Commentary Magazine


Topic: Memorial Day

Memorial Day: Let Us Finish the Work

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that the United States has fought in the last 14 years have not been popular. The consensus that initially backed U.S. intervention in the region quickly evaporated and became a victim of partisanship once it became clear the fighting there is part of a generations-long conflict that can’t be easily won.

Nor, it must be conceded, is it certain that the sacrifices made by American forces in those countries will have made a lasting impact on the region or the struggle against Islamist terror if the current administration’s desire to retreat at all costs eventually leads to a revival of the fortunes of freedom’s foes. But if there is one point on which all Americans can and should unite it is in praise and support of the brave Americans who serve our nation at the risk of their own lives.

It is out of the tragedy of these recent wars that at least some Americans have regained a sense of the importance of Memorial Day. While for many Americans, the date is merely a long weekend or the first harbinger of summer vacations, for all too many it is a day to remember loved ones and friends who have made the ultimate sacrifice for America.

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The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that the United States has fought in the last 14 years have not been popular. The consensus that initially backed U.S. intervention in the region quickly evaporated and became a victim of partisanship once it became clear the fighting there is part of a generations-long conflict that can’t be easily won.

Nor, it must be conceded, is it certain that the sacrifices made by American forces in those countries will have made a lasting impact on the region or the struggle against Islamist terror if the current administration’s desire to retreat at all costs eventually leads to a revival of the fortunes of freedom’s foes. But if there is one point on which all Americans can and should unite it is in praise and support of the brave Americans who serve our nation at the risk of their own lives.

It is out of the tragedy of these recent wars that at least some Americans have regained a sense of the importance of Memorial Day. While for many Americans, the date is merely a long weekend or the first harbinger of summer vacations, for all too many it is a day to remember loved ones and friends who have made the ultimate sacrifice for America.

Memorial Day grew out of the effort to memorialize the hundreds of thousands who died in the slaughter of the Civil War. But it is now a day on which we can recall the heroism of many generations of Americans who helped build a nation based on the concept of liberty and then were forced to fight to preserve its freedom. On such days, as we mourn the fallen and observe with sadness the toll that war has taken on the wounded who survived the battlefield, it is difficult to contemplate the causes of these wars or to imagine the circumstances under which new sacrifices might be compelled of Americans. But the point of these memorials is not merely to mourn but to celebrate the ideals that the efforts of American forces down through the ages have done so much to preserve.

Honoring our veterans requires us to do more than salute the flag on Memorial Day. Our government is obligated to keep its promises to those who served by providing them with the care they need. That is a pledge that unfortunately seems to have been observed in the breach by the Veterans Administration in recent years as the scandal about practices in its hospitals that cost the lives of at least 40 veterans showed. On this, of all days, it is imperative that the president should finally show some leadership and quickly act to redress these wrongs.

But the point about Memorial Day is not just the need to treat those who served with the respect they have earned. Rather, we must also, as Abraham Lincoln said when memorializing the casualties of the Civil War, rededicate ourselves to the ideals that our soldiers defended. In this age, as in previous struggles to preserve this nation and the democratic principles upon which it is based, it is imperative that we not let the flag of freedom drop even as we mourn our losses. Much as we may be tempted to withdraw from the affairs of the world and pretend that we can survive in a fortress America, that is neither possible nor prudent. Unfortunately, the battle to preserve freedom is not yet over and will require the constant vigilance of this and future generations.

On such a day, it is well worth re-reading the words of Lincoln in his Second Inaugural as he exhorted his nation to finish the conflict in which it was engaged rather than to abandon the struggle and to honor those who fought in it:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

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Those Who Served So America Might Live

Americans are fortunate to live in a country where most treat the day set aside to memorialize those who died in their country’s service as merely the start of the summer vacation season as pools open and a three-day weekend is enjoyed. That is a function of the fact that it has been decades since the United States was embroiled in a war in which a significant portion of its young were obligated to participate. One need only look to Israel to see what it means to live in a country where there are few who do not know of a family that has suffered losses incurred in the defense of the nation. Their Memorial Day, though set in the day before independence celebrations, is one of somber mourning, not store sales.

So while Americans can be grateful for being spared that kind of suffering in recent generations, it is still incumbent upon us to spare a moment to think on the sacrifice of those who are currently fighting to defend our freedoms as well as the many who did so in the past.

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Americans are fortunate to live in a country where most treat the day set aside to memorialize those who died in their country’s service as merely the start of the summer vacation season as pools open and a three-day weekend is enjoyed. That is a function of the fact that it has been decades since the United States was embroiled in a war in which a significant portion of its young were obligated to participate. One need only look to Israel to see what it means to live in a country where there are few who do not know of a family that has suffered losses incurred in the defense of the nation. Their Memorial Day, though set in the day before independence celebrations, is one of somber mourning, not store sales.

So while Americans can be grateful for being spared that kind of suffering in recent generations, it is still incumbent upon us to spare a moment to think on the sacrifice of those who are currently fighting to defend our freedoms as well as the many who did so in the past.

From the beginning of our nation’s history to the present, there have always been those who were ready to take up the challenge of defending American liberty. They have done so in peace and war and many have paid the ultimate price so that this experiment in democracy might live. Though some of us might prefer to think these struggles are ending, the enemies of freedom have not yet given up. That means some of our fellow citizens will continue to place themselves in harm’s way to defend America. Some will die and others will be wounded or maimed. They deserve our respect and our help. But their efforts should also motivate us to do our best to ensure that our republic and all it stands for persists as a beacon of freedom.

On this weekend, and every other day of the year, let’s honor those who served in the past as well as those who continue to do so. Their sacrifices must never be forgotten.

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The Un-Peace Talks

It would be bad enough if these talks were merely unproductive. But five people (I refuse to adopt the Obami’s counting system, which denies the death of the pregnant woman’s child) have died at the hands of terrorists. Should the talks break down (a strong possibility if Israel does not knuckle under to the demand for the settlement-moratorium extension), the potential for widespread violence is great. Neither in the short or long term do the peace talks offer a realistic chance for peace; quite the opposite.

Meanwhile, efforts to delegitimize Israel continue apace in international bodies. As Eli Lake reports, Israel is bracing for “Black September”:

To start, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to release a report on the Memorial Day flotilla incident in which nine pro-Palestinian activists aboard a Turkish aid ship seeking to break a blockade of Gaza were killed in a battle with Israeli commandos. Activists in Lebanon have said they are trying to launch another flotilla to challenge the Gaza sea embargo in the coming weeks.

Then the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to issue a follow-up on a report issued in 2009 by Judge Richard Goldstone regarding the Gaza war in late 2008 and early 2009. . . On top of all of this, Turkey — whose foreign minister said Israel’s raid on the aid flotilla last spring was his country’s Sept. 11 — takes its spot as the rotating chairman of the United Nations Security Council.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency later in September, Arab states are expected to press their case for Israel to publicly acknowledge its undeclared nuclear arsenal.

The peace talks afford Obama personally something, but what is Israel getting out of this? Precious little. And meanwhile, the centrifuges are whirling in Tehran.

It would be bad enough if these talks were merely unproductive. But five people (I refuse to adopt the Obami’s counting system, which denies the death of the pregnant woman’s child) have died at the hands of terrorists. Should the talks break down (a strong possibility if Israel does not knuckle under to the demand for the settlement-moratorium extension), the potential for widespread violence is great. Neither in the short or long term do the peace talks offer a realistic chance for peace; quite the opposite.

Meanwhile, efforts to delegitimize Israel continue apace in international bodies. As Eli Lake reports, Israel is bracing for “Black September”:

To start, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to release a report on the Memorial Day flotilla incident in which nine pro-Palestinian activists aboard a Turkish aid ship seeking to break a blockade of Gaza were killed in a battle with Israeli commandos. Activists in Lebanon have said they are trying to launch another flotilla to challenge the Gaza sea embargo in the coming weeks.

Then the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to issue a follow-up on a report issued in 2009 by Judge Richard Goldstone regarding the Gaza war in late 2008 and early 2009. . . On top of all of this, Turkey — whose foreign minister said Israel’s raid on the aid flotilla last spring was his country’s Sept. 11 — takes its spot as the rotating chairman of the United Nations Security Council.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency later in September, Arab states are expected to press their case for Israel to publicly acknowledge its undeclared nuclear arsenal.

The peace talks afford Obama personally something, but what is Israel getting out of this? Precious little. And meanwhile, the centrifuges are whirling in Tehran.

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The Buried Sestak Scandal

Because of the Gaza terrorist flotilla and the BP oil spill, the Joe Sestak job scandal has taken a back seat in news coverage — precisely what the White House intended when it released its counsel memo on the Friday before Memorial Day.

But in the words of Janet Napolitano, this is not a “one-off” thing. The Denver Post is on the Colorado version of SestakGate — involving Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff. The Post rightly suggests that the administration come clean on that one. But the media shows little interest in hassling Obama over allegations that, at worst, the White House violated federal law; and, at best, Obama has brought sleazy Chicago politics into the Oval Office.

Because of the Gaza terrorist flotilla and the BP oil spill, the Joe Sestak job scandal has taken a back seat in news coverage — precisely what the White House intended when it released its counsel memo on the Friday before Memorial Day.

But in the words of Janet Napolitano, this is not a “one-off” thing. The Denver Post is on the Colorado version of SestakGate — involving Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff. The Post rightly suggests that the administration come clean on that one. But the media shows little interest in hassling Obama over allegations that, at worst, the White House violated federal law; and, at best, Obama has brought sleazy Chicago politics into the Oval Office.

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When Do They Tune Out?

There is a point in a presidency when the public simply has had enough and tunes out, unwilling to listen even when the president says sensible things or has a reasonable point to make in his own defense. For George W. Bush, it was Katrina. The question for Obama is how close to that point is he now, and will the next bad news week push him over the edge.

Toby Harnden writes:

Central to Obama’s appeal was his promise to be truly different. His failure to achieve that is now at the core of the deep disappointment Americans feel about him. At the press conference — the first full-scale affair he had deigned to give for 309 days — he appeared uncomfortable and petulant. … Obama engaged in the obligatory populist bashing of Big Oil and, of course, demonstrated the Obama administration’s version of Tourette’s Syndrome, blaming the previous administration for the situation when, by my reckoning, it’s a full 16 months since Bush left office.

So an oil spill that he had as much ability to prevent as George W. Bush did to stop Katrina from hitting shore has snared the president, who oversold himself and the power of government. But the Joe Sestak scandal may be worse. For one thing, it’s a White House–made mess, not a natural disaster. As Harden comments:

That was potentially illegal and for weeks the White House stonewalled. When, even more inconveniently, Sestak beat Specter, the trust-us-nothing-untoward-happened approach would no longer wash. But still Obama declined to answer the question on Thursday, fobbing the reporter — and America — off with the promise that “there will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue.”

This did indeed come the following day — conveniently timed for that Friday afternoon news void before the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Lo and behold, it turns out that none other than former President Bill Clinton was asked by Obama’s chief of staff and Chicago enforcer Rahm Emanuel to offer Sestak a place on a presidential board.

Whether or not the law was broken, the cynicism of this is breathtaking. Obama offered a break from the Clinton-Bush past and an end to the shoddy backroom deals of Washington. So what does he do? He tries to deny Pennsylvania voters a chance to decide for themselves by using his former foe Clinton to offer a grubby inducement.

Obama has persistently ridiculed his opposition and shown contempt for and emotional distance from the voters. In a bind now — partly his fault, partly not — he encounters an opposition more than willing to turn the knife and a public that lacks much of an emotional connection with its president. In short, he’s infuriated and reinvigorated the opposition while frittering away his reserve of goodwill with the American people. Presidential credibility is a precious commodity, and Obama has little left. He is approaching the point – maybe he’s at it already — where the public disregards his utterances and begins to look around for a Congress to block his unpopular agenda and then a successor to, well, deliver “change.”

There is a point in a presidency when the public simply has had enough and tunes out, unwilling to listen even when the president says sensible things or has a reasonable point to make in his own defense. For George W. Bush, it was Katrina. The question for Obama is how close to that point is he now, and will the next bad news week push him over the edge.

Toby Harnden writes:

Central to Obama’s appeal was his promise to be truly different. His failure to achieve that is now at the core of the deep disappointment Americans feel about him. At the press conference — the first full-scale affair he had deigned to give for 309 days — he appeared uncomfortable and petulant. … Obama engaged in the obligatory populist bashing of Big Oil and, of course, demonstrated the Obama administration’s version of Tourette’s Syndrome, blaming the previous administration for the situation when, by my reckoning, it’s a full 16 months since Bush left office.

So an oil spill that he had as much ability to prevent as George W. Bush did to stop Katrina from hitting shore has snared the president, who oversold himself and the power of government. But the Joe Sestak scandal may be worse. For one thing, it’s a White House–made mess, not a natural disaster. As Harden comments:

That was potentially illegal and for weeks the White House stonewalled. When, even more inconveniently, Sestak beat Specter, the trust-us-nothing-untoward-happened approach would no longer wash. But still Obama declined to answer the question on Thursday, fobbing the reporter — and America — off with the promise that “there will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue.”

This did indeed come the following day — conveniently timed for that Friday afternoon news void before the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Lo and behold, it turns out that none other than former President Bill Clinton was asked by Obama’s chief of staff and Chicago enforcer Rahm Emanuel to offer Sestak a place on a presidential board.

Whether or not the law was broken, the cynicism of this is breathtaking. Obama offered a break from the Clinton-Bush past and an end to the shoddy backroom deals of Washington. So what does he do? He tries to deny Pennsylvania voters a chance to decide for themselves by using his former foe Clinton to offer a grubby inducement.

Obama has persistently ridiculed his opposition and shown contempt for and emotional distance from the voters. In a bind now — partly his fault, partly not — he encounters an opposition more than willing to turn the knife and a public that lacks much of an emotional connection with its president. In short, he’s infuriated and reinvigorated the opposition while frittering away his reserve of goodwill with the American people. Presidential credibility is a precious commodity, and Obama has little left. He is approaching the point – maybe he’s at it already — where the public disregards his utterances and begins to look around for a Congress to block his unpopular agenda and then a successor to, well, deliver “change.”

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Will the Media Let Obama off the Hook on Sestak?

The White House lawyer hasn’t even convinced mainstream news reporters that nothing untoward occurred regarding the Joe Sestak job offer. On Fox News Sunday, Ceci Connolly of the Washington Post remarked:

I think there are also some still real unanswered questions here. And the biggest one, of course, is what exactly did President Obama know and when did he know it. I mean, his response in the news conference just saying, “Well, nothing improper occurred,” well, gosh, that almost raises more questions in my mind. So far, from what we’ve seen, we know this was not unprecedented. Governor Rendell actually made sort of a remarkable acknowledgment in your interview, Chris, saying, “Oh, yes, I did a similar thing a few years back.” So it’s certainly politics as usual. But as your clip illustrates, that becomes a political problem for the White House.

There are two more factors that, as Connolly said, add to the “general sense of business as usual.” First, there may be a second job-to-get-out-of-the-race deal. Last September, the Denver Post reported:

Not long after news leaked last month that Andrew Romanoff was determined to make a Democratic primary run against Sen. Michael Bennet, Romanoff received an unexpected communication from one of the most powerful men in Washington. Jim Messina, President Barack Obama’s deputy chief of staff and a storied fixer in the White House political shop, suggested a place for Romanoff might be found in the administration and offered specific suggestions, according to several sources who described the communication to The Denver Post.

The White House denied any job was offered to Romanoff, but “several top Colorado Democrats described Messina’s outreach to Romanoff to The Post, including the discussion of specific jobs in the administration.”

Second, in his statement on Friday, Robert Bauer admitted:

Efforts were made in June and July of 2009 to determine whether Congressman Sestak would be interested in service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board, which would avoid a divisive Senate primary, allow him to retain his seat in the House, and provide him with an opportunity for additional service to the public in a high-level advisory capacity for which he was highly qualified.

When everyone returns from the Memorial Day weekend, we’ll see how aggressively the White House media corps pursues this with Robert Gibbs and other administration figures. What went on in those conversations, which Bauer said were also conducted through a cutout, namely Bill Clinton? When Obama gives his next interview or news conference, will he be grilled? The media is no longer so infatuated with the president, so we may actually see some dogged questioning. But don’t get your hopes up. Expect the questions to be brushed off with, “We already answered questions about all of this.” It’s the sort of thing the media, if it wants to get back its collective manhood and reputation from deep storage, shouldn’t let Obama get away with.

The White House lawyer hasn’t even convinced mainstream news reporters that nothing untoward occurred regarding the Joe Sestak job offer. On Fox News Sunday, Ceci Connolly of the Washington Post remarked:

I think there are also some still real unanswered questions here. And the biggest one, of course, is what exactly did President Obama know and when did he know it. I mean, his response in the news conference just saying, “Well, nothing improper occurred,” well, gosh, that almost raises more questions in my mind. So far, from what we’ve seen, we know this was not unprecedented. Governor Rendell actually made sort of a remarkable acknowledgment in your interview, Chris, saying, “Oh, yes, I did a similar thing a few years back.” So it’s certainly politics as usual. But as your clip illustrates, that becomes a political problem for the White House.

There are two more factors that, as Connolly said, add to the “general sense of business as usual.” First, there may be a second job-to-get-out-of-the-race deal. Last September, the Denver Post reported:

Not long after news leaked last month that Andrew Romanoff was determined to make a Democratic primary run against Sen. Michael Bennet, Romanoff received an unexpected communication from one of the most powerful men in Washington. Jim Messina, President Barack Obama’s deputy chief of staff and a storied fixer in the White House political shop, suggested a place for Romanoff might be found in the administration and offered specific suggestions, according to several sources who described the communication to The Denver Post.

The White House denied any job was offered to Romanoff, but “several top Colorado Democrats described Messina’s outreach to Romanoff to The Post, including the discussion of specific jobs in the administration.”

Second, in his statement on Friday, Robert Bauer admitted:

Efforts were made in June and July of 2009 to determine whether Congressman Sestak would be interested in service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board, which would avoid a divisive Senate primary, allow him to retain his seat in the House, and provide him with an opportunity for additional service to the public in a high-level advisory capacity for which he was highly qualified.

When everyone returns from the Memorial Day weekend, we’ll see how aggressively the White House media corps pursues this with Robert Gibbs and other administration figures. What went on in those conversations, which Bauer said were also conducted through a cutout, namely Bill Clinton? When Obama gives his next interview or news conference, will he be grilled? The media is no longer so infatuated with the president, so we may actually see some dogged questioning. But don’t get your hopes up. Expect the questions to be brushed off with, “We already answered questions about all of this.” It’s the sort of thing the media, if it wants to get back its collective manhood and reputation from deep storage, shouldn’t let Obama get away with.

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You Can Take the Pol Out of Chicago. . .

As he often does, Obama tried to distance himself from his own administration’s mess. He ducked a personal response and had his lawyer issue a memo on the Joe Sestak job-offer scandal on the Friday before Memorial Day. He thereby succeeded in revealing that Sestak is a fabulist, his own White House is little more than a Blago-like operation, an ex-president has been reduced to the the role of a “cut out,” and the whole lot of them practice the same sleazy-politics-as usual that Obama ran against (which, ironically, was symbolized in the primary by Hillary Clinton).

The White House counsel says it really wasn’t the secretary of the Navy post that was offered. It was an unpaid advisory-board position. A few problems there. You send a former president to offer that to avoid a primary fight? And more important, it doesn’t get over the legal hurdle. As Hans von Spakovsky explains:

[White House Counsel Robert] Bauer admits that Rahm Emanuel asked Bill Clinton to offer Sestak an appointment to a “Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board,” and that the appointment would be attractive, i.e., a benefit. The statute does not absolve you of liability if you are offering someone an uncompensated appointment. It also specifies that you are guilty of a violation if you make such an offer “directly or indirectly.” Moreover, since the executive branch may not spend money that is not appropriated by Congress, any such board would be authorized by or at least paid for by an “Act of Congress.”

And boy, did they pick the wrong election cycle to pull this. The underlying gambit is bad enough, but the roll out of the explanation is potentially worse and will be thrown in Sestak’s face in the election. The stall. The lawyer swooping in with the cover story. The process of getting everyone on the same page. It is precisely what the voters are screaming about: backroom deals, evasive pols, lack of transparency, and dishonesty. Obama has made perfect hash out of the race, first by pulling the weather vane Arlen Specter into the Democratic Party, then trying to unsuccessfully push the opponent out of the way, and finally by sullying everyone involved.

Obama has been compared to Jimmy Carter (in his misguided notions about the world), to Richard Nixon (in his sleazy backroom dealing and lack of transparency) and to LBJ (in his infatuation with government). Unfortunately, it appears that he embodies the worst of three unsuccessful presidents. And like all three, he may manage to drag his party down with him.

As he often does, Obama tried to distance himself from his own administration’s mess. He ducked a personal response and had his lawyer issue a memo on the Joe Sestak job-offer scandal on the Friday before Memorial Day. He thereby succeeded in revealing that Sestak is a fabulist, his own White House is little more than a Blago-like operation, an ex-president has been reduced to the the role of a “cut out,” and the whole lot of them practice the same sleazy-politics-as usual that Obama ran against (which, ironically, was symbolized in the primary by Hillary Clinton).

The White House counsel says it really wasn’t the secretary of the Navy post that was offered. It was an unpaid advisory-board position. A few problems there. You send a former president to offer that to avoid a primary fight? And more important, it doesn’t get over the legal hurdle. As Hans von Spakovsky explains:

[White House Counsel Robert] Bauer admits that Rahm Emanuel asked Bill Clinton to offer Sestak an appointment to a “Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board,” and that the appointment would be attractive, i.e., a benefit. The statute does not absolve you of liability if you are offering someone an uncompensated appointment. It also specifies that you are guilty of a violation if you make such an offer “directly or indirectly.” Moreover, since the executive branch may not spend money that is not appropriated by Congress, any such board would be authorized by or at least paid for by an “Act of Congress.”

And boy, did they pick the wrong election cycle to pull this. The underlying gambit is bad enough, but the roll out of the explanation is potentially worse and will be thrown in Sestak’s face in the election. The stall. The lawyer swooping in with the cover story. The process of getting everyone on the same page. It is precisely what the voters are screaming about: backroom deals, evasive pols, lack of transparency, and dishonesty. Obama has made perfect hash out of the race, first by pulling the weather vane Arlen Specter into the Democratic Party, then trying to unsuccessfully push the opponent out of the way, and finally by sullying everyone involved.

Obama has been compared to Jimmy Carter (in his misguided notions about the world), to Richard Nixon (in his sleazy backroom dealing and lack of transparency) and to LBJ (in his infatuation with government). Unfortunately, it appears that he embodies the worst of three unsuccessful presidents. And like all three, he may manage to drag his party down with him.

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Throwing Leaves on a Tomb

For someone who ran so successful a campaign, Barack Obama sure seems to have a tin ear for American politics.

How else can one explain his decision to take a vacation rather than attend the annual service at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington on Memorial Day? This will not bother his liberal friends, of course. David Corn asks, “does it matter if Obama throws some leaves on a tomb?” But it is likely to bother millions of average Americans — you know, the ones who cling to God and guns — and it powerfully reinforces Obama’s image as an American president who is fundamentally anti-American.

Obama’s poll numbers are tanking. Rasmussen has him at -22 today, his lowest number to date. Even Democrats like James Carville are beginning to beat up on him for his aloof, often arrogant ways. Doesn’t anybody in the White House notice how the public perception of the president is changing quickly for the worse? As any halfway competent public-relations man can tell you, once a perception gets set, it is awfully hard to change it.

For someone who ran so successful a campaign, Barack Obama sure seems to have a tin ear for American politics.

How else can one explain his decision to take a vacation rather than attend the annual service at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington on Memorial Day? This will not bother his liberal friends, of course. David Corn asks, “does it matter if Obama throws some leaves on a tomb?” But it is likely to bother millions of average Americans — you know, the ones who cling to God and guns — and it powerfully reinforces Obama’s image as an American president who is fundamentally anti-American.

Obama’s poll numbers are tanking. Rasmussen has him at -22 today, his lowest number to date. Even Democrats like James Carville are beginning to beat up on him for his aloof, often arrogant ways. Doesn’t anybody in the White House notice how the public perception of the president is changing quickly for the worse? As any halfway competent public-relations man can tell you, once a perception gets set, it is awfully hard to change it.

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Obama Undermines Congressional Sanctions — Will American Jews React?

The Obami went from pursuing “crippling” sanctions to “smart” sanctions. But it seems that their real goal is very ineffective and innocuous sanctions. We learned that the House and Senate had finally set a conference committee to reconcile the different versions of the Iran sanctions legislation. But the administration has stepped in to undermine and water down Congress’s efforts. In a blockbuster report, Eli Lake explains:

The Obama administration is pressing Congress to provide an exemption from Iran sanctions to companies based in “cooperating countries,” a move that likely would exempt Chinese and Russian concerns from penalties meant to discourage investment in Iran.

The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act is in a House-Senate conference committee and is expected to reach President Obama’s desk by Memorial Day.

“It’s incredible the administration is asking for exemptions, under the table and winking and nodding, before the legislation is signed into law,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and a conference committee member, said in an interview. A White House official confirmed Wednesday that the administration was pushing the conference committee to adopt the exemption of “cooperating countries” in the legislation.

What could possibly be the rationale for this? Why the Obami are working on an international agreement, of course, and we can’t let sanctions with bite get in the way of international sanctions without any. This is the substitution of the intermediary goal — international agreement — for the end goal (it is the end goal, right?): an effective sanctions regimen to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. It seems our real interest is to make China and Russia happy — and exempt them from public scrutiny for doing business with the mullahs. Lake explains:

According to three congressional staffers familiar with the White House proposal, once a country is on that ["co-operating countries"] list, the administration wouldn’t even have to identify companies from that country as selling gasoline or aiding Iran’s refinement industry.

Even if, as current law allows, the administration can waive the penalties on named companies for various reasons, the “cooperating countries” language would deprive the sanctions of their “name-and-shame” power, the staffers said.

The prospect that China and Chinese firms would be exempt from penalty follows reports that Beijing is cooperating with Iran’s missile program. On April 23, Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that China broke ground on a plant in Iran this month that will build the Nasr-1 anti-ship missile.

Apparently, the administration has given up on the end goal of effective sanctions and is now in the business of papering over its failure with an international agreement (that must be held together with bribes and favors to Russia and China). This is the equivalent of “engagement” — a time waster that allows the Iranian regime still more time to proceed with its nuclear plans.

I wonder if American Jewish leaders are still charmed by the Obami. It sure does seem that the administration isn’t serious about removing the existential threat to the Jewish state. Maybe Obama will send them a lovely note to explain why it is that he is undermining one of the last options we have for preventing an revolutionary Islamic state from going nuclear.

The Obami went from pursuing “crippling” sanctions to “smart” sanctions. But it seems that their real goal is very ineffective and innocuous sanctions. We learned that the House and Senate had finally set a conference committee to reconcile the different versions of the Iran sanctions legislation. But the administration has stepped in to undermine and water down Congress’s efforts. In a blockbuster report, Eli Lake explains:

The Obama administration is pressing Congress to provide an exemption from Iran sanctions to companies based in “cooperating countries,” a move that likely would exempt Chinese and Russian concerns from penalties meant to discourage investment in Iran.

The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act is in a House-Senate conference committee and is expected to reach President Obama’s desk by Memorial Day.

“It’s incredible the administration is asking for exemptions, under the table and winking and nodding, before the legislation is signed into law,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and a conference committee member, said in an interview. A White House official confirmed Wednesday that the administration was pushing the conference committee to adopt the exemption of “cooperating countries” in the legislation.

What could possibly be the rationale for this? Why the Obami are working on an international agreement, of course, and we can’t let sanctions with bite get in the way of international sanctions without any. This is the substitution of the intermediary goal — international agreement — for the end goal (it is the end goal, right?): an effective sanctions regimen to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. It seems our real interest is to make China and Russia happy — and exempt them from public scrutiny for doing business with the mullahs. Lake explains:

According to three congressional staffers familiar with the White House proposal, once a country is on that ["co-operating countries"] list, the administration wouldn’t even have to identify companies from that country as selling gasoline or aiding Iran’s refinement industry.

Even if, as current law allows, the administration can waive the penalties on named companies for various reasons, the “cooperating countries” language would deprive the sanctions of their “name-and-shame” power, the staffers said.

The prospect that China and Chinese firms would be exempt from penalty follows reports that Beijing is cooperating with Iran’s missile program. On April 23, Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that China broke ground on a plant in Iran this month that will build the Nasr-1 anti-ship missile.

Apparently, the administration has given up on the end goal of effective sanctions and is now in the business of papering over its failure with an international agreement (that must be held together with bribes and favors to Russia and China). This is the equivalent of “engagement” — a time waster that allows the Iranian regime still more time to proceed with its nuclear plans.

I wonder if American Jewish leaders are still charmed by the Obami. It sure does seem that the administration isn’t serious about removing the existential threat to the Jewish state. Maybe Obama will send them a lovely note to explain why it is that he is undermining one of the last options we have for preventing an revolutionary Islamic state from going nuclear.

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The Real Demographic Threat

As Israel celebrates its 62nd Independence Day this evening, is the country actually independent? Judging by the remarks of some of its leading politicians, one would have to conclude that the answer is no.

Speaking at a Memorial Day ceremony yesterday, for instance, Defense Minister and Labor-party chairman Ehud Barak declared that only by signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians could Israel preserve its Jewish majority. Ehud Olmert made this claim even more bluntly in 2007, when he was prime minister, declaring that if “the two-state solution collapses … the State of Israel is finished.” Olmert’s successor as head of the Kadima party, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, has made similar remarks.

In other words, Israel has no control over its own fate; its continued existence depends entirely on the goodwill of a nation that would like nothing better than to see it disappear. Moreover, all the Palestinians have to do to secure this outcome is to continue doing exactly what they have done for the past 17 years: say “no” to every peace offer Israel makes. If that is true, Israel really is finished.

In reality, of course, the Barak-Olmert-Livni conclusion is ridiculous even if one believes the demographic doomsayers (there are grounds for skepticism, but that’s another story). Should Israel someday decide the status quo is untenable, it doesn’t need a peace agreement to leave; it can always quit the West Bank unilaterally, just as it did Gaza. After decades of condemning Israel’s “illegal occupation” and demanding its end, the world could hardly object if Israel complied.

Unfortunately, “ridiculous” is not the same as “harmless.” This credo is actually deadly dangerous, on at least four levels.

First, it encourages Palestinian intransigence: if Palestinians can destroy the Jewish state just by saying no, they have no incentive to ever say yes.

Second, it could lead Israeli leaders to make concessions that truly do endanger the state’s survival.

Third, it encourages world leaders to pressure Israel into such concessions, by enabling them to claim they’re really doing it for Israel’s own good. After all, if Israel’s own leaders say the state can’t survive without a peace deal, isn’t any concession that might appease the Palestinians, however dangerous, better than the alternative of certain death?

Finally, it demoralizes Israel’s own citizens, most of whom know perfectly well that no peace agreement is attainable in the foreseeable future. If Israel’s continued existence really depends on an unachievable peace, then Israelis have no reason to remain here and no reason to continue sending their sons to fight and die in the state’s defense. And should enough Israelis reach that conclusion, the state really will collapse.

Thus if Israel is to survive another 62 years, it desperately needs its leaders to relearn the wisdom that guided its founders in 1948, when the demographic situation was much worse: that the purpose of independence is precisely to enable the Jewish people to shape Israel’s fate, rather than being the helpless hostages of a hostile nation. The “demographic threat” cannot destroy Israel. But its leaders’ own folly can.

As Israel celebrates its 62nd Independence Day this evening, is the country actually independent? Judging by the remarks of some of its leading politicians, one would have to conclude that the answer is no.

Speaking at a Memorial Day ceremony yesterday, for instance, Defense Minister and Labor-party chairman Ehud Barak declared that only by signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians could Israel preserve its Jewish majority. Ehud Olmert made this claim even more bluntly in 2007, when he was prime minister, declaring that if “the two-state solution collapses … the State of Israel is finished.” Olmert’s successor as head of the Kadima party, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, has made similar remarks.

In other words, Israel has no control over its own fate; its continued existence depends entirely on the goodwill of a nation that would like nothing better than to see it disappear. Moreover, all the Palestinians have to do to secure this outcome is to continue doing exactly what they have done for the past 17 years: say “no” to every peace offer Israel makes. If that is true, Israel really is finished.

In reality, of course, the Barak-Olmert-Livni conclusion is ridiculous even if one believes the demographic doomsayers (there are grounds for skepticism, but that’s another story). Should Israel someday decide the status quo is untenable, it doesn’t need a peace agreement to leave; it can always quit the West Bank unilaterally, just as it did Gaza. After decades of condemning Israel’s “illegal occupation” and demanding its end, the world could hardly object if Israel complied.

Unfortunately, “ridiculous” is not the same as “harmless.” This credo is actually deadly dangerous, on at least four levels.

First, it encourages Palestinian intransigence: if Palestinians can destroy the Jewish state just by saying no, they have no incentive to ever say yes.

Second, it could lead Israeli leaders to make concessions that truly do endanger the state’s survival.

Third, it encourages world leaders to pressure Israel into such concessions, by enabling them to claim they’re really doing it for Israel’s own good. After all, if Israel’s own leaders say the state can’t survive without a peace deal, isn’t any concession that might appease the Palestinians, however dangerous, better than the alternative of certain death?

Finally, it demoralizes Israel’s own citizens, most of whom know perfectly well that no peace agreement is attainable in the foreseeable future. If Israel’s continued existence really depends on an unachievable peace, then Israelis have no reason to remain here and no reason to continue sending their sons to fight and die in the state’s defense. And should enough Israelis reach that conclusion, the state really will collapse.

Thus if Israel is to survive another 62 years, it desperately needs its leaders to relearn the wisdom that guided its founders in 1948, when the demographic situation was much worse: that the purpose of independence is precisely to enable the Jewish people to shape Israel’s fate, rather than being the helpless hostages of a hostile nation. The “demographic threat” cannot destroy Israel. But its leaders’ own folly can.

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Bibi Calls for a Response to Evil

On the eve of Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Memorial Day, Bibi Netanyahu gave a moving and thoughtful speech. It should be read in full. His comments relating the Nazi horror to the current threat posed by Iran were especially noteworthy:

The historic failure of the free societies when faced with the Nazi animal was that they did not stand up against it in time, while there was still a chance to stop it.

And here we are today again witnesses to the fire of the new-old hatred, the hatred of the Jews, that is expressed by organizations and regimes associated with radical Islam, headed by Iran and its proxies.

Iran’s leaders race to develop nuclear weapons and they openly state their desire to destroy Israel.  But in the face of these repeated statements to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the Earth, in the best case we hear a weak protest which is also fading away.

The required firm protest is not heard – not a sharp condemnation, not a cry of warning.

The world continues on as usual and there are even those who direct their criticism at us, against Israel.

Today, 65 years after the Holocaust, we must say in all honesty that what is so upsetting is the lack of any kind of opposition.  The world gradually accepts Iran’s statements of destruction against Israel and we still do not see the necessary international determination to stop Iran from arming itself.

But if we learned anything from the lessons of the Holocaust it is that we must not remain silent and be deterred in the face of evil.

I call on all enlightened countries to rise up and forcefully and firmly condemn Iran’s destructive intentions and to act with genuine determination to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

His point is well taken. A serious plan by the U.S. administration to thwart the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons is not all that’s lacking — there is also a lack of moral outrage. I am hard-pressed to recall Obama or any senior official making the connection between Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its radical ideological fervor and desire for destruction of the Jewish state. This, of course, is the administration that doesn’t like to bring up such things. But in doing so, it also lessens the urgency and undercuts the moral imperative for preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon.

And frankly, there is a shocking lack of urgency within the American Jewish community, as well. When the president goes into his que sera, sera stance regarding the crisis in Iran, where is the outrage? Where are the statements and the protests? Entirely lacking. It is not hard to discern the administration’s abject lack of seriousness with regard to stopping the mullahs’ nuclear program, yet the leadership of the American Jewish community has play-acted along with the administration. Oh yes, sanctions are coming. We got very reassuring answers from Hillary. This is what you hear from supposedly serious-minded Jewish activists. Certainly they have read Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pooh-poohing of military action and the news reports of watered-down sanctions. So when do they plan on speaking up? Are we to see a repeat of the 1930s and 40s, when the American Jewish community remained largely mute, wary of raising a fuss as the Nazi menace ravaged European Jewry?

Netanyahu’s speech was a plea for moral seriousness in the West — and also among American Jewish leaders, who are curiously and tragically underwhelming in their advocacy for a more robust response from the administration to Israel’s existential threat. There is grave doubt whether American Jewish leaders will heed his call and do so in a timely and effective manner.

On the eve of Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Memorial Day, Bibi Netanyahu gave a moving and thoughtful speech. It should be read in full. His comments relating the Nazi horror to the current threat posed by Iran were especially noteworthy:

The historic failure of the free societies when faced with the Nazi animal was that they did not stand up against it in time, while there was still a chance to stop it.

And here we are today again witnesses to the fire of the new-old hatred, the hatred of the Jews, that is expressed by organizations and regimes associated with radical Islam, headed by Iran and its proxies.

Iran’s leaders race to develop nuclear weapons and they openly state their desire to destroy Israel.  But in the face of these repeated statements to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the Earth, in the best case we hear a weak protest which is also fading away.

The required firm protest is not heard – not a sharp condemnation, not a cry of warning.

The world continues on as usual and there are even those who direct their criticism at us, against Israel.

Today, 65 years after the Holocaust, we must say in all honesty that what is so upsetting is the lack of any kind of opposition.  The world gradually accepts Iran’s statements of destruction against Israel and we still do not see the necessary international determination to stop Iran from arming itself.

But if we learned anything from the lessons of the Holocaust it is that we must not remain silent and be deterred in the face of evil.

I call on all enlightened countries to rise up and forcefully and firmly condemn Iran’s destructive intentions and to act with genuine determination to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

His point is well taken. A serious plan by the U.S. administration to thwart the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons is not all that’s lacking — there is also a lack of moral outrage. I am hard-pressed to recall Obama or any senior official making the connection between Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its radical ideological fervor and desire for destruction of the Jewish state. This, of course, is the administration that doesn’t like to bring up such things. But in doing so, it also lessens the urgency and undercuts the moral imperative for preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon.

And frankly, there is a shocking lack of urgency within the American Jewish community, as well. When the president goes into his que sera, sera stance regarding the crisis in Iran, where is the outrage? Where are the statements and the protests? Entirely lacking. It is not hard to discern the administration’s abject lack of seriousness with regard to stopping the mullahs’ nuclear program, yet the leadership of the American Jewish community has play-acted along with the administration. Oh yes, sanctions are coming. We got very reassuring answers from Hillary. This is what you hear from supposedly serious-minded Jewish activists. Certainly they have read Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pooh-poohing of military action and the news reports of watered-down sanctions. So when do they plan on speaking up? Are we to see a repeat of the 1930s and 40s, when the American Jewish community remained largely mute, wary of raising a fuss as the Nazi menace ravaged European Jewry?

Netanyahu’s speech was a plea for moral seriousness in the West — and also among American Jewish leaders, who are curiously and tragically underwhelming in their advocacy for a more robust response from the administration to Israel’s existential threat. There is grave doubt whether American Jewish leaders will heed his call and do so in a timely and effective manner.

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Memorial Day, 2007

Back in 2005, Andrew Bacevich, a professor at Boston University, a longtime student of American military affairs, and a veteran of both Vietnam and the first Gulf war, came out with a book called The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War. By my lights, it was quite wrongheaded, stridently attacking the Bush administration for imprudently promoting democracy in the Middle East at the point of a gun, which he contended was actually a disguise for advancing some narrower and more traditional geopolitical interests, and was entered into without weighing the costs and the second-order effects.

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Back in 2005, Andrew Bacevich, a professor at Boston University, a longtime student of American military affairs, and a veteran of both Vietnam and the first Gulf war, came out with a book called The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War. By my lights, it was quite wrongheaded, stridently attacking the Bush administration for imprudently promoting democracy in the Middle East at the point of a gun, which he contended was actually a disguise for advancing some narrower and more traditional geopolitical interests, and was entered into without weighing the costs and the second-order effects.

For one reason or another, COMMENTARY did not review that book, although we did comment on another one of Bacevich’s books, American Empire, the Reality and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy. Not all that long before that but in a different age entirely, in January 2001, Bacevich himself appeared in COMMENTARY, writing a review of a book about the transformation of air power.

Two weeks ago came the news that Bacevich’s son, First Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, died fighting in Iraq, the victim of a bomb. What can I say to a man whose only son dies fighting in a war he opposes, and which I supported and, not seeing any acceptable alternative, continue to support? I am still struggling for an answer.

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Michael Lerner, Vulgarian

April 15 is Yom haShoah, the day of commemoration of the Holocaust. The Nazis killed one-third of the world’s Jewish population, and most Jews, at least most Ashkenazi Jews, lost an ancestor or cousin in this unparalleled slaughter. Many lost their whole families. Around the world, Jews will pray for these lost ones and lament the immense part of the body of our people that was torn away from us—a wound that will never heal. It is a moment of deepest grief and solemnity.

Except, that is, to one Michael Lerner, who has just announced that he will use the occasion to launch a “campaign for a Global Marshall Plan.”

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April 15 is Yom haShoah, the day of commemoration of the Holocaust. The Nazis killed one-third of the world’s Jewish population, and most Jews, at least most Ashkenazi Jews, lost an ancestor or cousin in this unparalleled slaughter. Many lost their whole families. Around the world, Jews will pray for these lost ones and lament the immense part of the body of our people that was torn away from us—a wound that will never heal. It is a moment of deepest grief and solemnity.

Except, that is, to one Michael Lerner, who has just announced that he will use the occasion to launch a “campaign for a Global Marshall Plan.”

Michael Lerner is someone about whom I would not ordinarily comment, except that this display of vulgarity cannot be allowed to pass unnoticed. Lerner was a 1960′s New Leftist, founder of the Seattle Liberation Front. When a demonstration he organized turned into a riot, he was tried as part of the “Seattle Seven.” While many other 60′s radicals eventually rethought their juvenile beliefs, Lerner set his mind instead to carving out new turf. He reappeared as a psychotherapist, dressing his old ideology in a new robe by founding the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, which purported to study the “psychodynamics of American society.”

Lerner married wealth, and although the marriage did not last, the wealth did, enabling him to found the magazine Tikkun. A few years later, a disillusioned employee revealed that letters to the editor that ran in its pages, lavishing praise on the magazine and Lerner, were in fact fabricated by Lerner himself.

In his next self-reinvention, Lerner appeared as a rabbi, although his theological training was as sketchy as that of such other famous self-promoters as the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. In this guise, he propounded the “politics of meaning”—the meaning of which was indecipherable. Of greater moment, Lerner used his rabbinic title as cover for a relentless campaign against Israel, including the embrace of such unsavory enemies of the Jewish state as Cindy Sheehan, prompting the scholar Edward Alexander to observe, “nothing anti-Semitic is entirely alien to him.”

Like other leftists cloaking themselves in rabbinic garb, Lerner redefined Passover as a vehicle on which to display ideological bumper stickers rather than as a commemoration of the creation of Judaism through the exodus from Egypt, the receipt of the Ten Commandments, and the settlement of the promised land.

However, his use of Yom haShoah for his own purposes sets a new standard of coarseness. Lerner writes: “I want to explain to you why we picked the Holocaust Memorial Day to launch this initiative. To the starvation and suffering on the planet today (with 2.4 billion people living on less than $2 a day) we say: Never Again.” If taken seriously, this is moronic. Never again? Again what? There has always been starvation and suffering. And while suffering is impossible to measure, there is, proportionately, less starvation today than ever before. However sad the perdurance of these afflictions may be, it is not a discrete event. What can it possibly mean to say “never again” in this context?

But of course, Lerner’s explanation is not to be taken seriously. The true explanation is that this is just one more stage performance by a “rabbi” whose self-absorption is bottomless and for whom nothing, apparently, is sacred. As attorney Joseph Welch said famously to Senator McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

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News from the Continent: Never Again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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