Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel

Anti-Semitism and the “French Intifada”

Few quotes can do a better job of expressing the state of French Jewry than a Jewish Paris barber’s comment to JTA on France’s Jewish Defense League (known as LDJ): “I used to tell my grandsons to focus on the studies and stay out of trouble, but now I sent them to join the LDJ and defend our synagogues against the scum.”

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Few quotes can do a better job of expressing the state of French Jewry than a Jewish Paris barber’s comment to JTA on France’s Jewish Defense League (known as LDJ): “I used to tell my grandsons to focus on the studies and stay out of trouble, but now I sent them to join the LDJ and defend our synagogues against the scum.”

The comment perfectly encapsulates the frustration and fear felt by the Jewish community in France. The barber’s advice to his grandchildren had been the old adage: Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you. Well, trouble has arrived. The barber added: “The Arabs own the streets now. We need make them lose the appetite for messing with us if we’re to survive here. LDJ is our Iron Dome.”

The JTA story is a marvelous piece of reporting. It’s also a testament to the fact that French Jews, who tend to be quite patriotic about their country–the JTA story even opens with a scene at which LDJ members are guarding a synagogue and singing La Marseillaise–have given up relying on the French state to protect them.

As the story explains:

Unable to reach the Grand Synagogues of Sarcelles, some of the rioters smashed shop windows in this poor suburb where tens of thousands of Jews live amid many Muslims. They torched two cars and threw a firebomb at a nearby, smaller synagogue, which was only lightly damaged.

“We sang to thank them, but also to remind them and ourselves that we are equal French citizens entitled to safety,” said Eliyahu, a member of France’s Jewish Defense League, or LDJ, who agreed to be identified only by his first name.

It was the ninth synagogue attack in France since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza two weeks ago. To Eliyahu and many other French Jews, the attacks have contributed to a growing realization that, despite the extraordinary efforts of French authorities to protect them, French Jews need to rely mostly on themselves for their defense.

“The cops are here now, but it’ll be just us and the Arabs tomorrow,” said Serge Najar, a local community leader.

Nine synagogue attacks in two weeks is a full-blown crisis, especially considering the nature of the attacks and the threat posed had the LDJ not been there to supplement the French police. It obviously shows an angry anti-Semitism not based in Israel or Gaza or recent events; those have just been the convenient pretexts to express the hate.

But aside from French societal anti-Semitism, there is another failing of the French state that enables this. In his new book The French Intifada, the historian Andrew Hussey describes going through his normal metro transfer in 2007 on the day riots broke out in Paris led primarily by largely Arab and African immigrants. He arrives–without knowing the riots had begun–at the Gare du Nord station and sees that a gleeful, and terrifying, total breakdown of law and order is underway:

There is no word in French or English which expresses the opposite of the verb ‘to civilize’: the concept does not exist. But this was anti-civilization in action – a transgression of every code of behaviour that holds a society together. Like a terrorist attack or a football riot, the act of anti-civilization is a total experience: it undermines everything all at once. This is not an intellectual concept; it is a feeling. These kids were taking on the whole world around them – the police, the train authorities, passers-by – wrecking the station, the shops and the offices. And they knew exactly what they were doing.

And what were they doing? They were rebelling, but they were also taking advantage of a key weakness of Parisian order. At flashpoints, or geographic joints connecting different communities in the city, there is a precarious balance:

The Gare du Nord, at the heart of this district, is frontier territory. It is the dividing line between the wretched conditions of the banlieues, the suburbs outside the city, and the relative affluence of central Paris. It is where young banlieusards come to hang out, meet the opposite sex, shop, smoke, show-off and flirt – all the stuff that young people like to do. Paris is both near and distant; it is a few short steps away, but in terms of jobs, housing, making a life, for these young people it is as inaccessible and far away as America. So they cherish this small part of the city that belongs to them.

This is why the Gare du Nord is a flashpoint. The area is generally tense but stable: everyone in the right place, from the police to the dealers. But when the police come in hard, it can feel like another display of colonial power. So the battle cry of ‘Na’al abouk la France!’ is also a cry of hurt and rage. It expresses ancestral emotions of loss, shame and terror. This is what makes it such a powerful curse.

The outbreak of anti-Semitic violence in France is the result of a perfect storm of conditions. But those conditions are not new, and they are not rare, and they are not being adequately addressed. That’s why many Jews are leaving, and others are turning to the LDJ.

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A Disgraceful Smear: Blaming Judaism for Israel’s Fallen

I wasn’t planning on writing about Slate senior editor Allison Benedikt’s deeply ignorant screed against Israel this morning, both because of discomfort with rewarding click-trolling and because it was so obviously abhorrent that by the time I got around to it (the piece was posted last night) I would just be repeating others. But I think an important point is still being missed.

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I wasn’t planning on writing about Slate senior editor Allison Benedikt’s deeply ignorant screed against Israel this morning, both because of discomfort with rewarding click-trolling and because it was so obviously abhorrent that by the time I got around to it (the piece was posted last night) I would just be repeating others. But I think an important point is still being missed.

The piece centers on Max Steinberg, a “lone soldier” in the Israel Defense Forces who was killed by terrorists in Gaza this week. Steinberg is from Los Angeles, and after attending a Birthright Israel trip, felt connected enough to make aliyah. He joined the IDF. Benedikt strings these basic facts together and comes up with a creative, and thoroughly repugnant, theory: Birthright shares the blame in Steinberg’s death.

Here’s the crux of Benedikt’s case. You’ll notice two problems:

Though most trip alumni do not join the IDF (Birthright’s spokeswoman told me they don’t keep track), to do so seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission—the ultimate expression of a Jew’s solidarity with Israel is to take up arms to defend it.

The first is that she leaps to quite a conclusion while admitting she has no data to back it up, as the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur notes:

Let me help. The answer is “exceedingly few.” Fewer than 3,000 Americans make aliyah each year across all age groups — from a community of six million Jews. Only a few hundred are young adults, and only a fraction of these (excluding religious women, health problems, anyone over 26, among others) join the IDF.

Then there are those who join the IDF without becoming Israeli citizens via a program known as Mahal, a program that predates Birthright by decades. Hundreds of Mahal soldiers fought in Israel’s Independence War in 1948. Max was a Mahal soldier, one of an estimated 400 young people from English-speaking countries who join the IDF each year through Mahal to serve a shorter service of 1.5 years instead of 3. While Mahal fighters number in the hundreds, only a fraction could have been Birthright participants. At least one-third are classified by the army (based on their own self-identification) as “religious,” meaning that they had been raised in religious educational frameworks, and thus are unlikely to have gone on Birthright. Most Jewish religious schools take their students to Israel during high school, making them ineligible for free college-age Birthright trips.

But the focus on the data misses the other problem with Benedikt’s essay. Benedikt doesn’t have the data on Birthright alumni joining the IDF because she doesn’t need or want it. She’s making a more philosophical argument. She’s saying Birthright connects Jews to Israel, and the “ultimate expression” of this connection must be, in Benedikt’s mind, to pick up a gun and put on a uniform.

The real clue to why Benedikt’s piece is so repulsive is her closing. She writes:

You spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support? This is what you get.

Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s not about Birthright per se. It’s about connecting Jews to their ancient homeland–their historical identity, in other words. And that connection, if successful, leads–not always, but logically, in Benedikt’s mind–to Steinberg’s tragic end. “This is what you get,” she says. War, death–this is what happens when you help Jews connect to a crucial part of Jewish life, history, practice, and identity.

It’s not Birthright that killed Max Steinberg, in Benedikt’s telling. It’s Judaism. Compartmentalize your Judaism by separating yourself from the global Jewish community and from Eretz Yisrael–keep your people’s history hidden–and you should be OK. “Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good and became convinced by his Birthright experience that putting on an IDF uniform and grabbing a gun was the way to do it,” Benedikt offers, trying to explain Steinberg’s Zionism by ascribing it to mental weakness, to emotional instability, or to a moral naïveté that his fellow Jews took advantage of.

To teach a Jew about his people and his history, according to Benedikt, is to play a dangerous game. And this, she says, pointing to the death of a 24-year-old soldier, is what happens; “This is what you get.”

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How the West Helps Hamas Thwart Future Israeli Pullouts

Several commentators have already noted that foreign airlines’ suspension of flights to Israel due to Hamas rocket fire may mean Israel will “never-ever hand land to Palestinians ever again,” as Shmuel Rosner put it on Twitter; Israel can’t afford to have its sole air bridge to the world be at the mercy of a terrorist organization’s whims. But blaming Hamas alone for such a development would be unfair, because the problem isn’t just that Israel evacuated every last inch of Gaza and got 13,000 rockets (and counting) fired at its territory in exchange. It’s that after evacuating Gaza and getting 13,000 rockets in exchange, Israel discovered it still had zero support from the West for any military steps sufficient to actually suppress this rocket fire.

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Several commentators have already noted that foreign airlines’ suspension of flights to Israel due to Hamas rocket fire may mean Israel will “never-ever hand land to Palestinians ever again,” as Shmuel Rosner put it on Twitter; Israel can’t afford to have its sole air bridge to the world be at the mercy of a terrorist organization’s whims. But blaming Hamas alone for such a development would be unfair, because the problem isn’t just that Israel evacuated every last inch of Gaza and got 13,000 rockets (and counting) fired at its territory in exchange. It’s that after evacuating Gaza and getting 13,000 rockets in exchange, Israel discovered it still had zero support from the West for any military steps sufficient to actually suppress this rocket fire.

Western leaders seem curiously oblivious to the fact that the promise of “international legitimacy” was the trump card played by every Israeli premier who executed territorial withdrawals to refute critics who worried (correctly) that the evacuated areas would become hotbeds of anti-Israel terror. Yitzhak Rabin, in withdrawing Israeli forces from parts of the West Bank and Gaza under the Oslo Accords; Ehud Barak, in the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon; and Ariel Sharon, in the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza all made the same simple argument: If Israel is subsequently attacked from these areas, it will then have full international legitimacy to do whatever is necessary to stop the attacks. And most Israelis believed them.

Today, no Israeli believes this anymore. Those prime ministerial promises were made in 1993, 2000, and 2005–i.e., before the Second Lebanon War of 2006, Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008, or the current Gaza operation. And what Israel discovered in all those wars was that Western leaders, diplomats, journalists, intellectuals, and other opinion leaders indeed declared loudly that Israel has a right to defend itself–but only on condition that it not kill civilians. And since it’s impossible to avoid civilian casualties in any war, much less one against a terrorist organization that deliberately uses civilians as human shields, that effectively means Israel has no legitimacy for military action at all.

This lack of legitimacy is evident in countless ways. Virulently anti-Semitic demonstrations against the Israeli operation have swept the Western world, though no such demonstrations were ever held against the far greater slaughter in, say, Syria. The UN Human Rights Council is working on launching an inquiry into Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza–though not, needless to say, those of Hamas; a similar inquiry after the last Gaza war produced the infamous Goldstone Commission, whose report accusing Israel of “war crimes” was opposed by only eight Western countries in the UN General Assembly, despite being so libelous that even its lead author subsequently repudiated it.

Leading European intellectuals have declared on public radio that all “Zionists” should be shot and the West should arm Hamas. Ostensibly sober diplomats have made witless statements (to borrow Peter Wehner’s apt term) about how Israel is losing “moral authority” by “overdoing” its military operation, when in fact, the ground operation has been limited to a small stretch of Gaza near the Israeli border, leaving the rest of Hamas’s military infrastructure untouched. Both Washington and European capitals are demanding that Israel “do more” to prevent civilian casualties, without explaining what more it could do short of abandoning the military operation and simply letting Hamas launch its rockets undisturbed, while also demanding an “immediate” cease-fire that would leave Hamas with much of its military capability intact.

In short, Israel has learned that once it cedes territory, it’s at the mercy of any terrorist organization that chooses to attack it from that territory, because it will never have international legitimacy to conduct the kind of military operation necessary to suppress such attacks. And that’s not Hamas’s fault at all. It’s the fault of that same “enlightened West” that claims its top priority is an agreement that would get Israel out of the West Bank.

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Scholars of African Literature Have Eyes Only for Israel

The African Literature Association has thrown its insubstantial weight behind the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. Opponents of the boycott movement should welcome this move. Unlike some of the other academic associations that have gotten behind BDS, the African Literature Association cannot even assert that it has, because of U.S. funding, a special interest in Israel. The ALA, though it is headquartered in the U.S. at present, is an emphatically international organization whose political interests, if a literary association must have such interests, are in Africa.

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The African Literature Association has thrown its insubstantial weight behind the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. Opponents of the boycott movement should welcome this move. Unlike some of the other academic associations that have gotten behind BDS, the African Literature Association cannot even assert that it has, because of U.S. funding, a special interest in Israel. The ALA, though it is headquartered in the U.S. at present, is an emphatically international organization whose political interests, if a literary association must have such interests, are in Africa.

It is therefore striking that none of the ALA’s resolutions specifically concerns Africa. In South Africa, where the ALA met this year, Human Rights Watch has said that the government has refused to acknowledge “xenophobic attacks on refugees” from Somalia and elsewhere. But the ALA, though it explicitly complains of Israel’s treatment of African refugees, had nothing to say, as its members partied in Johannesburg, about South Africa’s record.

Here are some other things going on, according to Human Rights Watch’s 2014 World Report, on the continent the African Literature Association purports to be concerned with. Human Rights Watch shares with the ALA an undue focus on Israel, but at least it has the consistency to notice human-rights violations elsewhere.

In Sudan, the government’s “indiscriminate bombing and ongoing clashes with rebels, and the obstruction of humanitarian assistance to rebel-held areas since the outbreak of conflict in June 2011, have displaced tens of thousands within those states and elsewhere in Sudan and forced more than 225,000 to flee to refugee camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia.” Millions have been displaced. Hundreds of thousands are dead. The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In South Sudan, “the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, especially in Murle areas. Soldiers unlawfully targeted and killed Murle civilians and caused thousands to flee their homes out of fear of attack. Soldiers also looted or destroyed homes, schools, churches, and the compounds of aid agencies.” The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In Ethiopia, “arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in detention continues to be a major problem. Students, members of opposition groups, journalists, peaceful protesters, and others seeking to express their rights to freedom of assembly, expression, or association are frequently detained arbitrarily.” The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In the Central African Republic, the Seleka, a largely Muslim rebel group that briefly controlled the government “killed scores of civilians who were trying to flee attacks. In some villages, every single structure was at least partially burned. The destruction was often accompanied by pillaging, leaving civilian populations utterly destitute.” Violence between the Seleka and armed Christian and animist groups continues and has displaced hundreds of thousands. The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In Somalia, in government controlled areas, “targeted killings of civilians, notably journalists, increased.” In the Democratic Republic of Congo, “the Rwandan-backed M23 armed group committed widespread war crimes, including summary executions, rapes, and forced recruitment of children.” In Nigeria, “security forces razed and burned homes and properties in communities thought to harbor Boko Haram fighters. In Baga, a town in Borno state, Nigerian troops destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and allegedly killed scores of people, apparently in retaliation for the killing of a soldier by Boko Haram.” In Eritrea, many “are denied fundamental human rights, including the right to express opinions, form associations and peacefully protest. Scores of people continue to be arbitrarily detained and imprisoned without trial at the whim of commanders and security forces; many are tortured.  Freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice is denied if the government disapproves of the choice.” The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In fairness, the organization has not been wholly silent on human rights in Africa. For example, the ALA’s president, in 2011, wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to act on unspecified human-rights violations in Africa. But that letter was much less pointed and detailed than the resolution against Israel which, among other things, singles out Israel alone for working with repressive African regimes. They had nothing to say about their host South Africa’s close allies, China and Russia, both of which are known for exporting arms to nations, including Sudan, with poor human-rights records. Nor did they speak to South Africa’s refusal to support sanctions against Syria. About such things, the righteous scholars of the African Literature Association do not care.

We can thank the African Literature Association for making things crystal clear. When an association that exists primarily “to facilitate the attempts of a world-wide audience to appreciate the efforts of African writers and artists” and secondarily to support “the African peoples in their struggle for liberation” interests itself solely in Israel and has not a word for human-rights abuses in Africa, we can be confident that we are dealing with scholars in the grip of an anti-Semitic movement.

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Madeleine Albright’s Witless Commentary on Israel and Hamas

On CNN today, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made the following observations: (1) There should be a cease-fire in the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, but Hamas is the one that hasn’t accepted one; and (2) Israel has the right to defend itself when being attacked by rockets.

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On CNN today, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made the following observations: (1) There should be a cease-fire in the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, but Hamas is the one that hasn’t accepted one; and (2) Israel has the right to defend itself when being attacked by rockets.

But the bottom line, she said, is this is a matter of Israel not exercising proper “proportionality.” What she didn’t say, but surely she must know, is that Israel has exercised extraordinary restraint in this operation, far beyond what America would do in a similar circumstance. Israel would rather not have gone to war–but provoked into the war, it now needs to shut down the terrorist catacombs that are allowing Hamas to infiltrate Israel and kill Israelis. How exactly does she propose Israel do this? By appealing to Hamas’s sense of decency and fair play?

Ms. Albright then brought up the need for a “two-state solution.” What she didn’t say, but surely she must know, is that Israel has repeatedly offered the Palestinians a two-state solution. Yet the Palestinian leadership has time and again refused it, in part because its goal is the elimination of the Jewish state. In addition, Gaza has been Palestinian territory for nearly a decade. There has been no Israeli presence in Gaza since 2005. Israel gave up land–and what it got in return was war.

Ms. Albright then added this:

I do think that it is very hard to watch the number of Palestinians that are being killed – innocents. It is hard to dispute the fact that, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that, in fact, there are innocents being put in the way in order to act as shields.

But the bottom line is, I think that this is hurting Israel’s moral authority. I do think it looks as though they’re overdoing, which is why I think there has to be more emphasis on the fact that they have accepted the cease-fire. And then try to figure out who has any influence over Hamas in order to get them to accept a cease-fire.

Let’s continue to untangle what Ms. Albright said, shall we?

She concedes that Hamas is responsible for using innocent Palestinians as human shields–yet somehow it’s Israel’s moral authority that is being hurt.

How on earth can it be Israel’s fault when the Israeli military is doing everything in its power to protect innocent civilians while Hamas is doing everything in its power to have them killed? Among the reasons Hamas is following this malignant strategy is for propaganda purposes, so people like Madeleine Albright will offer up witless commentary on television, shamefully turning Hamas’s war crimes into Israel’s moral failure.

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Israel, the FAA, and International Isolation

For years, peace processors and pundits have threatened that to stop its “growing international isolation,” Israel must make “painful concessions” and withdraw from territory. The “growing isolation” was always a myth. Israel’s trade with Europe has grown constantly in recent years, even as it developed new markets and ties in Asia. Tourism has reached record levels almost every year, as has the number of Israelis traveling abroad. Except to those sensitive to the movements of postmodern dance troupes, the international isolation was a chimera.

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For years, peace processors and pundits have threatened that to stop its “growing international isolation,” Israel must make “painful concessions” and withdraw from territory. The “growing isolation” was always a myth. Israel’s trade with Europe has grown constantly in recent years, even as it developed new markets and ties in Asia. Tourism has reached record levels almost every year, as has the number of Israelis traveling abroad. Except to those sensitive to the movements of postmodern dance troupes, the international isolation was a chimera.

Now, however, international isolation has truly arrived–not from holding territory, but from leaving it. With the suspension of American and European flights to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, rockets from Gaza yielded what peace processors said settlement construction would. The flight suspension by all major airlines is a major–even if temporary–economic, diplomatic, and psychological setback for Israel. It finds itself, for the moment, in same position as Iraq, Libya, and Somalia.

The subtext here is that Israel has a sword at its neck: face a private-sector no-fly zone or agree to a cease-fire that lets Hamas keep its rockets, and thus close Ben Gurion Airport again at the time of its choosing. It is a lose-lose proposition.

Yes, Israel faces international isolation–as a consequence of its attempts to avoid international isolation. Of course, nuanced thinkers are already explaining why this should not prejudice further, massive territorial withdraws from the hills immediately overlooking Ben Gurion Airport and the coastal plain.

Everyone is jittery from the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 over Ukraine, they will say. If so, Hamas has succeeded in turning Israel into Donetsk. Moreover, the timing of the FAA’s absurd and unjustified warning seems to have more to do with Kerry’s visit to the region to impose a cease-fire on Israel. Until his administration’s flight ban, that effort seemed entirely futile.

The West Bank is vastly larger and closer to central Israel than Gaza. What Hamas could do periodically and with great difficulty will be a daily occurrence. Israel would be able to survive, but with a sword at its neck, and on terms constantly dictated by the Palestinians, and whoever is ultimately in charge of the FAA.

Indeed, the decision-making behind the FAA ban demands investigation. Ben Gurion remains an extremely safe airport. The FAA had many various measures short of a flight ban, like warnings, that it could have imposed. The FAA only warns airlines about flying to Afghanistan; it does not ban them. And the FAA move comes the day after a general State Department warning about Israel–though far more people were killed in Chicago on Fourth of July weekend than in the Jewish state since the start of the Gaza campaign.

Whatever the intent, the administration has cornered Israel in a booby-trapped tunnel, with Hamas on one side, and economic perdition on the other.

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Censorship vs. Accountability in Journalism

Last week, there was a bit of an uproar when NBC foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, who was covering Gaza for the network, was replaced with a more experienced anchor. There were concerns that Mohyeldin was being rotated out of Gaza due to his apparent sympathy for the Palestinian side. After an outcry, he was sent back to Gaza. But it’s now becoming clear that NBC had good reason to have second thoughts about putting its coverage in Mohyeldin’s hands.

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Last week, there was a bit of an uproar when NBC foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, who was covering Gaza for the network, was replaced with a more experienced anchor. There were concerns that Mohyeldin was being rotated out of Gaza due to his apparent sympathy for the Palestinian side. After an outcry, he was sent back to Gaza. But it’s now becoming clear that NBC had good reason to have second thoughts about putting its coverage in Mohyeldin’s hands.

CNN’s media reporter Brian Stelter looked into the controversy and did a segment on it over the weekend. In an accompanying article, he explains that NBC had Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel arrive in Israel midweek and that the network was prepared for the possibility it would only have time for one broadcast, and decided to make it Engel’s. That proved to be wise call.

The day Engel arrived, Mohyeldin witnessed the attack on a Gaza beach area that killed four Palestinian children. That earned him a chance to do the segment. But NBC higher-ups were disappointed in the quality of Mohyeldin’s proposed script, and crunched for time, gave the nod to the more experienced Engel. It was a very sensitive story, and Mohyeldin had dropped the ball.

That didn’t stop complaints that Mohyeldin was being punished (or “censored,” a patently ridiculous claim) for his perceived pro-Palestinian bias. But there’s a difference between sympathy for the Palestinians and whitewashing Hamas at the expense of getting an accurate story. And now back in the region, Mohyeldin is showing why NBC was uncomfortable with his work. On a segment on Gaza with MSNBC host Chris Hayes last night, Mohyeldin was asked about the tendency of Hamas to use Palestinians in Gaza as human shields. Here was his response to Hayes:

MOHYELDIN: Well, we just put that statement, exact statement to Hamas spokesperson who’s categorically denied that Hamas or its fighters are
using the civilian population as human shields. We have not — I have not in my specific time here in Gaza, and I’ve covered three separate wars – have ever seen Hamas fighters using civilians as human shields.

But more importantly, what they say about that allegation, they categorically reject it, they deny. They say the entire world’s media is present here on the ground in Gaza. If there are any evidence, or if there are any reporters, that should be sufficient, but none of those have emerged, according to Hamas. Officials, they say there simply isn’t any documentation to suggest that Hamas uses hospitals or uses mosques or schools to store weapons.

Now, the U.N. has countered that. The U.N. has said that last week, it found 20 rockets in one U.N. facility, although that was not substantiated. That is a claim the United Nations, which oversees schools near Gaza, claims to have found.

For its part, though, Hamas denies that allegation entirely.

To put it simply: if Mohyeldin has reported from Gaza for three wars and never witnessed the use of human shields, he is failing comprehensively to do his job. This is likely what NBC saw: a reporter missing the key stories his competitors were covering to instead offer Hamas’s official explanation. Some NBC executives were very likely uncomfortable not with Mohyeldin’s supposed sympathy for Palestinian children but that he was taking a wrecking ball to NBC’s credibility.

Perhaps he was in over his head; Gaza is a tough beat. Whatever the reason, NBC had to do something. Now that they’ve returned him to Gaza, he continues chipping away at their efforts to get some accurate sense of the conflict.

It’s not as though Hamas has all the media fooled (as Mohyeldin hints). The Washington Post has been quite busy getting the story. The Algemeiner has a roundup of Post stories on the topic. They note that the Post covered the fact that Hamas was using a hospital as “a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders,” and that the Post ran stories detailing the use of mosques to store rockets. In one story, the Post reporter witnessed Hamas fighters moving rockets into a mosque during a temporary cease-fire. It’s also a bit baffling that Mohyeldin played down the rockets discovered in a UN school, when other press followed the progress of those rockets being returned to (Hamas-linked) Palestinian officials.

To be fair, Mohyeldin isn’t alone. The New York Times’s Anne Barnard complained on Twitter this morning that criticism of her one-sided coverage isn’t fair because it’s too dangerous to cover Hamas accurately. I sympathize, and admire reporters for putting themselves in harm’s way for their job. But it’s all the more reason to salute the reporters who are doing so while actually getting the story.

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Israeli Restraint Also Comes at a Price

Ever since Israel began its latest Gaza operation in an effort to stop the rocket fire directed against its civilians, calls for Israel to “show restraint” have become a mantra for both the Obama administration and the international community at large. Quite what would constitute both a “restrained” and an effective response goes completely unspecified by those making these calls. Failing any useful suggestions from the outside, Israel’s current strategy has actually shown a great deal of restraint in its effort to balance meeting military objectives with attempting to avoid civilians. So restrained, in fact, that it has inevitably placed limits on Israel’s ability to definitively prevent either rockets or the infiltration of terrorists by sea and tunnel. And this restraint comes with another still greater price for Israelis, a price that is being paid by the young men of Israel’s armed forces.

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Ever since Israel began its latest Gaza operation in an effort to stop the rocket fire directed against its civilians, calls for Israel to “show restraint” have become a mantra for both the Obama administration and the international community at large. Quite what would constitute both a “restrained” and an effective response goes completely unspecified by those making these calls. Failing any useful suggestions from the outside, Israel’s current strategy has actually shown a great deal of restraint in its effort to balance meeting military objectives with attempting to avoid civilians. So restrained, in fact, that it has inevitably placed limits on Israel’s ability to definitively prevent either rockets or the infiltration of terrorists by sea and tunnel. And this restraint comes with another still greater price for Israelis, a price that is being paid by the young men of Israel’s armed forces.

“It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation! It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation!” an exasperated John Kerry was caught saying over an open mic this weekend. But the Secretary of State knows full well from America’s own military operations just how difficult it is to target guerrilla fighters operating in urban areas without also endangering civilians. What more is it that Kerry thinks Israel should be doing? Should Israel be dropping more warning leaflets and making more phone calls encouraging Gazans to flee the conflict zone? Should Israel be making more last-minute cancellations of strikes when it becomes apparent that civilians might be in the line of fire? Should Israel simply rule out altogether any target that Hamas has embedded in an urban area no matter how crucial hitting it is for stopping Hamas’s terror activities? It is meaningless for outsiders to talk of Israel’s right to defend its people in theory, only to then lambaste Israel’s every effort to do so in practice.

During Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead similar measures were taken to avoid civilian casualties and yet the use of airstrikes was evidently much heavier. This had two results. The first was that casualty figures among Gazans were significantly higher than has so far been the case this time around. And the second was that when the IDF undertook its ground operation in Gaza the number of Israeli soldiers killed by Palestinian militants was limited to six. This time, just a few days into the ground operation, the IDF casualty figure stands at twenty-eight. This is in part because Hamas is now armed with far more advanced (Iranian supplied) weaponry than ever before, as seen with its use of anti-tank mortars. Yet when it comes to fighting in such densely built-up areas as Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood, the Israelis have an impossibly difficult calculus to make between risking a greater loss of civilian life by using heavier airpower, or carrying out fewer airstrikes and putting Israeli troops in considerably greater danger.

This was the same moral conundrum that Israel faced in Jenin in 2002 during the Second Intifada. Israel could have spared losses on its own side by using heavy shelling of the areas militants were operating within. Yet the Israeli army prioritized sparing civilian lives and obliged its men to undergo the nightmare of house-to-house combat against the jihadists. They faced ambushes and booby-trapped buildings. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers lost their lives and seventy were wounded. Despite this concerted effort to show full regard for the highest humanitarian principles, Israel was defamed and accused of carrying out a massacre that under later investigation turned out to be a total fiction.

During the course of the current ground operation in Gaza, Israel has brought injured Islamist militants to Israel for medical treatment and has now established a field hospital for Palestinians in Gaza itself. In recent weeks Israel has agreed to every humanitarian cease-fire requested, always in the knowledge that it won’t be upheld by the other side. To suggest that Israel has some malicious disregard for civilian life, to suggest that it is perhaps “accidentally-on-purpose” choosing to kill a few extra Gazans here and there, is simply obscene. If Israel had some means of sparing every civilian and only striking combatants, do the John Kerrys of this world seriously imagine that they would withhold it? Yet some of Israel’s critics seem to operate under the impression that Israelis have almost magical powers in warfare and that, if only the mood took them, they could defeat Hamas without causing any significant harm to the surrounding population.

Under the circumstances Israel shows incredible restraint. The result is that it cannot stop the rockets or the terror tunnels by airstrikes alone. Instead it has to send in its young men. And because the Israelis insist on showing a concern for Gazan civilians—the like of which is an utter anathema to Hamas—they also withhold the kind of shelling that would make the work of their ground troops much easier. That comes at a most terrible price for the Israeli soldiers and their families.

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The End of the Liberal Critique of Israel

After several days of personally observing the people of Israel reacting to rocket attacks and the grim reality of the fight against Hamas in Gaza, the irrelevance of most of the things the country’s American critics say about it has never seemed more obvious to me. After being forced into a war that the overwhelming majority of people here understand is one about their survival and not the political issues that divide Jews, it’s little wonder that most Israelis pay little attention to their country’s foreign detractors who seek to save them from themselves. People who claim to care about the Jewish state need to draw similar conclusions.

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After several days of personally observing the people of Israel reacting to rocket attacks and the grim reality of the fight against Hamas in Gaza, the irrelevance of most of the things the country’s American critics say about it has never seemed more obvious to me. After being forced into a war that the overwhelming majority of people here understand is one about their survival and not the political issues that divide Jews, it’s little wonder that most Israelis pay little attention to their country’s foreign detractors who seek to save them from themselves. People who claim to care about the Jewish state need to draw similar conclusions.

The contrast between the support for the efforts of the Israel Defense Forces to attack Hamas’s rocket launchers and terrorist tunnel network in Gaza that is exhibited by most Israelis and the outrage that these efforts at self-defense have generated elsewhere is hard to ignore. Israelis understand the current conflict has nothing to do with arguments about settlements or borders. You don’t have to be a supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or those of pro-settlement critics on the right here to understand that Hamas and its sympathizers don’t care where Israel’s borders should be drawn. Nor is there any real debate about the impact of a Palestinian political culture in which even the supposed moderates applaud terrorism and treat those who slaughter Jews as heroes. The point of the terrorist fortress in Gaza that the Israel Defense Forces is trying to disarm if not dismantle is to serve as the base for an ongoing war against the existence of the Jewish state. The choice of Hamas’s leaders to deliberately sacrifice as many of their own people as possible in order to protect their terrorist infrastructure has not been lost on Israelis. Nor has it escaped their notice that the whole point of the massive investment in rockets and infiltration tunnels by the government of a district mired in poverty is to produce as many Jewish casualties as possible regardless of the impact such actions may have on the safety or the quality of life of Palestinians.

Just as important is the ugly anti-Semitic tone of much of the protests that have been mounted against Israel’s counter-attacks against Hamas in Gaza. Simply put, much of the world seems to think that Hamas has a “right” to shoot thousands of rockets at Israeli cities or to launch cross-border terror raids aimed at kidnapping or killing as many Jews as possible and that the Jewish state has no right to defend itself against these actions–even if they go to great lengths (as the Israel Defense Forces do as a matter of course) to avoid hurting the civilians that the Islamists use as human shields. The general invective against Zionism being heard on the streets of Europe’s cities and even in the U.S. protests against Israel is of a piece with the tone of Hamas’s talking points. The solidarity these demonstrators are expressing for the “resistance” against the “occupation”–a term by which they mean all of Israel and not just the West Bank or the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza–also makes plain the nature of the struggle. Even those who support a two-state solution that would entail an Israeli withdrawal from most or all of the West Bank must now comprehend that their dislike of the settlements or the desire to satisfy the Palestinian ambition for sovereignty can’t ignore the fact that the debate about these ideas is entirely moot while the rockets are flying and terrorists are tunneling beneath the border in hope of emerging inside Israel to slaughter innocents. In this context of hate and violence, the only real points of contention are whether you support the survival of the Jewish state or not.

That is why the energy expended by so many American liberals on behalf of projects designed to pressure Israel’s government to make more concessions to the Palestinians is not merely wrongheaded. It’s utterly irrelevant to the realities of both the Middle East and the global resurgence of anti-Semitism. Groups such as J Street that are predicated on the notion that Israel must be saved from itself by principled liberal critics are treated as both serious and representative of Jewish opinion by the mainstream media. But that group has little to say about the current conflict that requires our notice. Nor are its efforts to distinguish itself from far more radical anti-Zionist groups that openly support efforts to isolate Israel economically and support protests against its right of self defense of any importance any longer.

At this moment it is no longer possible to pretend that the conflict can be wished away by Israeli concessions that would, if implemented, create another 20 Gazas in the West Bank. Nor can one rationally argue that more Israeli forbearance toward Hamas in Gaza and a less vigorous effort to take out its vast system of tunnels shielding its rocket arsenal and terror shock troops would bring the region closer to peace when the only way to give that cause a chance is predicated on the elimination of Hamas.

If, at some point in the indefinite future, the Palestinians turn on Hamas and its less radical allies and embrace a national identity that is not inextricably linked to Israel’s elimination, perhaps then we can resume the debate about settlements and borders that J Street craves. But until that unlikely event happens, it is imperative that Americans realize that the J Street critique of Israel that is often echoed by some in the Obama administration and throughout the left is over. The only question to be asked today is whether you stand with Israel’s right to defend itself or not. Jews and others who consider themselves friends of the Jewish state must find the courage to speak up for the justice of Israel’s cause in the current crisis against the forces of hate. Viewed from the perspective of the last week’s events here in Israel, anything else is a waste of time.

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A Stubborn Status Quo in Gaza

It’s been a rough few days for both Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Some 25 Israeli soldiers and more than 500 Palestinians have been killed in fighting. The loss of life on both sides is deplorable. But the fact that many more Palestinians than Israelis have died–that the death toll has been, to use the buzz phrase, “disproportionate”–does not mean that the Israelis are the aggressors and the Palestinians the victims.

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It’s been a rough few days for both Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Some 25 Israeli soldiers and more than 500 Palestinians have been killed in fighting. The loss of life on both sides is deplorable. But the fact that many more Palestinians than Israelis have died–that the death toll has been, to use the buzz phrase, “disproportionate”–does not mean that the Israelis are the aggressors and the Palestinians the victims.

In a sense both sides are the victims of Hamas’s leaders who refuse to recognize Israel’s existence or to give up their armed struggle against it. If only the Hamas leaders had done what normal democratic politicians would have done when Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005: which is to say, if only they had focused on economic development, then none of this would have happened. Israel would have happily cooperated in boosting living conditions in Gaza; it only instituted a blockade on Gaza, with exceptions for humanitarian supplies, when it became clear that it was becoming an armed base for an attack on Israel. In fact wealthy Jewish donors even gave the Palestinians 3,000 greenhouses left behind by settlers. But instead of growing flowers, Hamas prefers to harvest hatred. The greenhouses were looted and covert rocket factories were constructed.

So for the third time since 2005 a war is raging in Gaza–one brought about directly by Hamas’s insistence on attacking Israel. No nation in the world would tolerate hundreds of rockets raining down on its territory. Because Israel was not able to stop the barrage through the use of precision airpower alone, it has now sent its soldiers into harm’s way.

Predictably, Israeli casualties have been going up as their troops have been battling through the dense urban warrens of Gaza City–restrictive terrain that to some extent obviates the firepower advantage of the IDF and allows Hamas ambushers to inflict real damage on Israeli troops. On Sunday, for example, a Hamas anti-tank missile apparently took out an antiquated armored personnel carrier, killing seven soldiers from the elite Golani Brigade. But Israeli forces still have the initiative and are working on destroy tunnels built by Hamas not only to infiltrate military supplies into Gaza but also to infiltrate its fighters into Israel.

Naturally the “international community” is eager to stop the war as soon as possible and is putting pressure on both sides to reach a cease-fire agreement. (If only there were as much pressure being applied to Bashar Assad whose war has killed upwards of 170,000 Muslims.) Few seem to remember Israel had already offered a cease-fire before the ground war started. Hamas refused, no doubt because it has been losing popularity and sees a war against the “Zionist entity” as a good way to enhance its prestige among Palestinians and the Arab world more generally. But sooner or later, as in the past, Hamas is certain to agree to a cease-fire.

What then? Essentially we will see a return to the prewar status quo. That is to say, an uneasy peace, with Hamas trying to smuggle in more weapons and Israel watching warily, both sides preparing for a resumption of hostilities. There is no victory likely for either side. The best that Israel can hope for is to manage the problem because, as I have pointed out before, the only way to eradicate Hamas is through an occupation, which Israel does not want to undertake.

The second-best solution might be to have the Palestinian Authority, which is more moderate than Hamas and after all is supposed to be nominally in charge of both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, assert its actual authority in Gaza. Yet, surprisingly, there does not seem to be much discussion of this option. That may well be a tribute to Hamas’s success–little discussed but hugely significant–in knee-capping Fatah’s infrastructure in Gaza, sometimes literally. Hamas has waged a ruthless behind-the-scenes battle to consolidate authority in Gaza at the expense of Fatah.

That seems to leave Hamas as the only game in town for the time being, barring even more radical Salafists. So the odds are heavy that Hamas will remain in charge after Israel’s operation ends–and Palestinians will continue to pay the price for its extremism time and again.

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Israel, Hamas, and Moral Idiocy

In our politics today we often turn our disagreement into Manichean struggles, as if one side has all the arguments in its favor while the other has none. In fact, it’s not unusual for both sides to have at least a kernel of truth. That doesn’t mean, of course, that both sides hold equally valid positions; but it does mean that there are usually legitimate, competing claims to arbitrate.

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In our politics today we often turn our disagreement into Manichean struggles, as if one side has all the arguments in its favor while the other has none. In fact, it’s not unusual for both sides to have at least a kernel of truth. That doesn’t mean, of course, that both sides hold equally valid positions; but it does mean that there are usually legitimate, competing claims to arbitrate.

Abraham Lincoln got at this better than anyone when he said, “The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it have more of evil, than of good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost everything, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.”

But note the qualifier: “Almost everything.” From time to time there are situations in which the political and moral arguments are completely with one side and not the other. Such is the case with the war between Israel and Hamas.

Start with the two protagonists: on the one side, a nation of incredible intellectual, political, and moral achievements that has made more sacrifices for peace than any country on earth. On the other, an Islamic terrorist organization that ranks among the most vicious in the world and whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and Jews everywhere. (The Hamas propaganda slogan declares, “We love death more than the Jews love life.”)

As for the particulars of this current conflict, we face a situation in which Israel wants peace and Hamas wants war (and indeed started this war); in which Israel has accepted several cease-fires and Hamas none; in which Israel is bending over
 backwards to prevent civilian Palestinian deaths while Hamas bends over backwards to increase civilian Palestinian deaths.

These facts are not in dispute. Neither is this: Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, granting the Palestinians what they said they wanted: self-rule. In the process, Israel destroyed thousands of homes and public buildings owned by Jewish settlers who had lived in Gaza since Israel won the land in the 1967 war. Israeli troops even stormed the synagogue in Kfar Darom in order to remove Israeli settlers who did not want to leave. And what did Israel get in return for its unilateral withdrawal? Not an independent Palestinian state but a terrorist one that, among other things, has launched rocket attacks at the three largest cities in Israel (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa).

Yet despite all this, much of the world, including many Europeans, blame not Hamas but Israel. In dozens of European cities, including Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and Amsterdam, “thousands of demonstrators thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters have depicted Israel as the aggressor and sought to isolate it internationally.” This is a grotesque distortion of reality.

In America, thank goodness, things aren’t nearly so bad. Still, it comes as a surprise to exactly no one that the Obama administration, while saying Israel has the right to self-defense, is continually applying pressure against the Jewish state for exercising that right. Team Obama’s frustration with Israel is palpable (see this clip from Secretary Kerry mocking Israel when he thought his conversation was private). We’re told the president, for example, has “serious concern about the growing number of casualties, including increasing Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza.” So do many of us. It is heartbreaking to witness. But the pressure should be applied not to Israel but Hamas, which started this war, which is attempting to escalate it, and which is using innocent Palestinians as human shields. Yet we get from this administration a kind of rough moral symmetry in which Israel is lectured to exercise restraint beyond anything we would ask of ourselves and in which both Israel and Hamas are said to be complicit in a non-stop “cycle of violence.”

This is moral idiocy. The proper response to this conflict is to stand four-square with Israel in its effort to decimate Hamas. That would be the right thing to do in every respect, including for the welfare of Palestinian children, who are merely pawns in the lethal game being played by Hamas.

To portray Hamas sympathetically and Israel as villainous is not simply irrational. It requires one to step through the looking glass, to hate the good and embrace the malevolent, and in doing so to enter a world characterized by at best moral confusion and at worst moral corruption.

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Lessons from the Failed Peace Process

There are a few conclusions to be drawn from Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon’s deeply reported and engagingly written investigation into the failure of the recent Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The first is that, if the reporting is accurate, there is no longer any doubt that it was the Palestinian side that blew up the talks. They attempted to kill the process twice, but the first time the Israeli negotiators, led by Tzipi Livni, rescued the talks. The second time, the Palestinians ensured nothing could be done to save the process.

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There are a few conclusions to be drawn from Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon’s deeply reported and engagingly written investigation into the failure of the recent Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The first is that, if the reporting is accurate, there is no longer any doubt that it was the Palestinian side that blew up the talks. They attempted to kill the process twice, but the first time the Israeli negotiators, led by Tzipi Livni, rescued the talks. The second time, the Palestinians ensured nothing could be done to save the process.

The second conclusion is that the way the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, blew up the talks bodes ill for any future peace process:

Over the next three weeks, with April 29 approaching, Indyk would meet nine times with Livni, Molho, Erekat, and Faraj in a bid to salvage the peace talks. He was determined to get everything in writing this time. No more misunderstandings. And by April 23, the sides seemed close to an extension agreement. Indyk drove to Ben Gurion Airport that day to pick up his wife, and while at the baggage claim, he got a call from Livni. She’d heard that the Palestinians had just done something to ruin all the progress they had made. Indyk immediately phoned Erekat, who said he wasn’t aware of the development, but would investigate. Back at the U.S. consulate, the Kerry team was combing over the details of the emerging deal, with the secretary calling periodically to check in. Soon, the news penetrated their office, too. Weeks earlier, they had been surprised by the timing of Abu Mazen’s U.N. ceremony, but not by the act. The Palestinians had put them on notice. But as the American officials huddled around a desktop computer, hungry for actual details about this rumor they were hearing, they couldn’t believe the headline that now flashed across the screen: FATAH, HAMAS END YEARS OF DIVISON, AGREE TO UNITY GOVERNMENT. The next day, the Israeli Cabinet had voted to suspend the talks. John Kerry’s peace process was over.

It’s one thing to threaten action, set a deadline, and then carry it out. That is essentially what the Palestinians did with their UN gambit. But the idea that the process could just end on a Palestinian whim can poison the well (or whatever’s left of it).

That’s because for the Palestinians, once the process begins it’s in the hands of Abbas, Erekat, and some high-level members of Abbas’s cabinet. That is not the case for Israel. As the report details, the day the Palestinians signed their applications to the UN agencies, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding meetings throughout the day in his office seeking to reassure skeptics in his coalition without alienating Livni and the peace processors to their left. Additionally, he had to deal with the constant threat of rebellion from Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing party that held the third-most seats in the governing coalition.

The unity deal between Hamas and Fatah was an unmitigated disaster for the peace process. It was more than just a setback: it raised the possibility that any Israeli leader who risked his government for a peace process would get a more terroristic Palestinian government than he or she started with and would have imminent war looming. The Palestinians are willing to pull the plug without warning. That’s a lesson their Israeli and American counterparts will learn.

And it is related to the third conclusion to be drawn from the essay. The authors relate a conversation between Kerry and Netanyahu in which Netanyahu raises the issue of Palestinian incitement. Eventually, the following exchange occurs:

Kerry pressed on: “When I fought in Vietnam, I used to look at the faces of the local population and the looks they gave us. I’ll never forget it. It gave me clarity that we saw the situation in completely different ways.”

“This isn’t Vietnam!” Netanyahu shouted. “No one understands Israel but Israel.”

That comment may paint Netanyahu as defensive, but in fact he’s right–and the essay demonstrates that convincingly. Kerry and his negotiating team, as well as the Palestinian leadership, consistently misread the Israeli political scene and Netanyahu’s reaction to it. Autocrats don’t seem to understand democratic politics, and Kerry’s team exhibited no real grasp of what it takes to form a consensus and keep a government intact in Israel.

The reporters themselves even got tripped up by Israeli politics and leaned heavily on trite and completely inaccurate narratives. At one point in the article, they refer to Netanyahu as “a right-wing ideologue”–an absurdly reductionist and patently false claim. If Netanyahu, the famous dealmaker and pragmatist who elicits much Israeli wariness precisely because he is not an ideologue, can be classified as such, then everybody and nobody is an “ideologue.”

Elsewhere in the piece we are told, indefensibly, that “Tea Party types were continuing their slow-motion takeover of the Likud.” This is a common, but no less justifiable, trope. It is a sign either that the writer can only understand politics through shallow American analogies or that the writer assumes that to be true of the reader. Or both, I suppose. Whatever the reason, the “Tea Party” contention is obviously untrue, and those who offer it with regard to Israeli politics are doing their readers a considerable disservice.

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Europe Confronts its Anti-Israel Extremists

For the second weekend running European cities witnessed a surge of hateful, and in places violent, anti-Israel protests. With the temper of these gatherings becoming so alarmingly extreme, European governments may now be waking up to a problem that has been festering in parts of their societies for quite some time. Yet as they attempt to make sense of this growing source of public disorder, one wonders whether Europe’s political elites will reflect upon their own role in manufacturing this fiercely anti-Israel atmosphere.

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For the second weekend running European cities witnessed a surge of hateful, and in places violent, anti-Israel protests. With the temper of these gatherings becoming so alarmingly extreme, European governments may now be waking up to a problem that has been festering in parts of their societies for quite some time. Yet as they attempt to make sense of this growing source of public disorder, one wonders whether Europe’s political elites will reflect upon their own role in manufacturing this fiercely anti-Israel atmosphere.

Some of the most shocking scenes happened in Paris, where two synagogues came under attack, resulting in street fighting between anti-Israel activists and Jewish youths. In an effort to prevent a repeat of this mayhem the authorities took the unprecedented decision of prohibiting any pro-Palestinian demonstrations planned for the following weekend. While such a move is certainly a measure of just how serious the French government is about combating this malady, it is equally a sign of how insurmountable a problem has become when a government is reduced to simply reaching for the “outlaw” option. It is indeed a concerning state of affairs for any democracy to be forced into taking such drastic action as the last resort for ensuring public safety.

Of course, in reality such moves are by their nature bound to backfire. They inevitably add to the existing sense of outrage and convince others that there is a conspiracy seeking to silence dissenters. As a result the events in Paris this weekend were still more violent than those seen the week before. Rioters set fire to cars, looted Jewish-owned stores, and hurled a Molotov cocktail at another synagogue, while violent clashes left a dozen police injured. Many of those involved in these disturbances came from France’s sizable Muslim minority, and so some might consider it understandable that these demonstrators should feel a deep sense of solidarity with Muslims suffering in Gaza. Yet their fellow Sunni Muslim brothers have been cut down in vastly greater numbers, and in far more brutal ways, by Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria and by rival Shia insurgents in Iraq, both of course backed by Iran. It simply cannot be ignored that these events did not draw anything like the same reaction.

That observation holds true for those marching the streets of London. On Sunday, during a rally held in support of Israel, it was reported that a man had to receive treatment from paramedics after being assaulted by pro-Palestinian activists. Indeed, in recent weeks anti-Semitic incidents in Britain are said to have doubled. This is the inevitable fallout from the kind of incitement prevalent at the rallies being held for Gaza. At Saturday’s the crowed was thick with placards that bore the Star of David alongside the swastika, that referred to the “Holocaust” in Gaza, and that carried such messages as: “well done Israel, Hitler would be proud.” The crowd enthusiastically chanted what has now become the movement’s favorite rallying cry: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a call for the total extinction of the State of Israel between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean.

With an estimated 15,000 attendees, the numbers were significantly reduced from the turnouts seen in London during Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead. As several commentators have now observed, the demographic at these marches has shifted to being predominantly Muslim, many conservatively dressed, with a sprinkling of the far-left and the high minded thrown in. And the atmosphere seemed uglier than ever before. There were scuffles with the police, the Israeli embassy had to be barricaded, and organizers and guest speakers whipped the crowed into a frenzy by bellowing down the microphone about Israel being an illegal/racist/apartheid/terror state. Still, none of this was quite as distasteful as the stunt pulled at another rally held in London earlier in the week, when protesters brought along children smeared with red paint–a modern-day blood libel if ever there was one.

All of this was just a few notches down from events in Paris and could quickly escalate to comparable levels of anarchy. But the truth is that both the British and French governments have fostered the attitudes that breed such extreme outbursts. The French government has been at the forefront of European efforts to single out Israel’s settlement policy as a uniquely unspeakable crime, and likewise the British government has upheld the narrative that it is Israel’s settlement policy that has sabotaged peace efforts. And when the Commons came to debate the situation in Gaza earlier this week, most parliamentarians began by condemning Hamas rockets before swiftly justifying them as a kind of forgivable response to wicked Israel’s settlement building, a curious position given that the rockets are coming out of Gaza, from which all of Israel’s settlements were removed in 2005. But then this is the prevailing wisdom and indeed the line pushed by the BBC and Agence France-Presse, both state owned, of course.

European governments rightly pour scorn on the rising flames of anti-Semitism that are erupting out of the continent’s anti-Israel fringe, but at what point do these same politicians face up to their own role in fanning these flames and legitimizing the extreme views that give rise to them?

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Former PA Official: Firing Rockets at Israel ‘Restores Our Human Dignity’

To truly understand the current fighting in Gaza, it’s important to listen to Jamal Zakout. Zakout, a secular resident of Ramallah, is no fan of Hamas, as Amira Hass noted in her report in Haaretz last week (Hebrew only): He has held various positions in the Palestinian Authority, including spokesman for former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, took part in the Geneva Initiative (a nongovernmental effort to draft an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement), and opposed the “militarization” of the second intifada. Nevertheless, Hass writes, the fighting is bolstering Hamas’s status even among Palestinians like him, because “when Hamas manages, despite everything, to continue launching missiles at Israel and disrupting normal life there, Zakout says this restores their feeling of human dignity.”

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To truly understand the current fighting in Gaza, it’s important to listen to Jamal Zakout. Zakout, a secular resident of Ramallah, is no fan of Hamas, as Amira Hass noted in her report in Haaretz last week (Hebrew only): He has held various positions in the Palestinian Authority, including spokesman for former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, took part in the Geneva Initiative (a nongovernmental effort to draft an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement), and opposed the “militarization” of the second intifada. Nevertheless, Hass writes, the fighting is bolstering Hamas’s status even among Palestinians like him, because “when Hamas manages, despite everything, to continue launching missiles at Israel and disrupting normal life there, Zakout says this restores their feeling of human dignity.”

This, in a nutshell, is why the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains unsolvable, and why it produces spasms of violence with monotonous regularity: For too many Palestinians, including “moderates” like Zakout, “human dignity” derives from hurting Israelis–even knowing full well that the resultant Israeli counterstrikes will cause far greater harm to Palestinians.

This is something you would simply never hear an Israeli say, because Israelis see human dignity as stemming from saving life, not taking it. This doesn’t mean they oppose using military force in self-defense. Indeed, they overwhelmingly support the current operation: After absorbing 13,000 rockets from Gaza over the last nine years, they want the rockets stopped; they want children in the south to be able to grow up normally, instead having 45 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to constant rocket fire, and they want people all over Israel to be able to lead their lives without disruption. But they would never say that dropping bombs on Gaza enhances their “human dignity”; they view war as an unpleasant necessity which they would much rather not have to engage in.

This difference in Palestinian and Israeli attitudes is epitomized by two technological developments that have become the darlings of their respective peoples: the Iron Dome anti-missile system and the M-75 rocket.

The M-75 is a technological marvel–a homemade medium-range rocket capable of striking Tel Aviv, developed despite stringent Israeli import restrictions aimed at preventing Hamas from doing just that. It’s a purely offensive weapon with no defensive purpose, and Palestinians love it. An enterprising Gaza merchant even named a perfume after it two years ago, when it was first deployed, and Reuters reported that sales promptly soared.

Iron Dome is also a homegrown technological marvel. But it’s the M-75’s mirror image: a purely defensive weapon with no offensive purpose. And that’s precisely why Israelis love it: Its purpose is to save lives rather than take them.

It’s not that Israel lacks homegrown, technologically marvelous offensive weapons. But while killing people who seek to kill you is sometimes necessary for self-defense, and most Israelis have no qualms about employing offensive weapons for that purpose, they would never love them. They view taking life as an unpleasant necessity that they would much rather be spared.

Palestinians, to be fair, have no defensive weaponry to love; they don’t even have basic civil-defense measures such as shelters. But that, as Jonathan Tobin wrote last week, is because Hamas deliberately opted to invest all its efforts in offensive capabilities rather than measures to protect its own people. It prefers taking Israeli lives to saving Palestinian ones. And this preference has only bolstered Hamas’s popularity.

This seeming anomaly is explained by Zakout’s insight: To many Palestinians, human dignity comes not from bettering their own lives, but from worsening Israelis’ lives. Or as a Hamas parliamentarian succinctly put it, “We desire Death, as you desire Life.”

And as long as Palestinians derive their sense of human dignity from killing Israelis, peace will never be possible.

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Will Kerry Hand Hamas a Victory?

Four days into Israel’s ground operations in Gaza casualties are rising on both sides, but the only ones who seems to be cracking under the pressure are President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. While Hamas remains confident that it can bank on international support and Israel’s government seems determined not to kick the can down the road any further with respect to the ongoing threat from the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, the administration may be panicking and about to make yet another mistake that will sow the seeds for more suffering in the future.

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Four days into Israel’s ground operations in Gaza casualties are rising on both sides, but the only ones who seems to be cracking under the pressure are President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. While Hamas remains confident that it can bank on international support and Israel’s government seems determined not to kick the can down the road any further with respect to the ongoing threat from the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, the administration may be panicking and about to make yet another mistake that will sow the seeds for more suffering in the future.

Secretary Kerry’s hot-mic moment when he sarcastically mocked Israeli efforts to destroy part of Hamas’s underground tunnel complex in Shejaiya was a telling moment in the conflict. Once back live on the air, Kerry reiterated support for Israel’s right to self-defense. But the comments, along with President Obama’s statement of “serious concern” about the casualties from the operation against the Hamas fortress, was the backdrop for the decision to send the secretary of state back to Cairo today to work on a cease-fire. While in principle that seems like the right thing to do at a moment when the conflict is heating up, it is difficult to escape the impression that Kerry’s mission is more an opportunity for an unforced error by Washington–one that will allow Hamas to emerge from the fray with a victory–than a mission of mercy.

Hamas was correct in its estimation that provoking a ground invasion would produce Palestinian casualties that fueled the fire of anti-Israel sentiment across the globe. Armed with the backing of Qatar, Turkey, and radical Islamists across the region as well as bolstered by the sympathy of international opinion that can always be counted on to damn any Israeli measure of self-defense even when the Jewish state is being assailed by rockets and tunnel infiltrations, Hamas believes it can simply stand its ground. The longer the bloody battle to disarm the Islamist terror movement that rules Gaza goes on, the more Palestinian human shields will die. That, in turn, will raise the pressure on Egypt to open up its border with Gaza and end the political and economic isolation that has hampered the terror group since the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo last year.

However, Hamas may have, for once, underestimated the resolve of both Israel’s government and its people. Prime Minister Netanyahu was slow to order the ground operation despite being given ample reason to send in troops once Hamas started launching hundreds of rockets at Israeli cities. He also gave Hamas ample opportunities to stand down and accept cease-fires that the Islamists consistently rejected. But once the die was cast, the prime minister seems to be serious about not repeating the mistakes his country made in the recent past whereby it gave Hamas the impression that there was nothing it could do that would be enough to prompt a decision to take out the group’s terror infrastructure. The methodical offensive appears to be doing serious damage to Hamas’s capacity to inflict terror on Israel. If it is allowed to continue, there is a chance that Israel will finally land a lethal blow against the group that is the real obstacle to peace in the region.

Just as important as Netanyahu’s resolve is the reaction of Israel’s people to the crisis. It is likely that Hamas believed Israelis too fearful of paying the high price in blood–both in terms of its own soldiers and Palestinians–to significantly impact the strategic equation along the Gaza border. But so far, despite the frayed nerves of people tired of having to run for bomb shelters and horrified by the loss of life in the fighting, support for the government appears to be strong. A visit to Israel’s southern region showed me that despite the best efforts of Hamas, life is going on even in the areas that have been most affected. Moreover, the faces of the busloads of Israeli reservists who are being shipped into the area of the border showed that the country’s citizen soldiers remain committed to doing what must be done to ensure their country’s safety. If Hamas thought Netanyahu was too politically weak to make hard decisions or that Israelis would turn on him and succumb to foreign pressure, it may have made a crucial mistake.

But that resolve is not shared by Israel’s American ally. Though nothing would do more to pave the way for a renewed peace process with the Palestinians that both Obama and Kerry have ceaselessly advocated than the weakening or the elimination of Hamas, neither man appears to have the intestinal fortitude to unwaveringly back an operation that would do just that. For months Washington has been sending mixed messages to the region that have encouraged the Islamists to believe the U.S.-Israel alliance was weakening as blame for the collapse of Kerry’s negotiations was placed solely on Israel despite the fact that it was the Palestinian Authority’s decision to embrace Hamas that finally ended that fool’s errand. Moreover, by constantly carping about Israel’s counter-attacks after Hamas launched the current war, the administration has encouraged the terrorists to believe that the U.S. won’t let them be defeated.

Thus Kerry’s decision to fly to Cairo to work on a cease-fire is exactly the news that Hamas wanted to hear. They have already made it clear they don’t care how many Palestinians die in the conflict they provoked so long as the end result grants them the political concessions from Egypt that will further their cause. They know that if the U.S. was not prepared to pressure the Egyptian government to throw Hamas a bone or to force Israel to stop operations aimed at eliminating their rocket arsenal and blowing up their underground fortresses, there was no reason for Kerry to come to the region. A cease-fire that would grant Hamas no political victories didn’t require the personal presence of the secretary in Cairo. But by bending to the usual hypocritical international outcry against any Israeli attempt to take out the terror nest on their border, the administration is signalling that it won’t let Netanyahu take out Hamas or allow Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi to stand his ground about sealing his country’s border against infiltration from an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood he deposed.

Were Obama and Kerry prepared to show the kind of resolve that Netanyahu and Sisi have exhibited it would be very bad news indeed for Hamas and its foreign cheerleaders that continue to nurture delusions about Israel’s destruction. Instead, the U.S. appears to be as clueless as ever about the stakes involved in this fight and cracking under the pressure generated by the Palestinians sacrificed by Hamas on the altar of their jihadist mission. If so, the price paid by both Israelis and Palestinians in the future will be considerable.

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UNRWA Gives Rockets to Hamas; Why is U.S. Still Funding It?

Last week, the UN refugee agency dedicated exclusively to Palestinians admitted that 20 rockets had mysteriously turned up in one of its schools in Gaza, thereby confirming a claim Israel has made for years: that UNRWA facilities are frequently utilized by terrorists. This week, the organization announced that it has turned the rockets over to “the local authorities” in Gaza, aka Hamas. In other words, a UN agency funded almost entirely by American and European taxpayers handed rockets over to a terrorist organization that is shooting them at Israel. And that isn’t even the most outrageous part of the story.

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Last week, the UN refugee agency dedicated exclusively to Palestinians admitted that 20 rockets had mysteriously turned up in one of its schools in Gaza, thereby confirming a claim Israel has made for years: that UNRWA facilities are frequently utilized by terrorists. This week, the organization announced that it has turned the rockets over to “the local authorities” in Gaza, aka Hamas. In other words, a UN agency funded almost entirely by American and European taxpayers handed rockets over to a terrorist organization that is shooting them at Israel. And that isn’t even the most outrageous part of the story.

The truly outrageous part was a Western diplomat’s response, as reported by the Times of Israel:

A Western diplomat familiar with the incident said there is “absolutely no evidence” that UNRWA handed the rockets to Hamas. Rather, the diplomat suggested, the authorities who collected the rockets are under the direct authority of the Palestinian unity government, “which Hamas has left and which many in Hamas are openly hostile to. The key point is that the weapons were handed over to people who are not answerable to Hamas,” the diplomat said, referring to the fact that the unity government, not Hamas, is officially the ruling power in Gaza.

​The idea that the Palestinian Authority, rather than Hamas, is the ruling power in Gaza is risible. True, that’s the ostensible implication of the unity government it recently formed with Hamas, but in reality, the PA doesn’t have a single soldier or policeman in Gaza. When PA Health Minister Jawad Awwad tried to exercise his nominal authority by inspecting Gaza’s hospitals last week, his vehicle was stoned. PA President Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t even dared set foot in Gaza. Egypt has repeatedly said it will reopen its border crossing with Gaza only if Hamas allows the PA to resume control of the crossing–surely a superfluous demand if the PA were already in control of Gaza. And we haven’t even mentioned the glaring internal contradiction in the diplomat’s own words: If Hamas has “left” the unity government, how can the unity government even exist, much less be in control of Gaza?

​Of course, the unnamed diplomat knows all this quite well; nobody who’s been conscious for the past seven years could be ignorant of who really rules Gaza. The diplomat was simply contorting the facts to avoid admitting that UNRWA gave lethal weapons to Hamas–which both America and Europe deem a terrorist organization–because financing an agency that gives arms to terrorists would violate both American and European law. In other words, admitting the truth would require them to stop funding UNRWA, which neither America nor Europe wants to do.

In reality, UNRWA should have been defunded long ago, given both its role in perpetuating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the fact that its enormous budget comes at the expense of other refugees, like the Syrians, whose need is far greater. But by turning rockets over to Hamas, UNRWA has lost its last shred of pretense to being a “humanitarian” agency. It’s high time for Congress to pull the financial plug.

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Does Obama Realize the Stakes in Gaza?

After two weeks of fighting along the border with Gaza, there is a growing sense that the Israeli government is starting to realize that its assumptions about how to obtain Prime Minister Netanyahu’s goal of “sustainable quiet” may have been all wrong. But if the Israelis are being forced reluctantly to reassess their beliefs about how Hamas could be forced to stop shooting, the question remains whether the Obama administration is up to speed about the changing rules in the conflict.

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After two weeks of fighting along the border with Gaza, there is a growing sense that the Israeli government is starting to realize that its assumptions about how to obtain Prime Minister Netanyahu’s goal of “sustainable quiet” may have been all wrong. But if the Israelis are being forced reluctantly to reassess their beliefs about how Hamas could be forced to stop shooting, the question remains whether the Obama administration is up to speed about the changing rules in the conflict.

Up until now both Israel and the U.S. have thought Hamas would eventually stop firing rockets at cities or sending terrorists across the borders if Israel struck back hard enough. That is not to say that the two allies saw eye-to-eye about every aspect of the conflict, since the Obama administration clearly believed that Israel should respond to rocket attacks or other forms of terrorism with limited counter-attacks that would do nothing to significantly impair Hamas’s arsenal or its ability to re-ignite the border if it wished. But both governments were prepared to leave Hamas in place in Gaza since the cost of removing it was considered prohibitively high and there didn’t appear to be a viable alternative. Israel’s standing offer of “quiet for quiet” was usually enough for the Islamists once they had fired enough rockets to show Palestinians that they were still the address for “resistance” to the Israelis.

But now it appears that Hamas is prepared to bank on the assumption that nothing they do–no matter how bloody or unreasonable, such as a continuous shooting of rockets at Israeli cities and cross-border infiltration attempts–would be enough to convince the Israelis that they were not better off allowing the Islamist terror group to remain in power. Though Hamas’s long-range goals remain the overthrow of their erstwhile Fatah partners in the Palestinian Authority and to gain control of the West Bank and to destroy Israel, their immediate objectives in the current outbreak are different. They want to force Egypt to open its borders and the smuggling tunnels to Gaza as well as to get the Israelis to release more terrorist prisoners.

As Avi Isacharoff writes in the Times of Israel, though the Israelis are winning in a tactical sense because its Iron Dome missile defense has frustrated the rocket attacks and their army is making progress in eliminating some of Hamas terrorist infrastructure, Hamas thinks it is winning the war. Their confidence rests in a belief that sooner or later the Israelis will be forced to stop by international pressure that will build as a result of the deaths of Palestinian civilians that are being deliberately jeopardized by Hamas tactics. At the same time, they think the pressure from the Arab world will also eventually force Egypt to give them what they want. As Isacharoff notes, the real battle lines are not so much between the Israel Defense Forces and the terrorists but between Hamas and its foreign allies Qatar and Turkey and the loose coalition of Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas thinks Egypt will fold and end their isolation if the pile of the compatriots is piled high enough:

In a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo on Wednesday, Moussa Abu Marzouk, the deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau, dismissed Abbas’s pleas regarding a ceasefire, explaining that “what are 200 martyrs compared with lifting the siege [on the Gaza Strip?]” Abu Marzouk later tweeted that there will be no truce that does not acknowledge the demands of the “resistance,” and that it is “better that Israel occupy the Gaza Strip than for the siege to continue.” Abu Marzouk, needless to say, resides in Cairo, far from the threat of Israeli air strikes.

Seen from that perspective, there is virtually nothing Israel can do to quiet the border. So long as Hamas thinks it can count on Israeli caution and pressure from the U.S. and the international community to ensure that it remains in control of the strip, the fighting will continue until the terrorists get what they want. After weeks of waiting patiently for the rockets to stop before ordering troops into Gaza in what is still a limited campaign, Netanyahu may be waking up to the fact that the stakes have been altered in the conflict. There are signs, albeit tentative ones, that his government is realizing that nothing short of ending the Hamas’s control of Gaza will end the current nightmare in which much of the Israeli population is being forced to take shelter from rocket fire.

Israel would be forced to pay a terrible price if it chose to re-occupy the strip, oust Hamas, capture its rocket arsenal, and destroy the vast network of tunnels and bunkers that have turned it into a terrorist Gibraltar. That price would be paid in the blood of Israeli soldiers and the Palestinians that are being used as human shields. Hamas’s assumption is that the Israeli people would not be willing to endure such casualties and the world wouldn’t tolerate such a military operation.

Writing from Jerusalem, it’s difficult to judge whether their assumptions about Israeli opinion still hold. There is no doubt that if the death toll rises, the number of left-wing demonstrators against Netanyahu will increase as will public unease about the conflict. But Hamas’s great “victory”–the fact that so many Israelis have been forced into shelters–also works against their belief that they have impunity. If air strikes and a limited ground operation don’t end the threat to their security, Netanyahu would probably not be wrong in thinking that he will have sufficient support to sustain a counter-attack that will finish Hamas once and for all.

Thus rather than continuing to carp from the sidelines at Israeli efforts or wasting more time in pointless diplomacy that does nothing to shake Hamas’s assumptions about the strength of its position, it is time for the United States to wake up and realize that its interests are also at stake in this battle. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry must understand that what is truly an “unsustainable status quo” is not the Israeli control of the West Bank but Hamas’s hold on Gaza. If there is ever to be any hope for a two-state solution–and admittedly, that hope is so faint these days as to be barely alive–it must begin with Hamas’s complete defeat and its replacement in Gaza by more moderate forces. Nothing short of that will end the bloodshed or begin the process whereby Israelis might be convinced that a withdrawal from the West Bank would not create another, even more lethal Hamasistan on their borders.

The best thing the U.S. could do to both stop the fighting and help the Palestinians trapped in Hamas’s deadly game would be to signal to the Islamists and their foreign allies that it is prepared to support an Israeli campaign that will oust them from Gaza and replace them with Fatah. Perhaps if they understood that their survival is at stake, the euphoria among the Hamas leadership about their “victories” will abate and quiet will follow. But unless that happens, it will soon be time for Israel and the U.S. to realize that they must adjust their strategies to account for their new, higher stakes in Gaza.

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Russia’s Provocation Demands Tougher Action

President Obama appeared in the White House briefing room on Friday to deliver remarks on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight 17. His statement included some strong and appropriate words of condemnation, calling this an “outrage of unspeakable proportions.” But of course being Barack Obama–the dispassionate academic par excellence–he delivered even this expression of displeasure with all the emotion he might have put into reading a grocery list.

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President Obama appeared in the White House briefing room on Friday to deliver remarks on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight 17. His statement included some strong and appropriate words of condemnation, calling this an “outrage of unspeakable proportions.” But of course being Barack Obama–the dispassionate academic par excellence–he delivered even this expression of displeasure with all the emotion he might have put into reading a grocery list.

The potential impact of his statement was further dissipated by the fact that he said repeatedly that “our immediate focus will be on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened, and putting forward the facts.” As if this were the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 which vanished without a trace. Actually we know with a high degree of certainty what happened with flight 17: As even Obama conceded, it was shot down by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine with the help of the Russian state. As he noted, “we have confidence in saying that that shot was taken within a territory that is controlled by the Russian separatists.” Moreover, he said, “a group of separatists can’t shoot down military transport planes or, they claim, shoot down fighter jets without sophisticated equipment and sophisticated training. And that is coming from Russia.”

But still he refused to draw the obvious conclusion: that Russia is ultimately responsible for a war crime–the shooting down of flight 17 as well as broader aggression against Ukraine. Instead, he tried to make it appear as if there is blame all around: “Russia, these separatists, and Ukraine all have the capacity to put an end to the fighting.” That’s like blaming both Hamas and Israel equally for the fighting now going on in Gaza–an act of moral myopia that fails to recognize the culpability of an aggressor (Russia, Hamas) and the responsibility of a nation under attack (Ukraine, Israel) to respond with all due force to defend itself.

Failing to pin the responsibility on Russia as squarely as he should have done, Obama naturally failed to lay out a clear response to Russia’s aggression. He ruled out the possibility of providing any military help to Ukraine to defend itself: “We don’t see a U.S. military role beyond what we’ve already been doing in working with our NATO partners and some of the Baltic States, giving them reassurances that we are prepared to do whatever is required to meet our alliance obligations.” In short, no military equipment and no advisers for Ukraine. Let them eat MREs!

He didn’t even call for “sectoral” sanctions (for example, freezing all Russian financial institutions out of the U.S. and imposing secondary sanctions on foreign firms that do business with Russia, as we’ve done with Iran)–steps that could really hurt the Russian economy. Instead he expressed satisfaction with the very limited and ineffectual sanctions announced so far: “We feel confident that at this point the sanctions that we’ve put in place are imposing a cost on Russia … I think Treasury, in consultation with our European partners, have done a good job so far on that issue.”

Really? Obama thinks the sanctions have been good so far? Admittedly a new round of measures was just announced this week so it’s too early to judge their impact, but there is no sign of Russia backing off its illegal and brazen aggression. Indeed just today Gen. Philip Breedlove, the supreme allied commander, released a video appearing to show a Russian Grad rocket launcher shelling Ukrainian territory.

It is wishful thinking to imagine that the shooting down of flight 17 will, by itself, cause Russia to end its attacks on Ukrainian territory. To force Russia to back off will require a massive effort on the part of the West. Admittedly Obama’s statement on Friday was only an initial stab at a response; tougher measures may be coming. But his words give little confidence that the type of massive response needed to force Russia into retreating will ever occur.

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Washington’s Mixed Messages and Israeli Realities

The Obama administration helped create the situation that led to the current fighting in Gaza by sending mixed messages to the Palestinian Authority about mainstreaming Hamas. That was bad enough, but now the State Department is compounding its recent errors with its equivocal stance about Israeli efforts to suppress both Hamas’s incessant rocket fire and its attempts to send terrorists across the border via tunnel attacks. While U.S. concerns about civilian casualties that result from these counter-attacks are, at least in theory, reasonable, the notion that Israel isn’t doing enough to protect innocents in Gaza reflects the same disconnect from reality that helped create the current mess.

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The Obama administration helped create the situation that led to the current fighting in Gaza by sending mixed messages to the Palestinian Authority about mainstreaming Hamas. That was bad enough, but now the State Department is compounding its recent errors with its equivocal stance about Israeli efforts to suppress both Hamas’s incessant rocket fire and its attempts to send terrorists across the border via tunnel attacks. While U.S. concerns about civilian casualties that result from these counter-attacks are, at least in theory, reasonable, the notion that Israel isn’t doing enough to protect innocents in Gaza reflects the same disconnect from reality that helped create the current mess.

Writing from Jerusalem in the hours before Shabbat descends on the city, I can report that while the country’s collective nerves are frayed by the constant rocket attacks, life is going on pretty much as normal. Crowds are out in the evenings in the cities (an outdoor showing of The Wizard of Oz at the capital’s old train station went on without incident) and there was the normal bustle at the Mahane Yehuda market prior to the Sabbath. There’s also little doubt that in spite of their endemic political divisions, most Israelis are behind their government’s decision to hit Hamas hard in pursuit of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s goal of “sustainable quiet.” The launch of ground operations against Gaza was rendered inevitable after Hamas’s repeated rejections of cease-fire offers and its raising the ante with an infiltration attack. But this sequence of events validates the widespread recognition that so long as Hamas remains in power in Gaza, the violence will resume sooner or later even if the Islamists eventually agree to stop shooting.

It is in that context that the administration’s attempt to both back Israel’s right of self-defense while also maintaining a critical stance about the loss of civilian lives in Gaza must be regarded.

While Israelis deeply regret the loss of lives in Gaza, the notion that their army isn’t doing enough to prevent non-combatants from being killed doesn’t resonate here. No army is perfect, but few here doubt that the Israel Defense Forces’ highly restrictive rules of engagement are both limiting the army’s ability to strike at will against Hamas positions as well as keeping casualties to a minimum. Americans who are inclined to be judgmental about the IDF’s actions should think about the similar dilemmas often faced by U.S. forces in Afghanistan when fighting the Taliban and its allies or when drone attacks are launched at terrorist targets and ask themselves how they would feel about their troops being second-guessed by foreign leaders the way State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki is speaking about Israeli efforts.

But leaving aside the administration’s hypocrisy, the bigger problem is Washington’s attempt to limit Israeli actions to, in Secretary of State Kerry’s words, “precise actions” against tunnel infiltrations that leave in place a terrorist infrastructure that will ensure that more attempts to inflict large-scale atrocities on Israelis–the goal of Thursday’s cross-border raid–will continue.

Back in April when the administration declined to oppose the Palestinian Authority’s decision to strike an agreement with Hamas rather than Israel, it pretended that the Islamist terror movement could be rendered irrelevant by the peace process. But now we see that so long as Hamas retains the power to plunge the country into a new war every time it wants to better its position, stability, let alone peace, is impossible. Nothing short of actions that will force Hamas’s disarmament will enable Kerry to realize his dream of brokering peace. Yet the U.S. continues to act as if limiting Israeli actions to superficial pinpricks against the terrorists’ strongholds and arsenal will enhance the cause of peace. Perhaps Kerry and President Obama believe their clinging to an equivocal stance about Gaza will enable the U.S. to be an “even-handed” broker in the future. But if there is anything that we have learned in the last month, it is that so long as Hamas’s power remains intact, America’s pretensions about peace are exposed as pipe dreams.

It’s not clear if the current operations will realize Netanyahu’s goal of quiet. But the contrast between Washington’s mixed messages about self-defense and the reality of Israel’s security dilemma illustrates how clueless the administration is about the situation. As much as Netanyahu has tried to avoid open fights with the U.S., there are no illusions here about the country’s need to ignore the State Department’s criticism if there’s a chance that the IDF can substantially reduce Hamas’s ability to terrorize Israelis.

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Hamas and the New Middle East

The spiraling conflict between Israel and Hamas may be part of an unfortunately regular pattern, but the recent events were also an indication of the new Middle East. That was clear earlier this week when Haaretz’s Barak Ravid published the tick-tock of how the attempts to strike a truce collapsed. Secretary of State John Kerry was getting ready to pick up nuclear diplomacy with his Iranian interlocutors in Vienna when he offered to take a temporary diversion to the Middle East. But, each for their own reasons, “Egyptians and Israelis both politely rejected that offer, telling Kerry they are already in direct contact and didn’t need American mediation.”

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The spiraling conflict between Israel and Hamas may be part of an unfortunately regular pattern, but the recent events were also an indication of the new Middle East. That was clear earlier this week when Haaretz’s Barak Ravid published the tick-tock of how the attempts to strike a truce collapsed. Secretary of State John Kerry was getting ready to pick up nuclear diplomacy with his Iranian interlocutors in Vienna when he offered to take a temporary diversion to the Middle East. But, each for their own reasons, “Egyptians and Israelis both politely rejected that offer, telling Kerry they are already in direct contact and didn’t need American mediation.”

According to Ravid, the Israelis expected a visit from Kerry to be interpreted as pressure on Israel, a lesson probably learned from Kerry’s time as secretary of state thus far. The Egyptians, on the other hand, wanted to prove they could still play the role of mediator. But while that certainly could be true, it seems incomplete. The Egyptians, apparently, excluded Hamas from early deliberations to craft the truce. Whether the Egyptian leadership truly wanted a truce or not, it’s clear they were most concerned that the truce not undermine the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank under Mahmoud Abbas or the Israeli leadership in favor of Hamas. As Avi Issacharoff writes in the Times of Israel:

Hamas wants this in order to bring an end to the blockade on Gaza, open the Rafah Border Crossing, and in many ways to ensure its own survival.

On Tuesday morning, many people in Israel raised an eyebrow at Hamas’s rejection of the Egyptian ceasefire. But if we examine the crisis from the prism of Egypt-Hamas relations, we can see things differently.

Cairo offered the organization the same language it rejected from the outset: quiet for quiet. But for Hamas, the big problem was the way the Egyptian ceasefire was presented: At the same time that Razi Hamid, Hamas representative in Gaza, received the Egyptian document, the initiative was already being published in the Egyptian media.

This was a humiliation for Hamas, since no one thought to consult with its leadership. And still, as even senior Hamas officials admit, there is no other mediator in the region. Just like real estate agents who have a monopoly on a certain area, Egypt has a monopoly on Israel-Hamas relations.

At the very least, the Egyptian leadership does not seem to be in any rush to see Hamas given any breathing space. And neither does Abbas, whose leverage over Hamas has become all the more important in light of the recent unity deal between Hamas and Fatah.

Abbas, arguably, had the most to lose in the continued Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. Hamas was able to essentially shut down the country, sending Israelis fleeing to bomb shelters and disrupting air travel and Israel’s economic activity and productivity. This is where Hamas’s relative weakness works to its advantage among its own people. Israel may have superior firepower, and both Israel and Fatah may have the United States in their corner, but Hamas can bring life to a (temporary) standstill in Israel at a moment’s notice. They can make the argument that Abbas’s cooperation with Israel and his participation in the peace talks has done nothing to bring about the ostensible goal of an independent Palestine.

Hamas doesn’t care about that, having made clear its objective has nothing to do with a two-state solution but with a genocidal war against the Jewish state. As such, its ability to disrupt and sabotage any attempts at a peaceful solution are crucial to its own raison d’être. By the same token, then, any weakening of Hamas helps both Abbas and any prospects, however remote, for a negotiated solution.

So while Egypt’s “failure” to step in and constructively play the role of mediator has been lamented, the priorities of the new regime in Cairo are actually geared much more toward those of the West. The defeat of Hamas, its diplomatic isolation, and the depletion of its terrorist capabilities are not just beneficial to Israel but also to Egypt, the Palestinian Authority structure in the West Bank, and America and its allies’ desire to limit Iranian influence in the region.

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