Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel

How Lobbyists Reflect Countries They Support

In certain corridors of Washington, in smug discussions in university faculty lounges, and in the fevered conspiracies of the Middle East and Turkey, much is made of the “Israel lobby.” While broadly speaking, figures such as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Harvard Professor Stephen Walt, or former diplomat Chas Freeman use the term broadly in order to suggest dual loyalty on the part of those with whom they disagree in the policy debate, more narrowly, the idea of an Israel lobby usually surrounds the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which operates under the slogan, “America’s pro-Israel lobby.”

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In certain corridors of Washington, in smug discussions in university faculty lounges, and in the fevered conspiracies of the Middle East and Turkey, much is made of the “Israel lobby.” While broadly speaking, figures such as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Harvard Professor Stephen Walt, or former diplomat Chas Freeman use the term broadly in order to suggest dual loyalty on the part of those with whom they disagree in the policy debate, more narrowly, the idea of an Israel lobby usually surrounds the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which operates under the slogan, “America’s pro-Israel lobby.”

But AIPAC is hardly the only lobby in Washington. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), the de facto lobby of the Islamic Republic of Iran, works tirelessly to reduce sanctions and alleviate pressure on the Iranian regime. Saudi Arabia and Qatar spread money around and successfully tempt many former ambassadors with lucrative golden parachutes. Turkey supports a multitude of organizations such as the American Turkish Council or the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD).

It is easy to demonize lobbying in Washington, but it is not simply about money: many lobbyists truly believe in the cause they espouse and argue, and they advocate for those causes just the same as a paid member of Greenpeace, the Audubon Society, or the Human Rights Campaign might. If someone believes that a strong U.S.-Israel relationship benefits American national security and reflects American values more than, say, a strong U.S.-Iranian relationship or any U.S. relationship with Hamas or Hezbollah, than it makes sense to support AIPAC. If one would rather see normalized ties between Washington and Tehran, regardless of the Islamic Republic’s ideology and sponsorship of insurgencies and militias, then it makes sense to support a group like NIAC.

What is truly interesting about these foreign-policy lobbies, however, is just how much they have come to reflect the countries with which they seek greater U.S. strategic alignment.

Take AIPAC: At present, its president is Bob Cohen, elected in 2013. Before him, it has had well over a dozen presidents and executive directors, most serving just two or three years before the membership elected a new leader. As such, AIPAC has very much reflected the democratic nature of both the United States and Israel. As in Israel and the United States, its audience actively debates issues—there is seldom an easy consensus in AIPAC circles and contrary to the caricatures put out by some in more fringe circles, AIPAC remains a big tent, with its rank-and-file actually leaning toward the liberal and progressive within the American political context.

NIAC is a different animal entirely. Since its inception more than a decade ago, it has been led by a single leader, Trita Parsi, a dual Swedish-Iranian citizen permanently residing in the United States. NIAC has no regularly scheduled elections and so Parsi seems intent to remain his organization’s leader for life. Indeed, it’s a parallel not lost on Iranian-Americans, who often mock Parsi as the “rahbar,” or supreme leader. NIAC reflects Iranian political culture in other ways as well. While AIPAC tends to ignore criticism or simply argue back, NIAC has responded to criticism with ad hominem attack or by seeking to silence those it dislikes. Hence, it sued an Iranian-American journalist for defamation, a suit it ended up losing after also being sanctioned for seeking to surreptitiously alter its record and for failing to uphold discovery orders.

NIAC also reflects the Islamic Republic’s tendency toward conspiracy theories. The group has been fundraising off a non-existent threat of war with Iran for more than a decade, often aligning with fringe groups like Code Pink, Daily Kos, the Institute for Policy Studies, and WarIsACrime.org in joint letters or actions. While Parsi tones down his public rhetoric, his private writing embraces conspiracies. Hence, his comment “It is not unusual that Israelis run their business under the safety of an American flag.” At a time when it is now agreed that Iran was working on nuclear-weapons components, Parsi sought to defend the regime, answering one person raising concerns regarding Iranian activities, “There is no proof what so ever for Iran’s nuclear ambition. the IAEA just cleared Iran’s nuclear programme for the third time this decade last week. You have been reading too much AIPAC propaganda!” And while both members and leaders of AIPAC take pride in their assimilation into the United States, Parsi denigrates those who leave the Islamic Republic’s interests behind:

Our brothers and sisters did not die for us so we could marry an American and call our child Betty-Sue or Joey, they did not die so we could speak English to our children. WE OWE IRAN OUR LIVES…. There is no substitute for Iran!

The Saudi lobby, of course, like the monarchy itself, likes to operate in the shadows. Whereas AIPAC and NIAC seek to influence ordinary constituents, hence their frequent forums in cities across the country, Saudi lobbyists concentrate on those in the White House and Congress or by seeking to buy the support of prominent universities. Saudi lobbyists would no more hold a public forum in Indianapolis than would Saudi royals hold a public forum in Dhahran: The public is something to be tolerated and imposed upon, but not engaged. Those whose influence Saudi Arabia seeks can expect beneficence beyond their wildest imagination; those who Saudi Arabia deems independent or not useful are ignored.

Turkey may once have been an aspiring democracy, but in recent years, it has become hostile to political pluralism. The Turkish embassy in the United States has moved from representing all of Turkish society to instead substituting as an office for President Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and, according to former Turkish diplomats stationed there, actively maintains a blacklist of those critical of the AKP. Such blacklisting—which has become the norm inside Turkey—extends to the Turkish lobby. Groups like the American Turkish Council understand their access depends on the AKP, and so will seek to limit their interactions to those who embrace the AKP. When they cross the line, they know Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian leaders will have no forgiveness. Hence, former Ambassador James Holmes, after long seeking to cozy up to the AKP and downplay changes inside Turkey, found himself ousted merely for the sin of including articles in a regular news roundup from a newspaper associated with groups disliked by Erdoğan. Such behavior has led to greater fracturing: just as Turkish society has divided along political and religious lines, so too have Turkey’s various lobby and business groups to the point where Turkey has dozens of lobbies, each ineffective, with only the president back in Ankara able to speak on Turkey’s behalf.

In recent years, paranoia about various foreign-policy lobbies has grown. And while pay-to-play is always wrong and should certainly be disclosed, many of the actual lobby groups for various countries do less to whitewash the nature of countries with which they wish the United States to partner, and far more to reflect those countries, whether open or closed, tolerant or intolerant, realistic or conspiratorial.

Lobbying will never go away, but let’s hope that one day all lobbies will be open, transparent, and governed democratically. That would be a sure sign that, finally, principle has triumphed over cash, and democracy really has taken root in the dark corners of the world.

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State Department’s War on Israel Exposed

Last week, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, exposed the hypocrisy of Obama administration officials who criticized Israel for taking insufficient care to avoid harming civilians during the war in Gaza this past summer. But the State Department isn’t backing down. Despite Dempsey’s statement that Israel gone to “extraordinary lengths” and had done what they could to spare innocents, when asked about the issue on Friday at the daily State Department press briefing, spokesperson Jen Psaki simply dismissed Dempsey’s avowal as irrelevant to the administration’s agenda.

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Last week, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, exposed the hypocrisy of Obama administration officials who criticized Israel for taking insufficient care to avoid harming civilians during the war in Gaza this past summer. But the State Department isn’t backing down. Despite Dempsey’s statement that Israel gone to “extraordinary lengths” and had done what they could to spare innocents, when asked about the issue on Friday at the daily State Department press briefing, spokesperson Jen Psaki simply dismissed Dempsey’s avowal as irrelevant to the administration’s agenda.

Here’s the full exchange with Matt Lee of the Associated Press:

MATT LEE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yesterday, the ICC made its decision that there was no case to prosecute for war crimes in Gaza. But also yesterday – and you spoke about that very briefly here. But also yesterday, General Dempsey, who is no slouch when it comes to military things, told an audience in New York that the Israelis went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage during the Gaza war. And I’m puzzled, because I thought it was the position of the Administration – or maybe it was just the position of the State Department and the White House – that Israel was not doing enough to live up to its – what you called its own high standards. Back on August 3rd, there was the statement you put out after the UNRWA school incident, saying that the U.S. “is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling.” And that was some pretty fierce criticism. How do you reconcile these two apparent divergent points of view? When this statement came out, the United States was appalled? Did that just mean the State Department was appalled?

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT: No, that is the position of the Administration; it remains the position of the Administration. As we made clear throughout the summer’s conflict, we supported Israel’s right to self-defense and strongly condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks that deliberately targeted civilians, and the use of tunnels, of course, of attacks into Israel. However, we also expressed deep concern and heartbreak for the civilian death toll in Gaza and made clear, as you noted in the statement you pointed to, that we believed that Israel could have done more to prevent civilian casualties, and it was important that they held their selves to a high standard. So that remains our view and position about this summer’s events.

LEE: Okay. But I’m still confused as to how you can reconcile the fact that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – who knows a bit about how military operations work, I would venture to guess; I don’t know him, but I assume that he wouldn’t be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff if he was – if he didn’t –

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

LEE: — says that the Israelis essentially did the best that they could and lived up to – by extension lived up to their high standards by taking – by going to, quote, “extraordinary lengths” to limit the collateral damage.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the chairman’s team for his – more specifics on his comments. But it remains the broad view of the entire Administration that they could have done more and they should have taken more – all feasible precautions to prevent civilian casualties.

This stand tells us two things about the Obama administration.

The first is that facts played no part in its attacks on Israel at a time when thousands of rockets were raining down on Israeli cities and terrorists were using tunnels to cross the border to attempt kidnappings and murders of Jews. Hamas did its best to hide behind civilians in Gaza, something that was aided and abetted by an international press corps that was either too intimidated by the Islamists to report on their activities or to shoot videos of photos of armed terrorists or missile launches. But, as Dempsey rightly concluded, the Israelis were cautious about firing at positions embedded among civilians and adopted various strategies to keep collateral damage to a minimum. The fact that the U.S. Armed Forces sent a delegation to learn about the Israel Defense Forces’ policies so as to help Americans to improve their own record speaks volumes about the Pentagon’s views about criticisms of the Israelis.

Yet the State Department and the White House both sought to hammer the Israelis for every incident in which civilians were killed. The fact that the Israelis were every bit if not more scrupulous about this concern than American forces operating in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or Syria is not in dispute, certainly not by their U.S. commander.

The reason for these criticisms, which continue despite being contradicted by Dempsey, has to do with politics, not the ethics of war. The president and his foreign-policy team are determined to besmirch Israel and undermine its democratically elected government no matter what the circumstances. If the allegations are not supported by the facts, that doesn’t deter Psaki and her masters from continuing their broadsides since the objective is not to actually change the policies of the Israel Defense Forces. It is to pressure the Jewish state’s government to forgo the right of self-defense that she says the U.S. supports and to make concessions to the Palestinians that would make another round of even deadlier violence even more likely.

The second thing this bizarre clinging to discredited positions tells us is that there is little respect for military realities or the opinions of the country’s military professionals within the Obama administration. This has been reflected in the president consistently ignoring their advice in abandoning Iraq and planning to accelerate the withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as to his insistence on the idea that scattered bombing will stop ISIS.

Such a disconnect between the military and the administration is forgivable in peacetime. Though he has sought to flee from it, Obama is a wartime president. But, as this episode reveals, the war he prefers to fight is the political one against Israel, not the real one Islamists are waging against the United States and its allies.

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Dream of Rivals: Why Bibi’s Still On Top

Two terrorist attacks today in Israel have already claimed one life–that of a young woman–and left a soldier in critical condition, in addition to the others less seriously wounded in the attacks. The incidents extend the spasm of violence by Palestinians who have flirted with igniting a full-blown intifada, though the security fence and other precautions have thus far prevented a comparable terror campaign. They also put the spotlight on the Israeli leadership, highlighting an interesting political phenomenon.

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Two terrorist attacks today in Israel have already claimed one life–that of a young woman–and left a soldier in critical condition, in addition to the others less seriously wounded in the attacks. The incidents extend the spasm of violence by Palestinians who have flirted with igniting a full-blown intifada, though the security fence and other precautions have thus far prevented a comparable terror campaign. They also put the spotlight on the Israeli leadership, highlighting an interesting political phenomenon.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has studiously, if not always successfully, attempted to avoid scenarios that could be destabilizing to Israeli politics, knowing as he does that governing coalitions are almost always more fragile than they look and that one perceived failure could bring them down. The Palestinians have, of course, not always played along. Case in point: Netanyahu is far more hesitant to go to war than most of his predecessors; this past summer, Hamas made avoiding a ground war impossible.

Netanyahu’s government survived the Gaza war, and now must deal with terror from within–a far greater challenge than calling on the IDF to win a ground war in Palestinian territory. Additionally, Netanyahu continues to deal with fluctuating Israeli public opinion polls and the fact that in the new reality of Israel’s fragmented party politics, rival parties are seemingly perpetually in striking distance. On top of all this, Netanyahu tends to get under the skin of even those who would agree with him politically, and has no natural ideological base since he’s much more of a pragmatist than an ideologue.

So why is Netanyahu still standing, and why do the latest Knesset polls show him in the lead once again if new elections were to be held? There are two answers. The first is the underappreciated maturity of Israeli democracy. Bibi may not be well liked personally, and the political scene may feature a constant casting-about for alternatives, but in the end Israeli voters are still keeping their priorities straight by refusing to turn national elections into pure popularity contests.

Security crises often turn into political crises. But the prevalence of security concerns and the failure of the Palestinians to produce a serious peace partner have kept the Israeli electorate fairly steady. Having oriented their national government with security concerns in mind, a desire for a reorientation isn’t likely to produce one: to whom would they turn?

That question leads to the second reason for the Netanyahu government’s relative stability. The Israeli electorate has, as I’ve written in the past, achieved a kind of ideological equilibrium–and it’s one that leaves the left mostly out of the loop. Once upon a time, when the Israeli left was viewed as less naïve and fanciful than its current iteration (Ehud Barak was, after all, leader of the Labor Party just four years ago, though the marriage was by then an unhappy one), you could imagine a swing of the pendulum from right to left and back again in Knesset elections. That’s not the case today.

So where would the pendulum swing, then? In the Times of Israel, editor David Horovitz writes that for those who have really had it with Bibi, desperate times are calling for desperate measures:

So who is this alternative to Netanyahu, considered by at least some in the middle ground of Israeli politics?

Step forward Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s minister of foreign affairs and the head of the Yisrael Beytenu coalition faction.

Horovitz notes, with record-obliterating understatement, that Lieberman (whose surname is often transliterated in Israel without the first “e”) “is not a man usually highlighted as the embodiment of Israeli political moderation.” No kidding. He continues:

And yet there are those among the coalition’s unhappy centrists who see Liberman as a pragmatist — at least relative to Netanyahu; as someone who would initiate policy rather than defensively respond, as Netanyahu is deemed by his critics to do; and as the possible key piece of a future coalition jigsaw built around Yesh Atid (19 seats), Labor (15), Hatnua (6) and Kadima (2).

As a consequence of various comings and goings in what was the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu slate in the 2013 elections, Liberman’s party now holds 13 seats in the Knesset. If you add in Meretz (six seats), and/or one or both of the ultra-Orthodox parties (Shas with its 11 seats, and United Torah Judaism 7), the arithmetic starts to look interesting.

OK, I’ll take the bait. I did, after all, write an essay in COMMENTARY three summers ago explaining how the Knesset math made Lieberman a force to be reckoned with and a perennial kingmaker with his eye on the ultimate prize. But what do the numbers say? Here’s the latest Knesset Channel poll. It finds Likud with 22 seats (up from 19), Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi with 18 (up from 12), Labor at 15, Yesh Atid at nine, Meretz at nine, and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu at … seven seats.

An outlier? Does not appear to be. More like a trend. Here’s the NRG poll from six days earlier. It found Likud with 21, Bennett with 17, Labor with 15, and Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beiteinu with nine each.

That raises a different question: Is Netanyahu vulnerable from within Likud? The answer there seems to be no as well. Had there been a real chance to unseat Netanyahu as Likud leader, current Israeli President Ruby Rivlin would have been more likely to stay and challenge Bibi. The presidency is a ceremonial role. The premiership is where the power is. And don’t forget that Lieberman himself recently split from Likud.

The palace intrigue in Jerusalem has become noticeably unintriguing of late. That’s because the Israeli electorate has more or less arranged their Knesset representation to manage a status quo that hasn’t changed much either. Bibi is always instinctively looking over his shoulder. But it’s doubtful that when he does, he sees Avigdor Lieberman.

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What Has the Guardian Got Against Jews?

The Guardian is well known for its slanted reporting on Israel and has done much to earn its position as Britain’s anti-Zionist paper of choice. Yet quite often one gets the impression that the Guardian’s problem with the Jewish state may actually extend to being more of a problem with Jews in general. Take the reaction to Julie Burchill’s latest book Unchosen: the memoirs of a philosemite. In response to Burchill’s love letter to the Jews the Guardian has hit back with not one, but two hatchet jobs ripping Burchill, her book, and her philosemitism to pieces. But eventually one has to ask: if this newspaper has such a problem with those who have anything nice to say about Jews, then what does the Guardian really think about Jews themselves?

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The Guardian is well known for its slanted reporting on Israel and has done much to earn its position as Britain’s anti-Zionist paper of choice. Yet quite often one gets the impression that the Guardian’s problem with the Jewish state may actually extend to being more of a problem with Jews in general. Take the reaction to Julie Burchill’s latest book Unchosen: the memoirs of a philosemite. In response to Burchill’s love letter to the Jews the Guardian has hit back with not one, but two hatchet jobs ripping Burchill, her book, and her philosemitism to pieces. But eventually one has to ask: if this newspaper has such a problem with those who have anything nice to say about Jews, then what does the Guardian really think about Jews themselves?

The Guardian now has this sort of thing down to an art, and so of course both pieces are written by Jews: Hadley Freeman and Will Self. Although in his case Self would prefer that we say ex-Jew; apparently he finds Jewishness so distasteful that he claims to have renounced his. This barely noticed abdication took place back in 2006 in protest at events surrounding Israel’s Second Lebanon War. Israel’s critics endlessly insist their antipathy toward the country has nothing to do with it being Jewish, and yet almost as often we have characters like Self and Shlomo Sand affirming Israel’s Jewishness and more to the point adding that they find the place so abhorrent that they can’t bear to remain Jews any longer.

Fitting then that the Guardian had Self review Burchill’s book alongside Sand’s How I Stopped Being a Jew. And just as Sand is held up as infinitely wise for having recognized the error of having been born a Jew, so Burchill is castigated for her error of having professed her love for Jews. Self asserts that he won’t dignify Burchill’s latest work with the description “book,” instead labeling it simply a “Jewalogue.” But then purportedly taken with concern for the welfare of the very people he couldn’t stand being part of, Self accuses Burchill of actually assisting anti-Semites through her “exaltation of specific – and implicitly genetic – Jewish characteristics.”

In case Self’s indictment wasn’t sufficient, the Guardian also published Hadley Freeman’s excruciating piece, “God Save us from the Philosemitism of Burchill, Amis and Mensch.” As well as packing her article with all the predictable eyeroll-inducing Jewish kitsch that Burchill herself has no time for, Freeman includes the accusation that philosemites and anti-Semites view the world in essentially the same way. As she puts it, “The gap between a philosemite and an antisemite is more narrow than a slice of matza because they both treat Jews as something not quite human, as something Other.”

Of course the queen of the “Philosemites are all anti-Semites in disguise” accusation is the academic and Jewish critic of Israel, Anne Karpf. (You may be noticing a pattern here.) In 2010 Karpf questioned the philosemitism of Burchill and former education minister Michael Gove, writing: “Burchill’s philo-Semitism is a form of anti-Semitism, I’d suggest, because it bunches all Jews together, as though we were a single, uniform entity. The idea that all Jews are wonderful is little different from all Jews being hateful.”

Yet, paradoxically, several of Burchill’s critics also make a contradictory accusation. Not that Burchill lumps all Jews together as faultless, but rather that she has the temerity to distinguish between those Jews she likes and those she doesn’t. The judeophobe! That’s the claim in the review by her ex-husband, also Jewish, naturally. Actually, Hadley Freeman even makes both of these contradictory accusations simultaneously. But then these are the kind of inconsistencies that creep in when people are being disingenuous.

Burchill’s detractors are forced to come up with these contradictory and frankly unconvincing objections to her philosemitism because they can’t very well give the real reason they find her affections so intolerable; that they can’t bear philosemites gushing about Jews because, quite simply, they don’t think Jews are worthy of such praise. They believe that good Jews should be self-flagellating and ashamed, just like all the Jews brought in to write these attacks on Julie Burchill. Semites and philosemites: if you can’t stand one, you’re hardly going to be crazy about the other.

For the Guardian none of this is anything new. Just read Melanie Phillips’s memoir Guardian Angel. In it she describes how during the 1982 Lebanon war, long before she had ever visited or championed Israel, she was essentially turned into the Guardian’s resident Jew, with one colleague abruptly asking “Well now Melanie, what on earth are we going to say about your war?” Worse still, Phillips describes how when she questioned the paper’s double standard on Israel, her liberal colleagues informed her Israel should indeed be held to a higher standard since “you Jews” claim to be morally superior.

Anne Karpf claims we live in “postmodern times where some of what looks like anti-Semitism isn’t, but, conversely, some of what doesn’t look like anti-Semitism in fact is.” They can twist Julie Burchill all they like, she’s no anti-Semite. Quite the opposite. And that’s what the Guardian really can’t stand.

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Dempsey Debunks U.S. Attacks on Israel

Over the course of this past summer’s war between Hamas and Israel, the Jewish state was subjected to bitter criticism from both the U.S. State Department and the White House. The Obama administration made it clear that it believed Israel’s counter-attack against Hamas missile attacks and terror tunnels was disproportionate. Civilian casualty figures were frequently cited to chide the Israelis for killing and wounding Palestinians. Some of us pointed out that Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties not only gave the lie to these accusations but also actually compared favorably to that of the U.S. military in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. But don’t take my word for it. According to Reuters, earlier this week General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a New York audience that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilians casualties” in Gaza.

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Over the course of this past summer’s war between Hamas and Israel, the Jewish state was subjected to bitter criticism from both the U.S. State Department and the White House. The Obama administration made it clear that it believed Israel’s counter-attack against Hamas missile attacks and terror tunnels was disproportionate. Civilian casualty figures were frequently cited to chide the Israelis for killing and wounding Palestinians. Some of us pointed out that Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties not only gave the lie to these accusations but also actually compared favorably to that of the U.S. military in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. But don’t take my word for it. According to Reuters, earlier this week General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a New York audience that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilians casualties” in Gaza.

The contradiction between Dempsey’s remarks and the blistering criticisms of Israeli behavior uttered by the State Department and White House is instructive. Dempsey not only undermined the credibility of anything said by the U.S. during the war. He also exposed the president’s political agenda against the Jewish state and its government, a point that was made clear in the recent controversy about “senior administration officials” telling The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that Prime Minister Netanyahu was a “coward” and a “chickenshit.”

Dempsey told the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York that the Israelis “did what they could” to avoid civilian casualties. In a war fought with a ruthless terrorist enemy that deliberately hid behind civilians and operating out of mosques, hospitals, schools, and public shelters, there is simply no way to prevent civilians from getting hurt. That’s a point the U.S. military readily understood even if the Obama administration chose to use the pictures of dead civilians as an opportunity to score points at the expense of the Israelis.

But Dempsey went further than sympathizing with his Israeli counterparts:

Dempsey said the Pentagon three months ago sent a “lessons-learned team” of senior officers and non-commissioned officers to work with the IDF to see what could be learned from the Gaza operation, “to include the measures they took to prevent civilian casualties and what they did with tunneling.”

The general said civilian casualties during the conflict were “tragic, but I think the IDF did what they could” to avoid them.

He said he thought his Israeli counterpart would look at lessons learned from the conflict to see what more could be done to avoid civilian deaths in future operations.

“The IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They’re interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel,” Dempsey said.

The subtext to the administration’s attacks on the Israelis about Gaza is that the president has been deeply involved in ordering air strikes on terrorist targets throughout the Middle East. While there’s no doubt that the American military is as interested in avoiding harm to civilians as the Israelis, they know very well that many are killed or wounded when bombs are dropped on those responsible for terrorism. The only difference between the two conflicts is not in the character of the targets. There isn’t much difference between the Islamist killers of Hamas and those of al-Qaeda or ISIS. But the international media doesn’t pay nearly as much attention to such attacks when Israelis aren’t involved. Moreover, the media’s coverage of Gaza was incredibly one-sided as no pictures of Hamas fighters or missile launches were published or broadcast despite the army of journalists roaming the strip during the conflict.

But the issue is not merely the falsity of the American carping about Israeli actions. There’s little doubt the White House and the State Department were well aware of the U.S. military’s opinion of what was going on in Gaza or the fact that American actions ordered by Obama produce much the same results.

The American military is right to seek to learn the lessons of Gaza and to do what they can to emulate Israeli actions. But the real agenda at play in Washington on this issue has been a concerted effort by the Obama administration to undermine Israel’s right of self-defense in order to weaken its ability to stand up to U.S. pressure. Seen in that light, the real lesson to be culled from this episode is that everything that comes out of the mouths of the president’s foreign-policy team with respect to Israel should be considered false until proven otherwise.

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Is the Post-Abbas Mideast Already Here?

Hamas celebrated an act of suicide terrorism in Jerusalem today that mirrored both late October’s attack at a Jerusalem light rail stop and another attack later today in the West Bank. It is not suicide bombing, but more like a form of Islamist suicide by cop. Terrorists are driving cars into civilians–a tool of attack not new to the conflict but which is currently happening with some regularity–and in the first two attacks the terrorist killed a civilian and the terrorist was also killed, in each case by Israeli police arriving at the scene to stop more violence. In this afternoon’s attack, the third in the last two weeks, the driver of the vehicle sped away.

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Hamas celebrated an act of suicide terrorism in Jerusalem today that mirrored both late October’s attack at a Jerusalem light rail stop and another attack later today in the West Bank. It is not suicide bombing, but more like a form of Islamist suicide by cop. Terrorists are driving cars into civilians–a tool of attack not new to the conflict but which is currently happening with some regularity–and in the first two attacks the terrorist killed a civilian and the terrorist was also killed, in each case by Israeli police arriving at the scene to stop more violence. In this afternoon’s attack, the third in the last two weeks, the driver of the vehicle sped away.

Hamas and other Palestinian “resistance” groups have not, apparently, abandoned suicide terrorism after all and are now engaged in a renewed campaign. This type of violence is, of course, reminiscent of the second intifada, which is why it has Jerusalem on edge. The Palestinians have responded to each attack by rioting, so they are basically in a consistent state of violent agitation.

There is something more concerning about this latest round of Palestinian violence, however. Though it is perpetrated in some cases by members of Hamas, it has a spontaneous quality to it, and the riots in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem are keeping the atmosphere that engenders it going seemingly around the clock. And as much as it is reminiscent of past such campaigns of violence, there is indeed something a bit different about this one: it is heralding the arrival of the post-Abbas Palestinian polity.

Now it’s true that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is not only still present and accounted for but is also helping to spark the violence by calling for resistance against Jewish civilians in Jerusalem. But Abbas is not leading; he’s merely following in the path of those who started the party without him. Abbas was famously opposed to Yasser Arafat’s decision to launch the second intifada, and he surely knows that chaos and disorder and Hamas-fueled anarchy only undermine his own power. But he can’t stand around with his hands in his pockets either, because support for spilling Jewish blood drives Palestinian popular opinion.

If Abbas survives this current attempted intifada–and make no mistake, Abbas is in the crosshairs of Hamas’s terror campaigns as well–it will be nominally and, in fact, quite pathetically. And the current disorder is precisely why Israel has been protecting Abbas and helping him hold power: Abbas is no partner for peace, but he is the least-bad option available. A powerless, irrelevant, or deposed Abbas means these terror campaigns of Iran’s Palestinian proxies are all that remains of concerted Palestinian strategy.

Concern over a post-Abbas Middle East is becoming more common. Last month, the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur wrote a typically incisive essay on the state of play between Israel and the Arab world, noting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–often one to embrace ideas that seem absurd only to soon solidify into conventional wisdom–was preparing for this eventuality. Last year Jonathan Schanzer explained, quite rightly, that it was time for Abbas to name a successor to ensure continuity in the peace process.

But what if the more dangerous scenario is not an absent Abbas but an irrelevant one? That’s what seems to be playing out right now. It’s possible that an Abbas-led PA is a leaderless PA. There is no old guard and no new blood, but something in between that leaves the Palestinian polity not yet in league with the Islamist fanatics of Hamas in a fluid, precarious state on the precipice.

And so we have the vicious yet cartoonish spectacle of the Palestinian president effectively joining a Palestinian intifada that started without him. Arafat wanted an intifada, and he got one. Abbas didn’t, and for a time was able to prevent it. Does Abbas want an intifada now? He can’t possibly be that stupid. But it doesn’t appear to matter.

Just what is Abbas actually doing, as leader of the PA? Getting the Palestinians closer to a peace deal? Certainly not; he walked away from it (more than once). Preventing Hamas from setting the terms of the debate? Hardly. Keeping a lid on an angry Palestinian polity inclined to violence? Not anymore. Abbas may or may not get swept away by a new uprising. It’s ironic that what could save him from such a fate is the fact that, increasingly, it might not even be worth the trouble.

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Where This Administration’s Sympathies Really Lie

If you want a clear indication of how the Obama administration really feels about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then you only have to look to the State Department’s reactions to the recent shootings in Israel of two U.S. citizens. The first was the shooting of a Palestinian youth engaged in an act of terrorism against Israeli security forces, the second was an assassination attempt on a rabbi and civil-rights activist. Both were U.S. citizens and yet each shooting drew a very different response from the administration. Conceivably, that would be perfectly appropriate; one would hardly expect someone shot in the midst of a terrorist act to be afforded the same kind of concern as that given to a cold blooded attempted murder of a religious leader devoted to the fight for religious civil liberties. And yet the reactions from the state department were an inversion of the very responses one might expect.

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If you want a clear indication of how the Obama administration really feels about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then you only have to look to the State Department’s reactions to the recent shootings in Israel of two U.S. citizens. The first was the shooting of a Palestinian youth engaged in an act of terrorism against Israeli security forces, the second was an assassination attempt on a rabbi and civil-rights activist. Both were U.S. citizens and yet each shooting drew a very different response from the administration. Conceivably, that would be perfectly appropriate; one would hardly expect someone shot in the midst of a terrorist act to be afforded the same kind of concern as that given to a cold blooded attempted murder of a religious leader devoted to the fight for religious civil liberties. And yet the reactions from the state department were an inversion of the very responses one might expect.

When the Palestinian-American teen Orwa Abd al-Wahhab Hammad was shot dead by Israeli security forces on October 25 he was poised to hurl a Molotov cocktail onto the Israeli traffic passing below on Route 60. Israeli soldiers had successfully intervened to prevent an attack. Yet the State Department could not have been more displeased. Making an issue of Hammad’s dual American citizenship, spokeswoman Jen Psaki demanded a full “speedy and transparent investigation.” Psaki went on to stress that the United States “expresses its deepest condolences to the family of a U.S. citizen minor who was killed by the Israeli Defense Forces.” Shockingly, when pressed on this message of condolences given the circumstances of the shooting, Psaki confirmed that the administration does not consider Hammad a terrorist, this despite his links to Hamas.

Contrast that with how the state department has responded to the shooting in Jerusalem of Rabbi Yehuda Glick, a longtime campaigner for religious freedom and equal worshiping rights for Muslims and Jews on the Temple Mount. The point is made most sharply by a letter–made public over social media–sent by Rabbi Glick’s brother to the Israeli writer and commentator Caroline Glick (no relation). Yitz Glick writes in the letter: “I just wanted to tell you that our family is shocked that we haven’t heard a single word from the US State Dept., the US Ambassador or any representative of the US government regarding the shooting of our brother a US citizen Yehuda Glick…No outrage, no wishes of speedy recovery not a single word from any US official.”

The Obama administration’s handling of this case is made all the more troubling by Palestinian president Abbas’s role here. As it was, Abbas’s Palestinian Authority had already ramped up incitement against Jewish worship on the Temple Mount, making Rabbi Glick a likely target for attack. But worse still, when Glick’s would-be assassin was subsequently killed in a shootout with the police during an attempted arrest, Abbas hailed this terrorist as a martyr and described Israeli attempts to prevent further violence at the Mount as being tantamount to a “declaration of war.”

A pretty twisted agenda is at work when the U.S. government is seeking to whitewash a terrorist hurling Molotov cocktails at Israelis, classifying him not as a terrorist but rather simply a U.S. citizen and a minor, demanding that those responsible for preventing this terror attack be put under immediate investigation. Worse still, that when an American rabbi is shot in an assassination attempt, the administration clearly couldn’t care less. Of course, there’s no hiding the fact that the state department despises Glick’s campaign. They clearly oppose any change to the “status quo” on the Temple Mount; in other words, the U.S. government is against religious freedom for Jews and Christians at this most important of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

But then, the Obama administration’s entire attitude on Jerusalem is warped. Not only has the administration opposed building homes for Jews in Jerusalem neighborhoods that even under the most farfetched versions of the two-state solution would remain part of Israel. But just this week, the administration’s lawyers argued before the Supreme Court that Israel’s claims in Jerusalem are comparable with Russia’s in Crimea.

Popular wisdom has it that all of this shameful behavior is an expression of the administration’s central Middle East delusion: that distancing America from Israel will win friends and influence people throughout the Muslim world. Well, no doubt some in the State Department believe that. But it is clear that for others, and indeed for Obama himself, feelings here run much deeper. Quite simply this administration’s sympathies lie with the Palestinian cause, for it is just the kind of third-world cause that so many went into the Democratic Party hoping to promote. Because frankly, Obama’s unrealistic realpolitik only goes so far in explaining the callousness with which his government has reacted to these two very different shootings of U.S. citizens in Israel.

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UN Counts 10 Million Stateless People. None Are Palestinians

The UN chose a poor moment to unveil its latest campaign; the American media have little attention for anything outside the midterm elections this week. And that’s a pity, because this particular campaign deserves massive attention. The goal is to eliminate statelessness, a problem that affects some 10 million people worldwide, according to the UN high commissioner for refugees. But here’s the really noteworthy point: Not one of those 10 million people in UNHCR’s tally is Palestinian.

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The UN chose a poor moment to unveil its latest campaign; the American media have little attention for anything outside the midterm elections this week. And that’s a pity, because this particular campaign deserves massive attention. The goal is to eliminate statelessness, a problem that affects some 10 million people worldwide, according to the UN high commissioner for refugees. But here’s the really noteworthy point: Not one of those 10 million people in UNHCR’s tally is Palestinian.

This point deserves emphasis, because even ardent Israel supporters often buy the false claim that Palestinians are the only people worldwide who lack citizenship in any country, making the Palestinian problem unique. But in truth, as UNHCR’s figure shows, even if every Palestinian in the world were stateless (which they aren’t), they would still constitute a minority of the world’s stateless population.

Nor are Palestinians overall the most miserable of the world’s stateless peoples, by a long shot. Granted, there are exceptions: Palestinians in war-torn Syria, for instance, definitely rank high on the misery scale (as do other Syrians). But many of the world’s stateless people would be thrilled to enjoy the conditions of stateless Palestinians in, say, the West Bank.

For real misery, consider the Rohingya, a Muslim community living mainly in Buddhist-majority Burma that accounts for about 1 million of UNHCR’s 10 million stateless people. The UN dubs them “one of the world’s most persecuted peoples.” For starters, most live in real refugee camps–not permanent towns like those in the West Bank, with real houses, schools, medical clinics, electricity, running water, and all the other amenities of civilized life.

Moreover, since Burma expelled Doctors Without Borders in February, many Rohingya have had no access to medical care at all, and deaths due to the lack of such care occur almost daily, as the Washington Post reported in May. Even when local Buddhist doctors are available, many Rohingya won’t use them; after the violence they have suffered from Buddhist mobs, the distrust runs too deep.

By contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have access not only to their own fairly well-developed medical systems–including a network of hospitals built, it should be noted, entirely by the “Israeli occupiers”–but also to Israel’s world-class hospitals. And needless to say, Palestinians have no fear of using Jewish doctors; even senior Hamas officials routinely send their relatives to Israel for treatment. Just last month, for instance, Ismail Haniyeh’s daughter was hospitalized in Israel, making this the third time over the last year that Israel has treated a close relative of Hamas’s leader in Gaza.

Then, of course, there are the anti-Rohingya pogroms. As Kenan Malik wrote in the New York Times in May, “Villages, schools and mosques have been attacked and burned by Buddhist mobs, often aided by security forces. Hundreds of Rohingya have been killed, and as many as 140,000 people—more than one in 10 of the Rohingya population—have been made homeless.” This doesn’t get nearly as much press as settler attacks on Palestinians, yet the latter are mainly petty vandalism–despicable and unacceptable, but not even in the same league. (And lest anyone mention Gaza, wars aren’t comparable to pogroms, either. Last I checked, the Rohingya weren’t lobbing thousands of rockets at Burma’s Buddhist citizens.)

In short, the Rohingya are yet another case in which the world’s obsession with the Palestinians has diverted attention from a much greater human-rights abuse.

Nevertheless, there is a bit of poetic justice in this story: In a rare lapse from the UN’s usual two-faced behavior, UNHCR said it couldn’t include the Palestinians in its list of stateless people because the UN General Assembly has recognized Palestine as a state. Of course, since no such state actually exists, many Palestinians really are stateless. But having demanded that the world recognize their nonexistent state, the Palestinians are discovering that even at the UN, you can’t simultaneously be a recognized state and a stateless people.

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Zivotofsky May Be a 5-4 Decision

From the transcript of yesterday’s oral argument, one can pretty much predict how the Supreme Court justices will rule in Zivotofsky, on the law giving Jerusalem-born Americans the right–if they request it–to have their passports show their place of birth as “Israel.” The four liberal Justices (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) seemed prepared to hold that the law improperly impinges on the president’s “recognition” authority; the four conservative Justices (Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito) seem prepared to hold it does not; and the case will likely be decided by Justice Kennedy’s vote. His position seems reflected in the question he apparently had carefully prepared, and which he asked Zivotofsky’s counsel (Alyza L. Lewin) before she had even completed the second sentence of her argument:

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From the transcript of yesterday’s oral argument, one can pretty much predict how the Supreme Court justices will rule in Zivotofsky, on the law giving Jerusalem-born Americans the right–if they request it–to have their passports show their place of birth as “Israel.” The four liberal Justices (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) seemed prepared to hold that the law improperly impinges on the president’s “recognition” authority; the four conservative Justices (Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito) seem prepared to hold it does not; and the case will likely be decided by Justice Kennedy’s vote. His position seems reflected in the question he apparently had carefully prepared, and which he asked Zivotofsky’s counsel (Alyza L. Lewin) before she had even completed the second sentence of her argument:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Suppose that – suppose that the President and the Secretary of State put on the passport place of birth – I’ve written it out – the place of birth on this Jerusalem-born citizen’s passport has been listed as Israel at the holder’s request. The designation is neither an acknowledgment nor a declaration by the Department of State or the President of the United States that Jerusalem is within the borders of the State of Israel. Could the president, under existing statute, and the Secretary of State, under existing statute, put that statement on the passport?

MS. LEWIN: Yes, Your Honor, they could put that statement on the passport. [Transcript at pp. 3-4].

Justice Kennedy made the same point when Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued that showing “Israel” on Zivotofsky’s passport would “communicate a message that contradicts the official recognition position of the United States”:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: But why couldn’t you have a disclaimer of the kind that I’ve explained to the Petitioner’s counsel. She said that would be perfectly lawful, for you to say it’s not the position of the State Department, this is not an indication that Israel is – has jurisdiction over Jerusalem. … Why wouldn’t that solve the problem? [Transcript at p. 28].

Later in the argument, after the solicitor general acknowledged that Congress has the authority to regulate passports, but asserted that Congress “can’t use that authority to command the Executive Branch to issue diplomatic communication that contradicts the government’s official position on recognition,” Justice Kennedy made his point a third time:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: I don’t – I don’t like to, you know, just keep going back to the same thing. It seems to me that you could draft a statement that actually furthers your position. “This passport does not indicate that the government of the United States and the Secretary of State recognized that Israel has sovereign jurisdiction over [Jerusalem],” and you’d actually be making your case. [Transcript at pp. 42-43].

In other words, the administration could do the same thing President Clinton did when Congress enacted a law in 1994 allowing Americans born in Taiwan, if they requested, to have their passports show their place of birth as “Taiwan,” rather than “China.”

President Clinton complied with the law but issued a statement that it did not affect the U.S. “one China” policy. Zivotofsky’s case is even easier: in the Taiwan situation, anyone looking at the passport would know the State Department had permitted the holder to substitute “Taiwan” for “China”; the law regarding Jerusalem provides only that “Israel” would appear in the requesting person’s passport–not “Jerusalem, Israel.” As Justice Scalia pointed out, no one looking at the passport would even know what city the holder was born in.

Courts generally strive to avoid holding a law unconstitutional, and try instead to “harmonize” the parties’ positions. The Court could hold that where (1) the petitioner does not assert that putting “Israel” in his passport constitutes an official recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem; (2) the law permits the president, if he wants, to put a statement on the passport stating that it is not such a recognition; and (3) the statement is not even necessary: since the passport of a requesting citizen will include no reference to “Jerusalem” at all, the law does not constitute such a recognition and thus does not improperly impinge on presidential authority. The oral argument and Justice Kennedy’s questions indicate this may be where the Court will end up.

Such a resolution would mean that Congress would keep its statute, Zivotofsky would get his passport, and the president would retain his recognition authority. It may turn out, in other words, that there was no reason for the administration to make a federal case out of Jerusalem, much less scrub the White House websites.

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Susan Rice, Sheldon Adelson, and Obama’s Paranoia About Israel

The Obama administration has followed up its incoherent “chickens–t” ramblings with yet another very strange, deeply disturbed comment being reported by another reliable leftist opinion writer. This one is less colorful than the third-grade creativity displayed in the leak to Jeffrey Goldberg, the administration’s pawn-to-queen-four opening when the president wants to pick a fight with the Jewish state. Less colorful–but perhaps more significant, at least as a window into the paranoia that pervades the Obama White House.

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The Obama administration has followed up its incoherent “chickens–t” ramblings with yet another very strange, deeply disturbed comment being reported by another reliable leftist opinion writer. This one is less colorful than the third-grade creativity displayed in the leak to Jeffrey Goldberg, the administration’s pawn-to-queen-four opening when the president wants to pick a fight with the Jewish state. Less colorful–but perhaps more significant, at least as a window into the paranoia that pervades the Obama White House.

Haaretz’s Barak Ravid over the weekend wrote another opinion piece that can be filed under “Bibi Derangement Syndrome makes people do funny things.” It’s all complete speculation, right down to the headline, which leaves the impression that the paper’s editor should probably spend less time defending his cartoonist’s 9/11 conspiracist artwork and more time, well, editing. But there’s a nugget in the column that rewards the reader who somehow gets beyond the embarrassing headline and lede, which sound as though Netanyahu appeared to Ravid in a dream and confessed his innermost thoughts.

After mentioning Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, Ravid writes:

Speaking of Dermer and Adelson, a few months ago U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice met with the leader of one of the major American Jewish organizations. When the latter asked Rice why she hadn’t met with Dermer[,] Rice responded, with her characteristic sarcasm, “He never asked to meet me.”

“Besides, I understood that he’s too busy traveling to Sheldon Adelson’s events in Las Vegas.”

This, it should be noted, was not a case of the administration giving a quote to Ravid, the way they did with Goldberg. But it’s interesting that this quote appears here. If Susan Rice said what she’s quoted here as saying, the Obama White House has completely lost it. This is especially true because while Obama has surrounded himself with mostly dim bulbs, Rice is actually whipsmart and tough as nails. And while Obama has generally hired those with a less-than-sterling opinion of Israel–including the Cabinet member Samantha Power, who entertained the idea of the U.S. invading Israel to impose a peace deal–Rice is not known to harbor any real Obama-esque contempt for Israel.

In other words, Rice was the last best hope for those who believed that somehow a sane Israel policy might yet emerge from this administration. The paranoia that strikes deep in this administration toward Republicans and pro-Israel Jewish groups was not thought to be shared by the one levelheaded thinker left in the Obama administration. Now we know that’s also false–at least if this story is to be believed (and, we should mention, it has yet to be confirmed by a non-Haaretz outlet).

Ravid continued:

Rice was referring to Dermer’s exceptional attendance as guest of honor at a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition in March. That event served to prove to Obama’s aides that despite the “new leaf” Dermer had promised when he arrived in Washington only a few months earlier, he continued to dabble in American domestic politics as a sympathizer with the red, Republican side.

This is, of course, completely insane. Yair Rosenberg pointed out that Netanyahu’s previous ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, as the National Jewish Democratic Council boasted on its website, hosted at his home “Jewish community leaders, Democratic Party officials and others … at a dinner in honor of DNC Chairman Governor Tim Kaine” while Oren was still ambassador.

By Ravid’s logic–and the Obama administration’s, if the term “logic” can be used so generously–Netanyahu has chosen to actively politic on the side of the Democrats. He hasn’t, just as he hasn’t done so for the Republicans. Perhaps everyone suffering from Bibi Derangement Syndrome needs to just lie down for a while, away from Twitter.

Additionally, this story comports with what Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev wrote back in August, and which I quoted in September: “a very senior Washington figure recently told an Israeli counterpart that each step or statement made by Netanyahu is a-priori examined by the White House to see if it helps the Republicans or if Sheldon Adelson might be behind it.”

The Obama administration sees enemies everywhere, and sees its fiercest enemy as Republicans–Americans who sternly disagree with the embattled president. It helps explain why exceedingly strange gibberish emanates from the president and his advisors whenever the subject of Israel comes up. But until now, it seemed as though Susan Rice was immune to the Bibi Derangement Syndrome that had spread throughout the White House. If Israel has lost Susan Rice too because of her own obsession with Sheldon Adelson, the reality check for which this administration is long overdue is unlikely to ever arrive.

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How Sweden Ended Up Proving Israel Right

The diplomatic fallout from Sweden’s vote to recognize the state of Palestine continues. Israel recalled its ambassador to Sweden along with an explanation from the Foreign Ministry. It followed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s criticism of the Swedish recognition, in which he included a not-so-diplomatic dig at IKEA. Yet both responses from Israel to the Palestine recognition were not only defensible, but appropriate, especially if you follow Sweden’s own official statements about the matter.

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The diplomatic fallout from Sweden’s vote to recognize the state of Palestine continues. Israel recalled its ambassador to Sweden along with an explanation from the Foreign Ministry. It followed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s criticism of the Swedish recognition, in which he included a not-so-diplomatic dig at IKEA. Yet both responses from Israel to the Palestine recognition were not only defensible, but appropriate, especially if you follow Sweden’s own official statements about the matter.

One of the aspects of Lieberman’s rise through Israeli politics is that he drives non-Israelis, especially leftist American Jews, insane. What they don’t understand about Israeli politics could fill a bookshelf, but what they don’t understand about Lieberman is basically this: he’s among the most politically savvy figures in Israel, perhaps even topping the list. And he’s also, therefore, something of a realist. He supports the two-state solution and land swaps, and he’s used his knowledge of Eurasia (he’s Moldovan) to expand Israel’s alliances–a strategy that looks increasingly wise as the Obama administration throws temper tantrums at the Israeli leadership (and public) and downgrades the U.S.-Israel military alliance.

Here was Lieberman’s initial response to the Swedish recognition:

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the recognition “unfortunate” and said in a statement that it would only serve to strengthen the Palestinians’ “unrealistic demands.”

“The Swedish government needs to understand that the Middle East is more complicated than self-assembly furniture from Ikea and to act on the issue responsibly and with sensitivity,” he said, getting in a dig at the Sweden-based retail giant.

So there are two elements to this response: first, that it will essentially reward Palestinian intransigence, and second, that it oversimplifies what real peace requires. Lieberman, then, is quite obviously correct on both counts. The Swedes did not take kindly to the IKEA dig, and responded thus:

To which the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström replied, “I will be happy to send him a flat pack of IKEA furniture and he will also see that what you need to put it together is, first of all, a partner. And you also need to cooperate and you need a good manual and I think we have most of those elements,” the Times of Israel reported.

This was intended as a rebuttal; instead, however, it proved Lieberman’s point better than even Lieberman could. Wallström says to put together the furniture you need a partner. Lieberman would agree, and the lack of a true Palestinian partner (Mahmoud Abbas sparked what may turn into the third intifada in Jerusalem this week) is a good reason why Swedish recognition now was a terrible idea and also explains why the lack of a two-state solution thus far is not Israel’s fault.

Wallström then says you need cooperation. This is correct, and demonstrates the foolishness of recognizing Palestine, since unilateral moves have long been considered obstacles to negotiations. In this case, Sweden has supported unilateral moves in direct contravention of the concept of cooperation.

Wallström concludes by saying “you need a good manual.” Perhaps. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has now produced two such manuals, though it’s arguable how “good” they are: the Oslo Accords and the Roadmap. Both of these manuals impose certain requirements on each side, but the central theme is that a peace agreement will come about through negotiations and that intransigence and violence should not be rewarded by each side being encouraged to go its own way and do what it pleases. Sweden’s recognition of Palestine violates this as well.

Wallström might have been better off researching what we in the West refer to as a “sense of humor,” and not responded so seriously to an obvious joke. Not only does Wallström look humorless, but her response perfectly illustrated why Sweden was wrong–according to Sweden! (Or at least according to its Foreign Ministry.)

Western liberals are probably getting accustomed to being outsmarted by Avigdor Lieberman, though I don’t imagine it reduces the sting all that much. As for recalling the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, that too is at least understandable. Israel is facing a bit of a European fad of late to recognize Palestine, though it’s usually symbolic. Israel can be expected to try to prevent the spread of this gesture by showing that it at least is not without repercussions.

Additionally, Israel is currently facing down the possibility of another intifada. Even if it doesn’t arrive–Jerusalem’s stability seems to thankfully be holding for the moment, which is a very good sign–there has been a spate of violence in Jerusalem against Jewish civilians and continued threats from Iranian Palestinian proxies. To reward Palestinian behavior such as this, and at this precise time, is to signal to the Palestinians that violence against Jews is the way to impress the international community and get what they want. Such behavior will be the death of peace, no matter how many states European politicians feel like recognizing.

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Best Boycott Ever

Many readers will know that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently rescinded a job offer it had made to anti-Israel professor Steven Salaita, after Salaita, among other things, condoned the kidnapping of Israeli teens. This episode, which has left both Salaita and his spouse out of a job, is sad, but the aftermath has not been without its share of comic relief.

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Many readers will know that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently rescinded a job offer it had made to anti-Israel professor Steven Salaita, after Salaita, among other things, condoned the kidnapping of Israeli teens. This episode, which has left both Salaita and his spouse out of a job, is sad, but the aftermath has not been without its share of comic relief.

Predictably, Salaita and his allies claim that his case is just one of many examples in which “external pressure” is used to “silence faculty and students on campuses across the country for speaking in support of Palestinian human rights.” Salaita has not only written of his silencing in the Chicago Tribune but also spoken of it at, among other places, the University of Chicago, Northwestern, De Paul, the University of Rochester, and Syracuse University. In November, he has eight gigs at California universities, including UC-Berkeley and UCLA. Memo to all-powerful Israel Lobby: I am available for silencing.

But the award for inadvertent comedy goes to the graduate student planning committee for the UIUC History Department’s annual Women and Gender History Symposium. In solidarity with other academics who have pledged to boycott the University of Illinois until it hires Professor Salaita, the committee has canceled the 2015 symposium. The symposium was to be organized “around the theme of Dissent and Empire as a means to critique our university’s historical investment in empire, particularly in its refusal to eradicate ‘Chief Illiniwek’ from this campus.” The university parted ways with its mascot in 2007, but the university has failed to suppress students and alumni who want to keep the chief’s image alive. This failure, along with the Salaita affair, proves the “university’s stake in the project of settler colonialism.”

So the planning committee is punishing UIUC by refusing to hold a conference condemning it. They cannot “in good faith hold an event which would endorse, tacitly or otherwise, our university’s position.” Moreover, they “cannot and will not contribute to the university’s profits, which the trustees have proven is for them paramount above all things.” Not just paramount, mind, but paramount above all things. No doubt the trustees are feverishly trying to figure out what new cash cow they can turn to, now that the Women and Gender History Symposium, that Bruce Springsteen concert of academic symposiums, has been denied them.

In fairness, the graduate students on the planning committee are merely following in the footsteps of their elders, like Columbia professor Bruce Robbins, who refused to bring his anti-Israel road show to the University of Illinois, to strike a blow against the University’s alleged caving in to pro-Israel donors.

Vive le boycott.

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Anti-Israel Media Bias Indistinguishable from Palestinian Incitement

Yesterday Israeli-American civil-rights activist Yehuda Glick, who advocates for equal access for Jews and Muslims at the Temple Mount, was shot in an apparent assassination attempt by a Palestinian in Jerusalem. Glick’s opposition to religious apartheid in Jerusalem has always been controversial to the Palestinians, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas in recent weeks called on Palestinians to prevent Jews from even accessing their holy site, “in any way.” There is blood on Abbas’s hands, of course. But how the press reported the shooting says a lot about how Abbas’s incitement and dehumanization of Jews has seeped into a corrupt media.

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Yesterday Israeli-American civil-rights activist Yehuda Glick, who advocates for equal access for Jews and Muslims at the Temple Mount, was shot in an apparent assassination attempt by a Palestinian in Jerusalem. Glick’s opposition to religious apartheid in Jerusalem has always been controversial to the Palestinians, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas in recent weeks called on Palestinians to prevent Jews from even accessing their holy site, “in any way.” There is blood on Abbas’s hands, of course. But how the press reported the shooting says a lot about how Abbas’s incitement and dehumanization of Jews has seeped into a corrupt media.

The first news report that stood out was that of the Associated Press. Here was their lede: “A gunman on motorcycle shot a prominent hard-line Jewish activist on Wednesday, Israeli police and legislators said, seriously wounding the man and then fleeing in a suspected assassination attempt.” So that sets the tone: Jews who advocate for equal rights for Jews in the Jewish state are “hard-line.” But the media really started to lose it when the Palestinian suspect shot at Israeli police later in the evening and the police fired back, killing him. The Reuters report, by Luke Baker, was a model of crass mendacity.

We don’t get Yehuda Glick’s name in the Reuters piece until five paragraphs in, so until then he’s only known as “a far-right Jewish activist.” Not only is he painted as an extremist then, but Reuters doesn’t tell the reader just yet what kind of activism he was engaged in. But Reuters–famous for running photoshopped pictures of Israel at war–is just getting started. When we finally learn about Glick, we’re told the following:

Hejazi was suspected of shooting and wounding Yehuda Glick, a far-right religious activist who has led a campaign for Jews to be allowed to pray at the Al-Aqsa compound.

Could Baker be bothered to use the Jewish name–which obviously preceded any other name–of the Jewish holy place? Nope. It’s written that way merely to leave the impression that the Jews–again, who were there first, as everyone who isn’t an anti-Semitic propagandist knows–are interlopers and trespassers.

The next sentence tells us what happened: “Glick, a U.S.-born settler, was shot as he left a conference at the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre in Jerusalem late on Wednesday, his assailant escaping on the back of a motorcycle.” Glick was in Jerusalem, giving a speech about Jerusalem. But Reuters must tell you he’s a “settler” so they can further the storyline that hey–he probably had it coming.

Speaking of which, back in America, we have the story from CNN this morning. Here’s the headline: “Israeli police kill man suspected of shooting controversial rabbi.” CNN doesn’t want to waste any time; the reader must know the Jewish victim of an assassination attempt was up to no good. Here is CNN’s description of Glick:

Glick is an advocate of Jewish access to Muslim holy sites. After he gave a presentation in Jerusalem on Wednesday night, a man on a motorcycle shot him.

Amazing. CNN can’t even bring itself to legitimize the existence of Jewish history. The reader must be left wondering why Jews want to invade Muslim holy places. CNN does later in the story get around to mentioning Jewish claims to the site, but the damage is done.

Back to Reuters’ Luke Baker, who may not be a halakhic sage but he did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night:

Glick and his supporters argue that Jews should have the right to pray at their holiest site, where two ancient Jewish temples once stood, even though the Israeli rabbinate says the Torah forbids it and many Jews consider it unacceptable.

Again, this is to delegitimize Glick’s actions. I would love to see this become a pattern, however. Will Reuters now defer to the Israeli rabbinate on all such issues? I wouldn’t advise holding your breath.

The question of whether the Temple Mount is forbidden by Jewish law is in dispute, because of complicated calculations based on historical references to the geography and architecture of the site. I wouldn’t expect Reuters to know that, because I wouldn’t expect Reuters to know anything about Judaism. But the throwaway line “and many Jews consider it unacceptable” might be the best part of that sentence. I’m sure the “many Jews” Luke Baker hangs out with feel that way, just as Pauline Kael knew precisely one person who voted for Nixon.

A common question people have about the media is whether the reporting on Israel is based in true ignorance or enforced ignorance. That is, do these reporters really not know the first thing about the country they cover, or is editorial rearrangement done to ensure the stories are biased? It’s often a combination, but yesterday we received a great example of the bias of editors and how it filters coverage.

After the New York Times published a completely inaccurate op-ed on supposed Israeli racism, CAMERA’s Tamar Sternthal asked Times opinion editor Matt Seaton if there would be any columns forthcoming on Palestinian bigotry against Jews, in the interest of balance. Seaton responded, in a pretty incredible admission: “Sure, soon as they have sovereign state to discriminate with.”

So the New York Times does indeed have a different standard for Israel and for the Palestinians, and apparently the policy is to withhold criticism of Palestinian bigotry until the Jews give them what they want. Seaton should be praised for his honesty, I suppose, but it’s a stunning policy nonetheless.

It’s all a window into how Israel is being covered in the mainstream media by activists, not journalists. The parade of fabrications and falsehoods that characterize these publications’ Israel coverage should also be a red flag to the reader: what else are they covering this way?

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Frat-House Statecraft and U.S.-Iran Détente

The silliness of President Mom Jeans calling an Israeli special forces veteran “chickens–t” was what first dominated the reactions of the Obama administration’s frat-house taunts directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. But the larger strategic impact of the insult, as passed through what Matthew Continetti has termed the “secretarial” press, this time via Jeffrey Goldberg, soon became apparent. And it has now been confirmed by a major story in the Wall Street Journal.

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The silliness of President Mom Jeans calling an Israeli special forces veteran “chickens–t” was what first dominated the reactions of the Obama administration’s frat-house taunts directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. But the larger strategic impact of the insult, as passed through what Matthew Continetti has termed the “secretarial” press, this time via Jeffrey Goldberg, soon became apparent. And it has now been confirmed by a major story in the Wall Street Journal.

It was easy at first to miss anything but the string of insults directed from Obama to Netanyahu, including the casual accusation of autism. (It’s arguable whether this represented a new low for the president, who has a habit of demonstrating his grade school playground vocabulary.) But once the initial shock at the further degrading of American statecraft under Obama wore off, it was easy to see the real purpose of the story. The Obama administration wanted to brag through its stenographer that the president had protected the Iranian nuclear program from Israel:

I ran this notion by another senior official who deals with the Israel file regularly. This official agreed that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. The official said the Obama administration no longer believes that Netanyahu would launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to keep the regime in Tehran from building an atomic arsenal. “It’s too late for him to do anything. Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”

If Iran goes nuclear, those words will be the perfect description of the Obama administration’s fecklessness: “Now it’s too late.” Too late, that is, for our allies like Israel and the Gulf states to protect themselves from the consequences of the Obama administration’s Mideast policies–which principally affect Israel and the Gulf states. But “fecklessness” may not be the right word. The Wall Street Journal reports today that the president has been effective after all:

The Obama administration and Iran, engaged in direct nuclear negotiations and facing a common threat from Islamic State militants, have moved into an effective state of détente over the past year, according to senior U.S. and Arab officials.

The shift could drastically alter the balance of power in the region, and risks alienating key U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates who are central to the coalition fighting Islamic State. Sunni Arab leaders view the threat posed by Shiite Iran as equal to or greater than that posed by the Sunni radical group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Israel contends the U.S. has weakened the terms of its negotiations with Iran and played down Tehran’s destabilizing role in the region.

The Obama administration, then, has been carrying out its preferred policy: aligning with Iran in the Middle East. Now, this isn’t exactly surprising, since the administration has more or less telegraphed its pitches. Obama has also long been a doormat for the world’s tyrants, so adding Iran to the list that already includes states like Russia and Turkey adds a certain cohesiveness to White House policy.

Obama’s infamous and towering ignorance of world affairs, especially in the Middle East, has always made this latest faceplant somewhat predictable. The Looney-Tunes outburst at Netanyahu was not, but it teaches us two important things about Obama.

First, those who wanted to support Obama but had no real case for him in 2008 went with the idea that he had a “presidential temperament.” Those folks now look quite foolish–though that’s nothing new. Obama has a temperament ill suited for any activity not readily found on frat row.

The second lesson is that the president’s foreign policy is not abandonment of allies–that would be an improvement. It is, instead, full of tactics and strategies that, often unintentionally but no less destructively, put a thumb on the scale against them. For example, from the Journal piece:

The Obama administration also has markedly softened its confrontational stance toward Iran’s most important nonstate allies, the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the Lebanese militant and political organization, Hezbollah. American diplomats, including Secretary of State John Kerry, negotiated with Hamas leaders through Turkish and Qatari intermediaries during cease-fire talks in July that were aimed at ending the Palestinian group’s rocket attacks on Israel, according to senior U.S. officials.

The Iranian proxy terrorist groups on Israel’s border will have a freer hand. It helps explain why the administration served up a ceasefire proposal crafted by Hamas’s patrons, which outraged not only Israel but also Egypt. Protecting Hezbollah will further enable that group to make life hell for Israel’s north (and perhaps not only Israel’s north) when they next feel like it.

But strengthening Hezbollah will not only imperil Israel’s security. It will also put Europe in greater danger and U.S. interests as well. It’s a dim-witted policy, in other words, no matter what you think of Israel. And the general détente with Iran is, as the Journal points out, an insult to our Gulf allies as well as damaging to the fight against ISIS. The president’s policies put our allies at the mercy of their enemies. That he’s taunting them too only makes it clear that the policies are being instituted precisely how he envisioned them.

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Arab World’s Paradigm on Israel Has Shifted, but Obama’s Hasn’t

The inaugural session of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate took place last week, with scholars coming from around the world to participate in two days of discussion on a plethora of topics. Hisham Melhem, the Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya News, subsequently published a lengthy summary of the proceedings on Al Arabiya’s website, and reading it, I was struck by the absence of certain topics one might expect to feature prominently. Egypt, Iran, oil, ISIS, Turkey, Russia, the U.S., and Islamic extremism were all there. But in 1,700 words, the Palestinians weren’t mentioned once, while Israel appeared only in the very last paragraph–which deserves to be read in full:

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The inaugural session of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate took place last week, with scholars coming from around the world to participate in two days of discussion on a plethora of topics. Hisham Melhem, the Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya News, subsequently published a lengthy summary of the proceedings on Al Arabiya’s website, and reading it, I was struck by the absence of certain topics one might expect to feature prominently. Egypt, Iran, oil, ISIS, Turkey, Russia, the U.S., and Islamic extremism were all there. But in 1,700 words, the Palestinians weren’t mentioned once, while Israel appeared only in the very last paragraph–which deserves to be read in full:

Finally, it was fascinating to attend a two day conference about the Middle East in times of upheaval in which Israel was mostly ignored, with the only frontal criticism of her policies delivered by an American diplomat.

And this explains a lot about the current U.S.-Israel spat. President Barack Obama entered office with the firm belief that the best way to improve America’s relations with the Muslim world was to create “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, and for six years now, he and his staff have worked diligently to do exactly that. Nor was this an inherently unreasonable idea: Even a decade ago, Arab capitals might have cheered the sight of U.S. officials hurling childish insults at their Israeli counterparts.

The problem is that the Arab world has changed greatly in recent years, while the Obama administration–like most of Europe–remains stuck in its old paradigm. Granted, Arabs still don’t like Israel, but they have discovered that Israel and the Palestinians are very far down on their list of urgent concerns. The collapse of entire states that were formerly lynchpins of the Arab world, like Syria, Iraq, and Libya; the fear that other vital states like Egypt and Jordan could follow suit; the rise of Islamic extremist movements that threaten all the existing Arab states; the destabilizing flood of millions of refugees; the fear of U.S. disengagement from the region; the “predicament of living in the shadows of what they see as a belligerent Iran and an assertive Turkey” (to quote Melhem)–all these are far more pressing concerns.

And not only has Israel fallen off the list of pressing problems, but it has come to be viewed as capable of contributing, however modestly, to dealing with some of the new pressing problems. Last month, Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute published his impressions from a tour of the Mideast, including of Israel’s deepening strategic relationships with Egypt and Jordan. “Indeed, one of the most unusual moments of my trip was to hear certain Arab security officials effectively compete with one another for who has the better relationship with Israel,” he wrote. “In this regard, times have certainly changed.”

In fact, in this new Middle East, a U.S.-Israel spat probably generates more worry than glee in Arab capitals. Once, it was an Arab article of faith that America cared little about Arabs but greatly about Israel. Thus to the degree that Arab and Israeli concerns overlapped, as they do now on issues ranging from Iran to ISIS, America could be trusted to deal with the threat. Now, the Obama administration still appears to care little for Arab concerns; it seems hell-bent on striking a grand bargain with Iran and withdrawing from the Mideast. But the Arab world’s former ace in the hole to prevent such developments–Israel’s influence in Washington–suddenly looks more like deuce.

Yet all these shifting winds seem to have blown right by the Obama administration: It still acts as if America’s position in the Muslim world depends on showing that it hates Israel, too. And thus you reach the farce of a two-day conference in Abu Dhabi where “the only frontal criticism” of Israel’s policies was “delivered by an American diplomat.”

When it comes to Israel, the Arab world has moved on. But the Obama administration remains stuck in the last century.

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Peace-Processing, Web-Scrubbing, and the Supreme Court

Next Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument again in Zivotofsky v. Kerry, on the constitutionality of the law allowing Jerusalem-born Americans to have “Israel” as their place of birth in their passports, if they so request. The administration argues the Constitution’s “Reception Clause” (which provides the president “shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers”) gives the president sole authority over whether Americans born in the city that has been Israel’s capital since 1950 can have “Israel” in their passports. Kerry’s brief–in its opening paragraph–asserts that any action that “would signal, symbolically or concretely,” that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as within Israel would “critically compromise” the American ability to “further the peace process.” It would, apparently, make the process go “poof.”

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Next Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument again in Zivotofsky v. Kerry, on the constitutionality of the law allowing Jerusalem-born Americans to have “Israel” as their place of birth in their passports, if they so request. The administration argues the Constitution’s “Reception Clause” (which provides the president “shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers”) gives the president sole authority over whether Americans born in the city that has been Israel’s capital since 1950 can have “Israel” in their passports. Kerry’s brief–in its opening paragraph–asserts that any action that “would signal, symbolically or concretely,” that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as within Israel would “critically compromise” the American ability to “further the peace process.” It would, apparently, make the process go “poof.”

It is the same argument Hillary Clinton made in her own Supreme Court brief, back when the case was titled Zivotofsky v. Clinton. But if this is a serious argument, an urgent message needs to be dispatched to the White House Web-Scrubbers. Again.

Those familiar with this case–now in its 11th year–will recall that when it first came before the Court in 2011, the White House website, inconveniently for the administration’s central argument, featured pictures of Vice President Biden’s 2010 visit to–as each caption read–“Jerusalem, Israel.” The New York Sun first reported this anomaly in an August 4, 2011 article entitled, “Jerusalem Case at Supreme Court May Pit White House Web Site Against the President.” Three business days later–and two hours after the Weekly Standard published a screenshot of one of the pictures–the White House removed the word “Israel” from every caption. Then the administration scrubbed references to “Jerusalem, Israel” on other federal websites, and even went so far as to alter documents prepared by the Bush administration.

Now that the case is back before the Court, I checked again and found that as recently as three months ago, the White House issued a press release referring to “Jerusalem, Israel.” Entitled “President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts,” it listed nominees the president said would bring “a wealth of experience” to his administration–including one whose experience, the press release stated, included work in … “Jerusalem, Israel.” The amicus brief of the Zionist Organization of America points to numerous other references to “Jerusalem, Israel” currently on the websites of the Defense Department, Treasury Department, Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies.

If the administration genuinely believes that printing “Israel” in the U.S. passport of an American born in western Jerusalem jeopardizes a peace process currently deader than Generalissimo Franco, perhaps the president should appoint a Web-Scrubbing Czar–someone who can coordinate web-scrubbing throughout his administration. It would avoid the spectacle of an administration repeatedly making an argument repeatedly contradicted by its own websites.

And once again I ask: why is President Obama making a federal case out of this? He could do what President Clinton did when Congress passed a law giving Americans born in Taiwan the right to put “Taiwan,” rather than “China,” on their passports. Clinton implemented the law while issuing a statement that it did not change American policy that the United States recognizes only one China. Why not allow Zivotofsky to have “Israel” in his passport while announcing it does not change American policy that Jerusalem is a final status issue to be negotiated by the parties?

Such a resolution would conclude the case without a constitutional clash with Congress, and without a change in the administration’s foreign policy; it would avoid the necessity of a Supreme Court decision on an issue of first impression; it would terminate a decade of increasingly pointless refusals to implement a duly enacted law; and it will not–I think I can assure the administration on this–compromise the U.S. ability to advance the peace process. Indeed what has plagued that process for the past six years has been a U.S. administration so focused on one-sided demands on Israel that it fights all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid putting “Israel” in a Jerusalem-born American’s passport, scrubbing federal websites and altering official documents in its attempt to prevail.

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Sinai Terror Shows the Danger of Ungoverned Places

Egypt has given residents living along the Gaza border 48 hours’ warning before their homes will be demolished to make way for a 500-meter-wide buffer zone that will segregate the strip from the Sinai Peninsula. This move comes in the wake of last week’s terror attack in which over 30 Egyptian soldiers were killed by Islamist militants. Despite protestations from Hamas, Egyptian officials have stated that they believe the attack was carried out with the assistance of Palestinian operatives. As such, Egypt plans to create a buffer zone that will destroy some 680 homes—one can scarcely imagine the international reaction if Israel undertook such a security measure. However, it is a sign of how the Sisi government is becoming increasingly serious about ending the lawlessness that has plagued the Sinai in recent years.

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Egypt has given residents living along the Gaza border 48 hours’ warning before their homes will be demolished to make way for a 500-meter-wide buffer zone that will segregate the strip from the Sinai Peninsula. This move comes in the wake of last week’s terror attack in which over 30 Egyptian soldiers were killed by Islamist militants. Despite protestations from Hamas, Egyptian officials have stated that they believe the attack was carried out with the assistance of Palestinian operatives. As such, Egypt plans to create a buffer zone that will destroy some 680 homes—one can scarcely imagine the international reaction if Israel undertook such a security measure. However, it is a sign of how the Sisi government is becoming increasingly serious about ending the lawlessness that has plagued the Sinai in recent years.

When Israel withdrew from the Sinai as part of the peace agreement signed with Egypt in 1979, it had good reason to believe that the territory was being transferred to a nation state that was at least relatively stable and that could secure the border. But what we have witnessed across the region more recently is that it is in those geographic areas where states have failed or have become weak to the point of absence that terrorist groups have best been able to flourish. The story has been played out repeatedly from Afghanistan to Yemen, Libya to Somalia, and from southern Lebanon to Syria and northern Iraq. And today large parts of the Sinai have become just such an ungoverned vacuum where al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups have dug themselves in and established strongholds. There, jihadist groups have carried out a spate of attacks against Egyptian police and military personnel, and have repeatedly targeted the Arab Gas Pipeline, disrupting the supply between al-Arish, Jordan, Syria, and the wider region.

The problems in the Sinai have been dramatically compounded by the peninsula’s proximity to another area of unstable statelessness: Gaza. When Israel withdrew in 2005, Gaza was theoretically handed into the care of the Palestinian Authority, but as some on Israel’s right had already predicted, it did not take long before the power vacuum created by the absence of the IDF was replaced by the militiamen of Hamas. The same, of course, had already happened after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, as the non-state actor Hezbollah entrenched its position in the area, turning it into a kind of Iranian backed fiefdom.

Militant groups in the Sinai, and the relative weakness of the Egyptian state in this large sparsely populated area, would ultimately prove to be of huge strategic significance for Hamas, with smuggling along the Sinai-Gaza border providing Gaza’s Islamist rulers with their primary source of weaponry, which otherwise would have been kept out by the Israeli blockade. At the same time jihadist groups in Gaza provided training and assistance to militants in the Sinai, while they in turn would periodically fire missiles toward Eilat and Israel’s Negev border communities.

The Sisi government, however, with its fierce crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, finds itself squarely at odds with the Brotherhood’s Palestinian offshoot Hamas. Since the overthrow of President Morsi, the Egyptians have pursued a sustained and serious policy of eradicating the hundreds of smuggling tunnels around Rafah, and during this summer’s war in Gaza Egypt intensified its operations against militants operating close to that border. Indeed, it would appear that under Sisi there has been a concerted effort to reassert the power of the Egyptian state throughout the peninsula. Now, with the Egyptians convinced of the Gaza connection to this latest deadly attack on their troops, the authorities have closed the Rafah border crossing and advanced plans for the construction of deep water-filled trenches to block any restoration of terror tunnels.

Most importantly, the Gaza-Sinai experience must be instructive for both Israel and the wider region. Israelis already look to the turmoil in Syria and consider their good fortune given the failure of both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in their misguided efforts to hand over Israel’s Golan Heights buffer to Assad. Similarly, as the wider region becomes more tumultuous and not less, Israelis must be all the more wary of gambling their national security on further territorial withdrawals in the West Bank, not least at a time when the PA has already proved so ineffective at maintaining order in the few localities it is currently entrusted with. And given the weak position of the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan, it would not be difficult to imagine ISIS rapidly spreading from northern Iraq to the West Bank hilltops overlooking Tel Aviv.

Desperate to appear as if it has any clout on the world stage, the EU will continue to push for Israeli concessions in the West Bank. Equally desperate to distract from its multiple failings throughout the region, the Obama administration will also increase its pressure on Israel to give ground. But as the Gaza-Sinai experience shows, creating another area of ungoverned lawlessness and instability on their doorstep is not an option Israelis can afford.

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Palestinian Opinion and the Apartheid Libel

The latest poll of Palestinian opinion provides another sobering dose of reality to those who think that Israeli actions are the sole obstacle to peace. Following on the heels of previous surveys taken in the aftermath of this past summer’s war, the poll from the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center again shows that most Palestinians think Hamas won the conflict. More importantly, support for the Islamist terror group and the idea of continuing a military struggle against Israel continues to go up while backing for the supposedly more moderate Fatah declines. This is important in understanding not just how remote the chances of convincing those Fatah moderates to negotiate even a favorable peace deal with Israel are, but also why Israeli attitudes toward Palestinians have changed.

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The latest poll of Palestinian opinion provides another sobering dose of reality to those who think that Israeli actions are the sole obstacle to peace. Following on the heels of previous surveys taken in the aftermath of this past summer’s war, the poll from the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center again shows that most Palestinians think Hamas won the conflict. More importantly, support for the Islamist terror group and the idea of continuing a military struggle against Israel continues to go up while backing for the supposedly more moderate Fatah declines. This is important in understanding not just how remote the chances of convincing those Fatah moderates to negotiate even a favorable peace deal with Israel are, but also why Israeli attitudes toward Palestinians have changed.

The polls tell us that the same people who were being used as human shields by Hamas in Gaza as well as other Palestinians in the West Bank are still unwilling to rethink their backing for the group’s efforts to wage war and ultimately destroy Israel. This is puzzling to those in the West who bother to look at the numbers, since it makes no sense. Hamas’s campaign of “resistance” against Israeli “occupation”—the phrase by which they refer to pre-1967 Israel and not just the West Bank—has no prospect of success. All it brings the Palestinians is more devastation, suffering, and bloodshed.

And yet the majority of Palestinians remain so hostile to Israel’s existence and the Jewish presence on even the land it held before June 1967 that the struggle remains popular. From its beginnings in the early 20th century, Palestinian nationalism has always been inextricably linked with the war on Zionism. Reinforced by a constant drumbeat of incitement from both the official media of the Palestinian Authority and its leadership, the political culture of the Palestinians remains implacably hostile to Israel even if one takes Hamas out of the equation. That culture of denial of Israel’s legitimacy feeds the terrorism of Hamas in the form of missiles and terror tunnels, but also the Arab violence in the streets of Jerusalem against Israeli citizens that has created a steady toll of casualties in recent months.

It is also in that context that we should read the latest diatribe against Israel in the New York Times. An op-ed published today by Israeli Arab journalist Rula Jebreal is a compendium of charges all aimed to depict the country as fitting into the “apartheid state” libel. In her telling, every aspect of the country’s laws is geared toward discrimination against the Arab minority population. Israel is, like any democracy, imperfect and it would not be true to claim that Israeli Arabs have no cause for complaint. Some of what she writes about is true and some are distortions. But one doesn’t have to read too far between the lines to see that the purpose of her indictment is not redress of specific wrongs but the end of the Zionist project. The rights of national minorities should be protected in any society but the existence of that minority does not give them the right to thwart the basic purpose of the state.

For 66 years since it won its independence, Israel has attempted to be both a Jewish state and a democracy where minority rights are guaranteed. As it has proved, doing so is difficult but not impossible. It has been the haven for oppressed and homeless Jews from around the world while also maintaining equality of the law for Arabs whose democratic rights and ability to obtain redress through the courts has been stoutly defended. It is understandable that this compromise hasn’t satisfied those who would wish to see the one Jewish state on the planet replaced with yet another Arab state. The same rejectionist Palestinian culture referenced earlier also makes it hard for Arabs to accept being a minority in a majority Jewish country. But even if Israeli Arabs are unhappy about this, they are also generally quick to acknowledge that they have better lives and more democratic rights than virtually any other Arab population in the Middle East.

But what is really missing from Jebreal’s account of Israeli Arab life is the fact that Israeli Jewish opinion of Arabs has been deeply influenced by the events of the last 20 years. After the Oslo Accords in 1993, most Israelis were convinced that peace was just around the corner. But the campaigns of terrorism and the rejections of peace offers changed their minds. The overwhelming majority believes that in both the Oslo Accords and the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, they traded land for terror, not peace. But rather than distancing themselves from the Palestinians in the territories, the majority of Israeli Arabs sympathize with many of the terror groups. Most now call themselves “Palestinians” rather than Israelis as they did before Oslo.

Muslims cry racism when some in the West accurately trace the roots of ISIS and Hamas to a form of radical Islam that has significant support among Muslims. But Jebreal simply puts down all Israelis who are religious as racist without a shred of proof. Indeed, she decries the greater integration of Orthodox Jews into the Israeli Army as proof of Israel’s perfidy rather than its democratic values.

She claims Israeli education promotes discrimination against Palestinians when, in fact, peace education has been a hallmark of the system since Oslo even as the Palestinian Authority schools continue to promote hate against Jews.

For her, Israel is merely a discriminatory state driven by hatred against Arabs. This is false. But how can she be surprised that Israelis are bitter about what the Palestinians have done? With most of the country spending the summer scurrying back and forth to bomb shelters as Hamas rained down missiles on their heads, did she think they would be happy about the fact that most Palestinians, and even many Israeli Arabs, applaud Hamas?

Israel has its flaws but it remains a democracy where Arabs may vote and serve in virtually any government post. What it needs is peace with its neighbors. But with those neighbors continuing to refuse to make peace, and with the Arab minority increasingly hostile to the state and sympathetic to those who desire its destruction, it is hardly remarkable that inter-communal relations have suffered as they would in any country that remains in a state of war. Indeed, in the history of the world there is probably no other example of one party to such a conflict protecting the rights of members of their society who identify with the enemy in the way that Israel has done for its Arab population.

If she were honest, she’d admit that the Palestinian drive to exclude all Jews from their territory is the real apartheid, not a Jewish state that guarantees the rights of Arabs. If Jebreal wants Israel to become a place where Arab-Jewish hostility is lessened, then she should address her complaints to her fellow Arabs who support Hamas and whose hostility ensures the seemingly indefinite perpetuation of the conflict. But by invoking the apartheid libel about Israel and not the settlements in the territories she is giving away her real intent. Not even a total withdrawal from the lands won in 1967 would satisfy her any more than it would Hamas. What she wants is an end to the Jewish state, not a civil-rights movement as she disingenuously claims. So long as this is what passes for informed Arab opinion, no one should be surprised that Israelis have given up on peace for the foreseeable future.

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Something Is Rotten at Foggy Bottom

After the Wall Street Journal broke the news that President Obama reined in the U.S.-Israel military partnership while Israel was at war, it could not be plausibly denied that Obama has sought to downgrade the special relationship. But the story was alarming not only because of the lengths Obama was willing to go to tie Israel’s hands but also because it showed the president was chipping away at the rest of the U.S. government’s ability to pick up the slack when Obama tried to hamper Israel’s ability to defend itself.

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After the Wall Street Journal broke the news that President Obama reined in the U.S.-Israel military partnership while Israel was at war, it could not be plausibly denied that Obama has sought to downgrade the special relationship. But the story was alarming not only because of the lengths Obama was willing to go to tie Israel’s hands but also because it showed the president was chipping away at the rest of the U.S. government’s ability to pick up the slack when Obama tried to hamper Israel’s ability to defend itself.

That has always been the silver lining, and it’s always annoyed much of the American left: other American governmental institutions, such as Congress and the military, are consistently pro-Israel and can thus keep the relationship strong when a president tries to weaken it. And it’s also why it should be of great concern now that another American governmental institution that is usually far less pro-Israel is becoming, under Secretary of State John Kerry, even more antagonistic toward Jerusalem than usual: the U.S. State Department.

Much has been made about the unimaginably incompetent and incoherent management of Foggy Bottom’s communications under spokeswomen Marie Harf and Jen Psaki. But it’s too easy–and not totally accurate–to dismiss Harf and Psaki as misplaced campaign attack hacks. They are out of place at State, but they are there for a reason. And the culture of the diplomatic corps more broadly also resembles the same spiteful ignorance routinely displayed by the president and his secretary of state. The latest example is the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem’s memo to employees referring to Wednesday’s terror attack, in which a Palestinian murdered a Jewish baby, as a “traffic incident.”

After that terror attack, Harf had initially told both sides to exercise restraint. At yesterday’s briefing, Jen Psaki was asked about one of the major sources of gasoline being poured on this fire: the incitement to violence coming from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Here is the exchange:

QUESTION: I’m not making any relation, but there’s been some concern over the last week or two about comments by President Abbas that believe to have incurred incitement. And are you concerned about that? You haven’t really spoken out about that. Do you in any way feel that this is inciting Palestinians to take actions into their own hands?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Elise, one, I mean, we obviously believe that the act last night warrants condemnation evidence (sic) by the statement we released last night. I’m not going to characterize the comments made or not made by President – Prime Minister Netanyahu or the response from President Abbas.

QUESTION: Well, if you haven’t really received a condemnation from President Abbas, then don’t you think you should offer one?

MS. PSAKI: I think our view of it is clear by – evidenced by our statement last night. I would point you to him on any comments that they would like to make.

QUESTION: But what about his comments, like, over the past – I mean, there has just been several comments that people have remarked about that seem to be incurring incitement. Is that not concerning?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s – as you know, President Abbas has renounced violence and consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states. I don’t have any other analysis for you to offer.

That’s right, all Psaki would say is that Abbas “has renounced violence and consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution”–an obviously false statement–along with the strident insistence that she doesn’t “have any other analysis for you to offer.”

It’s worth pointing out that in the very same press briefing Psaki confirmed that the victim of the Palestinian terror attack in Jerusalem was an American citizen. So even Americans not totally inclined to defend Israel from terrorism would, theoretically, be fairly embarrassed by Psaki’s pusillanimous, kowtowing claptrap.

The degree to which this administration will go to avenge perceived slights would make a middle-schooler uncomfortable. While Psaki has nothing to say about deadly anti-Semitic incitement from Abbas even when it’s followed by the murder of an American baby, the State Department reserves its outrage for Israeli officials who disagree on the record with Kerry.

And sometimes the administration goes further. Not only did officials hit back at Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon for criticizing Kerry during the peace negotiations, but they’ve continued to hold a grudge. Yaalon, in Washington to meet with Chuck Hagel, was reportedly denied permission to meet with Kerry, Vice President Biden, or Susan Rice:

On the diplomatic front, Ya’alon met with the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, the only other key official to sit down with the Israeli defense minister aside from Hagel. But he received little respite from the sour reception, as Power emphasized her grievance with settlement construction beyond the Green Line.

They didn’t want him meeting with most of the important officials, but they were happy to have Samantha Power yell at him. The choice of Samantha Power, rather than someone with real influence or broad knowledge of the Middle East and world affairs, is telling. But it’s not altogether out of the ordinary.

The Obama administration’s public temper tantrums are at this point a regular feature of the president’s second term. That they’re directed at allies is becoming commonplace but still disturbing. That the State Department seems to prioritize retribution against Israel over holding those who kill American citizens accountable unfortunately encapsulates American diplomacy in the age of Obama and Kerry.

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Terror in Jerusalem: Nir Barkat’s Moment of Truth

Yesterday, after a Palestinian terrorist murdered a Jewish baby at a Jerusalem rail stop, the reaction that mattered most was that of Palestinians in Jerusalem: would they see the killing of an innocent baby as an indication they should tone down their recent campaign of incitement and violence? And the next reaction to look for was that of a man facing his toughest challenge yet as mayor of Jerusalem: Nir Barkat.

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Yesterday, after a Palestinian terrorist murdered a Jewish baby at a Jerusalem rail stop, the reaction that mattered most was that of Palestinians in Jerusalem: would they see the killing of an innocent baby as an indication they should tone down their recent campaign of incitement and violence? And the next reaction to look for was that of a man facing his toughest challenge yet as mayor of Jerusalem: Nir Barkat.

The Palestinians answered by not only continuing to riot but actually stepping up their targeting of young children, attacking a Jewish kindergarten. Barkat responded by touring the area and promising a crackdown:

“We must restore quiet to Jerusalem,” Barkat declared. “I have been saying for months that the situation here is intolerable, and we must act decisively to stop the violence. It is clearer than ever that we must place police inside Arab neighborhoods to prevent unrest, with a large presence and well-equipped forces, acting to restore order to the city.

Jerusalem’s stability is in some ways quite an achievement. Considering its religious significance, the disputed claims on its sovereignty, its ethnic diversity, its high profile, and its history, governing Jerusalem requires a deft touch. That’s more or less how former Jerusalem mayor (and later prime minister) Ehud Olmert described it in a 2002 interview with the Houston Chronicle that is worth re-reading now, especially since it took place just as the Jerusalem light rail was about to be constructed and during the second intifada. Here’s Olmert on the challenge of being mayor of Jerusalem:

Q: Is it stressful being the mayor of Jerusalem right now?

A: Oh, it’s a very pleasant job. It’s boring. There’s nothing to do. Sometimes you ask yourself, what am I going to do next?

I’m kidding. This is a difficult job. Very difficult, but humanly possible. You just have to know how to work with people and to understand their needs and their sensitivities and their fears and pains. That, I think, was my main job in the past couple of years — to understand the fears and pains of people in the community. Both Jews and Palestinians, by the way.

That question ends the interview. Earlier he had been asked about the fact that on top of everything, he had to deal with union strikes during an intifada and at a time when the city’s already suffering financially. He was asked how he managed to make budget. His answer is–well, it’s pretty Olmertian:

Q: Has terrorism affected sales tax and other local tax revenue?

A: I have losses. And I don’t quite make up for all of them. That’s part of the reason I say we have a going crisis, because I can’t make up all of them. What I try to do is to get revenues from the (national) government. I think over the years I’ve developed some techniques for how to pull in a lot of money from the government, without the government knowing it sometimes.

I’m one of very few mayors in Israel’s history who was first in the national government. I was a Cabinet minister, I was a member of Parliament for many, many years before I became mayor, so I know all the ins and outs.

It’s an improvisational job. But the most interesting part of the interview is about the light rail. Amidst all the unrest, Olmert was pushing to better integrate the city’s Arab population. It was a logical approach to the tension and alienation in Israel’s capital, and it was also a gracious note to strike while the city seemed to be boiling over:

Q: I understand you are about to construct light rail in Jerusalem. Has it been controversial?

A: No, I must say that from day one we have put enormous emphasis on building up relationships with the communities in order to go one step ahead by sharing with them the constraints, the difficulties, (but also) the possible ramifications if a serious, comprehensive answer to transportation will not be provided.

Q: No one thinks it’s too much more expensive than running buses?

A: No. Everyone knows that the main street in Jerusalem, the Jaffa Road, you have — sometimes during the rush hour — 250 buses in one hour. If you understand what it means in terms of the traffic jam and the impact on the environment, you’d understand why so many people are looking with hope that light rail will make a big difference.

This is one of the most discouraging aspects of the current strife in Jerusalem. The light rail, with its stops throughout the city, was–or should have been–a symbol of coexistence. Instead it’s been the target of repeated Palestinian attacks.

It’s important not to exaggerate the significance, of course. Transportation hubs are always going to be targets, so the lesson here is less about judging the light rail to be a failure of some sort (it’s clearly not) than the echoes of past violence. Mahmoud Abbas was famously opposed to Yasser Arafat’s decision to launch the second intifada, but there are real questions as to how much Abbas can control. If he does have control, then what’s happening now is truly ominous. He can’t have it both ways.

Of course, one thing Abbas does have control over is his own rhetoric, not to mention that of the PA’s media organs. As he has counseled violence, Palestinians have listened. As he has sought to outlaw coexistence with Jews, Palestinians have listened. And as his government’s media outlets have dehumanized Jews, Palestinians have listened. Maybe Abbas can prevent a new intifada, maybe not. But he almost certainly can start one. And Barkat appears to be taking no chances.

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