Commentary Magazine


Topic: Member

Obama — a Weak Advocate for Free Trade

Obama’s international endeavors are going about as well as his party’s electoral efforts. The latest flop: “The presidents of the U.S. and South Korea were unable to overcome disputes over cars, cattle and domestic politics, potentially killing the biggest bilateral trade deal the U.S. has taken up in more than a decade.” It is worth examining why the president couldn’t make a deal.

In essence, Obama has refused to stand up to domestic advocates of protectionism — a failure that stands in contrast to the actions of past presidents from both parties. And, no doubt, the South Koreans calculated that they might as well try to wait him out. It sure doesn’t seem that Obama was on the side of the angels — or of free trade. This tells you all you need to know:

Labor leaders and some powerful politicians from both parties praised Mr. Obama for not going ahead with a deal they characterized as bad for U.S. workers. “President Obama is exactly right in holding out for a deal that puts working people’s interests first,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

Translation: Obama caved to protectionist elements in the U.S.

As a result of this and Ben Bernanke’s printing press, we are increasingly isolated and becoming the object of our trading partners’ criticism:

The trade-talk failure came on top of criticism from other G-20 nations concerning the Federal Reserve’s move to pump billions into the U.S. economy, potentially weakening the dollar.

“This reinforces the opinion of many key global and business leaders that the U.S. isn’t really committed to global engagement and is instead pushing mercantilist, beggar-thy-neighbor policies,” said Matthew Slaughter, a former member of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.

As for the particulars, it seems as though Obama wanted to hang on to some protectionist provisions just a little longer. (“One stumbling block was Korea’s refusal to change a provision in the 2007 pact that provided an immediate end to a 2.5% tariff the U.S. levies on imports of Korean cars. … The U.S. wanted the tariff reduced gradually, while Korea eliminates safety and environmental rules that U.S. auto makers, led by Ford, said help keep Korea the world’s most closed car market.”)

Congress has traditionally been more protectionist than the White House, the result of intense lobbying by both U.S. businesses and Big Labor. A strong presidential hand has been required to rebuff protectionist sentiment and negotiate free-trade agreements that are essential to America’s prosperity. To his credit, Bill Clinton did just that. But Obama has neither the will nor the interest in following this approach. This spells trouble for the U.S.:

Meanwhile, the European Union and other nations have signed far more bilateral deals than the U.S. since 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect, displeasing some U.S. industrial companies. “We as a country have essentially taken two years off” from pursuing trade agreements while the rest of the world goes full speed ahead, said Eaton Corp. Chief Executive Alexander Cutler on Thursday. “If you want to have a vibrant economy, you have to have access to the fastest-growing parts of the world.”

You would think a president who ran on the promise to “restore our standing” in the world and end the supposed cowboy unilateralism of his predecessor would understand this.

Obama’s international endeavors are going about as well as his party’s electoral efforts. The latest flop: “The presidents of the U.S. and South Korea were unable to overcome disputes over cars, cattle and domestic politics, potentially killing the biggest bilateral trade deal the U.S. has taken up in more than a decade.” It is worth examining why the president couldn’t make a deal.

In essence, Obama has refused to stand up to domestic advocates of protectionism — a failure that stands in contrast to the actions of past presidents from both parties. And, no doubt, the South Koreans calculated that they might as well try to wait him out. It sure doesn’t seem that Obama was on the side of the angels — or of free trade. This tells you all you need to know:

Labor leaders and some powerful politicians from both parties praised Mr. Obama for not going ahead with a deal they characterized as bad for U.S. workers. “President Obama is exactly right in holding out for a deal that puts working people’s interests first,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

Translation: Obama caved to protectionist elements in the U.S.

As a result of this and Ben Bernanke’s printing press, we are increasingly isolated and becoming the object of our trading partners’ criticism:

The trade-talk failure came on top of criticism from other G-20 nations concerning the Federal Reserve’s move to pump billions into the U.S. economy, potentially weakening the dollar.

“This reinforces the opinion of many key global and business leaders that the U.S. isn’t really committed to global engagement and is instead pushing mercantilist, beggar-thy-neighbor policies,” said Matthew Slaughter, a former member of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.

As for the particulars, it seems as though Obama wanted to hang on to some protectionist provisions just a little longer. (“One stumbling block was Korea’s refusal to change a provision in the 2007 pact that provided an immediate end to a 2.5% tariff the U.S. levies on imports of Korean cars. … The U.S. wanted the tariff reduced gradually, while Korea eliminates safety and environmental rules that U.S. auto makers, led by Ford, said help keep Korea the world’s most closed car market.”)

Congress has traditionally been more protectionist than the White House, the result of intense lobbying by both U.S. businesses and Big Labor. A strong presidential hand has been required to rebuff protectionist sentiment and negotiate free-trade agreements that are essential to America’s prosperity. To his credit, Bill Clinton did just that. But Obama has neither the will nor the interest in following this approach. This spells trouble for the U.S.:

Meanwhile, the European Union and other nations have signed far more bilateral deals than the U.S. since 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect, displeasing some U.S. industrial companies. “We as a country have essentially taken two years off” from pursuing trade agreements while the rest of the world goes full speed ahead, said Eaton Corp. Chief Executive Alexander Cutler on Thursday. “If you want to have a vibrant economy, you have to have access to the fastest-growing parts of the world.”

You would think a president who ran on the promise to “restore our standing” in the world and end the supposed cowboy unilateralism of his predecessor would understand this.

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More J Street Donors Revealed

The Jerusalem Post has the latest on J Street’s unusual donors:

According to records filed with the US Federal Election Committee on October 20 and October 21, J Street recorded hundreds of donations from Americans of all sorts, most Jewish and some Muslim. But several names jumped out from the 2,100 pages.

Lenny Ben David, who wrote the item, mentions Genevieve Lynch, a member of the National Iranian American Council’s board.

Lynch, the NIAC board member and a member of J Street’s Finance Committee, is listed contributing $10,000 in October. At one point last year, J Street and NIAC leaders worked together to block anti-Iran sanctions measures proposed by Congress. Belatedly, J Street changed its position and supported sanctions.

Nancy Dutton earmarked last week $250 for the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak. Her late husband Fred served as a Saudi foreign agent in Washington for 30 years. (During the 1982 AWACS debate he was believed to be responsible for the line, “Reagan or Begin?” which strongly suggested American Jews’ double loyalty.)  After Fred’s death, Nancy picked up the pricey Saudi gig.

Oddly enough, the donors have a decidedly anti-Israel perspective:

Another new name on the J Street PAC’s list of contributors is  M. Cherif Bassiouni, a well-known professor of law at DePaul University. Bassiouni is also an unlikely candidate to contribute to a purported “pro-Israel” organization.  Several years ago he complained in an article in the Harvard International Law Journal, “A large segment of the world population asks why Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people, which includes the commission of ‘grave breaches’ of the Geneva Convention and what the customary law of armed conflict considers ‘war crimes,’ is deemed justified, while Palestinians’ unlawful acts of targeting civilians are condemned? These are only some contemporary examples of the double standard that fuels terrorism.”

Now, the jig has been up for some time that J Street allies itself with foes of the Jewish state. The latest is simply more evidence, as if any were needed, that J Street’s pro-Israel label is fraudulent and its sponsored candidates are those it perceives to be most helpful to its — and its allies’ — mission.

The Jerusalem Post has the latest on J Street’s unusual donors:

According to records filed with the US Federal Election Committee on October 20 and October 21, J Street recorded hundreds of donations from Americans of all sorts, most Jewish and some Muslim. But several names jumped out from the 2,100 pages.

Lenny Ben David, who wrote the item, mentions Genevieve Lynch, a member of the National Iranian American Council’s board.

Lynch, the NIAC board member and a member of J Street’s Finance Committee, is listed contributing $10,000 in October. At one point last year, J Street and NIAC leaders worked together to block anti-Iran sanctions measures proposed by Congress. Belatedly, J Street changed its position and supported sanctions.

Nancy Dutton earmarked last week $250 for the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak. Her late husband Fred served as a Saudi foreign agent in Washington for 30 years. (During the 1982 AWACS debate he was believed to be responsible for the line, “Reagan or Begin?” which strongly suggested American Jews’ double loyalty.)  After Fred’s death, Nancy picked up the pricey Saudi gig.

Oddly enough, the donors have a decidedly anti-Israel perspective:

Another new name on the J Street PAC’s list of contributors is  M. Cherif Bassiouni, a well-known professor of law at DePaul University. Bassiouni is also an unlikely candidate to contribute to a purported “pro-Israel” organization.  Several years ago he complained in an article in the Harvard International Law Journal, “A large segment of the world population asks why Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people, which includes the commission of ‘grave breaches’ of the Geneva Convention and what the customary law of armed conflict considers ‘war crimes,’ is deemed justified, while Palestinians’ unlawful acts of targeting civilians are condemned? These are only some contemporary examples of the double standard that fuels terrorism.”

Now, the jig has been up for some time that J Street allies itself with foes of the Jewish state. The latest is simply more evidence, as if any were needed, that J Street’s pro-Israel label is fraudulent and its sponsored candidates are those it perceives to be most helpful to its — and its allies’ — mission.

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The Anti-Israel Face of Labor

This post could be subtitled “The Deceptive Face of the Mainstream Media.” As recounted by blogger Zombie at Pajamas Media, that’s the face the media showed in its credulous news coverage of an anti-Israel protest in Oakland on Sunday. During the protest, the port’s longshoremen staged a work stoppage and refused to unload cargo from an Israeli ship. The media, notes Zombie, have depicted the stoppage as the result of pro-Palestinian protesters “convincing” the longshoremen to join them. Indeed, mainstream news outlets have obediently portrayed the event in the exact terms proffered by the protest’s organizers, from the interpretation of its meaning to the articulation of basic facts.

This faithful adherence to the organizers’ narrative is producing some unintended humor. As reported by Arutz Sheva and picked up by a number of non-traditional outlets in the U.S., the Israeli ship targeted by the protesters didn’t even reach the port until after the crowd had broken up on Sunday evening. The longshoremen’s work stoppage delayed the unloading of an unfortunate Chinese cargo ship but had no effect on the Israeli vessel’s unloading schedule. Nevertheless, in just the first two pages of results from a Google search performed this morning, I counted six mainstream outlets reporting that the protesters had delayed or blocked the unloading of an Israeli ship (see here and here, for example).

The story certainly comes off better if the impression is left that the demonstrators achieved their goal. But another aspect of this event has gone unreported by the traditional media: the attitude of international labor toward Israel and Gaza. Whatever the personal sentiments of the longshoremen manning the day shift in Oakland on Sunday, the federations and councils with which their union leaders are affiliated take a firmly anti-Israel stance. The evidence of centralized labor planning for the Oakland protest is overwhelming.

The San Francisco Labor Council, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, urged union participation with its prior advertising of the protest and work stoppage. The Labor Council’s resolution on the May 31 flotilla incident, approved on June 14, is posted at the International Journal of Socialist Renewal’s website; in it, the Longshoremen’s Local in Oakland (ILWU 10) is among the 28 U.S. and foreign-labor organizations listed as having already condemned Israel.

As Zombie notes, the international Transport Workers Solidarity Committee publicized the dockside protest in advance.  Its website also makes clear that union organizers around the world – as well as non-transport unions in the U.S. – knew of the plan days beforehand and sent encouraging messages to ILWU 10. On June 5, Jack Weyman, a member of ILWU 10’s executive board, expressed solidarity with Swedish dockworkers who announced a boycott of Israel. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) website, meanwhile, reports yesterday’s action as a “historic victory” and features the participation of labor as prominent, planned, and intentional.

It was all of those things. Days before the Sunday protest, the website of Labor for Palestine tallied up the union support “pouring in” for ILWU 10’s planned work stoppage. Labor for Palestine (LFP) is the labor-union arm of the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) Movement for Palestine, about which the Jewish Federations of North America issued a warning resolution in November 2009. LFP was founded by al-Awda (the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition) and New York City Labor Against the War in 2004.

This appears to be an emerging trend. For decades, U.S. unions have been largely inhospitable to the internationalist radicalism of most global labor federations. Their pedestrian, inward-looking character has been a source of frustration to some of their more extremist members and critics. But as international labor aligns itself firmly with the “Palestinian” cause, American organized labor is being presented with the kind of basic choice it hasn’t faced since the 1930s: whether to be politically American and affirm American policy stances, or to adhere to a radical posture that subverts national boundaries and delegitimizes national character. The Oakland work stoppage will not be the last such confrontation we see, as this defining challenge for our union work forces heads to a climax.

This post could be subtitled “The Deceptive Face of the Mainstream Media.” As recounted by blogger Zombie at Pajamas Media, that’s the face the media showed in its credulous news coverage of an anti-Israel protest in Oakland on Sunday. During the protest, the port’s longshoremen staged a work stoppage and refused to unload cargo from an Israeli ship. The media, notes Zombie, have depicted the stoppage as the result of pro-Palestinian protesters “convincing” the longshoremen to join them. Indeed, mainstream news outlets have obediently portrayed the event in the exact terms proffered by the protest’s organizers, from the interpretation of its meaning to the articulation of basic facts.

This faithful adherence to the organizers’ narrative is producing some unintended humor. As reported by Arutz Sheva and picked up by a number of non-traditional outlets in the U.S., the Israeli ship targeted by the protesters didn’t even reach the port until after the crowd had broken up on Sunday evening. The longshoremen’s work stoppage delayed the unloading of an unfortunate Chinese cargo ship but had no effect on the Israeli vessel’s unloading schedule. Nevertheless, in just the first two pages of results from a Google search performed this morning, I counted six mainstream outlets reporting that the protesters had delayed or blocked the unloading of an Israeli ship (see here and here, for example).

The story certainly comes off better if the impression is left that the demonstrators achieved their goal. But another aspect of this event has gone unreported by the traditional media: the attitude of international labor toward Israel and Gaza. Whatever the personal sentiments of the longshoremen manning the day shift in Oakland on Sunday, the federations and councils with which their union leaders are affiliated take a firmly anti-Israel stance. The evidence of centralized labor planning for the Oakland protest is overwhelming.

The San Francisco Labor Council, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, urged union participation with its prior advertising of the protest and work stoppage. The Labor Council’s resolution on the May 31 flotilla incident, approved on June 14, is posted at the International Journal of Socialist Renewal’s website; in it, the Longshoremen’s Local in Oakland (ILWU 10) is among the 28 U.S. and foreign-labor organizations listed as having already condemned Israel.

As Zombie notes, the international Transport Workers Solidarity Committee publicized the dockside protest in advance.  Its website also makes clear that union organizers around the world – as well as non-transport unions in the U.S. – knew of the plan days beforehand and sent encouraging messages to ILWU 10. On June 5, Jack Weyman, a member of ILWU 10’s executive board, expressed solidarity with Swedish dockworkers who announced a boycott of Israel. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) website, meanwhile, reports yesterday’s action as a “historic victory” and features the participation of labor as prominent, planned, and intentional.

It was all of those things. Days before the Sunday protest, the website of Labor for Palestine tallied up the union support “pouring in” for ILWU 10’s planned work stoppage. Labor for Palestine (LFP) is the labor-union arm of the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) Movement for Palestine, about which the Jewish Federations of North America issued a warning resolution in November 2009. LFP was founded by al-Awda (the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition) and New York City Labor Against the War in 2004.

This appears to be an emerging trend. For decades, U.S. unions have been largely inhospitable to the internationalist radicalism of most global labor federations. Their pedestrian, inward-looking character has been a source of frustration to some of their more extremist members and critics. But as international labor aligns itself firmly with the “Palestinian” cause, American organized labor is being presented with the kind of basic choice it hasn’t faced since the 1930s: whether to be politically American and affirm American policy stances, or to adhere to a radical posture that subverts national boundaries and delegitimizes national character. The Oakland work stoppage will not be the last such confrontation we see, as this defining challenge for our union work forces heads to a climax.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Whoever wins the Democratic Senate run-off is in for a tough time: “A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Arkansas, taken Wednesday night, shows [Republican John] Boozman, the winner of Tuesday’s state GOP Primary, with 66% support in a match-up with Senator Blanche Lincoln. The Democratic incumbent picks up just 28% of the vote.”

The New York Times digs up another instance in which Richard Blumenthal lied about his Vietnam service. (“In Vietnam we had to endure taunts and insults, and no one said, ‘Welcome home.’ I say welcome home.”)

Obama sees nothing wrong with Blumenthal’s serial lying about his Vietnam service. The Democrats, every one of them, it seems, have lost their moral compass (perhaps they’ve taken it out of the vault and jumped up and down, shattering it) – and their political horse sense.

Not exactly what the left had in mind: “A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that prisoners being held without trial in Afghanistan by the military have no right to challenge their imprisonment in American civilian courts. The decision, overturning a lower court ruling in the detainees’ favor, was a victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to hold terrorism suspects overseas for extended periods without judicial oversight.” So they want to close Guantanamo so they can hold detainees indefinitely in Bagram?

The spirit of Arlen Specter appears in the Senate race in Florida: “Charlie Crist offered his support today for Elena Kagan, saying he’s ‘impressed’ with her so far. … But pressed to explain why he would support Kagan but opposed Sonia Sotomayor while he was a member of the Republican party, Crist was at a loss for words.” He’s impressed with her treatment of military recruiters at Harvard?

Chris Christie’s star will continue to rise if he keeps this up: in his veto of a tax hike, he declared: “I told everybody that if this got sent here that I’d veto it, and I have … New Jersey does not have a tax problem, that we don’t have enough tax revenue. We have a spending and size of government problem and we need to start saying ‘no.’ And today is another one of those examples of saying ‘no.’”

Uh, I don’t think this helps Rand Paul any: “‘When does my honeymoon period start? I had a big victory,’ Paul told George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today. ‘I’ve just been trashed up and down and they have been saying things that are untrue. And when they say I’m for repealing the Civil Rights Act, it’s absolutely false. It’s never been my position and something that I basically just think is politics.’”

Actually CONTENTIONS contributor Pete Wehner and conservative columnist Michael Gerson are dissecting him very efficiently.

Whoever wins the Democratic Senate run-off is in for a tough time: “A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Arkansas, taken Wednesday night, shows [Republican John] Boozman, the winner of Tuesday’s state GOP Primary, with 66% support in a match-up with Senator Blanche Lincoln. The Democratic incumbent picks up just 28% of the vote.”

The New York Times digs up another instance in which Richard Blumenthal lied about his Vietnam service. (“In Vietnam we had to endure taunts and insults, and no one said, ‘Welcome home.’ I say welcome home.”)

Obama sees nothing wrong with Blumenthal’s serial lying about his Vietnam service. The Democrats, every one of them, it seems, have lost their moral compass (perhaps they’ve taken it out of the vault and jumped up and down, shattering it) – and their political horse sense.

Not exactly what the left had in mind: “A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that prisoners being held without trial in Afghanistan by the military have no right to challenge their imprisonment in American civilian courts. The decision, overturning a lower court ruling in the detainees’ favor, was a victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to hold terrorism suspects overseas for extended periods without judicial oversight.” So they want to close Guantanamo so they can hold detainees indefinitely in Bagram?

The spirit of Arlen Specter appears in the Senate race in Florida: “Charlie Crist offered his support today for Elena Kagan, saying he’s ‘impressed’ with her so far. … But pressed to explain why he would support Kagan but opposed Sonia Sotomayor while he was a member of the Republican party, Crist was at a loss for words.” He’s impressed with her treatment of military recruiters at Harvard?

Chris Christie’s star will continue to rise if he keeps this up: in his veto of a tax hike, he declared: “I told everybody that if this got sent here that I’d veto it, and I have … New Jersey does not have a tax problem, that we don’t have enough tax revenue. We have a spending and size of government problem and we need to start saying ‘no.’ And today is another one of those examples of saying ‘no.’”

Uh, I don’t think this helps Rand Paul any: “‘When does my honeymoon period start? I had a big victory,’ Paul told George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today. ‘I’ve just been trashed up and down and they have been saying things that are untrue. And when they say I’m for repealing the Civil Rights Act, it’s absolutely false. It’s never been my position and something that I basically just think is politics.’”

Actually CONTENTIONS contributor Pete Wehner and conservative columnist Michael Gerson are dissecting him very efficiently.

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The Wages of Moral Equivalence

In her remarks today Hillary Clinton said this:

When a Hamas-controlled municipality glorifies violence and renames a square after a terrorist who murdered innocent Israelis, it insults the families on both sides who have lost loves ones in this conflict. And when instigators deliberately mischaracterize the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s old city and call upon their brethren to “defend” nearby Muslim holy sites from so-called “attacks,” it is purely and simply an act of incitement. These provocations are wrong and must be condemned for needlessly inflaming tensions and imperiling prospects for a comprehensive peace.

Notice how differently Israel and the Palestinians were treated in this regard. The Israeli prime minister was presumed to be responsible for an intentional slight to the Obama administration when a housing permit was issued. An immediate condemnation — we condemn — was issued. A 43-minute chewing out of the prime minister was conducted and then proudly described to the waiting media. By contrast, days after the event, in a rather roundabout formulation (“must be condemned” – but is she doing so?) to a Jewish audience, Clinton ekes out her statement. You can be sure that a speech to AIPAC days after the event won’t send the Quartet rushing forward to join in this oblique condemnation when the party on the receiving end is not Israel.

And her invocation of Hamas is interesting as well. It is not as if there were no trace of Fatah in all this. From the New York Times:

Dozens of Palestinian students from the youth division of Fatah, the mainstream party led by President Mahmoud Abbas, gathered here on Thursday to dedicate a public square to the memory of a woman who in 1978 helped carry out the deadliest terrorist attack in Israel’s history. . .

To Israelis, hailing Ms. Mughrabi as a heroine and a martyr is an act that glorifies terrorism.

But, underscoring the chasm between Israeli and Palestinian perceptions, the Fatah representatives described Ms. Mughrabi as a courageous fighter who held a proud place in Palestinian history. Defiant, they insisted that they would not let Israel dictate the names of Palestinian streets and squares.

“We are all Dalal Mughrabi,” declared Tawfiq Tirawi, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, the party’s main decision-making body, who came to join the students. “For us she is not a terrorist,” he said, but rather “a fighter who fought for the liberation of her own land.”

So Hillary is perhaps giving every benefit of the doubt to Mahmoud Abbas, just at the moment in which she is holding Netanyahu responsible for the housing permit granted by a low-level bureaucrat.

Then there is the additional question, of course, as to whether the U.S. should be engaging in such moral (sort of) equivalence, when the issue is violence, on one hand, and a housing permit in Israel’s eternal capital, on the other. The Obami seem determined to treat friend and foe alike  — or in Israel’s case, the friend gets the less magnanimous treatment. In doing so, Obama and the rest of his administration, including the ever-so-earnest Hillary, communicate to both that we are a feckless ally, willing to trade away principle for the sake of a “deal.” The Palestinians and the Arab states sense that the U.S. and Israel can be squeezed, that we are willing to spin half-truths for the sake of keeping the “process” going. Today Hillary pronounced:

As Vice President Biden said in Israel, we know that to make progress in this region, there must be no gap between the United States and Israel on security. And there will not be. For President Obama, for me, and for this entire administration, our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid.

But is that the impression the Muslim World and Iran, specifically, receive, when they see the U.S. lashing out at Israel? It seems in fact that the purpose of the lashing out was to show that we are not so closely aligned with Israel. Indeed, Clinton declared that, “Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.”

But our credibility demands that we stick by deals (including those on settlements agreed under the Bush administration) and back our friends, regardless of the audience. In that regard, Hillary only seemed to emphasize the chasm between AIPAC-friendly rhetoric and administration policy.

In her remarks today Hillary Clinton said this:

When a Hamas-controlled municipality glorifies violence and renames a square after a terrorist who murdered innocent Israelis, it insults the families on both sides who have lost loves ones in this conflict. And when instigators deliberately mischaracterize the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s old city and call upon their brethren to “defend” nearby Muslim holy sites from so-called “attacks,” it is purely and simply an act of incitement. These provocations are wrong and must be condemned for needlessly inflaming tensions and imperiling prospects for a comprehensive peace.

Notice how differently Israel and the Palestinians were treated in this regard. The Israeli prime minister was presumed to be responsible for an intentional slight to the Obama administration when a housing permit was issued. An immediate condemnation — we condemn — was issued. A 43-minute chewing out of the prime minister was conducted and then proudly described to the waiting media. By contrast, days after the event, in a rather roundabout formulation (“must be condemned” – but is she doing so?) to a Jewish audience, Clinton ekes out her statement. You can be sure that a speech to AIPAC days after the event won’t send the Quartet rushing forward to join in this oblique condemnation when the party on the receiving end is not Israel.

And her invocation of Hamas is interesting as well. It is not as if there were no trace of Fatah in all this. From the New York Times:

Dozens of Palestinian students from the youth division of Fatah, the mainstream party led by President Mahmoud Abbas, gathered here on Thursday to dedicate a public square to the memory of a woman who in 1978 helped carry out the deadliest terrorist attack in Israel’s history. . .

To Israelis, hailing Ms. Mughrabi as a heroine and a martyr is an act that glorifies terrorism.

But, underscoring the chasm between Israeli and Palestinian perceptions, the Fatah representatives described Ms. Mughrabi as a courageous fighter who held a proud place in Palestinian history. Defiant, they insisted that they would not let Israel dictate the names of Palestinian streets and squares.

“We are all Dalal Mughrabi,” declared Tawfiq Tirawi, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, the party’s main decision-making body, who came to join the students. “For us she is not a terrorist,” he said, but rather “a fighter who fought for the liberation of her own land.”

So Hillary is perhaps giving every benefit of the doubt to Mahmoud Abbas, just at the moment in which she is holding Netanyahu responsible for the housing permit granted by a low-level bureaucrat.

Then there is the additional question, of course, as to whether the U.S. should be engaging in such moral (sort of) equivalence, when the issue is violence, on one hand, and a housing permit in Israel’s eternal capital, on the other. The Obami seem determined to treat friend and foe alike  — or in Israel’s case, the friend gets the less magnanimous treatment. In doing so, Obama and the rest of his administration, including the ever-so-earnest Hillary, communicate to both that we are a feckless ally, willing to trade away principle for the sake of a “deal.” The Palestinians and the Arab states sense that the U.S. and Israel can be squeezed, that we are willing to spin half-truths for the sake of keeping the “process” going. Today Hillary pronounced:

As Vice President Biden said in Israel, we know that to make progress in this region, there must be no gap between the United States and Israel on security. And there will not be. For President Obama, for me, and for this entire administration, our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid.

But is that the impression the Muslim World and Iran, specifically, receive, when they see the U.S. lashing out at Israel? It seems in fact that the purpose of the lashing out was to show that we are not so closely aligned with Israel. Indeed, Clinton declared that, “Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.”

But our credibility demands that we stick by deals (including those on settlements agreed under the Bush administration) and back our friends, regardless of the audience. In that regard, Hillary only seemed to emphasize the chasm between AIPAC-friendly rhetoric and administration policy.

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Defending the Gaza 54

J Street and Peace Now rush to the pages of the Jerusalem Post to defend the letter sent by 54 Democratic congressmen (one subsequently fell off the Israel-bashing bandwagon) calling on the lifting of the Gaza blockade. It’s what we have come to expect from those who find Israel’s reasoned self-defense measures to be gross violations of human rights. It is also deeply misleading. As others have noted:

Note that for the Jerusalem Post, J Street and APN argue that first they were concerned for “Israel’s security,” but the text of the letter indicates that Israel’s security is of little concern. More than 90 percent of the letter deals with the “collective punishment of the Palestinian residents” of Gaza and easing their plight. This accusation of Israel’s “collection punishment” helps explain why J Street failed to condemn the Goldstone Report. This is not a letter from “pro-Israel” sources, but from “pro-Gaza” sources. And in the case of Hamas-occupied Gaza, the two are mutually exclusive.

There always seem to be those — the Gaza-letter brigade and their boosters at J Street, most prominently — who offer themselves as true friends of Israel, knowing better than the Israelis what sacrifices are to be taken. Lift the blockade, they say from the cozy confines of New York, waving off the notion that more Israeli children will die from the bombs smuggled among the “construction supplies” they seek to allow into Gaza.

As if to hammer this home, the Jerusalem Post also offers up the remarks of an actual pro-Israel congressman, Rep. Eliot Engel. He comments on the Israeli government’s decision not to meet with the J Street delegation:

“It’s up to Israeli officials to decide who they will meet with, and who not to meet with,” he said.

He pointed out that a number of the congressmen that J Street brought over vote against Israel on resolutions that generally carry massive support on the House floor.

For instance, two of those congressman – California Democrats Lois Capps and Bob Filner – voted against House Resolution 867 that slammed the Goldstone Report and re-affirmed Israel’s right to self-defense.

Another member of the delegation, Bill Delahunt (D-Massachusetts), voted “present,” while Donald Payne (D-New Jersey) did not vote. The only member of the delegation to back the resolution, deemed in Jerusalem an important pro-Israel resolution, was Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio).

The resolution passed 344-36, with another 22 voting “present,” and 20 not voting.

Engel is also not buying J Street’s “pro-Israel” moniker (well, neither does the J Street gang, as its college group prefers not to use that label):

Engel, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a staunch supporter of Israel in the House, said J Street takes “positions in Washington I have difficulty with.”

Engel said J Street’s statements “over-emphasize” what the organization feels Israel is not doing, “rather than putting the blame squarely where I think it belongs – the Palestinian attitude of denying Israel the right to exist as a Jewish state.”

He continued, “If you look at some of the votes we had in the US Congress pertaining to Israel and the Middle East, there are some people on that [J Street] trip who the government would be unhappy with regarding their votes – and that would be understandable. They probably feel that if people are going to criticize them, they don’t have to facilitate the criticism.”

Yes, what an odd thing indeed for a government to decide for itself how best to defend its population and to decide for itself whether those claiming to have its best interests at heart really do. In the meantime, those who profess to place Israel’s security first might forgo, for starters, the embrace of the Hamas position on Gaza and the aversion to crippling sanctions against the Iranian regime, which would like to eradicate the Jewish state rather than to nibble away at its edges.

J Street and Peace Now rush to the pages of the Jerusalem Post to defend the letter sent by 54 Democratic congressmen (one subsequently fell off the Israel-bashing bandwagon) calling on the lifting of the Gaza blockade. It’s what we have come to expect from those who find Israel’s reasoned self-defense measures to be gross violations of human rights. It is also deeply misleading. As others have noted:

Note that for the Jerusalem Post, J Street and APN argue that first they were concerned for “Israel’s security,” but the text of the letter indicates that Israel’s security is of little concern. More than 90 percent of the letter deals with the “collective punishment of the Palestinian residents” of Gaza and easing their plight. This accusation of Israel’s “collection punishment” helps explain why J Street failed to condemn the Goldstone Report. This is not a letter from “pro-Israel” sources, but from “pro-Gaza” sources. And in the case of Hamas-occupied Gaza, the two are mutually exclusive.

There always seem to be those — the Gaza-letter brigade and their boosters at J Street, most prominently — who offer themselves as true friends of Israel, knowing better than the Israelis what sacrifices are to be taken. Lift the blockade, they say from the cozy confines of New York, waving off the notion that more Israeli children will die from the bombs smuggled among the “construction supplies” they seek to allow into Gaza.

As if to hammer this home, the Jerusalem Post also offers up the remarks of an actual pro-Israel congressman, Rep. Eliot Engel. He comments on the Israeli government’s decision not to meet with the J Street delegation:

“It’s up to Israeli officials to decide who they will meet with, and who not to meet with,” he said.

He pointed out that a number of the congressmen that J Street brought over vote against Israel on resolutions that generally carry massive support on the House floor.

For instance, two of those congressman – California Democrats Lois Capps and Bob Filner – voted against House Resolution 867 that slammed the Goldstone Report and re-affirmed Israel’s right to self-defense.

Another member of the delegation, Bill Delahunt (D-Massachusetts), voted “present,” while Donald Payne (D-New Jersey) did not vote. The only member of the delegation to back the resolution, deemed in Jerusalem an important pro-Israel resolution, was Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio).

The resolution passed 344-36, with another 22 voting “present,” and 20 not voting.

Engel is also not buying J Street’s “pro-Israel” moniker (well, neither does the J Street gang, as its college group prefers not to use that label):

Engel, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a staunch supporter of Israel in the House, said J Street takes “positions in Washington I have difficulty with.”

Engel said J Street’s statements “over-emphasize” what the organization feels Israel is not doing, “rather than putting the blame squarely where I think it belongs – the Palestinian attitude of denying Israel the right to exist as a Jewish state.”

He continued, “If you look at some of the votes we had in the US Congress pertaining to Israel and the Middle East, there are some people on that [J Street] trip who the government would be unhappy with regarding their votes – and that would be understandable. They probably feel that if people are going to criticize them, they don’t have to facilitate the criticism.”

Yes, what an odd thing indeed for a government to decide for itself how best to defend its population and to decide for itself whether those claiming to have its best interests at heart really do. In the meantime, those who profess to place Israel’s security first might forgo, for starters, the embrace of the Hamas position on Gaza and the aversion to crippling sanctions against the Iranian regime, which would like to eradicate the Jewish state rather than to nibble away at its edges.

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The Repulsive Politics of Tom Tancredo

I consider the Tea Party movement to be, on balance, a positive force in American politics. It is a spontaneous and fully justified response to the reckless policies, the fiscal ones in particular, of the Obama administration. It is comprised of admirable and civic-minded Americans. And as Ramesh Ponnuru and Kate O’Beirne point out in National Review, it is, for the GOP, an opportunity rather than a threat.

But it is a movement, like many movements, that carries with it some risks. This weekend we learned, for example, that some Tea Party members are apparently receptive to appeals from the worst angels of our nature. I have in mind the comments at last week’s Tea Party Convention by former Representative Tom Tancredo, who told a cheering audience that “people who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. His name is Barack Hussein Obama.” The reason we elected “Barack Hussein Obama,” Tancredo went on, is “mostly because I think that we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country.”

This is ugly (to say nothing of stupid and ignorant) stuff. It is the manifestation of a person filled with rage and obsessions, bitter and brittle, eager to play to people’s worst instincts. Tancredo — who was a Member of the House of Representatives and ran for president in 2008 — should be condemned by all Republicans who believe that such an individual does not represent the GOP, which, after all, is the party of Lincoln and Reagan. It is inconceivable that either man on his worst day would utter anything remotely this offensive. Both Lincoln and Reagan were politicians of conviction, whose words and conduct were most often marked by grace and civility, who came across as irenic rather than enraged. They were, in other words, the polar opposite of Mr. Tancredo.

There are plenty of legitimate ways to criticize President Obama and his agenda. Leave it to Tom Tancredo to cross the line, not by inches but by miles.

No party, and no movement, should provide a home or a platform to a man who practices this kind of repulsive politics.

I consider the Tea Party movement to be, on balance, a positive force in American politics. It is a spontaneous and fully justified response to the reckless policies, the fiscal ones in particular, of the Obama administration. It is comprised of admirable and civic-minded Americans. And as Ramesh Ponnuru and Kate O’Beirne point out in National Review, it is, for the GOP, an opportunity rather than a threat.

But it is a movement, like many movements, that carries with it some risks. This weekend we learned, for example, that some Tea Party members are apparently receptive to appeals from the worst angels of our nature. I have in mind the comments at last week’s Tea Party Convention by former Representative Tom Tancredo, who told a cheering audience that “people who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. His name is Barack Hussein Obama.” The reason we elected “Barack Hussein Obama,” Tancredo went on, is “mostly because I think that we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country.”

This is ugly (to say nothing of stupid and ignorant) stuff. It is the manifestation of a person filled with rage and obsessions, bitter and brittle, eager to play to people’s worst instincts. Tancredo — who was a Member of the House of Representatives and ran for president in 2008 — should be condemned by all Republicans who believe that such an individual does not represent the GOP, which, after all, is the party of Lincoln and Reagan. It is inconceivable that either man on his worst day would utter anything remotely this offensive. Both Lincoln and Reagan were politicians of conviction, whose words and conduct were most often marked by grace and civility, who came across as irenic rather than enraged. They were, in other words, the polar opposite of Mr. Tancredo.

There are plenty of legitimate ways to criticize President Obama and his agenda. Leave it to Tom Tancredo to cross the line, not by inches but by miles.

No party, and no movement, should provide a home or a platform to a man who practices this kind of repulsive politics.

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Whatever Happened to Donna Brazile?

The wackiest political development this past weekend was the arbitrary division of the Michigan and Florida Democratic Convention delegates. Final result: The delegates will be seated at the convention in August, but each vote will count only half. For one member of the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee, Donna Brazile, this decision should have provoked a lot of ire.

As Al Gore’s presidential campaign manager, Brazile published an op-ed in the Washington Post on December 25, 2000. By then, Gore had conceded the election, but Brazile was still worried enough about alleged voting suppression in Florida to write the following, an attempt to de-legitimize the election results:

I hope the civil rights community will start the healing process by holding town meetings and vigils on Jan. 15, the birthday of Martin Luther King and a federal holiday.

As for me, this was supposed to be my last campaign—my exit from grass-roots politics and moving on to other things to enjoy—such as teaching, cooking and gardening. But how can anyone move on with so many angry voices and so much bitterness? With all the progress made over the past eight years under the leadership of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, we must still fight on and work with Congress and the new administration on fixing what ails some of us at the ballot box.

The question must now be posed to Brazile: how does eliminating half the voting power of the Michigan and Florida voters rectify of ballot-box ailments? Moreover, why should an “uncommitted” vote be automatically awarded to Barack Obama, as it now is resolved to be for 45% of the Democratic voters in Michigan? Brazile’s outlook seems to have changed, without explanation or qualification. According to the Los Angeles Times,

Brazile described herself as wanting to give the two states a voice at the convention, but “I also want to put on the record, because this goes to what my mama taught me . . . that when you decide to change the rules, especially [in the] middle of the game, end of the game, that is referred to as cheating.”

Cheers, boos and applause followed.

Brazile urged the panel to craft a compromise that would “pay tribute” to voters who wrote in candidates or did not go to the polls.

So, since the state parties “cheated,” as Brazile calls it, the voters of each state lose their voting power. Sounds like voter suppression to me! What about the will of the people?

In her 2000 Op-Ed, Brazile ends by suggesting that she will take a much-needed break from politics and take time to turn in upon herself:

But as most Americans prepare for a new political season in Washington, I look forward to cooking and stirring my creole gumbo. After I open my gifts, I will go down to my basement and play favorite songs from my youth—songs that will remind me that the struggle for civil rights in America will never die unless we let it.

What say you now, Donna? Perhaps the time has come for yet another self-indulging trip to the basement.

The wackiest political development this past weekend was the arbitrary division of the Michigan and Florida Democratic Convention delegates. Final result: The delegates will be seated at the convention in August, but each vote will count only half. For one member of the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee, Donna Brazile, this decision should have provoked a lot of ire.

As Al Gore’s presidential campaign manager, Brazile published an op-ed in the Washington Post on December 25, 2000. By then, Gore had conceded the election, but Brazile was still worried enough about alleged voting suppression in Florida to write the following, an attempt to de-legitimize the election results:

I hope the civil rights community will start the healing process by holding town meetings and vigils on Jan. 15, the birthday of Martin Luther King and a federal holiday.

As for me, this was supposed to be my last campaign—my exit from grass-roots politics and moving on to other things to enjoy—such as teaching, cooking and gardening. But how can anyone move on with so many angry voices and so much bitterness? With all the progress made over the past eight years under the leadership of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, we must still fight on and work with Congress and the new administration on fixing what ails some of us at the ballot box.

The question must now be posed to Brazile: how does eliminating half the voting power of the Michigan and Florida voters rectify of ballot-box ailments? Moreover, why should an “uncommitted” vote be automatically awarded to Barack Obama, as it now is resolved to be for 45% of the Democratic voters in Michigan? Brazile’s outlook seems to have changed, without explanation or qualification. According to the Los Angeles Times,

Brazile described herself as wanting to give the two states a voice at the convention, but “I also want to put on the record, because this goes to what my mama taught me . . . that when you decide to change the rules, especially [in the] middle of the game, end of the game, that is referred to as cheating.”

Cheers, boos and applause followed.

Brazile urged the panel to craft a compromise that would “pay tribute” to voters who wrote in candidates or did not go to the polls.

So, since the state parties “cheated,” as Brazile calls it, the voters of each state lose their voting power. Sounds like voter suppression to me! What about the will of the people?

In her 2000 Op-Ed, Brazile ends by suggesting that she will take a much-needed break from politics and take time to turn in upon herself:

But as most Americans prepare for a new political season in Washington, I look forward to cooking and stirring my creole gumbo. After I open my gifts, I will go down to my basement and play favorite songs from my youth—songs that will remind me that the struggle for civil rights in America will never die unless we let it.

What say you now, Donna? Perhaps the time has come for yet another self-indulging trip to the basement.

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Oprah for President

Newsweek reveals the history of Oprah Winfrey and the Trinity United Church of Christ, a story that demonstrates the talk show host’s superior judgment relative to the man she endorsed for president.

In the early 1980′s, Oprah, like Obama, was an ambitious Chicago professional “eager to bond with the movers and shakers in her new hometown’s black community.” She joined Trinity in 1984. But she didn’t last long. Winfrey was a member of the Church for just two years, then began attending services “off and on into the early to the mid-1990s. But then she stopped.” Newsweek reports that it was Wright’s sermonizing which dissuaded her.

That Oprah is a savvy operator isn’t news: she has made herself into one of the most successful and powerful women in the world. What it more importantly tells us is that at least one prominent Church member had a problem with Wright as early as the mid-1980′s, right at around the time Obama’s relationship with Wright was forming. What did Winfrey see in Wright that so disturbed her but that Obama somehow missed or wasn’t bothered by?

“According to two sources, Winfrey was never comfortable with the tone of Wright’s more incendiary sermons, which she knew had the power to damage her standing as America’s favorite daytime talk-show host,” Newsweek reports. This explanation makes Winfrey’s discomfort with Wright sound purely cynical, motivated by a brutal calculation that determined an affiliation with the preacher wasn’t worth the potential cost to her image as a daytime diva.

Maybe so. Yet from my (admittedly limited) knowledge of Oprah, there isn’t much in common with her feel-good, non-sectarian, multicultural positivism and the angry, racist, conspiratorial rantings of Wright. Yes, it was in her interest to dissociate herself from Wright. But, judging by her own stated philosophy, they have very different views of the world. Indeed, Winfrey’s self-transformation into the most popular woman in America (especially with the sort of middle-class, white housewives Obama is having so much trouble attracting) puts a rather large dent into the Jeremiah Wright History of the United States.

Given his thin legislative record, Barack Obama is running on his reputed judgment and personal story. Oprah Winfrey has a personal story to match (not to mention peerless skill in private-sector management, something Obama lacks entirely). Plus, she abandoned Jeremiah Wright long before it was fashionable. If there’s a case for Obama, I don’t see why there isn’t one for Oprah as well. Oprah for President!

Newsweek reveals the history of Oprah Winfrey and the Trinity United Church of Christ, a story that demonstrates the talk show host’s superior judgment relative to the man she endorsed for president.

In the early 1980′s, Oprah, like Obama, was an ambitious Chicago professional “eager to bond with the movers and shakers in her new hometown’s black community.” She joined Trinity in 1984. But she didn’t last long. Winfrey was a member of the Church for just two years, then began attending services “off and on into the early to the mid-1990s. But then she stopped.” Newsweek reports that it was Wright’s sermonizing which dissuaded her.

That Oprah is a savvy operator isn’t news: she has made herself into one of the most successful and powerful women in the world. What it more importantly tells us is that at least one prominent Church member had a problem with Wright as early as the mid-1980′s, right at around the time Obama’s relationship with Wright was forming. What did Winfrey see in Wright that so disturbed her but that Obama somehow missed or wasn’t bothered by?

“According to two sources, Winfrey was never comfortable with the tone of Wright’s more incendiary sermons, which she knew had the power to damage her standing as America’s favorite daytime talk-show host,” Newsweek reports. This explanation makes Winfrey’s discomfort with Wright sound purely cynical, motivated by a brutal calculation that determined an affiliation with the preacher wasn’t worth the potential cost to her image as a daytime diva.

Maybe so. Yet from my (admittedly limited) knowledge of Oprah, there isn’t much in common with her feel-good, non-sectarian, multicultural positivism and the angry, racist, conspiratorial rantings of Wright. Yes, it was in her interest to dissociate herself from Wright. But, judging by her own stated philosophy, they have very different views of the world. Indeed, Winfrey’s self-transformation into the most popular woman in America (especially with the sort of middle-class, white housewives Obama is having so much trouble attracting) puts a rather large dent into the Jeremiah Wright History of the United States.

Given his thin legislative record, Barack Obama is running on his reputed judgment and personal story. Oprah Winfrey has a personal story to match (not to mention peerless skill in private-sector management, something Obama lacks entirely). Plus, she abandoned Jeremiah Wright long before it was fashionable. If there’s a case for Obama, I don’t see why there isn’t one for Oprah as well. Oprah for President!

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Freedom Fighter Called “Terrorist” by INS

Karen DeYoung published a story in the Washington Post that ought to embarrass anyone making decisions about who deserves permanent residence in the U.S.

Saman Kareem Ahmad is an Iraqi Kurd who worked as a translator with the Marines in Iraq’s Anbar Province. He was one of the few selected translators who was granted asylum in the U.S. because he and his family were singled out for destruction by insurgents for “collaboration.” He wants to return to Iraq as an American citizen and a Marine, and has already been awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter and General David Petraeus wrote notes for his file and recommended he be given a Green Card, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) declined his application and called him a “terrorist.”

The INS says Ahmad “conducted full-scale armed attacks and helped incite rebellions against Hussein’s regime, most notably during the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom” while a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

The KDP is one of two mainstream Kurdish political parties in Iraq. Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani is a member of the KDP. The KDP fought alongside the United States military as an ally during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After Operation Desert Storm the KDP fought the Saddam regime after President George H. W. Bush called on Iraqis to do so. During the Iran-Iraq War, the KDP fought the Ba’athists because they were actively resisting genocide in the Kurdish region where Saddam used chemical weapons, artillery, air strikes, and napalm to exterminate them. And he’s a terrorist?

The Kurds in Iraq–unlike the Kurds in Turkey and the ever-popular Palestinians– did not use terrorism as a tactic in their struggle for liberation. They fought honorably against Saddam’s soldiers, not against Arab civilians in south and central Iraq.

The INS revealingly refers to the KDP as an “undesignated” terrorist organization. Which suggests it’s aware that the KDP isn’t a terrorist organization but has unilaterally labeled it as one regardless. The blogger Callimachus thinks it may be because the Patriot Act defines terrorism as “any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place it was committed.” He correctly points out that Jews in Hitler’s Warsaw Ghetto were “terrorists” according to this brainless definition.

This is an absurd inversion of the already absurd “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” slogan. Usually this sophomoric claim is made by terrorists or by leftists who make excuses for terrorists. This time, the INS is calling an actual freedom fighter a terrorist.

Somebody should tell Vice President Dick Cheney. He met with the KDP’s Barzani himself just a few days ago. “That was a unique and interesting opportunity,” he said, “to go look at what’s happened in a part of Iraq that was obviously freed of Saddam Hussein’s influence when the U.S. went in there and established the Operation Provide Comfort at the end of the Gulf War, and then set up the ‘no fly zones,’ and so forth.” Someone might also want to inform President George W. Bush, who invited Ahmad to the White House in 2007.

It’s worth comparing this case with two others.

Sayyed Rahmatullah Hashemi was a spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan, yet he was admitted to Yale University in 2006, though he wasn’t given a green card, as far as I can tell. And just a few days ago, drug-trafficking prostitute and Brazilian national Andreia Schwartz was offered a green card if she would reveal what she knows about former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. But Saman Ahmad faces deportation to a country where actual terrorists threaten to kill him? The law (to say nothing of the INS) truly is “a ass,” as Mr. Bumble once observed.

Karen DeYoung published a story in the Washington Post that ought to embarrass anyone making decisions about who deserves permanent residence in the U.S.

Saman Kareem Ahmad is an Iraqi Kurd who worked as a translator with the Marines in Iraq’s Anbar Province. He was one of the few selected translators who was granted asylum in the U.S. because he and his family were singled out for destruction by insurgents for “collaboration.” He wants to return to Iraq as an American citizen and a Marine, and has already been awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter and General David Petraeus wrote notes for his file and recommended he be given a Green Card, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) declined his application and called him a “terrorist.”

The INS says Ahmad “conducted full-scale armed attacks and helped incite rebellions against Hussein’s regime, most notably during the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom” while a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

The KDP is one of two mainstream Kurdish political parties in Iraq. Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani is a member of the KDP. The KDP fought alongside the United States military as an ally during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After Operation Desert Storm the KDP fought the Saddam regime after President George H. W. Bush called on Iraqis to do so. During the Iran-Iraq War, the KDP fought the Ba’athists because they were actively resisting genocide in the Kurdish region where Saddam used chemical weapons, artillery, air strikes, and napalm to exterminate them. And he’s a terrorist?

The Kurds in Iraq–unlike the Kurds in Turkey and the ever-popular Palestinians– did not use terrorism as a tactic in their struggle for liberation. They fought honorably against Saddam’s soldiers, not against Arab civilians in south and central Iraq.

The INS revealingly refers to the KDP as an “undesignated” terrorist organization. Which suggests it’s aware that the KDP isn’t a terrorist organization but has unilaterally labeled it as one regardless. The blogger Callimachus thinks it may be because the Patriot Act defines terrorism as “any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place it was committed.” He correctly points out that Jews in Hitler’s Warsaw Ghetto were “terrorists” according to this brainless definition.

This is an absurd inversion of the already absurd “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” slogan. Usually this sophomoric claim is made by terrorists or by leftists who make excuses for terrorists. This time, the INS is calling an actual freedom fighter a terrorist.

Somebody should tell Vice President Dick Cheney. He met with the KDP’s Barzani himself just a few days ago. “That was a unique and interesting opportunity,” he said, “to go look at what’s happened in a part of Iraq that was obviously freed of Saddam Hussein’s influence when the U.S. went in there and established the Operation Provide Comfort at the end of the Gulf War, and then set up the ‘no fly zones,’ and so forth.” Someone might also want to inform President George W. Bush, who invited Ahmad to the White House in 2007.

It’s worth comparing this case with two others.

Sayyed Rahmatullah Hashemi was a spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan, yet he was admitted to Yale University in 2006, though he wasn’t given a green card, as far as I can tell. And just a few days ago, drug-trafficking prostitute and Brazilian national Andreia Schwartz was offered a green card if she would reveal what she knows about former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. But Saman Ahmad faces deportation to a country where actual terrorists threaten to kill him? The law (to say nothing of the INS) truly is “a ass,” as Mr. Bumble once observed.

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Helping the Iranian People

On Wednesday, Iran’s Guardian Council, the country’s constitutional watchdog, said that it had reinstated more than 280 candidates for the March 14 parliamentary elections. Earlier, more than 2,200 contenders, most of them reformists, had been disqualified, including a grandson of Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s theocracy. The hardline Council may accept additional names in the next few weeks, when it will publish a final list of individuals eligible to run. There will be only a week of official campaigning.

The result is already foreordained: the disqualifications ensure that supporters of the unpopular president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will dominate the legislative body. At best, insurgents can win a tenth of the seats. Consequently, there will not be too much suspense on election night next month in the Islamic Republic. And don’t expect Wolf Blitzer to be announcing precinct-by-precinct results.

Electoral contests in tightly controlled regimes are never about outcome, of course. Turnout is the key factor. Autocrats always seek high participation levels to legitimize their rule, while dissidents change tactics, sometimes competing in rigged contests and at other moments shunning them. History tells us there is no one correct strategy for people who want to upend an odious government, and I do not know what ordinary Iranians should do between now and the 14th of next month.

“We have no such thing as majority rule in Islam,” said one elected member of Iran’s parliament a few years ago. Or as Khomeini himself once declared, “What we should have in mind is the satisfaction of God, not the satisfaction of the people.” Fortunately for us, that ayatollah’s doctrine ensures that theocratic governments will fail after initial fervor passes. The Iranian Revolution will be three decades old next year, and the corrupt and tired government that it left in its wake is sustaining itself primarily through oil and gas revenues, appeals to patriotism, and the support of big-power sponsors China and Russia. The Iranian people not only have to struggle against their own theocrats but also against the authoritarians in Moscow and Beijing.

There may be little we can do internally to affect the balance of power between the people and their rulers, but we certainly have the means to help Iranians by convincing the Russians and Chinese to withdraw their support for the government in Tehran. Regime change in the Islamic Republic is inevitable, but it can only happen soon if we do our part at this moment.

On Wednesday, Iran’s Guardian Council, the country’s constitutional watchdog, said that it had reinstated more than 280 candidates for the March 14 parliamentary elections. Earlier, more than 2,200 contenders, most of them reformists, had been disqualified, including a grandson of Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s theocracy. The hardline Council may accept additional names in the next few weeks, when it will publish a final list of individuals eligible to run. There will be only a week of official campaigning.

The result is already foreordained: the disqualifications ensure that supporters of the unpopular president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will dominate the legislative body. At best, insurgents can win a tenth of the seats. Consequently, there will not be too much suspense on election night next month in the Islamic Republic. And don’t expect Wolf Blitzer to be announcing precinct-by-precinct results.

Electoral contests in tightly controlled regimes are never about outcome, of course. Turnout is the key factor. Autocrats always seek high participation levels to legitimize their rule, while dissidents change tactics, sometimes competing in rigged contests and at other moments shunning them. History tells us there is no one correct strategy for people who want to upend an odious government, and I do not know what ordinary Iranians should do between now and the 14th of next month.

“We have no such thing as majority rule in Islam,” said one elected member of Iran’s parliament a few years ago. Or as Khomeini himself once declared, “What we should have in mind is the satisfaction of God, not the satisfaction of the people.” Fortunately for us, that ayatollah’s doctrine ensures that theocratic governments will fail after initial fervor passes. The Iranian Revolution will be three decades old next year, and the corrupt and tired government that it left in its wake is sustaining itself primarily through oil and gas revenues, appeals to patriotism, and the support of big-power sponsors China and Russia. The Iranian people not only have to struggle against their own theocrats but also against the authoritarians in Moscow and Beijing.

There may be little we can do internally to affect the balance of power between the people and their rulers, but we certainly have the means to help Iranians by convincing the Russians and Chinese to withdraw their support for the government in Tehran. Regime change in the Islamic Republic is inevitable, but it can only happen soon if we do our part at this moment.

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Israel to Elections?

So, against my predictions, the Winograd Commission report came and went, and Ehud Olmert’s government weathered the storm, right? Not so fast. It is true that, to everyone’s astonishment, the report essentially gave Olmert a much-needed bye, and his biggest coalition partner, Ehud Barak of the Labor party, announced he is not resigning for now. But last week Israel was awash in scandal, when a member of the esteemed commission, Yehezkel Dror, implied in an interview that the commission’s findings were skewed towards protecting Olmert’s government for political reasons. As he put it, “If we believe that the prime minister could promote the peace process, this is quite a lofty consideration. If the peace process succeeds, this could save so many lives, and therefore this is a substantial consideration.” If the message were not clear enough, Dror added the following: “What would you prefer? A government under Olmert and Barak, or new elections that would see Bibi [Netanyahu] rise to power?” Subtle.

But the most important news comes from a third party in the coalition, Shas, which holds twelve seats and can bring down the government on its own. Thursday, the head of the party, Eli Yishai, told his supporters that “I don’t know how long this government will last. I estimate that soon we will have elections.” According to radio reports, Yishai also instructed his party’s local branches to begin preparations for elections this coming November — a year and a half earlier than scheduled. Ehud Barak has also hinted that he is leaning towards early elections.

There are good reasons to think that this is not just posturing. True, historically speaking Shas is one of the least likely parties to bring down a government — its main goal in life is to secure maximum government funding for its religious schools, and being in opposition is not very good for that. But today Olmert’s government is deeply unpopular, reeking of both corruption and incompetence. In such a case, parties that cling to the government do so at their peril: As soon as one party seriously considers bolting under popular pressure, the other stands to be left clinging to a sinking ship — and voters will punish those who didn’t leave when they had the chance. The result is that contrary to ordinary politics, where parties hold on to power as long as they can, prophecies of a falling government are often self-fulfilling, as each party jockeys for the best advantage in the next election. Stay tuned.

So, against my predictions, the Winograd Commission report came and went, and Ehud Olmert’s government weathered the storm, right? Not so fast. It is true that, to everyone’s astonishment, the report essentially gave Olmert a much-needed bye, and his biggest coalition partner, Ehud Barak of the Labor party, announced he is not resigning for now. But last week Israel was awash in scandal, when a member of the esteemed commission, Yehezkel Dror, implied in an interview that the commission’s findings were skewed towards protecting Olmert’s government for political reasons. As he put it, “If we believe that the prime minister could promote the peace process, this is quite a lofty consideration. If the peace process succeeds, this could save so many lives, and therefore this is a substantial consideration.” If the message were not clear enough, Dror added the following: “What would you prefer? A government under Olmert and Barak, or new elections that would see Bibi [Netanyahu] rise to power?” Subtle.

But the most important news comes from a third party in the coalition, Shas, which holds twelve seats and can bring down the government on its own. Thursday, the head of the party, Eli Yishai, told his supporters that “I don’t know how long this government will last. I estimate that soon we will have elections.” According to radio reports, Yishai also instructed his party’s local branches to begin preparations for elections this coming November — a year and a half earlier than scheduled. Ehud Barak has also hinted that he is leaning towards early elections.

There are good reasons to think that this is not just posturing. True, historically speaking Shas is one of the least likely parties to bring down a government — its main goal in life is to secure maximum government funding for its religious schools, and being in opposition is not very good for that. But today Olmert’s government is deeply unpopular, reeking of both corruption and incompetence. In such a case, parties that cling to the government do so at their peril: As soon as one party seriously considers bolting under popular pressure, the other stands to be left clinging to a sinking ship — and voters will punish those who didn’t leave when they had the chance. The result is that contrary to ordinary politics, where parties hold on to power as long as they can, prophecies of a falling government are often self-fulfilling, as each party jockeys for the best advantage in the next election. Stay tuned.

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Partition v. Decentralization

The U.S. Senate has passed a nonbinding resolution sponsored by Joe Biden calling on Iraq to be partitioned among Sunni, Shia, and Kurds. This idea has many problems, which I enumerated in my COMMENTARY article How Not to Get out of Iraq. Among the most salient of these is that most Iraqis still do not want such a division. As this New York Times article reports:

At a joint news conference on Sunday, six diverse political parties that are discussing the removal of the current government objected to a divided Iraq.

“We think this would complicate the security problem and Iraq would undertake a long-term war and a civil war more than we have witnessed already,” said Basim Shareef, a member of the Fadhila Party, told reporters.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Iraq should be a tightly centralized state with every facet controlled from Baghdad, as was the case under the Baathist regime. Pretty much everyone agrees on the need for a large degree of federalism. This isn’t just a pipe dream. It’s actually happening, as noted in another New York Times article, which finds that Baghdad is sending more money to the provinces and the provincial governments are getting better at using it. The whole article is well worth a read, insofar as it focuses on a positive, and often overlooked, development in Iraq: the slow emergence of a semi-functioning representative government.

The U.S. Senate has passed a nonbinding resolution sponsored by Joe Biden calling on Iraq to be partitioned among Sunni, Shia, and Kurds. This idea has many problems, which I enumerated in my COMMENTARY article How Not to Get out of Iraq. Among the most salient of these is that most Iraqis still do not want such a division. As this New York Times article reports:

At a joint news conference on Sunday, six diverse political parties that are discussing the removal of the current government objected to a divided Iraq.

“We think this would complicate the security problem and Iraq would undertake a long-term war and a civil war more than we have witnessed already,” said Basim Shareef, a member of the Fadhila Party, told reporters.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Iraq should be a tightly centralized state with every facet controlled from Baghdad, as was the case under the Baathist regime. Pretty much everyone agrees on the need for a large degree of federalism. This isn’t just a pipe dream. It’s actually happening, as noted in another New York Times article, which finds that Baghdad is sending more money to the provinces and the provincial governments are getting better at using it. The whole article is well worth a read, insofar as it focuses on a positive, and often overlooked, development in Iraq: the slow emergence of a semi-functioning representative government.

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Against Navarrette the Nativist

Should the armed forces be free to enlist foreign-born recruits who are not already U.S. citizens or permanent residents? I’ve argued so on multiple occasions (see here, here, and here) because I think this would be a terrific way to expand the pool of high-quality, eligible soldiers and provide a new path toward citizenship for many aspiring Americans, while also expanding the foreign-area expertise of our armed forces.

Ruben Navarrette, Jr., a member of the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, disagrees. He has written a column, posted on CNN’s website, which argues against “turning illegal immigrants into cannon fodder.” To make his case, he cites Jose Carranza, an illegal immigrant from Peru who has been accused of crimes ranging from child rape to murder. “If half the things they say about this creep are true,” Navarrette writes, “Carranza belongs on death row. But guess what? He sure doesn’t belong on an Army recruitment poster, or handling heavy artillery.”

I was thinking of replying to this specious argument when I received an email from Margaret Stock, a military reservist and attorney who is an associate professor at West Point, pointing out the flaws with Navarrette’s logic better than I could. She agreed to let me share her letter with contentions readers:

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Should the armed forces be free to enlist foreign-born recruits who are not already U.S. citizens or permanent residents? I’ve argued so on multiple occasions (see here, here, and here) because I think this would be a terrific way to expand the pool of high-quality, eligible soldiers and provide a new path toward citizenship for many aspiring Americans, while also expanding the foreign-area expertise of our armed forces.

Ruben Navarrette, Jr., a member of the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, disagrees. He has written a column, posted on CNN’s website, which argues against “turning illegal immigrants into cannon fodder.” To make his case, he cites Jose Carranza, an illegal immigrant from Peru who has been accused of crimes ranging from child rape to murder. “If half the things they say about this creep are true,” Navarrette writes, “Carranza belongs on death row. But guess what? He sure doesn’t belong on an Army recruitment poster, or handling heavy artillery.”

I was thinking of replying to this specious argument when I received an email from Margaret Stock, a military reservist and attorney who is an associate professor at West Point, pointing out the flaws with Navarrette’s logic better than I could. She agreed to let me share her letter with contentions readers:

Dear Mr. Navarrette,

I was shocked and appalled to read your column on CNN today, I cannot fathom the misplaced stereotypes about the military (and immigrants serving in the military) that went into this column.

Believe it or not, the Army actually has standards for enlistment. The Army does not take just anyone. Criminals who cannot speak English and rape 5 year olds are not permitted to enlist in the Army, even if they are native-born US citizens.

Non-citizens have been permitted to enlist in the United States Army for decades, and on the whole, they have been better behaved than their native-born US citizen counterparts. There’s a study on this issue, found on the Center for Naval Analyses website (Non-citizens in the Military, April 2005). But all non-citizens who enlist must meet stringent enlistment requirements, including passing background checks, being fingerprinted, and undergoing physical, medical, and psychological exams.

During wartime, undocumented immigrants have been permitted to enlist in the U.S. military—provided they meet the standards that every other recruit must meet. If they serve honorably, they can obtain expedited US citizenship. Please note the requirement that they serve honorably–which includes not being convicted of crimes while they are serving. And they are not permitted to enlist at all if they are criminals.

Your suggestion that the Army would enlist someone with a record like Jose Carranza’s is nothing short of insulting.

Frankly, I am surprised that someone of your caliber would suggest than the Army has no standards for recruiting soldiers. I’m equally appalled that you would refer to people like me as “cannon fodder.” In fact, today’s Army soldier must be physically fit, highly intelligent, skilled in the complexities of modern warfare, law-abiding, and able to work successfully as a member of a team under conditions of incredible stress and in diverse climates and cultures. “Cannon fodder” is a derogatory term that shows a deep ignorance of the requirements of the modern Army.

Sincerely,
Margaret D. Stock
Lieutenant Colonel, Military Police Corps, US Army Reserve
Harvard College ’85, Harvard Law School ’92, Kennedy School of Gov’t ’01)

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Female Terrorism

The New York Times has another front-page story on the UK bombings today by Alan Cowell, who has a joint byline with Raymond Bonner. Is there a new spin today like there was in yesterday’s front-page story? Perhaps, but if so, its veers off in a strange direction.

The two Timesmen note that a woman has been arrested in the plot. They cite an unnamed Western official saying this is “not surprising,” as women have been previously arrested for failing to report suspects to the police. But the same anonymous official is then paraphrased saying that if the seized woman had been “directly involved in a terrorist attack on a Western country, it would be highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented.” The official is also quoted saying, “We’ve always worked on the assumption, given that many women share the same ideology as the men, that it was only a matter of time before women became involved.”

This official requested anonymity, reports the Times, “because he was not authorized to brief reporters.” But why was he not authorized? We are not told. But one reason might be that he is too ignorant to be a spokesman. If so, the Times reporters themselves did not catch on.

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The New York Times has another front-page story on the UK bombings today by Alan Cowell, who has a joint byline with Raymond Bonner. Is there a new spin today like there was in yesterday’s front-page story? Perhaps, but if so, its veers off in a strange direction.

The two Timesmen note that a woman has been arrested in the plot. They cite an unnamed Western official saying this is “not surprising,” as women have been previously arrested for failing to report suspects to the police. But the same anonymous official is then paraphrased saying that if the seized woman had been “directly involved in a terrorist attack on a Western country, it would be highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented.” The official is also quoted saying, “We’ve always worked on the assumption, given that many women share the same ideology as the men, that it was only a matter of time before women became involved.”

This official requested anonymity, reports the Times, “because he was not authorized to brief reporters.” But why was he not authorized? We are not told. But one reason might be that he is too ignorant to be a spokesman. If so, the Times reporters themselves did not catch on.

To begin with, if we define “Western countries” broadly to include Israel and Russia, there have been a wealth of attacks in which women have played central roles. Israel has faced a slew of female suicide bombers over the years, with the first such attack taking place against its forces in Lebanon in 1985, killing two soldiers.

In Russia, “black widows,” Chechen women whose husbands or other close relatives have been killed fighting Russian security forces, have played prominent roles in a whole series of brutal terrorist attacks. A large proportion of the 42 terrorists who seized a Moscow theater in 2002 were women; 129 of the 700 or so hostages they seized perished. Two Russian airliners that were downed by bombs simultaneously in 2004 are also thought to have been set off by Chechen women. Part of the evidence: their bodies were the only two that went unclaimed.

But if we speak of the West proper, there is West Germany, which was plagued in the 1970’s by the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhoff gang. Ulrike Marie Meinhof, who engaged in numerous acts of terrorism and also served as the group’s theoretician, was of course a woman. Irmgard Möller and Margrit Schiller were among her female accomplices in terrorist actions that took the lives of some 34 people.

But the most interesting case concerns England itself. In 1969, Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, took part in the simultaneous hijacking of four aircraft to Jordan known as Black September. In 1970, she attempted to hijack an El Al Flight heading from Amsterdam to New York. Israeli skymarshals killed one of her compatriots and overpowered her, and the flight made an emergency landing at Heathrow airport in London.

Khaled was delivered to the British police, who treated her practically like visiting royalty. Her first visitor in jail was an immigration officer who wanted to know why she had arrived in the country without a visa. Within the month, the British had released her. “When I left, they took me on a helicopter tour, saying: ‘You must see the sights of London before you go.’”

Khaled left for Jordan, but became a regular visitor to England where she made speaking engagements, and where she was lionized by left-wing British journalists. Several months before September 11, 2001 she was interviewed by the Guardian, declaring that airline hijackings were a thing of the past and recalling her fond memories of her month in police custody, “where she played badminton with her guards, while attempting to win them over to the Palestinian cause.”

What goes around evidently comes around, sometimes in a different form. But the Timesmen know nothing of this history. There is a reason why journalism is called history’s first draft—it is often in severe need of editing.

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Free, First-Rate Manhattan Music

The cost of high culture in music has long troubled audiences. High ticket prices can discourage a much-needed spirit of adventure in concert programming by inducing managers to restrict performers to familiar, crowd-pleasing work. Music lovers sometimes feel themselves doomed to hear the same Beethoven cycles by the same arthritic pianists and string quartets, or the same Dvořák concerto by a cellist who played it better a quarter-century ago.

Happily, there is a splendid alternative awaiting anyone with a bit of time and an appetite for the unexpected: the free recitals and performances offered by students at conservatories like Juilliard, Mannes, and the Manhattan School of Music, as well as the CUNY Graduate Center. Many of these performers are top-level talents who, because of the vagaries of the classical music business, may disappear into a regional or foreign orchestra and rarely be heard again in solo recitals here; very few will have major recording careers. Failing to hear them now, at the peak of their training and youthful ambition, means possibly never hearing them again. So here are a choice few of these upcoming events, all free:

• On May 17 at Juilliard’s Morse Hall a concert will be given by the Manitoba-born cellist Victoria Bass, who specializes in music by modern masters such as György Ligeti and Witold Lutosławski, but also performs her own arrangements of Handel and Bach. She is a member of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, whose website announces that as a girl in Manitoba, Bass would “go out into the fields and tip over sleeping cows.” (Thanks to Juilliard, Bass’s concert is as free as her spirit.)

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The cost of high culture in music has long troubled audiences. High ticket prices can discourage a much-needed spirit of adventure in concert programming by inducing managers to restrict performers to familiar, crowd-pleasing work. Music lovers sometimes feel themselves doomed to hear the same Beethoven cycles by the same arthritic pianists and string quartets, or the same Dvořák concerto by a cellist who played it better a quarter-century ago.

Happily, there is a splendid alternative awaiting anyone with a bit of time and an appetite for the unexpected: the free recitals and performances offered by students at conservatories like Juilliard, Mannes, and the Manhattan School of Music, as well as the CUNY Graduate Center. Many of these performers are top-level talents who, because of the vagaries of the classical music business, may disappear into a regional or foreign orchestra and rarely be heard again in solo recitals here; very few will have major recording careers. Failing to hear them now, at the peak of their training and youthful ambition, means possibly never hearing them again. So here are a choice few of these upcoming events, all free:

• On May 17 at Juilliard’s Morse Hall a concert will be given by the Manitoba-born cellist Victoria Bass, who specializes in music by modern masters such as György Ligeti and Witold Lutosławski, but also performs her own arrangements of Handel and Bach. She is a member of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, whose website announces that as a girl in Manitoba, Bass would “go out into the fields and tip over sleeping cows.” (Thanks to Juilliard, Bass’s concert is as free as her spirit.)

• Juilliard also offers two programs, one from its pre-college orchestra and one from its pre-college symphony, played by high-school students and a smattering of gifted pre-teens. Among the Juilliard pre-college division’s wonders is the pianist and composer Conrad Tao, born in 1994, whose works and pianism, available on CD on his own website, are expressive and preternaturally accomplished.

• Juilliard is not the only place to experience music at a high level for free. The New School’s Mannes School of Music is presenting on May 19 a concert by the Mannes Philharmonic and Senior Chorus of music by Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.

• The Manhattan School of Music is especially generous to its audience, presenting from May 17 to 19 free performances of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into The Woods by the school’s musical theatre ensemble, while on May 31, the CUNY Graduate Center will offer the soprano Brooke Bryant—a student of early music—in recital of the music of Baroque women composers.

If you like what you hear at these and other free concerts, and have the means, why not make a voluntary contribution to the particular school’s scholarship fund? That would be the best way to give thanks for these student performers and their generosity, which has become all-too-unexpected in the heavily commercialized climate of classical music.

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The Centrist and the Nationalist

On Sunday, France will hold its first round of balloting for a new president. This is the last in a series of three posts on the leading candidates by the French editor and journalist Michel Gurfinkiel. His longer and more in-depth look at the condition of present-day France will be coming out in the May issue of COMMENTARY, and is now available on our website.

François Bayrou—a devout Catholic, a horsebreeder, and the holder of advanced degrees in historyis a centrist. Politically, he belongs to a Christian-Democratic sub-current that was very powerful in the 1950’s before being crushed by the polarized Right-Left system forced upon the country by Charles de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic. While many Christian Democrats joined the Gaullist Right, and others the socialists, a small group managed to survive under several successive names and acronyms. The UDF (Union for French Democracy), originally a conservative coalition supporting Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, is now Bayrou’s base. Having served as minister of education from 1993 to 1997, he represented the UDF in the 2002 presidential election and surprisingly gathered almost 7 percent of the vote: not bad for the “non-candidate” of a “non-party.”

Bayrou was convinced he stood a real chance for the presidency—provided he could distance the UDF and himself entirely from the traditional Right. This he proceeded to do, at some cost in supporters—but he didn’t care. Once a declared presidential candidate, he stubbornly railed against the disproportionate (in his opinion) media coverage of Sarkozy and Royal, finally winning his point and (according to some reports) garnering more coverage on radio and TV than any other candidate.

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On Sunday, France will hold its first round of balloting for a new president. This is the last in a series of three posts on the leading candidates by the French editor and journalist Michel Gurfinkiel. His longer and more in-depth look at the condition of present-day France will be coming out in the May issue of COMMENTARY, and is now available on our website.

François Bayrou—a devout Catholic, a horsebreeder, and the holder of advanced degrees in historyis a centrist. Politically, he belongs to a Christian-Democratic sub-current that was very powerful in the 1950’s before being crushed by the polarized Right-Left system forced upon the country by Charles de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic. While many Christian Democrats joined the Gaullist Right, and others the socialists, a small group managed to survive under several successive names and acronyms. The UDF (Union for French Democracy), originally a conservative coalition supporting Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, is now Bayrou’s base. Having served as minister of education from 1993 to 1997, he represented the UDF in the 2002 presidential election and surprisingly gathered almost 7 percent of the vote: not bad for the “non-candidate” of a “non-party.”

Bayrou was convinced he stood a real chance for the presidency—provided he could distance the UDF and himself entirely from the traditional Right. This he proceeded to do, at some cost in supporters—but he didn’t care. Once a declared presidential candidate, he stubbornly railed against the disproportionate (in his opinion) media coverage of Sarkozy and Royal, finally winning his point and (according to some reports) garnering more coverage on radio and TV than any other candidate.

But the decisive factor for Bayrou was that Royal’s candidacy began to fall apart. As some socialists came to see the UDF as a lesser-of-two-evils alternative to Sarkozy, parts of the electorate switched to Bayrou’s side. By the beginning of March, he was at over 20 percent in the polls, and it began to seem possible that he might outstrip Royal on the first ballot, and then, as the only challenger to Sarkozy, begin to attract the centrist, the left-wing, and even the far-Right vote to beat the UMP candidate.

What would Bayrou’s politics be as president? He has contended that only a national-unity government—“like de Gaulle’s in 1944, which included the democratic Right as well as socialists and Communists”—will be able to deal with the French domestic crisis. In his belief, this national government should be balanced by stronger regional and local powers, their configurations based on history and culture as well geography. A supporter of a federal Europe, Bayrou nevertheless opposes the accession of Turkey to the EU. He has also expressed adamant support for Chirac’s anti-Iraq-war line, as do most French citizens. Regarding Israel, he has stated that “in the wake of the Shoah, all of mankind is a partner in the Jewish people’s decision to recover a land,” while adding that “We must . . . find some balance between the state established by yesterday’s humiliated Jews and the one that today’s humiliated Palestinians must establish.”

In February, alarmed by the prospect of Bayrou’s rise, Royal and Sarkozy resolved to bring in a fourth man whom they had hitherto kept at bay: Jean-Marie Le Pen.

It had seemed up to this point that Le Pen might not muster enough endorsements to qualify for the first ballot, but Bayrou’s surge prompted both camps to hint publicly that to deny Le Pen a chance to run would be bad for democracy. The needed signatures were finally gathered, and the National Front rose in the polls from 12 percent of the putative votes to 14 percent by the end of March. Some suspected that Le Pen’s real level of support was even higher, between 16 and 20 percent. (At that point, Bayrou’s numbers had stalled at about 20 percent, and both Sarkozy and Royal stood at 26 percent.)

There was, however, more to Le Pen’s resurrection than mere political jockeying. The old man had embarked on a drastic makeover: from a reactionary nativist whose main concern was to stop immigration and clear the reputation of the wartime Vichy regime to a Hugo Chavez-style populist promoting a Europe-third-world alliance against America. As long ago as 1999, Samuel Maréchal, one of Le Pen’s sons-in-law, had stated that one had to admit that France was becoming “a multiethnic and multireligious society,” and that “Islam was now France’s second religion.” This was greeted with an outcry of protest among the Front’s rank and file.

Seven years later, Jean-Claude Martinez, a National Front member of the European Parliament and Le Pen’s “strategic adviser,” reiterated Maréchal’s challenge, arguing that the National Front must adjust to globalization, forget about some of its founding myths, and welcome immigrant blacks and Arabs into the national fold. He even expressed enthusiasm for hip-hop, a form dominated in France by Arab and black performers, as long as the lyrics were sung in French. This time, there was no outcry. In the wake of the extended European crisis over the Danish “Muhammad” cartoons, the National Front sided with the Muslims, demanding that “religious sensibilities must be respected.”

Le Pen’s shift has led to breakaways from the National Front but also to new arrivals in the form of young men and women nurtured in France’s anti-American and anti-Zionist pop culture, Muslims who relished Le Pen’s anti-Semitic innuendos and his support for Saddam Hussein, and black-power militants. At the outset of the 2007 presidential campaign, the National Front went a step further, putting up large billboards featuring a sexy young girl of North African descent and a sharp anti-elitist caption: “They’re all wrong!” Chavez could not have put it better.

And so to Sunday’s balloting, from which two front-runners will emerge to battle it out in the second round of voting on May 6.

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Israel and the German Bishops

“In the morning at Yad Vashem, photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto; in the afternoon, we go to the ghetto in Ramallah. It’s enough to make you blow your top.” This outburst in Bethlehem by Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt was only one of several provocative comments made during a much-heralded pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian terroritories by all 27 German Catholic bishops last week.

The Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, accused the Israelis of “racism,” while the most senior member of the delegation, the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, compared Israel’s security fence to the Berlin Wall and predicted that it, too, would be torn down. “This is something that is done to animals, not people,” Cardinal Meisner declared.

While in Israel, the bishops were given VIP treatment by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other senior officials. At the Yad Vashem memorial, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, gave a respectful speech. But the tone changed dramatically after the bishops left Israel and entered Palestinian-controlled territory.

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“In the morning at Yad Vashem, photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto; in the afternoon, we go to the ghetto in Ramallah. It’s enough to make you blow your top.” This outburst in Bethlehem by Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt was only one of several provocative comments made during a much-heralded pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian terroritories by all 27 German Catholic bishops last week.

The Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, accused the Israelis of “racism,” while the most senior member of the delegation, the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, compared Israel’s security fence to the Berlin Wall and predicted that it, too, would be torn down. “This is something that is done to animals, not people,” Cardinal Meisner declared.

While in Israel, the bishops were given VIP treatment by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other senior officials. At the Yad Vashem memorial, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, gave a respectful speech. But the tone changed dramatically after the bishops left Israel and entered Palestinian-controlled territory.

Despite sharp reactions from Shimon Stein, the Israeli ambassador to Germany, and from German Jewish leaders (described by the Iranian news agency as “German Zionist lobbyists”), the bishops seem unrepentant. They issued a statement vehemently denying that they had “demonized” Israel, adding that the “emotional consternation” of their visit to Bethlehem had evoked some “very personal remarks” that had already been “self-critically corrected.” In fact, however, Bishop Hanke merely said that “comparisons between the Holocaust and the present situation in Palestine are unacceptable and were not intended.” Neither he nor Cardinal Meisner and Bishop Mixa offered any apology.

I do not know what to make of this lamentable tale. Do the German bishops really need to be reminded of the collaboration with the Nazis of many of their predecessors during the Third Reich? Do they need to be reminded of what the Germans actually did in the Warsaw Ghetto? Does an East German like Cardinal Meisner need to be reminded of the difference between the Berlin Wall, built to stop people fleeing from Communist tyranny, and Israel’s fence, built to protect its people from Palestinian terrorists? Do the German bishops still know so little of the tragic struggle for survival of the Jewish people that they need to be reminded of their own unique responsibility, as Germans and as Christians, to counter the revival of anti-Semitism in Europe?

I hope that Pope Benedict XVI will summon the offending bishops to Rome and discipline them. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he encouraged John Paul II to make unprecedented gestures toward the Jewish people and the state of Israel. As the first German pope for a thousand years, he declared his intention to continue to lead the Church down the path of reconciliation. As a man who knows the Third Reich from personal experience—he was a member of the Hitler Youth and served in an anti-aircraft unit during the last months of the war—Pope Benedict has a special duty to distance the Catholic Church from comparisons between Israel and the Nazis. Such comparisons, though commonplace in the Islamic world, are not a Muslim monopoly.

This incident has a particular resonance for me, as a philo-Semitic Catholic, a friend both of Israel and of Germany. Quite simply, I feel ashamed of these bishops. Nobody wants the Germans to be perpetually beating their breasts to atone for the crimes of the Nazis. Like anybody else, they are entitled to criticize the Israeli government. After all, Israelis themselves criticize their own government all the time. But I am angry that German bishops, of all people, should come out with extremist propaganda that delegitimizes Israel, a state that is threatened with a second Holocaust at the hands of a nuclear-armed Iran.

These campaigns of vilification against Israel have done terrible harm. A new BBC poll conducted in 27 countries finds that Israel has the most negative image of all, ahead of Iran, the United States, and North Korea. This grotesque attitude to the beleaguered Jewish state is fuelled by comments like those of the German bishops, and reinforced by their failure to apologize.

In medieval times, Christians knew how to do penance for their sins. The German Emperor Henry IV went to Canossa, in Tuscany, to beg Pope Gregory VII to lift a sentence of excommunication. The monarch stood in the snow outside the castle for three days, wearing only a hairshirt, before the pope forgave him.

To repair the damage they have done to German-Israeli and Catholic-Jewish relations, these three German bishops must make their own journey to Canossa. They don’t have to wear hairshirts, but they do need to show that they have grasped the magnitude of their folly. They owe that much to the younger generation of Germans—some of whom last week destroyed a medieval Jewish cemetery in Bavaria.

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