Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israeli military

J Street U Sponsors Anti-IDF Event

It looks like J Street’s new university chapter in Jerusalem, whose director’s anti-Israel statements have already ignited controversy, is taking more steps to align itself with the anti-Israel left. The organization is sponsoring an event with Combatants for Peace, a “bi-national movement of Israelis and Palestinians who have decided to lay down their arms and realize their vision of resolving the conflict by peaceful means.” In other words, it’s a group that encourages IDF soldiers to drop out of the military.

And as the Independent Media Review Analysis points out, the event appears to conflict with J Street U’s own statement of principles, which support Israel’s right to self-defense:

When J Street U states in its Statement of Principles that is supports “Israel’s right to defend itself against external threats” J Street U is supporting Israel’s right to have an army strong enough “to defend itself against external threats.”

#3 Now hold that thought and now consider the following evening sponsored by
J Street U Jerusalem:

J Street U Jerusalem presents Lochmim L’Shalom/Combatants for Peace Join us for an evening with Lochmim L’Shalom/Combatants for Peace. …

These are Israeli soldiers who declare that they will not participate in defending Israel against external threats.

#5. So while J Street U supports “Israel’s right to defend itself against external threats,” J Street Y’s Jerusalem branch sponsors an evening promoting a group that wishes to strip Israel of its ability to defend itself against external threats.

First, some background on Combatants for Peace. The CFP is one of those organizations that sound fairly benign on the surface but in reality promote some pretty destructive and phony narratives about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. For example, if you skim through the “personal stories” section of the Combatants for Peace website, you’ll find that the group’s Israeli and Palestinian members became involved in the program for very different reasons.

The typical Israeli members are former IDF soldiers, who claim that they left the military because it intentionally committed atrocious human rights abuses against the Palestinian people and illegally occupied Palestinian land. In contrast, the typical Palestinian members allege that they suffered years of inhuman cruelty at the hands of the IDF. This supposedly led them to commit small acts of violent resistance before they realized that peaceful resistance could bring about an even faster end to the illegal Occupation.

Most of the stories are chock-full of fantastical claims of Israeli military abuse, including allegations that soldiers lock Palestinians prisoners in water-filled coffins for days, snatch 10-year-olds from their beds at night on phony terrorism charges, and regularly shoot activists in the head for no reason.

One of the members, Chen Alon, even equates the IDF to suicide bombers:

There is a common thought in Israeli society that Palestinian mothers care less about their children – and the proof is that Palestinian mothers send their children to commit suicide attacks. And yet Israeli mothers are willing to sacrifice their children in exactly the same way by sending their children into the army. The mindset is no different.

You cannot be pro-Israel without supporting the existence of the Israeli military. Period. As J Street struggles to recover from its numerous political and financial scandals, I suspect that its Jerusalem university chapter is going to continue to be a thorn in its side.

It looks like J Street’s new university chapter in Jerusalem, whose director’s anti-Israel statements have already ignited controversy, is taking more steps to align itself with the anti-Israel left. The organization is sponsoring an event with Combatants for Peace, a “bi-national movement of Israelis and Palestinians who have decided to lay down their arms and realize their vision of resolving the conflict by peaceful means.” In other words, it’s a group that encourages IDF soldiers to drop out of the military.

And as the Independent Media Review Analysis points out, the event appears to conflict with J Street U’s own statement of principles, which support Israel’s right to self-defense:

When J Street U states in its Statement of Principles that is supports “Israel’s right to defend itself against external threats” J Street U is supporting Israel’s right to have an army strong enough “to defend itself against external threats.”

#3 Now hold that thought and now consider the following evening sponsored by
J Street U Jerusalem:

J Street U Jerusalem presents Lochmim L’Shalom/Combatants for Peace Join us for an evening with Lochmim L’Shalom/Combatants for Peace. …

These are Israeli soldiers who declare that they will not participate in defending Israel against external threats.

#5. So while J Street U supports “Israel’s right to defend itself against external threats,” J Street Y’s Jerusalem branch sponsors an evening promoting a group that wishes to strip Israel of its ability to defend itself against external threats.

First, some background on Combatants for Peace. The CFP is one of those organizations that sound fairly benign on the surface but in reality promote some pretty destructive and phony narratives about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. For example, if you skim through the “personal stories” section of the Combatants for Peace website, you’ll find that the group’s Israeli and Palestinian members became involved in the program for very different reasons.

The typical Israeli members are former IDF soldiers, who claim that they left the military because it intentionally committed atrocious human rights abuses against the Palestinian people and illegally occupied Palestinian land. In contrast, the typical Palestinian members allege that they suffered years of inhuman cruelty at the hands of the IDF. This supposedly led them to commit small acts of violent resistance before they realized that peaceful resistance could bring about an even faster end to the illegal Occupation.

Most of the stories are chock-full of fantastical claims of Israeli military abuse, including allegations that soldiers lock Palestinians prisoners in water-filled coffins for days, snatch 10-year-olds from their beds at night on phony terrorism charges, and regularly shoot activists in the head for no reason.

One of the members, Chen Alon, even equates the IDF to suicide bombers:

There is a common thought in Israeli society that Palestinian mothers care less about their children – and the proof is that Palestinian mothers send their children to commit suicide attacks. And yet Israeli mothers are willing to sacrifice their children in exactly the same way by sending their children into the army. The mindset is no different.

You cannot be pro-Israel without supporting the existence of the Israeli military. Period. As J Street struggles to recover from its numerous political and financial scandals, I suspect that its Jerusalem university chapter is going to continue to be a thorn in its side.

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Inclusive Israel Gets No Credit

Earlier today, I remarked that the left is unmoved by Israel’s protection of the rights of gays and women. It’s not simply that Israel isn’t hanging gays as they do in Iran, or that it doesn’t permit six-year-old girls to be married off; no, it’s a modern, inclusive democracy — a fact that seems to escape its critics’ notice (especially those on the UN Human Rights Council, whose treatment of women and gays is atrocious). Likewise, the media, even in the face of abundant evidence, is slow to credit Israel for human-rights policies and a nondiscriminatory legal system vastly superior to those of its neighbors.

A case in point: “Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered the Jerusalem city government to provide more than $120,000 in funding for a prominent gay community center.” The report spins it this way, however: “Thursday’s ruling was the latest sign that a hostile climate toward Jerusalem’s gay community may be abating.” Well, other signs would be that gay Palestinians have fled there. (“According to some estimates, there are now 300 gay Palestinian men secretly living and working in Israel. Their willingness to live there — despite the risk of being detained and deported as a security threat — is due to Palestinian attitudes toward gay men, they claim.”) In April this year, Israel took flack from the Catholic Church for allowing a gay-pride parade in Jerusalem. And then there is this:

The right to be openly gay has been acknowledged in the Israeli military since 1993, and there is little evidence that policy has caused any problems. Even beyond the army, Israeli law is generally progressive on issues of sexual orientation. Even though marriage is controlled by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinic establishment, Israeli authorities recognize same-sex marriages performed abroad, and same-sex partners receive the same economic benefits as married couples.

“Out” magazine has named Tel Aviv the gay capital of the Middle East in acknowledgment of its thriving gay culture.

Military expert Levy said the editor of the primary army newspaper, Bamachane, is openly gay. He estimates the percentage of gay soldiers at 10 percent in general and somewhat less in field units.

Former soldier [Eli] Kaplan said certain intelligence and naval units were known for having a large proportion of gay soldiers.

So there have been plenty of “signs” of Israel’s tolerance and acceptance of gays, despite the AP’s obtuseness. And no, the left in America and the elites of the “international community” don’t give a darn about any of that. Why? Because it’s the Jewish state and the rules are different.

Earlier today, I remarked that the left is unmoved by Israel’s protection of the rights of gays and women. It’s not simply that Israel isn’t hanging gays as they do in Iran, or that it doesn’t permit six-year-old girls to be married off; no, it’s a modern, inclusive democracy — a fact that seems to escape its critics’ notice (especially those on the UN Human Rights Council, whose treatment of women and gays is atrocious). Likewise, the media, even in the face of abundant evidence, is slow to credit Israel for human-rights policies and a nondiscriminatory legal system vastly superior to those of its neighbors.

A case in point: “Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered the Jerusalem city government to provide more than $120,000 in funding for a prominent gay community center.” The report spins it this way, however: “Thursday’s ruling was the latest sign that a hostile climate toward Jerusalem’s gay community may be abating.” Well, other signs would be that gay Palestinians have fled there. (“According to some estimates, there are now 300 gay Palestinian men secretly living and working in Israel. Their willingness to live there — despite the risk of being detained and deported as a security threat — is due to Palestinian attitudes toward gay men, they claim.”) In April this year, Israel took flack from the Catholic Church for allowing a gay-pride parade in Jerusalem. And then there is this:

The right to be openly gay has been acknowledged in the Israeli military since 1993, and there is little evidence that policy has caused any problems. Even beyond the army, Israeli law is generally progressive on issues of sexual orientation. Even though marriage is controlled by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinic establishment, Israeli authorities recognize same-sex marriages performed abroad, and same-sex partners receive the same economic benefits as married couples.

“Out” magazine has named Tel Aviv the gay capital of the Middle East in acknowledgment of its thriving gay culture.

Military expert Levy said the editor of the primary army newspaper, Bamachane, is openly gay. He estimates the percentage of gay soldiers at 10 percent in general and somewhat less in field units.

Former soldier [Eli] Kaplan said certain intelligence and naval units were known for having a large proportion of gay soldiers.

So there have been plenty of “signs” of Israel’s tolerance and acceptance of gays, despite the AP’s obtuseness. And no, the left in America and the elites of the “international community” don’t give a darn about any of that. Why? Because it’s the Jewish state and the rules are different.

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Speculation About Israel Attacking Iran Misses the Point

Jeffrey Goldberg takes nearly 10,000 words in the current Atlantic to ruminate about whether Israel or the United States will ever use force to stop the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons. His answer is that if the United States doesn’t act, sooner or later, the Israelis will. No surprise there.

As for whether the Obama administration is capable of launching a strike to forestall Iran from going nuclear, Goldberg professes he is closer to believing that it is possible. That was certainly the intent of many of those in the administration who discussed it with him. But, like much of the spin being delivered by both American and Israeli sources quoted by Goldberg, that strikes me just as likely to be disinformation as not.

Much of the piece centers on whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced by circumstances or by his father, the 100-year-old, formidable scholar Benzion Netanyahu, to pull the trigger on Iran. For all of his considerable knowledge of Israel, Goldberg is still stuck on the trope of figuring out how right-wing Bibi is, even though this issue transcends the right/left divide of Israeli politics because it is literally a matter of life and death.

More to the point, the endless speculation about an Israeli strike is at the same time both unhelpful and misleading.

It is unhelpful because, as Shimon Peres seems to be telling Goldberg in the conclusion to his essay, dealing with Iran is America’s responsibility, not Israel’s. The consequences of an Iranian bomb are enormous for Israel, but they are no less scary for the United States. A nuclear Iran would destabilize the Middle East, start a chain-reaction of nuclear proliferation among other countries in the region, and empower Islamist terrorists. If America stands by and meekly attempts to contain Tehran once it has the bomb, it won’t be just international law that won’t mean a thing, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out. America’s credibility as a great power will be shredded. Putting the onus on Israel to act to save the day also has the unfortunate side effect of lessening the pressure on Obama to face his responsibilities.

Even worse, the impulse to let the Israelis do the dirty work — while the United States and its moderate Arab allies stand by tut-tutting about Likud hardliners as they reap the benefits of a preemptive strike — also creates the illusion that Israel can do just as good a job as America in terms of achieving the military objective. We should not shortchange the Israeli Defense Forces. As history has shown, the Israeli military can do amazing things. But there is simply no comparison between its capabilities and those of the armed forces of the United States. Knocking out or significantly damaging Iran’s nuclear facilities is a job for the Americans, not the Israelis.

And for all the bravado that emanates from Israel about its military, not everyone there is all that confident about the IDF’s ability to perform such a task. As one Israeli friend pointed out, it is more than optimistic — it is probably delusional — to expect this of a country whose intelligence agencies weren’t able to coordinate their efforts to deal effectively with a flotilla of small ships on their way to Hamas-run Gaza; that isn’t able to locate and rescue Gilad Shalit in a Hamas hideout only kilometers away from IDF bases; that didn’t make mincemeat out of the Lebanese army after it participated in a cross-border murder of an Israeli soldier last week; and whose top army command could go to a general who hired a political consultant to help him campaign for the job. Under these circumstances, many Israelis rightly see America as the world’s only hope for preventing the nightmare of Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who run that tyrannical regime acquiring a nuclear option.

Rather than wasting time worrying about whether Netanyahu’s daddy will shame him into preventing another Holocaust, as Goldberg has done, what is needed now is focusing all our attention on whether Barack Obama has the wisdom — and the guts — to do what needs to be done about Iran.

Jeffrey Goldberg takes nearly 10,000 words in the current Atlantic to ruminate about whether Israel or the United States will ever use force to stop the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons. His answer is that if the United States doesn’t act, sooner or later, the Israelis will. No surprise there.

As for whether the Obama administration is capable of launching a strike to forestall Iran from going nuclear, Goldberg professes he is closer to believing that it is possible. That was certainly the intent of many of those in the administration who discussed it with him. But, like much of the spin being delivered by both American and Israeli sources quoted by Goldberg, that strikes me just as likely to be disinformation as not.

Much of the piece centers on whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced by circumstances or by his father, the 100-year-old, formidable scholar Benzion Netanyahu, to pull the trigger on Iran. For all of his considerable knowledge of Israel, Goldberg is still stuck on the trope of figuring out how right-wing Bibi is, even though this issue transcends the right/left divide of Israeli politics because it is literally a matter of life and death.

More to the point, the endless speculation about an Israeli strike is at the same time both unhelpful and misleading.

It is unhelpful because, as Shimon Peres seems to be telling Goldberg in the conclusion to his essay, dealing with Iran is America’s responsibility, not Israel’s. The consequences of an Iranian bomb are enormous for Israel, but they are no less scary for the United States. A nuclear Iran would destabilize the Middle East, start a chain-reaction of nuclear proliferation among other countries in the region, and empower Islamist terrorists. If America stands by and meekly attempts to contain Tehran once it has the bomb, it won’t be just international law that won’t mean a thing, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out. America’s credibility as a great power will be shredded. Putting the onus on Israel to act to save the day also has the unfortunate side effect of lessening the pressure on Obama to face his responsibilities.

Even worse, the impulse to let the Israelis do the dirty work — while the United States and its moderate Arab allies stand by tut-tutting about Likud hardliners as they reap the benefits of a preemptive strike — also creates the illusion that Israel can do just as good a job as America in terms of achieving the military objective. We should not shortchange the Israeli Defense Forces. As history has shown, the Israeli military can do amazing things. But there is simply no comparison between its capabilities and those of the armed forces of the United States. Knocking out or significantly damaging Iran’s nuclear facilities is a job for the Americans, not the Israelis.

And for all the bravado that emanates from Israel about its military, not everyone there is all that confident about the IDF’s ability to perform such a task. As one Israeli friend pointed out, it is more than optimistic — it is probably delusional — to expect this of a country whose intelligence agencies weren’t able to coordinate their efforts to deal effectively with a flotilla of small ships on their way to Hamas-run Gaza; that isn’t able to locate and rescue Gilad Shalit in a Hamas hideout only kilometers away from IDF bases; that didn’t make mincemeat out of the Lebanese army after it participated in a cross-border murder of an Israeli soldier last week; and whose top army command could go to a general who hired a political consultant to help him campaign for the job. Under these circumstances, many Israelis rightly see America as the world’s only hope for preventing the nightmare of Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who run that tyrannical regime acquiring a nuclear option.

Rather than wasting time worrying about whether Netanyahu’s daddy will shame him into preventing another Holocaust, as Goldberg has done, what is needed now is focusing all our attention on whether Barack Obama has the wisdom — and the guts — to do what needs to be done about Iran.

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Shut Up, Joe Sestak Responded

Yes, it’s a trend, apparently. Run an add that hits home and the target wants to make sure viewers can’t see it so they can make up their own minds. The ECI launched its opening salvo against Joe Sestak and Sestak’s lawyer rushes in to respond, as Ben Smith reports:

A lawyer for Rep. Joe Sestak, attesting to the Senate candidate’s pro-Israel bona fides, wrote that Sestak had “put his life on the line to defend Israel” during his years in the Navy. The letter, an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Comcast not to air an attack ad from the Emergency Committee for Israel, aggressively makes Sestak’s case on several fronts, but the suggestion that his naval service* in was performed “to defend Israel” is rarely heard outside conspiracy circles.

“Congressman Joe Sestak is the only candidate in the U.S. Senate race who (as an officer of the Navy) was willing to put his life on the line to defend Israel,” Sestak lawyer Jared Solomon wrote Comcast. “It is offensive and outrageous to suggest that he does not stand with Israel.”

Solomon’s letter, obtained by POLITICO,  challenges several other portions of the attack ad, including a claim that he’d helped fundraise for the Council on American Islamic Relations (his appearance was at “a portion of the event explicitly free of fundraising”) and that the group had been called a Hamas “front group” (“the characterization came a year after the CAIR event”).

This is a bizarre and telling move by Sestak on a number of grounds. First, is Sestak saying that he was in mortal peril as commander of a  naval battle group? Sensing that this is a gross exaggeration, his spokesman piped up with a “clarification”:

Sestak spokesman Jonathan Dworkin says the reference was not to any specific conflict, but to a series of operations with the Israeli Military, including a deployment in 2003 to help protect Israel from Iraqi missiles. “There is no suggestion that he served in the Navy for the purpose of defending Israel, only that he was involved in situations with the Israeli military and while serving the United States, he was willing to lay his life on the line in defense of our ally, Israel,” he writes.

Any military service, in my book, should be commended, but we’ve had enough of puffery lately about military credentials and it sure wasn’t the case that he was crawling on his belly through Gaza to protect the Jewish state. But, frankly, it’s hard to tell precisely what he did, because Sestak has refused to release his military records. If they show that he in fact risked life and limb for Israel and put to rest the controversy as to whether he was relieved of command — or told to resign (for creating a “poor command climate”) — why isn’t he putting out his Navy records?

Nor is the lawyer’s argument compelling, let along intelligible, that Sestak wasn’t really accusing Israel of “resorting to collective punishment” when he signed a letter promoted by J Street along with 53 other Israel-bashers. That letter called on Israel to figure out an approach to Gaza “without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza strip.” Huh? I don’t see how Sestak can escape from the text he signed off on.

But that’s not the weirdest part of the letter. He’s essentially saying: “I didn’t actually raise money for CAIR (although there was an admission fee), I just spoke at an event.” And he’s arguing it wasn’t the whole FBI who called CAIR a Hamas front group — just one agent did. Sheesh. I don’t see how that is going to fly. After all, CAIR officials have been the subject of many a legal investigation and have some rather radical views.

In the campaign Sestak’s going to have some explaining to do. Really, is he going to say it was only after the fundraising event that CAIR got the moniker of “Hamas front group”? They had been under investigation, after all, for years. More to the point, does he now understand that CAIR is in fact a front group?

Also, take a look at the letter and exhibits that the ECI submitted in response to the “shut them up” plea from Sestak’s lawyer. I’m not sure how fair-minded people can look at all that and conclude that Sestak has a pro-Israel track record, unless we are willing to concede that “pro-Israel” has no meaning.

Arlen Specter tried to raise many of these same points during the primary, so this isn’t anything new. What is surprising is that Sestak thinks he can muscle his way through the campaign without revealing his Navy records, without expressing any remorse for speaking at a CAIR event (with a Muslim activist who compared Zionists to Nazis) and without explaining what exactly makes him so attractive to J Street. We’ll see if he can pull it off.

Yes, it’s a trend, apparently. Run an add that hits home and the target wants to make sure viewers can’t see it so they can make up their own minds. The ECI launched its opening salvo against Joe Sestak and Sestak’s lawyer rushes in to respond, as Ben Smith reports:

A lawyer for Rep. Joe Sestak, attesting to the Senate candidate’s pro-Israel bona fides, wrote that Sestak had “put his life on the line to defend Israel” during his years in the Navy. The letter, an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Comcast not to air an attack ad from the Emergency Committee for Israel, aggressively makes Sestak’s case on several fronts, but the suggestion that his naval service* in was performed “to defend Israel” is rarely heard outside conspiracy circles.

“Congressman Joe Sestak is the only candidate in the U.S. Senate race who (as an officer of the Navy) was willing to put his life on the line to defend Israel,” Sestak lawyer Jared Solomon wrote Comcast. “It is offensive and outrageous to suggest that he does not stand with Israel.”

Solomon’s letter, obtained by POLITICO,  challenges several other portions of the attack ad, including a claim that he’d helped fundraise for the Council on American Islamic Relations (his appearance was at “a portion of the event explicitly free of fundraising”) and that the group had been called a Hamas “front group” (“the characterization came a year after the CAIR event”).

This is a bizarre and telling move by Sestak on a number of grounds. First, is Sestak saying that he was in mortal peril as commander of a  naval battle group? Sensing that this is a gross exaggeration, his spokesman piped up with a “clarification”:

Sestak spokesman Jonathan Dworkin says the reference was not to any specific conflict, but to a series of operations with the Israeli Military, including a deployment in 2003 to help protect Israel from Iraqi missiles. “There is no suggestion that he served in the Navy for the purpose of defending Israel, only that he was involved in situations with the Israeli military and while serving the United States, he was willing to lay his life on the line in defense of our ally, Israel,” he writes.

Any military service, in my book, should be commended, but we’ve had enough of puffery lately about military credentials and it sure wasn’t the case that he was crawling on his belly through Gaza to protect the Jewish state. But, frankly, it’s hard to tell precisely what he did, because Sestak has refused to release his military records. If they show that he in fact risked life and limb for Israel and put to rest the controversy as to whether he was relieved of command — or told to resign (for creating a “poor command climate”) — why isn’t he putting out his Navy records?

Nor is the lawyer’s argument compelling, let along intelligible, that Sestak wasn’t really accusing Israel of “resorting to collective punishment” when he signed a letter promoted by J Street along with 53 other Israel-bashers. That letter called on Israel to figure out an approach to Gaza “without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza strip.” Huh? I don’t see how Sestak can escape from the text he signed off on.

But that’s not the weirdest part of the letter. He’s essentially saying: “I didn’t actually raise money for CAIR (although there was an admission fee), I just spoke at an event.” And he’s arguing it wasn’t the whole FBI who called CAIR a Hamas front group — just one agent did. Sheesh. I don’t see how that is going to fly. After all, CAIR officials have been the subject of many a legal investigation and have some rather radical views.

In the campaign Sestak’s going to have some explaining to do. Really, is he going to say it was only after the fundraising event that CAIR got the moniker of “Hamas front group”? They had been under investigation, after all, for years. More to the point, does he now understand that CAIR is in fact a front group?

Also, take a look at the letter and exhibits that the ECI submitted in response to the “shut them up” plea from Sestak’s lawyer. I’m not sure how fair-minded people can look at all that and conclude that Sestak has a pro-Israel track record, unless we are willing to concede that “pro-Israel” has no meaning.

Arlen Specter tried to raise many of these same points during the primary, so this isn’t anything new. What is surprising is that Sestak thinks he can muscle his way through the campaign without revealing his Navy records, without expressing any remorse for speaking at a CAIR event (with a Muslim activist who compared Zionists to Nazis) and without explaining what exactly makes him so attractive to J Street. We’ll see if he can pull it off.

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Investigating the Flotilla Incident

In the orgy of second-guessing and yelps for an international inquiry into the flotilla incident — would that inquiry probe Turkey’s involvement as well? — many of the critics neglect to acknowledge that in Israel, there is no shortage of criticism, investigation, second-guessing, and scrutiny. That is how a vibrant democracy with a free press operates. Within a day, Israeli media and politicians were already debating and critiquing the tactics of the Israeli military.

When critics demand a “transparent” investigation and assert that it must be “credible,” they are implying and in some cases directly arguing that Israel is incapable of doing this. But open societies do this all the time — the U.S. and Britain on the Iraq war, the U.S. on the intelligence failures leading up to 9/11, etc. Transparent investigations occur when political opposition is free to criticize, when media is not run by the state, and when dissent is encouraged and not repressed. The notion that the UN, which is neither transparent nor credible, could do a better job than Israel is ludicrous. But “ludicrous” is the default setting for Israel’s critics these days.

In the orgy of second-guessing and yelps for an international inquiry into the flotilla incident — would that inquiry probe Turkey’s involvement as well? — many of the critics neglect to acknowledge that in Israel, there is no shortage of criticism, investigation, second-guessing, and scrutiny. That is how a vibrant democracy with a free press operates. Within a day, Israeli media and politicians were already debating and critiquing the tactics of the Israeli military.

When critics demand a “transparent” investigation and assert that it must be “credible,” they are implying and in some cases directly arguing that Israel is incapable of doing this. But open societies do this all the time — the U.S. and Britain on the Iraq war, the U.S. on the intelligence failures leading up to 9/11, etc. Transparent investigations occur when political opposition is free to criticize, when media is not run by the state, and when dissent is encouraged and not repressed. The notion that the UN, which is neither transparent nor credible, could do a better job than Israel is ludicrous. But “ludicrous” is the default setting for Israel’s critics these days.

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Who Are Israel’s True Friends?

Christians United for Israel, unlike the befuddled Nancy Pelosi, puts out a statement that is a model of moral clarity:

Christians United for Israel (CUFI) deeply regrets any loss of life associated with the events that took place on Monday morning during Israel’s justified seizure of ships attempting to violate Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Yet CUFI notes that Israel’s soldiers were responding in self-defense to a clear provocation by ship passengers who viciously attacked Israeli commandos as they boarded one of the ships in the flotilla. These unfortunate incidents cannot be properly understood outside of this context.

We further note that Israel took important steps to avoid confrontation and violence in this matter. This included an offer to offload the ships’ supplies in Israel and transport those materials overland to the Gaza Strip, as well as a clear warning to the flotilla’s leaders that the Israeli military would not allow them to land in Gaza.

By the admission of its own leaders, this flotilla was aimed not at delivering humanitarian aid, but at breaking Israel’s blockade of Gaza — a blockade that is justified given the behavior of Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

CUFI believes that the requirement that all materials imported to the Gaza Strip be subject to inspection by Israeli security personnel is in line with Israel’s sovereign right to protect its citizens from further violence originating from that territory. CUFI further notes that Israel has a clear record of permitting truly humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza, as evidenced by the over one million tons of humanitarian supplies that have been transferred in the past eighteen months.

So who are the pro-Israeli Americans? Who are more than friends in name only? Pelosi, J Street, the hand-wringers, and moral-equivalence mongers — or these righteous Gentiles?

Christians United for Israel, unlike the befuddled Nancy Pelosi, puts out a statement that is a model of moral clarity:

Christians United for Israel (CUFI) deeply regrets any loss of life associated with the events that took place on Monday morning during Israel’s justified seizure of ships attempting to violate Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Yet CUFI notes that Israel’s soldiers were responding in self-defense to a clear provocation by ship passengers who viciously attacked Israeli commandos as they boarded one of the ships in the flotilla. These unfortunate incidents cannot be properly understood outside of this context.

We further note that Israel took important steps to avoid confrontation and violence in this matter. This included an offer to offload the ships’ supplies in Israel and transport those materials overland to the Gaza Strip, as well as a clear warning to the flotilla’s leaders that the Israeli military would not allow them to land in Gaza.

By the admission of its own leaders, this flotilla was aimed not at delivering humanitarian aid, but at breaking Israel’s blockade of Gaza — a blockade that is justified given the behavior of Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

CUFI believes that the requirement that all materials imported to the Gaza Strip be subject to inspection by Israeli security personnel is in line with Israel’s sovereign right to protect its citizens from further violence originating from that territory. CUFI further notes that Israel has a clear record of permitting truly humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza, as evidenced by the over one million tons of humanitarian supplies that have been transferred in the past eighteen months.

So who are the pro-Israeli Americans? Who are more than friends in name only? Pelosi, J Street, the hand-wringers, and moral-equivalence mongers — or these righteous Gentiles?

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Chuck Schumer Breaks with Obama on Israel

Wow. Yes, Chuck Schumer – who’s angling for Senate majority leader if/when Harry Reid loses in November — has had enough with the president’s Israel-bashing. First on sanctions:

We in the Congress, Senator Lieberman and myself, Senator Bayh, are working up our sanctions bill, which even if the UN sanctions are weak, we could have unilateral sanctions by the United States, for instance, if you cut of gasoline. Iranians do not produce their own gasoline, and by the way the Iranian people are ready to rebel and overthrow this regime, and if we would squeeze them economically that could happen.

But then he goes on a tear when asked why Obama is alienating Israel and American Jews:

[T]his is the question I talked to Rahm Emanuel about, and the President about this week. I told the President, I told Rahm Emanuel and others in the administration that I thought the policy they took to try to bring about negotiations is counter-productive, because when you give the Palestinians hope that the United States will do its negotiating for them, they are not going to sit down and talk. Palestinians don’t really believe in a state of Israel, they, unlike a majority of Israelis, who have come to the conclusion that they can live with a two-state solution to be determined by the parties, the majority of Palestinians are still very reluctant, and they need to be pushed to get there.

If the U.S. says certain things and takes certain stands, the Palestinians say, “Why should we negotiate?” So that’s bad and that should change and we are working on changing it. But the other two are very good, according to both the Israeli government and the Israeli military and the U.S. government. But we should make that known, why don’t they? I asked them to do just that, I said we should make it public because it will, at least, give people who are supportive of Israel, Jew and non-Jew alike, a little bit of solace.

Schumer then suggested that the Syrian engagement gambit had “stopped” (he should check with Hillary on that one) and that we had to apply pressure to Syria. But then he was back to the Palestinian issue:

Let me just finish this dialogue about Israel for a minute. All we have to do is leave things alone, and you might get the Palestinians more willing to sit down and actually discuss peace, because they would see the contrast. When Biden was in Israel and there was this kerfuffle over settlements which is in Israeli Jerusalem 20 minutes from downtown and should never have been an issue to begin with, but they probably shouldn’t have made the announcement when Biden was there. But Israel apologized, and when Biden left, and Biden is the best friend of Israel in the administration, everything was fine.

But then what happened is the next day Hillary Clinton called up Netanyahu and talked very tough to him, and worse they made it pubic through this spokesperson, a guy named Crowley. And Crowley said something I have never heard before, which is, the relationship of Israel and the United States depends on the pace of the negotiations. That is terrible. That is the dagger, because the relationship is much deeper than the disagreements on negotiations, and most Americans—Democrat, Republican, Jew, non-Jew–would feel that. So I called up Rahm Emanuel and I called up the White House and I said, “If you don’t retract that statement you are going to hear me publicly blast you on this.” Of course they did retract it.

Now what’s happened, and many of us are pushing back, some of the Jewish members will be meeting with the President next week or the week after, and we are saying that this has to stop. You have to have, in terms of the negotiations, you have to show Israel that it’s not going to be forced to do things it doesn’t want to do and can’t do. At the same time you have to show the Palestinians that they are not going to get their way by just sitting back and not giving in, and not recognizing that there is a state of Israel. And right now there is a battle going on inside the administration, one side agrees with us, one side doesn’t, and we’re pushing hard to make sure the right side wins, and if not we’ll have to take it to the next step.

That’s simply remarkable, albeit long overdue. It tells me several things. First, Schumer, who is nothing if not politically astute when it comes to New York politics, senses that there is no upside to sticking with the president on this. One wonders how many constituents he’s heard from and who is threatening to cut off the money flow to Democrats.

Second, one suspects that Schumer has gotten nowhere in private and is now forced to unload in public. It seems that while Schumer cares what American Jews think, Obama is unmoved by quiet persuasion.

Third, Schumer and other pro-Israel Democrats now have a dilemma: what do they do when the president refuses to sign on to petroleum sanctions? What do they do when the next round of bullying starts up again? They’ve been painfully mute until now, which has no doubt encouraged the White House. If Schumer is as outraged as he sounded on the radio, this will end.

We can hope this is an important step forward and will be followed by other Democratic lawmakers. Who knows, in a week or so some major Jewish organization might actually pipe up with an equally bracing evaluation of the Obami’s onslaught on the Jewish state.

One aside: Schumer also had this to say about the origin of his name: “It comes from the word shomer, which mean guardian. My ancestors were guardians of the ghetto wall in Chortkov, and I believe Hashem, actually, gave me the name as one of my roles that is very important in the United States Senate to be a shomer, to be a shomer for Israel.” Suffice it to say that if Sarah Palin ever said that God had given a name to her with a mission in mind, the chattering class would go bonkers. But of course, it is perfectly acceptable for liberals to get messages from God without cries of indignation echoing throughout the media. That said, if Schumer takes his name to heart, albeit belatedly, and shows some leadership in gathering other Democrats to his position (that’s what Senate leaders do, after all), there will be reason to celebrate.

Wow. Yes, Chuck Schumer – who’s angling for Senate majority leader if/when Harry Reid loses in November — has had enough with the president’s Israel-bashing. First on sanctions:

We in the Congress, Senator Lieberman and myself, Senator Bayh, are working up our sanctions bill, which even if the UN sanctions are weak, we could have unilateral sanctions by the United States, for instance, if you cut of gasoline. Iranians do not produce their own gasoline, and by the way the Iranian people are ready to rebel and overthrow this regime, and if we would squeeze them economically that could happen.

But then he goes on a tear when asked why Obama is alienating Israel and American Jews:

[T]his is the question I talked to Rahm Emanuel about, and the President about this week. I told the President, I told Rahm Emanuel and others in the administration that I thought the policy they took to try to bring about negotiations is counter-productive, because when you give the Palestinians hope that the United States will do its negotiating for them, they are not going to sit down and talk. Palestinians don’t really believe in a state of Israel, they, unlike a majority of Israelis, who have come to the conclusion that they can live with a two-state solution to be determined by the parties, the majority of Palestinians are still very reluctant, and they need to be pushed to get there.

If the U.S. says certain things and takes certain stands, the Palestinians say, “Why should we negotiate?” So that’s bad and that should change and we are working on changing it. But the other two are very good, according to both the Israeli government and the Israeli military and the U.S. government. But we should make that known, why don’t they? I asked them to do just that, I said we should make it public because it will, at least, give people who are supportive of Israel, Jew and non-Jew alike, a little bit of solace.

Schumer then suggested that the Syrian engagement gambit had “stopped” (he should check with Hillary on that one) and that we had to apply pressure to Syria. But then he was back to the Palestinian issue:

Let me just finish this dialogue about Israel for a minute. All we have to do is leave things alone, and you might get the Palestinians more willing to sit down and actually discuss peace, because they would see the contrast. When Biden was in Israel and there was this kerfuffle over settlements which is in Israeli Jerusalem 20 minutes from downtown and should never have been an issue to begin with, but they probably shouldn’t have made the announcement when Biden was there. But Israel apologized, and when Biden left, and Biden is the best friend of Israel in the administration, everything was fine.

But then what happened is the next day Hillary Clinton called up Netanyahu and talked very tough to him, and worse they made it pubic through this spokesperson, a guy named Crowley. And Crowley said something I have never heard before, which is, the relationship of Israel and the United States depends on the pace of the negotiations. That is terrible. That is the dagger, because the relationship is much deeper than the disagreements on negotiations, and most Americans—Democrat, Republican, Jew, non-Jew–would feel that. So I called up Rahm Emanuel and I called up the White House and I said, “If you don’t retract that statement you are going to hear me publicly blast you on this.” Of course they did retract it.

Now what’s happened, and many of us are pushing back, some of the Jewish members will be meeting with the President next week or the week after, and we are saying that this has to stop. You have to have, in terms of the negotiations, you have to show Israel that it’s not going to be forced to do things it doesn’t want to do and can’t do. At the same time you have to show the Palestinians that they are not going to get their way by just sitting back and not giving in, and not recognizing that there is a state of Israel. And right now there is a battle going on inside the administration, one side agrees with us, one side doesn’t, and we’re pushing hard to make sure the right side wins, and if not we’ll have to take it to the next step.

That’s simply remarkable, albeit long overdue. It tells me several things. First, Schumer, who is nothing if not politically astute when it comes to New York politics, senses that there is no upside to sticking with the president on this. One wonders how many constituents he’s heard from and who is threatening to cut off the money flow to Democrats.

Second, one suspects that Schumer has gotten nowhere in private and is now forced to unload in public. It seems that while Schumer cares what American Jews think, Obama is unmoved by quiet persuasion.

Third, Schumer and other pro-Israel Democrats now have a dilemma: what do they do when the president refuses to sign on to petroleum sanctions? What do they do when the next round of bullying starts up again? They’ve been painfully mute until now, which has no doubt encouraged the White House. If Schumer is as outraged as he sounded on the radio, this will end.

We can hope this is an important step forward and will be followed by other Democratic lawmakers. Who knows, in a week or so some major Jewish organization might actually pipe up with an equally bracing evaluation of the Obami’s onslaught on the Jewish state.

One aside: Schumer also had this to say about the origin of his name: “It comes from the word shomer, which mean guardian. My ancestors were guardians of the ghetto wall in Chortkov, and I believe Hashem, actually, gave me the name as one of my roles that is very important in the United States Senate to be a shomer, to be a shomer for Israel.” Suffice it to say that if Sarah Palin ever said that God had given a name to her with a mission in mind, the chattering class would go bonkers. But of course, it is perfectly acceptable for liberals to get messages from God without cries of indignation echoing throughout the media. That said, if Schumer takes his name to heart, albeit belatedly, and shows some leadership in gathering other Democrats to his position (that’s what Senate leaders do, after all), there will be reason to celebrate.

Read Less

Scott Wilson’s War

An interesting ombudsman column in Sunday’s Washington Post: Back in December 2007, Scott Wilson, then the Post‘s Jerusalem bureau chief, wrote a piece entitled “For Israel’s Arab Citizens, Isolation and Exclusion.” The story included the following assertion, which is simply and flatly false: “Except for a relatively small Druze population, Arabs are excluded also from military service.”

The Post‘s ombudsman asks: was “excluded” the wrong word to describe the treatment of Israeli Arabs by the IDF? According to the dictionary, “excluded” means “to prevent the entrance of” or to “shut out from consideration.” It would mean, in Scott Wilson’s telling, that save for a few Druze, there are no Israeli Arabs in the Israeli military.

Well, there is in fact no prohibition against or exclusion of Israeli Arabs in the IDF. What does exist is a sensible if regrettable accommodation that has been struck on behalf of the social harmony of everyone involved. For the Israeli Arabs, it derives from a general desire not to serve in the Jewish state’s army; for the IDF, it derives from an entirely legitimate fear of security risks from soldiers whose loyalties are not to the IDF. As is typical, such nuance had no place in Wilson’s story, and the ombudsman says that “The Post‘s Wilson is firm on his word choice.”

But reality has a way of correcting fantasy. Here is a paragraph from today’s Haaretz story about Hamas’s attempt to crash through the Gaza border on Passover eve:

IDF success depends greatly on the quick judgment of the commander in the field. Saturday it was the Bedouin Desert Battalion deputy commander, Major Wahid, who correctly foresaw the impending explosion of a booby-trapped vehicle, and ordered his men into protected vehicles, certainly limiting casualties.

Major Wahid? Oops.

An interesting ombudsman column in Sunday’s Washington Post: Back in December 2007, Scott Wilson, then the Post‘s Jerusalem bureau chief, wrote a piece entitled “For Israel’s Arab Citizens, Isolation and Exclusion.” The story included the following assertion, which is simply and flatly false: “Except for a relatively small Druze population, Arabs are excluded also from military service.”

The Post‘s ombudsman asks: was “excluded” the wrong word to describe the treatment of Israeli Arabs by the IDF? According to the dictionary, “excluded” means “to prevent the entrance of” or to “shut out from consideration.” It would mean, in Scott Wilson’s telling, that save for a few Druze, there are no Israeli Arabs in the Israeli military.

Well, there is in fact no prohibition against or exclusion of Israeli Arabs in the IDF. What does exist is a sensible if regrettable accommodation that has been struck on behalf of the social harmony of everyone involved. For the Israeli Arabs, it derives from a general desire not to serve in the Jewish state’s army; for the IDF, it derives from an entirely legitimate fear of security risks from soldiers whose loyalties are not to the IDF. As is typical, such nuance had no place in Wilson’s story, and the ombudsman says that “The Post‘s Wilson is firm on his word choice.”

But reality has a way of correcting fantasy. Here is a paragraph from today’s Haaretz story about Hamas’s attempt to crash through the Gaza border on Passover eve:

IDF success depends greatly on the quick judgment of the commander in the field. Saturday it was the Bedouin Desert Battalion deputy commander, Major Wahid, who correctly foresaw the impending explosion of a booby-trapped vehicle, and ordered his men into protected vehicles, certainly limiting casualties.

Major Wahid? Oops.

Read Less

News from the Continent: Never Again?

In the midst of Europe’s week of official mourning for the Holocaust, the question of how the continent should preserve that terrible memory and transmit it to future generations was the focus of a great controversy. The boycotting of Holocaust Memorial Day by prominent Muslim organizations has by now become an annual ritual. With the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) first among them, these groups believe that a “more inclusive” event should replace the “selective” ceremonies devoted to remembering the Nazi war against the Jews.

What organizations like the MCB have in mind is plain: a “Genocide Memorial Day” focusing on allegedly “ongoing” genocides like that of Israel against the Palestinians. And the MCB’s argument to replace the day with a different sort of commemoration is making headway—so much so that, this year, the city council of Bolton decided not to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to replace its usual event with an observance more to the MCB’s liking. According to the city council, the decision to move the commemoration to June and to call it Genocide Memorial Day was reached in consultation with an interfaith council, although several prominent Jewish leaders were not consulted. Bolton has a rapidly growing Muslim population. With Europe’s shifting demographics, one might wonder how long it will be before such changes sweep the continent, from Sweden’s Malmö—where one-quarter of the population is Muslim—to Sicily’s Mazara del Vallo.

Read More

In the midst of Europe’s week of official mourning for the Holocaust, the question of how the continent should preserve that terrible memory and transmit it to future generations was the focus of a great controversy. The boycotting of Holocaust Memorial Day by prominent Muslim organizations has by now become an annual ritual. With the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) first among them, these groups believe that a “more inclusive” event should replace the “selective” ceremonies devoted to remembering the Nazi war against the Jews.

What organizations like the MCB have in mind is plain: a “Genocide Memorial Day” focusing on allegedly “ongoing” genocides like that of Israel against the Palestinians. And the MCB’s argument to replace the day with a different sort of commemoration is making headway—so much so that, this year, the city council of Bolton decided not to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to replace its usual event with an observance more to the MCB’s liking. According to the city council, the decision to move the commemoration to June and to call it Genocide Memorial Day was reached in consultation with an interfaith council, although several prominent Jewish leaders were not consulted. Bolton has a rapidly growing Muslim population. With Europe’s shifting demographics, one might wonder how long it will be before such changes sweep the continent, from Sweden’s Malmö—where one-quarter of the population is Muslim—to Sicily’s Mazara del Vallo.

When the MCB pressed for the abolition of Holocaust Memorial Day in 2005, “Home Office officials. . .told the [group], which represents more than 350 Muslim organisations, that they [were] considering the request. But officials have no plans to broaden the remit of the occasion because they fear it would infuriate the Jewish community.” Not principle, then, but sheer political expediency safeguards the day in Britain. And with only political arguments keeping Holocaust Memorial Day in place, how long can it be before voters convince the government that it is time for Britain to be more “inclusive”?

It is, therefore, doubly important to watch how Europe responds to the initiative, recently launched under the new German presidency of the EU, to introduce continent-wide legislation banning Holocaust denial. Strictly speaking, the MCB is not denying the Holocaust. But its comparison of the murder of Europe’s Jews to the plight of the Palestinians is a clear attempt to demonize Israel, with the not-so-unintended side-effect of trivializing the Holocaust. In Palestine, fewer than 4,000 people have been killed by the Israeli military in the last six years, all in an effort to disrupt the activities of terrorists and armed militants. In Auschwitz, 30,000 defenseless Jews were slaughtered every day. The analogy, in other words, is a patent untruth.

This kind of gross distortion has already gone a step further in Spain, where the city council of a small town near Madrid tried to mandate the commemoration of the “Palestinian Holocaust.” In the end, luckily, the council backed down. But making the case that history can defend itself rings hollow in the face of such episodes.

Even with such moral stupidity abounding, the subject of banning Holocaust denial remains a highly contested one across Europe. On January 24, Joan Bakewell commented in the Independent that “Freedom of speech commits us to hearing things with which we profoundly disagree. But unless we hear them, we have no chance to refute and correct them.” Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian a few days earlier, concurred, arguing, in essence, that free speech must be protected, memory must be defended through education, shutting them up would turn them into celebrities, etc.

This argument holds sway in much of the continent. Angelo D’Orsi wrote a similar column in Italy’s La Stampa, claiming that “history can defend itself” without being helped by legislation. In Italy, however, there are opposing voices. The justice minister Clemente Mastella has tried to beat the Germans to the punch, introducing his own legislation against Holocaust denial, which the Italian cabinet approved on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Most Americans consider it both and silly and dangerous to punish people for their opinions. But Europe is not America. It is a continent where the dark shadow of the past requires striking a fine balance between freedom of speech and the protection of memory. Is Holocaust denial truly something that we should defend, à la Voltaire, despite its odiousness, its motives, and its sometimes seductive power? Is truth, in a world submerged in the cacophony of cultural relativism, so compelling that we can always confidently rely on evidence and education to rebuke the charlatans and their sinister denials?

Regulating such hate speech may well endow the David Irvings of the world with the halos of martyrs. But it could also deprive them of a platform, discourage others from providing them with one, silence thousands of hate-spewing websites, shut down publishing houses that still print the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and in general make it more difficult to spread the “opinion” that the Holocaust did not happen. For to say such a thing is not just an opinion: it is a libel against the six million Jews who died—as well as those who survived and their descendants.

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