Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jen Rubin

RE: J Street Comes Clean

J Street’s position on Jerusalem, detailed below by Jen Rubin, is a perfect example of why the proper way to understand the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization is as an export-import business. Bear with me for a moment.

There was a set of ideas about the Arab-Israeli conflict to which many people subscribed in the 80s and 90s. These ideas became the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords became an immense, catastrophic failure. Many people who were Oslo advocates, thus confronted with reality, changed their minds about the conflict (an obvious example is Benny Morris). Some Oslo advocates, however, did not, and adopted various theories to justify their continued membership in the peace-process-can-do-no-harm camp: the Israeli offers were never good enough, Sharon started the intifada, territorial withdrawal must come first, a conspiracy of neocons and AIPAC has always worked against peace, and so on. In 2000 in Lebanon and in 2005 in Gaza, territorial withdrawal was tried, and the results detonated a belief even deeper than Oslo, this one going all the way back to 1967 and perhaps even to 1948: the hope that land could be traded for peace and that the conflict is about borders, not Israel’s very existence.

These accumulated facts changed the attitude of Israelis in a dramatic way. The Oslo consensus disintegrated not only as an understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but as a political platform. In the early 90s, Labor and Meretz held a combined 56 Knesset seats. Today they have 16. Yet despite this political collapse in Israel, a few true believers still cling to the Oslo fantasy. How can these ideas survive their failure in the very place they’re supposed to be applied?

J Street, working with various Meretz has-beens in Israel, imports the ideas to America and tries to revive them here, where Jews are far less aware of their abysmal record of failure. J Street pushes them to the Obama administration, which is favorably disposed to them anyway. Here is where the exporting happens: Obama now seeks to impose them on an unreceptive Israel.

This is not just an insular story about Israeli-American-Jewish politics. It’s probably the major reason why there is so much conflict between the Obama and Netanyahu governments. The former is living on J Street, where it is not considered insane to demand that Israel relinquish the Western Wall, the most meaningful place in Judaism, to an “international force” (Israel should agree to this when the Pope and the Saudis surrender the Vatican and Mecca to an international force). The latter came to power as the culminating point of an Israeli consensus that understands the failures of the previous 17 years and rejects the ideas that J Street and the Obama administration are trying to force back to Israel. This is why J Street is, in its essence, a political export-import business.

J Street’s position on Jerusalem, detailed below by Jen Rubin, is a perfect example of why the proper way to understand the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization is as an export-import business. Bear with me for a moment.

There was a set of ideas about the Arab-Israeli conflict to which many people subscribed in the 80s and 90s. These ideas became the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords became an immense, catastrophic failure. Many people who were Oslo advocates, thus confronted with reality, changed their minds about the conflict (an obvious example is Benny Morris). Some Oslo advocates, however, did not, and adopted various theories to justify their continued membership in the peace-process-can-do-no-harm camp: the Israeli offers were never good enough, Sharon started the intifada, territorial withdrawal must come first, a conspiracy of neocons and AIPAC has always worked against peace, and so on. In 2000 in Lebanon and in 2005 in Gaza, territorial withdrawal was tried, and the results detonated a belief even deeper than Oslo, this one going all the way back to 1967 and perhaps even to 1948: the hope that land could be traded for peace and that the conflict is about borders, not Israel’s very existence.

These accumulated facts changed the attitude of Israelis in a dramatic way. The Oslo consensus disintegrated not only as an understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but as a political platform. In the early 90s, Labor and Meretz held a combined 56 Knesset seats. Today they have 16. Yet despite this political collapse in Israel, a few true believers still cling to the Oslo fantasy. How can these ideas survive their failure in the very place they’re supposed to be applied?

J Street, working with various Meretz has-beens in Israel, imports the ideas to America and tries to revive them here, where Jews are far less aware of their abysmal record of failure. J Street pushes them to the Obama administration, which is favorably disposed to them anyway. Here is where the exporting happens: Obama now seeks to impose them on an unreceptive Israel.

This is not just an insular story about Israeli-American-Jewish politics. It’s probably the major reason why there is so much conflict between the Obama and Netanyahu governments. The former is living on J Street, where it is not considered insane to demand that Israel relinquish the Western Wall, the most meaningful place in Judaism, to an “international force” (Israel should agree to this when the Pope and the Saudis surrender the Vatican and Mecca to an international force). The latter came to power as the culminating point of an Israeli consensus that understands the failures of the previous 17 years and rejects the ideas that J Street and the Obama administration are trying to force back to Israel. This is why J Street is, in its essence, a political export-import business.

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LIVE BLOG: Obama — Not That Impressive a Spokesman

Barack Obama tends to be pretty strong in settings like this. But you can see the chinks in his armor, even in the “summit” setting. He gets prickly from time to time (you could see it in his exchange with Senator Alexander). He tends toward solipsism (his opening statement was about him, about his children, about his youth). And he’s strikingly arrogant, constantly putting himself in the position to deem what is a “legitimate” and what is an “illegitimate” argument. We also saw that same arrogance in his explanation of the uneven time allotted to people for speaking. He justifies it because, we were all delighted to learn, “I’m the president”: Obama decided not to count his speaking time against the time allotted to the Democratic side, which is silly. But we also saw Obama’s arrogance in his insistence that he is right and that Lamar Alexander is wrong about whether ObamaCare would increase premiums. As Jen Rubin and James Capretta demonstrate — and as Representative Dave Camp and Senator Jon Kyl argued during the session — it is Obama who was in error. President Obama is the best spokesman Democrats have. But the truth is that these days he’s not all that impressive.

Barack Obama tends to be pretty strong in settings like this. But you can see the chinks in his armor, even in the “summit” setting. He gets prickly from time to time (you could see it in his exchange with Senator Alexander). He tends toward solipsism (his opening statement was about him, about his children, about his youth). And he’s strikingly arrogant, constantly putting himself in the position to deem what is a “legitimate” and what is an “illegitimate” argument. We also saw that same arrogance in his explanation of the uneven time allotted to people for speaking. He justifies it because, we were all delighted to learn, “I’m the president”: Obama decided not to count his speaking time against the time allotted to the Democratic side, which is silly. But we also saw Obama’s arrogance in his insistence that he is right and that Lamar Alexander is wrong about whether ObamaCare would increase premiums. As Jen Rubin and James Capretta demonstrate — and as Representative Dave Camp and Senator Jon Kyl argued during the session — it is Obama who was in error. President Obama is the best spokesman Democrats have. But the truth is that these days he’s not all that impressive.

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RE: No Risk, They Say?

I seldom find myself in disagreement with my colleague Jen Rubin. This is one of those rare occasions. I am not as alarmed as she is by the prospect of moving detainees from Guantanamo to a super-max prison in Illinois. She cites an ABC News report to highlight the dangers but, in fact, I think the ABC report makes the case for the transfer. It notes that ultra-dangerous al-Qaeda prisoners are already being held at the supermax prison in Florence, Colordao, including the so-called “20th hijacker” Zacharias Moussaoui, the shoe bomber Richard Reid, the first World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, and dirty bomber Jose Padilla. All of them “ have essentially disappeared inside the Colorado facility.” One of their defense attorneys is quoted complaining, “ It’s a bleak and brutal existence that’s defined by, essentially an 8 x 10 rectangle in which they live. There is no socialization whatsoever and the isolation itself is extremely damaging.”

While it may not make a defense attorney happy, that’s exactly the fate that I would like to see befall more terrorists. What about the risks that Jen mentions? It’s true that the “blind sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, was able to communicate with his followers via his lawyer but that’s also possible in Guantanamo where the detainees now have access to attorneys. And it’s true that another al-Qaeda terrorist, Mamdouh Salim, who was being held temporarily at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, was able to stab a guard with a sharpened comb in an unsuccessful attempt to escape. But that could happen at Gitmo too. In any case, security is tighter at supermax facilities. No one, as far as I know, has ever escaped from such a facility.

The most compelling argument against transferring the Gitmo detainees isn’t the worry that they will break out or convey forbidden information through their lawyers. Rather, it is that they may gain new legal rights by being brought to U.S. soil. I am not a lawyer, and stand ready to be corrected on this score, but my understanding is that they have already gained a lot of rights even while in Gitmo thanks to Supreme Court rulings. Only if they gain significant new legal protections that make their release more likely should a transfer to the mainland be banned. If they can be held securely in a supermax facility without having to be brought before a civilian court for trial, it makes sense to do so because, essentially, that would be a cosmetic change that would undo some of the public-relations damage wrought to America’s reputation by the Gitmo facility while not compromising our security.

I seldom find myself in disagreement with my colleague Jen Rubin. This is one of those rare occasions. I am not as alarmed as she is by the prospect of moving detainees from Guantanamo to a super-max prison in Illinois. She cites an ABC News report to highlight the dangers but, in fact, I think the ABC report makes the case for the transfer. It notes that ultra-dangerous al-Qaeda prisoners are already being held at the supermax prison in Florence, Colordao, including the so-called “20th hijacker” Zacharias Moussaoui, the shoe bomber Richard Reid, the first World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, and dirty bomber Jose Padilla. All of them “ have essentially disappeared inside the Colorado facility.” One of their defense attorneys is quoted complaining, “ It’s a bleak and brutal existence that’s defined by, essentially an 8 x 10 rectangle in which they live. There is no socialization whatsoever and the isolation itself is extremely damaging.”

While it may not make a defense attorney happy, that’s exactly the fate that I would like to see befall more terrorists. What about the risks that Jen mentions? It’s true that the “blind sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, was able to communicate with his followers via his lawyer but that’s also possible in Guantanamo where the detainees now have access to attorneys. And it’s true that another al-Qaeda terrorist, Mamdouh Salim, who was being held temporarily at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, was able to stab a guard with a sharpened comb in an unsuccessful attempt to escape. But that could happen at Gitmo too. In any case, security is tighter at supermax facilities. No one, as far as I know, has ever escaped from such a facility.

The most compelling argument against transferring the Gitmo detainees isn’t the worry that they will break out or convey forbidden information through their lawyers. Rather, it is that they may gain new legal rights by being brought to U.S. soil. I am not a lawyer, and stand ready to be corrected on this score, but my understanding is that they have already gained a lot of rights even while in Gitmo thanks to Supreme Court rulings. Only if they gain significant new legal protections that make their release more likely should a transfer to the mainland be banned. If they can be held securely in a supermax facility without having to be brought before a civilian court for trial, it makes sense to do so because, essentially, that would be a cosmetic change that would undo some of the public-relations damage wrought to America’s reputation by the Gitmo facility while not compromising our security.

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