroll away from the Western Wall, whose existence by this logic is also a war crime.

But this is not just another anecdote in the larger story of the derangement of the human-rights world. It is an example of how American and European money is funding the delegitimization campaign against Israel and the spreading of false war-crimes charges. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is bankrolled in part by the Open Society Institute (George Soros) and the Ford Foundation. (Click here for the complete list, including the European donors.) It would be time well spent for U.S.-based Jewish organizations to apply pressure to OSI and the Ford Foundation on the question of why they’re funding an organization claiming that the revival of a centuries-old Jerusalem synagogue is a war crime.

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The Story Is Only as Good as the Witness

It would have been nice had Peggy Noonan tried harder to answer her query (“Is it true?”) about Scott McClellan’s book. She acknowledges that the storyteller has some significant credibility problems, but shushes those who criticize him. She then seems to conclude the book is nevertheless “true.” (There’s quite a bit of “if he thought it or felt it, it has truth” which suggests that, unfortunately, post-modernism has become endemic.)

Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I think that when the credibility of the witness is damaged because of bias, motive to lie, or lack of first-hand facts (or all of these), there is reason to believe the story isn’t true. There are a few core problems with McClellan’s telling, which others more knowledgeable than I about the inner workings of the Bush White House have pointed to, contemporaneous contradictory comments and lack of access being two of the major ones. Hint #1: a telltale sign of a hyped story about supposed misdeeds is use of provocative language (“propaganda”) in lieu of details about who, what, where, and when untruths allegedly were concocted. Hint#2: when the book changes fundamentally between the “proposal and publication” under the tutelage of a left-wing book publisher you can bet, like that infamous British intelligence report, it got “sexed up” a bit.

So rather than hush the skeptics, maybe we should consider their point: the storyteller is an unreliable witness. (And if forced to swallow truth serum, the reporters–the ones who covered the White House–who are now fawning over McClellan would tell us they doubt he was keyed into the major players and key conversations which would substantiate his claims.)

As to the generic venom and clichéd observations (Dick Cheney was powerful! Who’d have thought?):those didn’t take a percipient witness. They could have been drafted by George Soros. (Maybe they were.)

It would have been nice had Peggy Noonan tried harder to answer her query (“Is it true?”) about Scott McClellan’s book. She acknowledges that the storyteller has some significant credibility problems, but shushes those who criticize him. She then seems to conclude the book is nevertheless “true.” (There’s quite a bit of “if he thought it or felt it, it has truth” which suggests that, unfortunately, post-modernism has become endemic.)

Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I think that when the credibility of the witness is damaged because of bias, motive to lie, or lack of first-hand facts (or all of these), there is reason to believe the story isn’t true. There are a few core problems with McClellan’s telling, which others more knowledgeable than I about the inner workings of the Bush White House have pointed to, contemporaneous contradictory comments and lack of access being two of the major ones. Hint #1: a telltale sign of a hyped story about supposed misdeeds is use of provocative language (“propaganda”) in lieu of details about who, what, where, and when untruths allegedly were concocted. Hint#2: when the book changes fundamentally between the “proposal and publication” under the tutelage of a left-wing book publisher you can bet, like that infamous British intelligence report, it got “sexed up” a bit.

So rather than hush the skeptics, maybe we should consider their point: the storyteller is an unreliable witness. (And if forced to swallow truth serum, the reporters–the ones who covered the White House–who are now fawning over McClellan would tell us they doubt he was keyed into the major players and key conversations which would substantiate his claims.)

As to the generic venom and clichéd observations (Dick Cheney was powerful! Who’d have thought?):those didn’t take a percipient witness. They could have been drafted by George Soros. (Maybe they were.)

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Buying China

Legendary investor (and co-founder, with George Soros, of the Quantum Fund) Jim Rogers, speaking at an ABN Amro conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday, said that he hopes to sell all his assets denominated in U.S. dollars. What’s the investment legend buying? “I don’t see how one can really lose on the renminbi in the next decade or so,” he said, referring to China’s currency. “It’s gotta go. It’s gotta triple. It’s gotta quadruple.”

If it’s gotta do anything, Jim, it’s gotta collapse. Although it’s hard to argue with the guru who in 1999 correctly predicted the bull run in commodities, Rogers absolutely has to learn more about China.

It is true, as Rogers says, that the Bush administration has been trying to devalue the American currency. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson may talk about his strong-dollar policy, but he is not doing much to maintain the value of the greenback. On the contrary, he is trying to weaken it. And he is succeeding. The dollar is trading at historic lows against the euro and other currencies, including the Chinese one. Yesterday, for instance, the yuan, as the Chinese currency is informally known, broke the CNY7.5=US$1 mark—after blasting through 7.6 on July 3. The renminbi has appreciated about 8 percent against the dollar since July 21, 2005, when China unpegged its currency from America’s.

The yuan would go up about 35 percent—give or take twenty percentage points—if Beijing allowed its currency to trade freely. But these predictions of appreciation all assume that China will be able to maintain its elaborate capital controls. If they come down, so will the renminbi. Chinese businesses and citizens, if given the chance, will put some of their money abroad. When they do so, demand for the renminbi will shrink as they exchange local currency for foreign ones. China’s economy certainly looks strong with its 11.5 percent GDP growth, but its apparent success is built on government-created distortions that cannot be maintained for long. The Chinese know this.

All developing economies endure crisis at one time or another. Argentina’s, which started in the beginning of this decade, might be the template for China’s. When Beijing faces market turbulence of its own, all that Jim Rogers knows will become obsolete within minutes. If we have learned one thing from panics in the last hundred years, it’s that they follow the rapid creation of wealth. Chinese leaders have created a massive bubble in their country, and, despite repeated advice from others, have not really tried to stop the boom. China does not have a market economy; therefore, few mechanisms are in place to make necessary adjustments that minimize imbalances as they arise. When crisis comes, it will come big.

Crisis in China? It’s gotta happen, Jim, and when it does, you’re gonna lose a lot of money.

Legendary investor (and co-founder, with George Soros, of the Quantum Fund) Jim Rogers, speaking at an ABN Amro conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday, said that he hopes to sell all his assets denominated in U.S. dollars. What’s the investment legend buying? “I don’t see how one can really lose on the renminbi in the next decade or so,” he said, referring to China’s currency. “It’s gotta go. It’s gotta triple. It’s gotta quadruple.”

If it’s gotta do anything, Jim, it’s gotta collapse. Although it’s hard to argue with the guru who in 1999 correctly predicted the bull run in commodities, Rogers absolutely has to learn more about China.

It is true, as Rogers says, that the Bush administration has been trying to devalue the American currency. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson may talk about his strong-dollar policy, but he is not doing much to maintain the value of the greenback. On the contrary, he is trying to weaken it. And he is succeeding. The dollar is trading at historic lows against the euro and other currencies, including the Chinese one. Yesterday, for instance, the yuan, as the Chinese currency is informally known, broke the CNY7.5=US$1 mark—after blasting through 7.6 on July 3. The renminbi has appreciated about 8 percent against the dollar since July 21, 2005, when China unpegged its currency from America’s.

The yuan would go up about 35 percent—give or take twenty percentage points—if Beijing allowed its currency to trade freely. But these predictions of appreciation all assume that China will be able to maintain its elaborate capital controls. If they come down, so will the renminbi. Chinese businesses and citizens, if given the chance, will put some of their money abroad. When they do so, demand for the renminbi will shrink as they exchange local currency for foreign ones. China’s economy certainly looks strong with its 11.5 percent GDP growth, but its apparent success is built on government-created distortions that cannot be maintained for long. The Chinese know this.

All developing economies endure crisis at one time or another. Argentina’s, which started in the beginning of this decade, might be the template for China’s. When Beijing faces market turbulence of its own, all that Jim Rogers knows will become obsolete within minutes. If we have learned one thing from panics in the last hundred years, it’s that they follow the rapid creation of wealth. Chinese leaders have created a massive bubble in their country, and, despite repeated advice from others, have not really tried to stop the boom. China does not have a market economy; therefore, few mechanisms are in place to make necessary adjustments that minimize imbalances as they arise. When crisis comes, it will come big.

Crisis in China? It’s gotta happen, Jim, and when it does, you’re gonna lose a lot of money.

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Wall Street Populism

Can Democrats be the party of both economic populism and Wall Street? Can they recreate the kind of big tent that allowed Lyndon Johnson to trounce Barry Goldwater in 1964? The answer appears, at the moment, to be yes. The Democrats, more and more, are being funded by those in the financial sector who have benefited the most from globalization, without losing the support of blue-collar workers fearful of globalization’s effects. If the Democrats can hold this broad coalition together, they may be in a position to win a 1964-like victory in 2008.

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Can Democrats be the party of both economic populism and Wall Street? Can they recreate the kind of big tent that allowed Lyndon Johnson to trounce Barry Goldwater in 1964? The answer appears, at the moment, to be yes. The Democrats, more and more, are being funded by those in the financial sector who have benefited the most from globalization, without losing the support of blue-collar workers fearful of globalization’s effects. If the Democrats can hold this broad coalition together, they may be in a position to win a 1964-like victory in 2008.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for higher taxes on the wealthy and tougher tax treatment for private equity firms, like the Blackstone Group, which have become the symbol of growing economic inequality. But this hasn’t hurt the party at all when it comes to fundraising. Perhaps because social issues, not social class, have come increasingly to define what it means to be a Democrat or Republican.

This shift from economic to cultural issues over the last 40 years has scrambled the political landscape. In the 1980’s, 70 percent of the upper quintile of American income earners voted for the GOP. But in the 2006 Congressional elections, the Democrats ran nearly even with Republicans among voters who earned more than $100,000 per year. And among the very wealthy, notes the Financial Times, the “balance of power” has shifted in favor of the Democrats. Young hedge fund tyros and other well-to-do professionals have given the Democrats a substantial fund-raising lead over the Republicans. Barack Obama, who has become increasingly critical of free trade and demands higher taxes on the wealthy, has widespread support in the world of finance, including the hedge fund managers George Soros, Eric Mindich, Paul Tudor Jones, and Daniel Loeb. In the second quarter of 2007, Democratic presidential candidates raised $80 million to their GOP counterparts’ $50 million. Obama alone raised almost $33 million, nearly twice the amount raised by Rudy Giuliani, the leading Republican.

Can a party with such close ties to Wall Street effectively court blue-collar workers? It can, if those workers are fearful of free trade. The unprecedented growth of international trade in recent years has been a boon for the overall economy. But it has also constrained wage growth and induced considerable working-class anxiety. In Ohio’s 2006 mid-term Senate election, Sherrod Brown, running largely on the trade issue, unseated Senator Mike DeWine. Democrats see that race as a potential model for 2008.

The other large arrows in the Democrat’s populist quiver are the public’s hostility to both the energy and pharmaceutical industries, as well as growing worries about the cost of health care. And while there may be tension between those in the risk-loving financial sector and increasingly risk-averse workers, in the short run it can be eased with the promise of higher taxes on the wealthy, to fund (among other things) more health care coverage for the middle class.

Taken together with trade fears, these arrows form a formidable arsenal, one that might well allow Democrats to create a version of their 1964 coalition, in which big business and New Deal liberals marched side-by-side. There are sizable fault lines inherent in such a coalition: just imagine the potential conflicts between green CEO’s driving hybrid limos and workers displaced by environmental over-regulation. But it’s unlikely that a conventional Republican campaign can exploit those weaknesses. As it now stands, on these issues the GOP is marching toward a precipice. (Perhaps it can take solace in the fact that the grand coalition of ’64 quickly fell apart.)

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The Price of One Leak

Leaks of vital U.S. intelligence secrets can get Americans killed. They can also place Americans in a great deal of danger.

As of yesterday, Iran has seized four Iranian-Americans and charged them with spying. They are Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban-planning consultant associated with George Soros’s Open Society Institute; Parnaz Azima, a journalist who works for the American-financed Radio Farda; and Ali Shakeri, a “peace activist” from the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine. In addition, Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who is reported to have traveled to Iran on private business, has been missing since March.

Do these developments have anything to do with a 2002 leak about a highly classified U.S. intelligence program?

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Leaks of vital U.S. intelligence secrets can get Americans killed. They can also place Americans in a great deal of danger.

As of yesterday, Iran has seized four Iranian-Americans and charged them with spying. They are Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban-planning consultant associated with George Soros’s Open Society Institute; Parnaz Azima, a journalist who works for the American-financed Radio Farda; and Ali Shakeri, a “peace activist” from the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine. In addition, Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who is reported to have traveled to Iran on private business, has been missing since March.

Do these developments have anything to do with a 2002 leak about a highly classified U.S. intelligence program?

On January 15, 2002, under the headline “CIA Looks to Los Angeles for Would-Be Iranian Spies,” the Los Angeles Times disclosed on its front page that the CIA was recruiting Iranian-Americans in southern California, home to the largest concentration of Iranian émigrés in the United States. According to the paper, the agency was “offering cash for useful information” to Iranian-Americans who “have business connections [in Iran] or relatives in [a] position to provide valuable information from inside the largely impenetrable republic.” The article went on to give more details:

Former CIA officers said the agency is combing this community for “access agents,” those who may not have direct knowledge of events in Iran but can get information through connections. . . .

“What you really want is these people to get to family members still in Iran,” said a former officer familiar with the Los Angeles effort. “If family members trust each other, they’ll tell you things you can’t know otherwise, can’t get [from satellites]. If you’re really lucky, you might recruit somebody involved in the nuclear-weapons program.”

CIA officers have to disclose their identities when approaching U.S. citizens or permanent residents for information. But foreign travelers and those on temporary visas can be approached undercover.

“You can say, ‘I run a consulting firm in Los Angeles that wants to bring energy companies into Iran when it opens up,'” a former officer said. Eventually, he added, “you might get to the point where you think you can break cover,” meaning reveal CIA affiliation and simply ask the contact to spy.

A new informant might be put on the CIA payroll at $5,000 a month, the officer said. “If the spy were really good, the sky’s the limit”. . . .

The risks for informants are considerable. Foreign travelers in Iran, particularly those from the United States, are followed closely by [Iran’s] intelligence service, MOIS, former CIA officials said. Spies caught by the [Islamic] Republic face severe punishment, including execution.

What public interest was served by the publication of such a sensitive story in the Los Angeles Times, and whatever that interest was conceived to be, was it weighed against the damage that would be done, including to particular individuals? At the time, the CIA would not comment, other than to note that “disclosure of such a program ‘is not helpful to U.S. national security.’” And the revelation was promptly—and conveniently—forgotten by the rest of American press, and today it is not discussed at all.

But the leak is sure to have resonated resoundingly in the minds of the ayatollahs, who have long been obsessed with the supposedly ubiquitous threat posed by the CIA to their regime. Are four, maybe five, Americans now paying the price for our media’s reckless disregard for the imperative of secrecy in the critical realm of intelligence?

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Sam Tanenhaus: Arsonist

The current issue of the New Republic contains a caustic exchange between me and Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the Sunday New York Times book review.

Tanenhaus had written an article in TNR about William F. Buckley, Jr., the broader conservative movement, and today’s war on terror. In an aside, he said that COMMENTARY had called for the prosecution of the editors of the New York Times for “treason.” He also characterized the NSA terrorist surveillance program—the highly classified counterterrorism program disclosed by his newspaper in December 2005—as a “domestic surveillance program.”

I wrote a letter pointing out that in my March 2006 COMMENTARY article about the affair, I never accused the editors of the Times of treason. I did not use the T-word at all—precisely because, whatever else they did, the Times’s editors had not committed that particular crime. Nor did I say they had committed espionage. What I argued was that they had violated a U.S. statute proscribing the publication of classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.

In my letter to TNR, I further pointed out that it was inexact to call the NSA program “domestic.” In fact it was international, tapping only those conversations or intercepting those emails that had crossed borders, and in which one party was a suspected al-Qaeda operative either in the United States or abroad.

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The current issue of the New Republic contains a caustic exchange between me and Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the Sunday New York Times book review.

Tanenhaus had written an article in TNR about William F. Buckley, Jr., the broader conservative movement, and today’s war on terror. In an aside, he said that COMMENTARY had called for the prosecution of the editors of the New York Times for “treason.” He also characterized the NSA terrorist surveillance program—the highly classified counterterrorism program disclosed by his newspaper in December 2005—as a “domestic surveillance program.”

I wrote a letter pointing out that in my March 2006 COMMENTARY article about the affair, I never accused the editors of the Times of treason. I did not use the T-word at all—precisely because, whatever else they did, the Times’s editors had not committed that particular crime. Nor did I say they had committed espionage. What I argued was that they had violated a U.S. statute proscribing the publication of classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.

In my letter to TNR, I further pointed out that it was inexact to call the NSA program “domestic.” In fact it was international, tapping only those conversations or intercepting those emails that had crossed borders, and in which one party was a suspected al-Qaeda operative either in the United States or abroad.

Summing up both of my objections to Tanenhaus’s article, I wrote: “To confuse an international surveillance program with a domestic one is to be as imprecise and inflammatory as to use the word ‘treason’ in describing a much less serious violation of the law.”

“Inflammatory” was the right word. For if in his initial article Tanenhaus was tending toward the incendiary, his response to my letter, now published in TNR, is a Molotov cocktail.

First he accuses me of propagating “nonsense.” Then he pours a bit of gasoline into the bottle, saying that the “charge of espionage implies a corollary charge of treason,” and that in distinguishing between the two I was employing a “mode of clarification” that is precisely like “one used a half-century ago by Joseph McCarthy.”

But I never said, to repeat, that editors at the Times committed either treason or espionage. Section 798 of Title 18, the provision at issue, is entitled “Disclosure of classified information” and it is very easy to understand. Even analysts who disagree with me about the desirability of prosecuting the Times—Morton Halperin, for example, of George Soros’s Open Society Institute—concur that the Times did indeed break this law.

As for his calling the NSA surveillance program “domestic,” Tanenhaus justifies this with a single citation from the December 16, 2005 Washington Post in which it was called “domestic spying”—as if that settled the matter. It doesn’t. And it doesn’t add a single fact to the discussion, except that someone at the Washington Post is also confused.

I have read a lot of Tanenhaus’s writings over the years in the Times, in Vanity Fair, in Slate, and even in COMMENTARY. I have never known him to break into a sweat or even get hot under the collar. For that matter, though he writes at great length about current events, I have never seen him stake out a genuinely controversial position on anything—attacks on safe targets like Pat Buchanan or Ann Coulter clearly do not count. His past reticence on matters of importance was always something of a mystery to me, although I have had my theories. Whatever explains that past reticence, his present act of minor intellectual arson in defense of his employer, in which he does not hesitate to toss in the name of Joseph McCarthy as tinder, offers an additional clue to the puzzle—about which, once again, I have my theories.

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Weekend Reading

In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, George Soros, the billionaire investor, philanthropist, amateur political scientist, and self-styled “stateless statesman,” has an essay detailing the allegedly malign influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American policy and political discourse. According to Soros, the influence wielded by AIPAC has succeeded in silencing any real criticism of the Bush administration’s stance toward Israel, or of Israel’s toward the Palestinians, to the real detriment of the national interest. Anyone who dares to speak out publicly against this insidious state of affairs is tarred with the epithet “anti-Semite” and summarily drummed out of polite society.

Soros is, of course, hardly the first public figure to bring such charges in recent years—without, incidentally, suffering any visible negative effects. Quite the contrary. In March 2006, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, leaped to fame with a lengthy paper on much the same theme in the London Review of Books. (Mearsheimer and Walt criticized not AIPAC alone but a far more nebulous group, the “Israel Lobby,” of which AIPAC constituted one element.) The ranks of such “questioners” have also been swollen lately by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and others, again to a chorus of approbation.

In COMMENTARY, both George Soros and the question of the “Israel Lobby” have received attention of another kind. In “The Mind of George Soros” (March 2004) Joshua Muravchik examined the life, the ideas, and the political megalomania of the financier. More recently, in “Dual Loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby,’” our senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld deconstructed the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt and located them within a historical tradition of similarly suspect exercises. We offer these two indispensable articles for your weekend reading.

In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, George Soros, the billionaire investor, philanthropist, amateur political scientist, and self-styled “stateless statesman,” has an essay detailing the allegedly malign influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American policy and political discourse. According to Soros, the influence wielded by AIPAC has succeeded in silencing any real criticism of the Bush administration’s stance toward Israel, or of Israel’s toward the Palestinians, to the real detriment of the national interest. Anyone who dares to speak out publicly against this insidious state of affairs is tarred with the epithet “anti-Semite” and summarily drummed out of polite society.

Soros is, of course, hardly the first public figure to bring such charges in recent years—without, incidentally, suffering any visible negative effects. Quite the contrary. In March 2006, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, leaped to fame with a lengthy paper on much the same theme in the London Review of Books. (Mearsheimer and Walt criticized not AIPAC alone but a far more nebulous group, the “Israel Lobby,” of which AIPAC constituted one element.) The ranks of such “questioners” have also been swollen lately by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and others, again to a chorus of approbation.

In COMMENTARY, both George Soros and the question of the “Israel Lobby” have received attention of another kind. In “The Mind of George Soros” (March 2004) Joshua Muravchik examined the life, the ideas, and the political megalomania of the financier. More recently, in “Dual Loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby,’” our senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld deconstructed the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt and located them within a historical tradition of similarly suspect exercises. We offer these two indispensable articles for your weekend reading.

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