Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Oren

Year Two of Obama Means More of the Same Hostility on Israel

According to the Jerusalem Post, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, convened his nation’s consuls in the country for an emergency briefing and told them that last week’s dispute, which began with the announcement of new apartments being built in East Jerusalem, has become the “worst crisis” between Israel and the U.S. since 1975.

Given the escalation of American attacks on Israel’s government from a variety of sources in the last few days, it’s hard to argue with Oren’s analysis. Israel was in the wrong to have let such an announcement be made while Biden was in the country, but the escalation of the incident from a minor kerfuffle to a genuine crisis seems to be a conscious decision on the part of the administration. After all, had Obama wanted to be truly even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians, he could have treated the Palestinian decision to honor a mass murderer during Biden’s visit as being every bit as insulting as the building of apartments in an existing Jewish neighborhood.

Others have already started to dissect the administration’s motivation. As John wrote, pique and a lack of caring about the consequences play a big role in this crisis. The willingness to push back so disproportionately against Israel, to single it out for opprobrium in a way not customary to this administration even in its treatment of open foes (think back to Obama’s equivocal reaction to the stolen election and repression of dissent in Iran last summer) should also force friends of the Jewish state to return to a question that was much discussed last summer: Why has Obama decided to downgrade relations with Israel?

In 2009, relations between Israel and the United States were primarily characterized by a ginned-up dispute about settlement construction. Not only did Washington choose to make more of an issue about settlements than previous administrations had, it also escalated the problem by specifically rejecting past agreements with Israel regarding construction in those places which the U.S. had acknowledged that Israel would keep even in the event of a far-reaching land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians. Even more troubling for the Israelis was a demand that construction of Jewish homes be halted in Jerusalem.

Though eventually, the Netanyahu government would give way and accept a temporary settlement freeze in the West Bank, it stood its ground on Jerusalem and won. By the end of the year, it appeared as though Obama had understood that his decision to test the Israelis was a failure. The hope that some in the White House had harbored about using their influence to topple the Netanyahu government had been unrealistic. Challenging Netanyahu on Jerusalem had strengthened his popularity. Distancing themselves from Israel had also not gotten the Palestinians to budge on making peace. Nor had it won the United States any extra goodwill in the Muslim world. It had just raised unreasonable expectations about Obama delivering Israel to them on a silver platter while motivating no one to greater efforts to cope with a real threat to both the United States and Israel: Iran’s nuclear program.

By the time of Biden’s visit last week, it had appeared that the administration had learned its lesson and was no longer placing any faith in the idea that pressure on Israel would do anyone any good. But the way they have gone off the deep end about an issue that was supposedly resolved last year makes you wonder how much Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have learned from their first year in office. Specifically, have they decided that this is an opportunity to make another push to get rid of Netanyahu by leveraging the dismay that Israelis feel about last week’s blunder?

The administration’s dispute with Netanyahu and with the mainstream pro-Israel community, which continues to support Israel’s democratically-elected government (as demonstrated by the statements from the Anti-Defamation League and the AIPAC condemning Obama’s overreaction), was never so much about boosting the non-existent chances for peace with the Palestinians as it was about changing the relationship between the two countries from one of close friendship to a more adversarial one. Hillary Clinton’s reported demands for more pointless Israeli concessions and the prospects for another year of non-action on Iranian nukes leave us with the same question we were asking a few months ago: When will Obama’s Jewish supporters face up to the fact that the man in the White House is no friend to the Jewish state?

According to the Jerusalem Post, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, convened his nation’s consuls in the country for an emergency briefing and told them that last week’s dispute, which began with the announcement of new apartments being built in East Jerusalem, has become the “worst crisis” between Israel and the U.S. since 1975.

Given the escalation of American attacks on Israel’s government from a variety of sources in the last few days, it’s hard to argue with Oren’s analysis. Israel was in the wrong to have let such an announcement be made while Biden was in the country, but the escalation of the incident from a minor kerfuffle to a genuine crisis seems to be a conscious decision on the part of the administration. After all, had Obama wanted to be truly even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians, he could have treated the Palestinian decision to honor a mass murderer during Biden’s visit as being every bit as insulting as the building of apartments in an existing Jewish neighborhood.

Others have already started to dissect the administration’s motivation. As John wrote, pique and a lack of caring about the consequences play a big role in this crisis. The willingness to push back so disproportionately against Israel, to single it out for opprobrium in a way not customary to this administration even in its treatment of open foes (think back to Obama’s equivocal reaction to the stolen election and repression of dissent in Iran last summer) should also force friends of the Jewish state to return to a question that was much discussed last summer: Why has Obama decided to downgrade relations with Israel?

In 2009, relations between Israel and the United States were primarily characterized by a ginned-up dispute about settlement construction. Not only did Washington choose to make more of an issue about settlements than previous administrations had, it also escalated the problem by specifically rejecting past agreements with Israel regarding construction in those places which the U.S. had acknowledged that Israel would keep even in the event of a far-reaching land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians. Even more troubling for the Israelis was a demand that construction of Jewish homes be halted in Jerusalem.

Though eventually, the Netanyahu government would give way and accept a temporary settlement freeze in the West Bank, it stood its ground on Jerusalem and won. By the end of the year, it appeared as though Obama had understood that his decision to test the Israelis was a failure. The hope that some in the White House had harbored about using their influence to topple the Netanyahu government had been unrealistic. Challenging Netanyahu on Jerusalem had strengthened his popularity. Distancing themselves from Israel had also not gotten the Palestinians to budge on making peace. Nor had it won the United States any extra goodwill in the Muslim world. It had just raised unreasonable expectations about Obama delivering Israel to them on a silver platter while motivating no one to greater efforts to cope with a real threat to both the United States and Israel: Iran’s nuclear program.

By the time of Biden’s visit last week, it had appeared that the administration had learned its lesson and was no longer placing any faith in the idea that pressure on Israel would do anyone any good. But the way they have gone off the deep end about an issue that was supposedly resolved last year makes you wonder how much Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have learned from their first year in office. Specifically, have they decided that this is an opportunity to make another push to get rid of Netanyahu by leveraging the dismay that Israelis feel about last week’s blunder?

The administration’s dispute with Netanyahu and with the mainstream pro-Israel community, which continues to support Israel’s democratically-elected government (as demonstrated by the statements from the Anti-Defamation League and the AIPAC condemning Obama’s overreaction), was never so much about boosting the non-existent chances for peace with the Palestinians as it was about changing the relationship between the two countries from one of close friendship to a more adversarial one. Hillary Clinton’s reported demands for more pointless Israeli concessions and the prospects for another year of non-action on Iranian nukes leave us with the same question we were asking a few months ago: When will Obama’s Jewish supporters face up to the fact that the man in the White House is no friend to the Jewish state?

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No Way to Run a Foreign Policy

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors share many observers’ consternation over the Obami’s latest war of words with Israel. The editors note that engagement is all the rage when it comes to Syria but not when it comes to the Jewish state. On the flap over building in Jerusalem, they write:

In a speech at Tel Aviv University two days after the Israeli announcement, Mr. Biden publicly thanked Mr. Netanyahu for “putting in place a process to prevent the recurrence” of similar incidents.

The subsequent escalation by Mrs. Clinton was clearly intended as a highly public rebuke to the Israelis, but its political and strategic logic is puzzling. The U.S. needs Israel’s acquiescence in the Obama Administration’s increasingly drawn-out efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear bid through diplomacy or sanctions. But Israel’s restraint is measured in direct proportion to its sense that U.S. security guarantees are good. If Israel senses that the Administration is looking for any pretext to blow up relations, it will care much less how the U.S. might react to a military strike on Iran.

As we’ve noted here before, the Obami’s temper tantrum looks especially unwarranted given the particulars of this situation. (“Israeli anxieties about America’s role as an honest broker in any diplomacy won’t be assuaged by the Administration’s neuralgia over this particular housing project, which falls within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries and can only be described as a ‘settlement’ in the maximalist terms defined by the Palestinians.”) Perhaps this is a pretext for regime change (i.e., to go after Bibi). Maybe this is the undisciplined and very thin-skinned Obami demonstrating their lack of professionalism. Or maybe this is par for the course — courting our enemies while squeezing our friends.

Whatever it is, it’s counterproductive. The Obami have made hash out of the U.S.-Israel relationship:

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has told the country’s diplomats there that U.S.-Israeli relations face their worst crisis in 35 years, despite attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to project a sense of “business as usual.” Oren was speaking to the Israeli consuls general in a conference call on Saturday night.

And this certainly isn’t going to move the ball ahead on the “peace process.” As Bill Kristol put it on Fox News Sunday:

Why are there proximity talks instead of direct peace talks? Whose insistence is that? Netanyahu wants to have direct peace talks. That’s the Palestinians who already are saying we can’t have direct talks, we have to have only proximity talks. Then the U.S. wildly overreacts and now, of course, there are not even going to be proximity talks. So, fine. If that’s what the Obama administration wants, there won’t be these talks, which weren’t going anywhere anyway.

It’s difficult to see who could possibly be pleased with this performance — not skeptics of the peace process, not boosters of it, and certainly not the Israelis. For those enamored of processing peace, this must surely come as unwelcome news, for why would the Palestinians make any move at the bargaining table “when the international community continues to press for maximum concrete concessions from the Israelis in exchange for words more worthless than the air upon which they float away as soon as they’re uttered.” And as for the Palestinians, well they’re delighted to have a president so infatuated with their grievances. They’re once again learning the wrong lesson: fixation on settlements and obstruction gets them American support. What it won’t get them, of course, is their own state.

If they’re honest, those who vouched for Obama’s superior temperament and his pro-Israel bona fides must be embarrassed. For those of us who suspected that this president lacked a fundamental attachment to Israel, critical national-security experience, and a full appreciation for why we don’t have “peace” in the Middle East (it’s not housing sites, especially ones clearly within the Jewish state in any future two-state deal), there’s little comfort in saying, “We told you so.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors share many observers’ consternation over the Obami’s latest war of words with Israel. The editors note that engagement is all the rage when it comes to Syria but not when it comes to the Jewish state. On the flap over building in Jerusalem, they write:

In a speech at Tel Aviv University two days after the Israeli announcement, Mr. Biden publicly thanked Mr. Netanyahu for “putting in place a process to prevent the recurrence” of similar incidents.

The subsequent escalation by Mrs. Clinton was clearly intended as a highly public rebuke to the Israelis, but its political and strategic logic is puzzling. The U.S. needs Israel’s acquiescence in the Obama Administration’s increasingly drawn-out efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear bid through diplomacy or sanctions. But Israel’s restraint is measured in direct proportion to its sense that U.S. security guarantees are good. If Israel senses that the Administration is looking for any pretext to blow up relations, it will care much less how the U.S. might react to a military strike on Iran.

As we’ve noted here before, the Obami’s temper tantrum looks especially unwarranted given the particulars of this situation. (“Israeli anxieties about America’s role as an honest broker in any diplomacy won’t be assuaged by the Administration’s neuralgia over this particular housing project, which falls within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries and can only be described as a ‘settlement’ in the maximalist terms defined by the Palestinians.”) Perhaps this is a pretext for regime change (i.e., to go after Bibi). Maybe this is the undisciplined and very thin-skinned Obami demonstrating their lack of professionalism. Or maybe this is par for the course — courting our enemies while squeezing our friends.

Whatever it is, it’s counterproductive. The Obami have made hash out of the U.S.-Israel relationship:

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has told the country’s diplomats there that U.S.-Israeli relations face their worst crisis in 35 years, despite attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to project a sense of “business as usual.” Oren was speaking to the Israeli consuls general in a conference call on Saturday night.

And this certainly isn’t going to move the ball ahead on the “peace process.” As Bill Kristol put it on Fox News Sunday:

Why are there proximity talks instead of direct peace talks? Whose insistence is that? Netanyahu wants to have direct peace talks. That’s the Palestinians who already are saying we can’t have direct talks, we have to have only proximity talks. Then the U.S. wildly overreacts and now, of course, there are not even going to be proximity talks. So, fine. If that’s what the Obama administration wants, there won’t be these talks, which weren’t going anywhere anyway.

It’s difficult to see who could possibly be pleased with this performance — not skeptics of the peace process, not boosters of it, and certainly not the Israelis. For those enamored of processing peace, this must surely come as unwelcome news, for why would the Palestinians make any move at the bargaining table “when the international community continues to press for maximum concrete concessions from the Israelis in exchange for words more worthless than the air upon which they float away as soon as they’re uttered.” And as for the Palestinians, well they’re delighted to have a president so infatuated with their grievances. They’re once again learning the wrong lesson: fixation on settlements and obstruction gets them American support. What it won’t get them, of course, is their own state.

If they’re honest, those who vouched for Obama’s superior temperament and his pro-Israel bona fides must be embarrassed. For those of us who suspected that this president lacked a fundamental attachment to Israel, critical national-security experience, and a full appreciation for why we don’t have “peace” in the Middle East (it’s not housing sites, especially ones clearly within the Jewish state in any future two-state deal), there’s little comfort in saying, “We told you so.”

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The ADL Is Wrong: Boycotts Can Be Kosher

A long simmering dispute about the level of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement going on at the University of California at Irvine has prompted a debate between Jewish groups about the propriety of academic boycotts. After the latest incident in which heckler disrupted a speech being given by Michael Oren — Israel’s ambassador to the United States — at the school’s campus, the Zionist Organization of America has called for donors to cease making contributions to the institution and for students to stop applying to the school. But the Anti-Defamation League says this is a mistake, since such boycotts are a “double-edged sword that legitimizes a tactic so often used against Jews and Israel.”

The problem with UC Irvine goes deeper than just the bunch of loudmouths who interrupted Oren. For a number of years, the Irvine campus’s Muslim Student Union and its leftist allies have made the school a haven of Israel-and-Jew bashing without the university’s administration doing much or anything about it. The result has apparently been the creation of a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students. Repeated attempts to get the university to address the grievances of the Jewish community have failed. After years of talking about the problem, the ZOA has apparently concluded that the only thing the school will understand is a boycott that will bring home to them that their indulgence of radical anti-Israel and anti-Jewish elements has consequences. The ADL prefers to keep the lines of communications open with the university and, in its usual manner, spends as much time complimenting the administration for the little it has done as it does criticizing them for their obvious failures.

The conflict on campus is sometimes construed as one between free speech and civility. On the one hand, friends of Israel have a right to expect that a campus mafia of Muslim Jew-haters does not disrupt pro-Israel speakers and events, thus protecting the right of the Jews to free speech. That means that anti-Israel events must have the same protection. Yet if the latter descend as they often do, into hate speech against Israelis and Jews, a university that claims to be trying to create a haven of free inquiry must at some point step in and say enough is enough. The dispute here is not between Jews and Arabs who both want to be heard but rather between a democratic Zionist movement on campus that is under siege and a Muslim anti-Zionist movement that holds fundraisers for Hamas terrorists.

The question here is whether, after repeated attempts to get satisfaction, the Jewish community is justified in throwing up its hands and saying that it serves no further purpose to go on supporting a place that allows such a situation to persist — or whether, by contrast, it should continue its quiet diplomacy aimed at flattering or shaming the university into doing the right thing. The ZOA and the ADL, with their very different organizational cultures — the former being rabble-rousing activists at heart and the latter, the quintessential establishment group — are bound to disagree about that.

But no matter whether you think further efforts to improve the situation at UC Irvine are warranted or not, the ADL’s belief that boycotts are inherently wrong cannot be sustained. It is true that in our own time anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements have attempted to create boycotts of Israeli academics and produce and that the Jewish community has rightly decried such despicable campaigns. But these boycotts are wrong not because a desire to isolate any movement or country is inherently evil but rather because it is unjust to apply such measures to a democratic state besieged by terrorists who wish to destroy. In the past, Jews have readily embraced boycotts. Jewish activists once boycotted the Soviet Union and protested any commerce or diplomatic niceties conducted with an anti-Semitic Communist government, which had refused to let Russian Jews immigrate to freedom in Israel or the United States. Jews also boycotted Germany during the 1930s as the Nazis set the stage for the Holocaust. There is also the fact that the vast majority of American Jews were profoundly sympathetic to boycotts of grapes picked by non-union labor as well as those aimed at isolating apartheid-era South Africa. The idea that one cannot boycott evildoers just because leftist extremists wish to wrongly use the same tactic on Israel makes no sense.

Thus, one can argue that the ZOA’s boycott of UC Irvine is unjustified, not helpful, or even premature. But you cannot, as the ADL does, argue that there is something inherently wrong with any boycott. The principle of free speech must protect pro-Israel speakers as well as forums for those who take the other side. But no principle obligates any Jew to attend or contribute to a school where Jews are made to feel uncomfortable or where fundraisers are held for groups that kill Jews.

A long simmering dispute about the level of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement going on at the University of California at Irvine has prompted a debate between Jewish groups about the propriety of academic boycotts. After the latest incident in which heckler disrupted a speech being given by Michael Oren — Israel’s ambassador to the United States — at the school’s campus, the Zionist Organization of America has called for donors to cease making contributions to the institution and for students to stop applying to the school. But the Anti-Defamation League says this is a mistake, since such boycotts are a “double-edged sword that legitimizes a tactic so often used against Jews and Israel.”

The problem with UC Irvine goes deeper than just the bunch of loudmouths who interrupted Oren. For a number of years, the Irvine campus’s Muslim Student Union and its leftist allies have made the school a haven of Israel-and-Jew bashing without the university’s administration doing much or anything about it. The result has apparently been the creation of a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students. Repeated attempts to get the university to address the grievances of the Jewish community have failed. After years of talking about the problem, the ZOA has apparently concluded that the only thing the school will understand is a boycott that will bring home to them that their indulgence of radical anti-Israel and anti-Jewish elements has consequences. The ADL prefers to keep the lines of communications open with the university and, in its usual manner, spends as much time complimenting the administration for the little it has done as it does criticizing them for their obvious failures.

The conflict on campus is sometimes construed as one between free speech and civility. On the one hand, friends of Israel have a right to expect that a campus mafia of Muslim Jew-haters does not disrupt pro-Israel speakers and events, thus protecting the right of the Jews to free speech. That means that anti-Israel events must have the same protection. Yet if the latter descend as they often do, into hate speech against Israelis and Jews, a university that claims to be trying to create a haven of free inquiry must at some point step in and say enough is enough. The dispute here is not between Jews and Arabs who both want to be heard but rather between a democratic Zionist movement on campus that is under siege and a Muslim anti-Zionist movement that holds fundraisers for Hamas terrorists.

The question here is whether, after repeated attempts to get satisfaction, the Jewish community is justified in throwing up its hands and saying that it serves no further purpose to go on supporting a place that allows such a situation to persist — or whether, by contrast, it should continue its quiet diplomacy aimed at flattering or shaming the university into doing the right thing. The ZOA and the ADL, with their very different organizational cultures — the former being rabble-rousing activists at heart and the latter, the quintessential establishment group — are bound to disagree about that.

But no matter whether you think further efforts to improve the situation at UC Irvine are warranted or not, the ADL’s belief that boycotts are inherently wrong cannot be sustained. It is true that in our own time anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements have attempted to create boycotts of Israeli academics and produce and that the Jewish community has rightly decried such despicable campaigns. But these boycotts are wrong not because a desire to isolate any movement or country is inherently evil but rather because it is unjust to apply such measures to a democratic state besieged by terrorists who wish to destroy. In the past, Jews have readily embraced boycotts. Jewish activists once boycotted the Soviet Union and protested any commerce or diplomatic niceties conducted with an anti-Semitic Communist government, which had refused to let Russian Jews immigrate to freedom in Israel or the United States. Jews also boycotted Germany during the 1930s as the Nazis set the stage for the Holocaust. There is also the fact that the vast majority of American Jews were profoundly sympathetic to boycotts of grapes picked by non-union labor as well as those aimed at isolating apartheid-era South Africa. The idea that one cannot boycott evildoers just because leftist extremists wish to wrongly use the same tactic on Israel makes no sense.

Thus, one can argue that the ZOA’s boycott of UC Irvine is unjustified, not helpful, or even premature. But you cannot, as the ADL does, argue that there is something inherently wrong with any boycott. The principle of free speech must protect pro-Israel speakers as well as forums for those who take the other side. But no principle obligates any Jew to attend or contribute to a school where Jews are made to feel uncomfortable or where fundraisers are held for groups that kill Jews.

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J Street’s Agenda Remains Irrelevant to Middle East Realities

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, threw the left-wing lobby J Street a few bones in an interview last week. JTA quotes Oren as telling a California Jewish newspaper that the “J Street controversy has come a long way toward resolving. The major concern with J Street was their position on security issues, not the peace process. J Street has now come and supported Congressman [Howard] Berman’s Iran sanction bill; it has condemned the Goldstone report; it has denounced the British court’s decision to try Tzipi Livni for war crimes, which puts J Street much more into the mainstream.”

By refusing to appear at J Street’s conference last fall and saying that its views on Israel were “dangerous,” Oren demonstrated Israel’s impatience with a lobby whose agenda was solely focused on instigating pressure on Israel from the Obama administration while foiling pressure on Iran. It’s understandable that Oren would attempt to reward some moderation in their stands. His priority is to aid the assembly of the largest possible coalition of support for Israel, not to punish those whose efforts are, at best, less than helpful. However, to the extent that J Street is trying to behave like a mainstream organization — an assumption that is certainly open to debate — this change reflects two important factors.

First is the complete irrelevance of J Street’s main idea: that there is a need for a Jewish lobby whose purpose is to push Washington to push Israel to make peace. As the events of the last year continue to prove, the obstacle to peace remains the Palestinians and their political culture of violence and hatred for Israel. As much as the Jewish Left has gained in the United States during the Obama presidency, the Left in Israel is as close to dead as it can be. That’s because the overwhelming majority of Israelis understand that after Oslo’s false promises, Arafat’s refusal of a state in the West Bank and Jerusalem in 2000 and 2001, and Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal of an even more generous offer in 2008, the Palestinian nationalist movement Fatah has proved it is not interested in a state as long as that state must live in peace alongside Israel. That the even more extreme Hamas terrorist movement controls Gaza and might expand someday into the West Bank if Israel abandons its security presence there has rendered the idea of further concessions and withdrawals absurd. This is a political reality that no amount of pressure from either Obama or the American Left can alter.

But just as the Obama administration may be backing off its initial desire to push Israel into a corner, its Jewish cheering section at J Street may be starting to see that its initial extreme positions, such as opposing Israel’s counteroffensive into Gaza last year (an operation that had wall-to-wall political support in Israel), were a disaster. For all the controversy in the American Jewish community about whether J Street is “pro” or “anti” Israel, the bottom line is that J Street’s platform is simply irrelevant to the situation that Israel actually faces.

But J Street’s real purpose was never so much about influencing the peace process as it was a reflection of the desire on the part of the American Jewish Left to challenge mainstream groups for influence here, not at the peace table in the Middle East. J Street’s agenda is about American politics, not peace. But though most American Jews remain loyal liberal Democrats, the idea that a new group was needed to push for more Israeli concessions after all that has happened in the past two decades is ludicrous. The issue for American friends of Israel today is whether they are prepared to speak up for the existence of the Jewish state and its right of self-defense, not the stale old Left-Right arguments that have been rehearsed again and again in the past quarter century. If J Street wants to be anything more than the Jewish rump of Moveon.org, it must do things like support sanctions on Iran and back Israel’s right to self-defense. These are positions that undermine the entire reason for the group’s founding. But whether they can stay on this path — and I doubt it — this pat on the head from Israel’s ambassador reflects the fact that it has failed to muster support for an extreme agenda that it must either downplay or abandon.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, threw the left-wing lobby J Street a few bones in an interview last week. JTA quotes Oren as telling a California Jewish newspaper that the “J Street controversy has come a long way toward resolving. The major concern with J Street was their position on security issues, not the peace process. J Street has now come and supported Congressman [Howard] Berman’s Iran sanction bill; it has condemned the Goldstone report; it has denounced the British court’s decision to try Tzipi Livni for war crimes, which puts J Street much more into the mainstream.”

By refusing to appear at J Street’s conference last fall and saying that its views on Israel were “dangerous,” Oren demonstrated Israel’s impatience with a lobby whose agenda was solely focused on instigating pressure on Israel from the Obama administration while foiling pressure on Iran. It’s understandable that Oren would attempt to reward some moderation in their stands. His priority is to aid the assembly of the largest possible coalition of support for Israel, not to punish those whose efforts are, at best, less than helpful. However, to the extent that J Street is trying to behave like a mainstream organization — an assumption that is certainly open to debate — this change reflects two important factors.

First is the complete irrelevance of J Street’s main idea: that there is a need for a Jewish lobby whose purpose is to push Washington to push Israel to make peace. As the events of the last year continue to prove, the obstacle to peace remains the Palestinians and their political culture of violence and hatred for Israel. As much as the Jewish Left has gained in the United States during the Obama presidency, the Left in Israel is as close to dead as it can be. That’s because the overwhelming majority of Israelis understand that after Oslo’s false promises, Arafat’s refusal of a state in the West Bank and Jerusalem in 2000 and 2001, and Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal of an even more generous offer in 2008, the Palestinian nationalist movement Fatah has proved it is not interested in a state as long as that state must live in peace alongside Israel. That the even more extreme Hamas terrorist movement controls Gaza and might expand someday into the West Bank if Israel abandons its security presence there has rendered the idea of further concessions and withdrawals absurd. This is a political reality that no amount of pressure from either Obama or the American Left can alter.

But just as the Obama administration may be backing off its initial desire to push Israel into a corner, its Jewish cheering section at J Street may be starting to see that its initial extreme positions, such as opposing Israel’s counteroffensive into Gaza last year (an operation that had wall-to-wall political support in Israel), were a disaster. For all the controversy in the American Jewish community about whether J Street is “pro” or “anti” Israel, the bottom line is that J Street’s platform is simply irrelevant to the situation that Israel actually faces.

But J Street’s real purpose was never so much about influencing the peace process as it was a reflection of the desire on the part of the American Jewish Left to challenge mainstream groups for influence here, not at the peace table in the Middle East. J Street’s agenda is about American politics, not peace. But though most American Jews remain loyal liberal Democrats, the idea that a new group was needed to push for more Israeli concessions after all that has happened in the past two decades is ludicrous. The issue for American friends of Israel today is whether they are prepared to speak up for the existence of the Jewish state and its right of self-defense, not the stale old Left-Right arguments that have been rehearsed again and again in the past quarter century. If J Street wants to be anything more than the Jewish rump of Moveon.org, it must do things like support sanctions on Iran and back Israel’s right to self-defense. These are positions that undermine the entire reason for the group’s founding. But whether they can stay on this path — and I doubt it — this pat on the head from Israel’s ambassador reflects the fact that it has failed to muster support for an extreme agenda that it must either downplay or abandon.

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Hooligans, an Ambassador, and a General

As a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (class of ’91), a.k.a Berzerkely, I am by now fairly inured to displays of political correctness — the totalitarian impulse in action — on campus. I saw enough demonstrations — including one that turned into an actual riot with the burning of cars and the looting of stores on Telegraph Avenue — not to be shocked by most of what goes on in our citadels of higher learning. But I admit I am still deeply dismayed to see the treatment accorded in recent weeks to two of the people I most admire in this world — Michael Oren, the noted historian and Israeli combat veteran who is now Israel’s ambassador to Washington, and General David Petraeus, head of Central Command.

Oren spoke at the University of California, Irvine; Petraeus, at Georgetown. Both are unusually thoughtful individuals who are happy to engage in a civilized debate with just about anyone. But what greeted them was hardly civilized. Both speeches were thoroughly disrupted by hecklers — in the former instance, by members of the Muslim Student Union who are presumably opposed to Israel’s very existence (at least, judging by the rally they held afterward, chanting “anti-Israel, anti-Israel”), in the latter instance, by opponents of the war in Iraq, who loudly tried to read the names of Iraq War dead. You can see the videos here — for Georgetown and Irvine.

The demonstration at Georgetown was particularly disturbing in light of the common trope heard among the anti-war movement that they “oppose the war but support the soldiers waging the war.” In this case, their disrespect for our greatest general — a man who has repeatedly risked his life in the country’s service and whose son is now putting his own life on the line as a young officer — gives the lie to the slogan.

I can only hope that the universities in question take appropriate steps to deal with these campus hooligans. Anything short of expulsion, or at least suspension, would seem to be a wrist-slap that will only encourage more such misconduct in the future and make a mockery of the free speech that universities are supposed to champion.

As a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (class of ’91), a.k.a Berzerkely, I am by now fairly inured to displays of political correctness — the totalitarian impulse in action — on campus. I saw enough demonstrations — including one that turned into an actual riot with the burning of cars and the looting of stores on Telegraph Avenue — not to be shocked by most of what goes on in our citadels of higher learning. But I admit I am still deeply dismayed to see the treatment accorded in recent weeks to two of the people I most admire in this world — Michael Oren, the noted historian and Israeli combat veteran who is now Israel’s ambassador to Washington, and General David Petraeus, head of Central Command.

Oren spoke at the University of California, Irvine; Petraeus, at Georgetown. Both are unusually thoughtful individuals who are happy to engage in a civilized debate with just about anyone. But what greeted them was hardly civilized. Both speeches were thoroughly disrupted by hecklers — in the former instance, by members of the Muslim Student Union who are presumably opposed to Israel’s very existence (at least, judging by the rally they held afterward, chanting “anti-Israel, anti-Israel”), in the latter instance, by opponents of the war in Iraq, who loudly tried to read the names of Iraq War dead. You can see the videos here — for Georgetown and Irvine.

The demonstration at Georgetown was particularly disturbing in light of the common trope heard among the anti-war movement that they “oppose the war but support the soldiers waging the war.” In this case, their disrespect for our greatest general — a man who has repeatedly risked his life in the country’s service and whose son is now putting his own life on the line as a young officer — gives the lie to the slogan.

I can only hope that the universities in question take appropriate steps to deal with these campus hooligans. Anything short of expulsion, or at least suspension, would seem to be a wrist-slap that will only encourage more such misconduct in the future and make a mockery of the free speech that universities are supposed to champion.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Seen the latest ad for Hugo Chavez’s oil company? Lots of happy old people given free oil by the dictator, and then: “In swoops Joe Kennedy II with Citizens Energy and the kind people of Venezuela to lend a hand (or two?) and heating oil enough for everyone. Kennedy’s all smiles but they forgot the part where Hugo Chavez shuts down the media and arrests his political opponents. I guess that would have made the ad too long.” Good thing he didn’t talk about how great families and babies are.

Oh, puhleez. Michael Steele plays the race card: “I don’t see stories about the internal operations of the DNC that I see about this operation. Why? Is it because Michael Steele is the chairman, or is it because a black man is chairman?”

Just a year ago Republicans were declared dead in New England. Now New Hampshire looks awfully Red. Actually, it looks Red all over. Rasmussen shows the GOP with an eight-point lead in the generic congressional poll. And John Kasich has a solid lead in the Ohio gubernatorial race.

The boys sure are obsessed with her: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs poked fun at Sarah Palin today, pretending to look to notes on his hand for a reminder during his daily briefing. The gesture was a not-so-subtle shot at Palin, whom reporters spotted using a crib sheet on her hand during a speech this weekend at the National Tea Party convention.” At least Gibbs didn’t talk about her breasts.

Rep. Peter King blasts away at “egomaniac” John Brennan for claiming that Obama’s critics are serving the “goals of al-Qaeda”: “It is ‘the most mindless, self-serving, and irresponsible statement that a homeland-security adviser can make,’ King says. … ‘Brennan is trying to be cute by saying that on Christmas Day he briefed Republicans and Democrats. Leave aside the fact that he didn’t brief me, but he didn’t tell anybody anything that day other than the bare facts that were pretty much known to the public. He said that [Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] was in FBI custody. Now he’s claiming that that means he told people that [Abdulmutallab] was receiving Miranda rights and no one objected. If that’s what Brennan considers being honest and forthright, then we know that John Brennan is not being honest and forthright.'”

The billboard says “Miss Me Yet?” Why, yes, Mr. President.

Paul Begala or Karl Rove? “Incrementalists, stunned by what they see as overly broad and rapid change, are looking for the brakes. Radicals, depressed about the snail’s pace of progress, are looking for the exits.”

Jeffrey Goldberg spots the Muslim Student Union of the University of California at Irvine condemning the appearance of Israel Ambassador Michael Oren because — but of course! — Israel has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Council. “To the Muslim Student Union, the fact that the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel more than all the other countries of the world combined means that Israel is worse than all the other countries of the world combined. To more rational, less prejudiced people, this fact means that the UN Human Rights Council is not a serious organization, but one under the control of dictators and despots.” Remind me why the Obami thought it necessary to rejoin that body?

Oren was heckled, which is no surprise. But it is nice to find a college political-science professor willing to call out the thuggery: “Prof. Mark P. Petracca, chairman of the university’s Political Science department, chastised the protesters, telling them, ‘This is beyond embarrassing. … This is no way for our undergraduate students to behave. We have an opportunity to hear from a policy-maker relevant to one of the most important issues facing this planet and you are preventing not only yourself from hearing him but hundreds of other people in this room and hundreds of other people in an overflow room. Shame on you! This is not an example of free speech.'”

Seen the latest ad for Hugo Chavez’s oil company? Lots of happy old people given free oil by the dictator, and then: “In swoops Joe Kennedy II with Citizens Energy and the kind people of Venezuela to lend a hand (or two?) and heating oil enough for everyone. Kennedy’s all smiles but they forgot the part where Hugo Chavez shuts down the media and arrests his political opponents. I guess that would have made the ad too long.” Good thing he didn’t talk about how great families and babies are.

Oh, puhleez. Michael Steele plays the race card: “I don’t see stories about the internal operations of the DNC that I see about this operation. Why? Is it because Michael Steele is the chairman, or is it because a black man is chairman?”

Just a year ago Republicans were declared dead in New England. Now New Hampshire looks awfully Red. Actually, it looks Red all over. Rasmussen shows the GOP with an eight-point lead in the generic congressional poll. And John Kasich has a solid lead in the Ohio gubernatorial race.

The boys sure are obsessed with her: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs poked fun at Sarah Palin today, pretending to look to notes on his hand for a reminder during his daily briefing. The gesture was a not-so-subtle shot at Palin, whom reporters spotted using a crib sheet on her hand during a speech this weekend at the National Tea Party convention.” At least Gibbs didn’t talk about her breasts.

Rep. Peter King blasts away at “egomaniac” John Brennan for claiming that Obama’s critics are serving the “goals of al-Qaeda”: “It is ‘the most mindless, self-serving, and irresponsible statement that a homeland-security adviser can make,’ King says. … ‘Brennan is trying to be cute by saying that on Christmas Day he briefed Republicans and Democrats. Leave aside the fact that he didn’t brief me, but he didn’t tell anybody anything that day other than the bare facts that were pretty much known to the public. He said that [Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] was in FBI custody. Now he’s claiming that that means he told people that [Abdulmutallab] was receiving Miranda rights and no one objected. If that’s what Brennan considers being honest and forthright, then we know that John Brennan is not being honest and forthright.'”

The billboard says “Miss Me Yet?” Why, yes, Mr. President.

Paul Begala or Karl Rove? “Incrementalists, stunned by what they see as overly broad and rapid change, are looking for the brakes. Radicals, depressed about the snail’s pace of progress, are looking for the exits.”

Jeffrey Goldberg spots the Muslim Student Union of the University of California at Irvine condemning the appearance of Israel Ambassador Michael Oren because — but of course! — Israel has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Council. “To the Muslim Student Union, the fact that the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel more than all the other countries of the world combined means that Israel is worse than all the other countries of the world combined. To more rational, less prejudiced people, this fact means that the UN Human Rights Council is not a serious organization, but one under the control of dictators and despots.” Remind me why the Obami thought it necessary to rejoin that body?

Oren was heckled, which is no surprise. But it is nice to find a college political-science professor willing to call out the thuggery: “Prof. Mark P. Petracca, chairman of the university’s Political Science department, chastised the protesters, telling them, ‘This is beyond embarrassing. … This is no way for our undergraduate students to behave. We have an opportunity to hear from a policy-maker relevant to one of the most important issues facing this planet and you are preventing not only yourself from hearing him but hundreds of other people in this room and hundreds of other people in an overflow room. Shame on you! This is not an example of free speech.'”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Cliff May tries to explain satire to the Beagle Blogger. And it doesn’t even involve Sarah Palin.

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick, on designating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant: “The question of what type of legal status we ought to grant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains a live question with serious implications for the national security of the United States. As the situation now stands, with an untold number of plots in the works, treating this man as a criminal defendant requires us to count upon the discretion and good will of a would-be mass murderer.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey doesn’t think Flight 253 was “a problem of coordination”: “It was about people within the agencies pulling in their horns. The only person who can turn this around is the president. Not much will change unless he speaks up. He needs to tell people that this is a long struggle against radical Islam and its manifestations.” I hope I am wrong but somehow I don’t think Obama is the one to “smash political correctness upside the head.”

A top-tier GOP contender shows interest in a Blue state senate race: “Republican Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) signaled Monday that he is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in 2010 .King said he’s actively looking at a run for statewide office this year after he’d ruled out such a campaign last summer.” If they suspect it will be a wave election, many more well-known challengers may want to jump into races that in ordinary years would be considered out of reach.

Benny Avni explains why “targeted” sanctions on Iran are a dumb idea: “No one in last week’s well-organized pro-regime mass demonstrations carried a sign advocating diplomacy to defuse tensions with America (and anti-government demonstrators aren’t itching for it either). A diplomatic solution exists only in our head. Some (like [John] Kerry) cling to last year’s foolishness, but for others it’s replaced by a new ‘boomerang’ theory: If we sanction the Iranian people too heavily, they ‘will be fooled into thinking we are to blame,’ as an unnamed administration official told the Washington Post. Nonsense, says Israel Radio’s Farsi Service veteran Menashe Amir, whose broadcasts are often cited by Iranian media as instigating the antigovernment protesters. . . Once again, the ideas underlying Washington’s new policy miss the target. At this late date, sanctions can only be helpful if they facilitate regime change, which should be the top objective of the new strategy. Targeting for sanctions only a handful of evil regime operators would hardly impress the Iranian masses (although it will be widely applauded in Washington and the United Nations).”

The State Department goes rushing to the defense of Hannah Rosenthal (who is supposed to be working on anti-Semitism but took some time out to lash out at Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren for not being nice to her J Street pals). “Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren. ‘Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate . . . She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”

If “Big is bad” is catching on as a political message, how long before voters exact revenge once they figure out that the Democrats have struck a health-care deal with big and bad insurance companies?

James Taranto goes on a roll: “We suppose Napolitano is a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. And it’s true that, apart from allowing a known extremist to board a plane while carrying a bomb, the system worked. . . ABC News reports that ‘one of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007.’ Said Ali Shari, a Saudi national, was released into the custody of our friends the Saudis and “has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen,” says ABC. Heckuva job, Nayef. In fairness, we should note that in November 2007, Barack Obama was only the junior senator from Illinois. This is a problem he inherited from the Bush administration. And he has responded by putting a stop to the release of terrorists from Guantanamo. Just kidding!” Looks like the joke is on us.

Worse than returning the Churchill bust: “The name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was included in a dossier of people believed to have made attempts to deal with known extremists that was shared with American intelligence. . . Abdulmutallab came to the attention of intelligence agencies because of ‘multiple communications’ he had with Islamic extremists in Britain while a student between 2006 and 2008. However, denying reports that the information had not been divulged, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly there was security information about this individual’s activities and that was information that was shared with the US authorities. That is the key point.'”

Cliff May tries to explain satire to the Beagle Blogger. And it doesn’t even involve Sarah Palin.

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick, on designating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant: “The question of what type of legal status we ought to grant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains a live question with serious implications for the national security of the United States. As the situation now stands, with an untold number of plots in the works, treating this man as a criminal defendant requires us to count upon the discretion and good will of a would-be mass murderer.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey doesn’t think Flight 253 was “a problem of coordination”: “It was about people within the agencies pulling in their horns. The only person who can turn this around is the president. Not much will change unless he speaks up. He needs to tell people that this is a long struggle against radical Islam and its manifestations.” I hope I am wrong but somehow I don’t think Obama is the one to “smash political correctness upside the head.”

A top-tier GOP contender shows interest in a Blue state senate race: “Republican Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) signaled Monday that he is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in 2010 .King said he’s actively looking at a run for statewide office this year after he’d ruled out such a campaign last summer.” If they suspect it will be a wave election, many more well-known challengers may want to jump into races that in ordinary years would be considered out of reach.

Benny Avni explains why “targeted” sanctions on Iran are a dumb idea: “No one in last week’s well-organized pro-regime mass demonstrations carried a sign advocating diplomacy to defuse tensions with America (and anti-government demonstrators aren’t itching for it either). A diplomatic solution exists only in our head. Some (like [John] Kerry) cling to last year’s foolishness, but for others it’s replaced by a new ‘boomerang’ theory: If we sanction the Iranian people too heavily, they ‘will be fooled into thinking we are to blame,’ as an unnamed administration official told the Washington Post. Nonsense, says Israel Radio’s Farsi Service veteran Menashe Amir, whose broadcasts are often cited by Iranian media as instigating the antigovernment protesters. . . Once again, the ideas underlying Washington’s new policy miss the target. At this late date, sanctions can only be helpful if they facilitate regime change, which should be the top objective of the new strategy. Targeting for sanctions only a handful of evil regime operators would hardly impress the Iranian masses (although it will be widely applauded in Washington and the United Nations).”

The State Department goes rushing to the defense of Hannah Rosenthal (who is supposed to be working on anti-Semitism but took some time out to lash out at Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren for not being nice to her J Street pals). “Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren. ‘Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate . . . She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”

If “Big is bad” is catching on as a political message, how long before voters exact revenge once they figure out that the Democrats have struck a health-care deal with big and bad insurance companies?

James Taranto goes on a roll: “We suppose Napolitano is a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. And it’s true that, apart from allowing a known extremist to board a plane while carrying a bomb, the system worked. . . ABC News reports that ‘one of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007.’ Said Ali Shari, a Saudi national, was released into the custody of our friends the Saudis and “has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen,” says ABC. Heckuva job, Nayef. In fairness, we should note that in November 2007, Barack Obama was only the junior senator from Illinois. This is a problem he inherited from the Bush administration. And he has responded by putting a stop to the release of terrorists from Guantanamo. Just kidding!” Looks like the joke is on us.

Worse than returning the Churchill bust: “The name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was included in a dossier of people believed to have made attempts to deal with known extremists that was shared with American intelligence. . . Abdulmutallab came to the attention of intelligence agencies because of ‘multiple communications’ he had with Islamic extremists in Britain while a student between 2006 and 2008. However, denying reports that the information had not been divulged, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly there was security information about this individual’s activities and that was information that was shared with the US authorities. That is the key point.'”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Good for the Senate. The nomination of lefty extremist Dawn Johnsen for the Office of Legal Counsel and two other nominations were returned to the White House. One of those is Mary Smith, nominated to head the tax division. She is not a tax lawyer, has never practiced tax law, and has never even taken continuing legal education in the subject area. But she is a Native American who worked on multiple Democratic campaigns. Perhaps we can finally begin to de-politicize the Justice Department.

Nebraska Gov. David Heineman blasts Sen. Ben Nelson. “The reason he’s in hot water right now is that he’s not listening to Nebraskans – it’s very unusual for him. . . I am shocked.” Sounds like the stump speech for Nelson’s 2012 opponent. But Michael Gerson suggests that Nelson is a sweet man who doesn’t understand what he agreed to on abortion subsidies. Maybe once he finds out, his mind can be changed.

Smart advice on the John Kerry trip to Tehran: “The Kerry mission would also look like a panicky effort to persuade the Ayatollah Ali Khamanei to accept the increasingly plaintive U.S. offers of engagement. Mr. Obama has set the end of this month as his latest deadline for progress on nuclear talks before he says he’ll seek tougher sanctions against Iran at the U.N. . .  The regime would probably exploit the visit for its own domestic purposes, perhaps adding to its P.R. coup by releasing to Mr. Kerry the three hapless American hikers it has promised to put on trial for having ‘suspicious aims’ as they wandered across the border with Iraq.”

Give the military option a chance, suggests Alan Kuperman from the pages of the New York Times: “Incentives and sanctions will not work, but air strikes could degrade and deter Iran’s bomb program at relatively little cost or risk, and therefore are worth a try. They should be precision attacks, aimed only at nuclear facilities, to remind Iran of the many other valuable sites that could be bombed if it were foolish enough to retaliate. . . Postponing military action merely provides Iran a window to expand, disperse and harden its nuclear facilities against attack. The sooner the United States takes action, the better.”

The U.S. launches a successful strike in Yemen, but Major Nadal Hassan’s favorite iman survives. So why is it that we are releasing Guantanamo detainees to a country so stocked with terrorists?

And although the Obami seem not to want to recognize it, we are in a war: “A Nigerian man, claiming to be linked to al-Qaeda, allegedly tried to set off an incendiary device aboard a transatlantic airplane Friday as it descended toward Detroit’s airport in what the White House called an attempted act of terrorism.” This would be the second domestic terrorist attack (Hassan, the first) this year. Oh, and the suspect claims he was given assistance in Yemen.

J Street Board member Hannah Rosenthal, now the Obami’s “anti-semitism czar(ina)” takes a shot at Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for criticizing her J Street pals.

Jewish organizations respond with surprising vehemence. (Could the days of gritting their teeth over outrageous administration statements may be finally at an end?) The administration responds with a statement: “The Department of State values its close relationship with Ambassador Michael Oren and his staff at the Embassy of Israel in Washington. The United States and Israel enjoy extraordinarily close ties based on shared values, interests, and history, as well as the deep bonds between the Israeli people and the American people.” And so forth. So what about Rosenthal — if she is out of step with those she ostensibly serves (the Obama administration, not the J Street gang) what is she doing there?

Sen. Mark Warner insists he wants to be a radical centrist. But he keeps voting for Obama’s leftwing agenda including the government takeover of healthcare so he’s not doing much to differentiate himself from the run-of-mill liberal Democrats. Virginia voters have figured it out: “An automated poll conducted by SurveyUSA shows that Warner’s approval rating has fallen among independents and Republicans since January.”

Good for the Senate. The nomination of lefty extremist Dawn Johnsen for the Office of Legal Counsel and two other nominations were returned to the White House. One of those is Mary Smith, nominated to head the tax division. She is not a tax lawyer, has never practiced tax law, and has never even taken continuing legal education in the subject area. But she is a Native American who worked on multiple Democratic campaigns. Perhaps we can finally begin to de-politicize the Justice Department.

Nebraska Gov. David Heineman blasts Sen. Ben Nelson. “The reason he’s in hot water right now is that he’s not listening to Nebraskans – it’s very unusual for him. . . I am shocked.” Sounds like the stump speech for Nelson’s 2012 opponent. But Michael Gerson suggests that Nelson is a sweet man who doesn’t understand what he agreed to on abortion subsidies. Maybe once he finds out, his mind can be changed.

Smart advice on the John Kerry trip to Tehran: “The Kerry mission would also look like a panicky effort to persuade the Ayatollah Ali Khamanei to accept the increasingly plaintive U.S. offers of engagement. Mr. Obama has set the end of this month as his latest deadline for progress on nuclear talks before he says he’ll seek tougher sanctions against Iran at the U.N. . .  The regime would probably exploit the visit for its own domestic purposes, perhaps adding to its P.R. coup by releasing to Mr. Kerry the three hapless American hikers it has promised to put on trial for having ‘suspicious aims’ as they wandered across the border with Iraq.”

Give the military option a chance, suggests Alan Kuperman from the pages of the New York Times: “Incentives and sanctions will not work, but air strikes could degrade and deter Iran’s bomb program at relatively little cost or risk, and therefore are worth a try. They should be precision attacks, aimed only at nuclear facilities, to remind Iran of the many other valuable sites that could be bombed if it were foolish enough to retaliate. . . Postponing military action merely provides Iran a window to expand, disperse and harden its nuclear facilities against attack. The sooner the United States takes action, the better.”

The U.S. launches a successful strike in Yemen, but Major Nadal Hassan’s favorite iman survives. So why is it that we are releasing Guantanamo detainees to a country so stocked with terrorists?

And although the Obami seem not to want to recognize it, we are in a war: “A Nigerian man, claiming to be linked to al-Qaeda, allegedly tried to set off an incendiary device aboard a transatlantic airplane Friday as it descended toward Detroit’s airport in what the White House called an attempted act of terrorism.” This would be the second domestic terrorist attack (Hassan, the first) this year. Oh, and the suspect claims he was given assistance in Yemen.

J Street Board member Hannah Rosenthal, now the Obami’s “anti-semitism czar(ina)” takes a shot at Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for criticizing her J Street pals.

Jewish organizations respond with surprising vehemence. (Could the days of gritting their teeth over outrageous administration statements may be finally at an end?) The administration responds with a statement: “The Department of State values its close relationship with Ambassador Michael Oren and his staff at the Embassy of Israel in Washington. The United States and Israel enjoy extraordinarily close ties based on shared values, interests, and history, as well as the deep bonds between the Israeli people and the American people.” And so forth. So what about Rosenthal — if she is out of step with those she ostensibly serves (the Obama administration, not the J Street gang) what is she doing there?

Sen. Mark Warner insists he wants to be a radical centrist. But he keeps voting for Obama’s leftwing agenda including the government takeover of healthcare so he’s not doing much to differentiate himself from the run-of-mill liberal Democrats. Virginia voters have figured it out: “An automated poll conducted by SurveyUSA shows that Warner’s approval rating has fallen among independents and Republicans since January.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

COMMENTARY contributor Abe Greenwald catches Obama going neocon and observes: “As evil is now part of Barack Obama’s war lexicon, he must make this point, and he must speak of victory. For once evil is invoked, compromise is off the table. Evil demands defeat.”

Harry Reid’s Medicare “deal” may be falling apart: “Senate moderates who are the linchpin to passing a health care reform bill raised fresh worries Thursday about a proposed Medicare expansion, complicating Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hopes of putting together a filibuster-proof majority for the legislation in the coming days.”

There is “quite a bit of data confirming that Republicans, after hitting bottom, are on the rebound, while Democrats are feeling the heat as the party in power.” It seems that saying no to bad policies is a good strategy after all.

The assistant attorney general for civil rights smears the Justice Department attorneys who were on the trial team in the New Black Panther Party voter case. This is not a smart thing to do while subpoenas seek these same attorneys’ testimony about political interference by Obama appointees.

Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren slams J Street: “This is not a matter of settlements here [or] there. We understand there are differences of opinion. … But when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion. You are fooling around with the lives of 7 million people. This is no joke. … I think it’s very important that you be up-front with them and say why these policies are outside the mainstream and why they are inimical to Israel’s fundamental interests.”

Kentucky Democrats blame a loss in a state-legislature race on the national political environment: “Notably, the GOP focused the race on the Democrats’ healthcare proposal and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).”

Charles Krauthammer explains the “shakedown” in Copenhagen: “Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.”

Kim Strassel thinks the EPA’s threat to regulate carbon emissions by bureaucratic fiat blew up in the Obami’s faces: “At least some congressional Democrats view this as breathing room, a further reason to not tackle a killer issue in the run-up to next year’s election. Mr. Obama may emerge from Copenhagen with some sort of ‘deal.’ But his real problem is getting Congress to act, and his EPA move may have just made that job harder.”

COMMENTARY contributor Abe Greenwald catches Obama going neocon and observes: “As evil is now part of Barack Obama’s war lexicon, he must make this point, and he must speak of victory. For once evil is invoked, compromise is off the table. Evil demands defeat.”

Harry Reid’s Medicare “deal” may be falling apart: “Senate moderates who are the linchpin to passing a health care reform bill raised fresh worries Thursday about a proposed Medicare expansion, complicating Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hopes of putting together a filibuster-proof majority for the legislation in the coming days.”

There is “quite a bit of data confirming that Republicans, after hitting bottom, are on the rebound, while Democrats are feeling the heat as the party in power.” It seems that saying no to bad policies is a good strategy after all.

The assistant attorney general for civil rights smears the Justice Department attorneys who were on the trial team in the New Black Panther Party voter case. This is not a smart thing to do while subpoenas seek these same attorneys’ testimony about political interference by Obama appointees.

Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren slams J Street: “This is not a matter of settlements here [or] there. We understand there are differences of opinion. … But when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion. You are fooling around with the lives of 7 million people. This is no joke. … I think it’s very important that you be up-front with them and say why these policies are outside the mainstream and why they are inimical to Israel’s fundamental interests.”

Kentucky Democrats blame a loss in a state-legislature race on the national political environment: “Notably, the GOP focused the race on the Democrats’ healthcare proposal and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).”

Charles Krauthammer explains the “shakedown” in Copenhagen: “Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.”

Kim Strassel thinks the EPA’s threat to regulate carbon emissions by bureaucratic fiat blew up in the Obami’s faces: “At least some congressional Democrats view this as breathing room, a further reason to not tackle a killer issue in the run-up to next year’s election. Mr. Obama may emerge from Copenhagen with some sort of ‘deal.’ But his real problem is getting Congress to act, and his EPA move may have just made that job harder.”

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Obama Imitates Olmert

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has one of the lowest approval ratings in his country’s history thanks to his disastrous prosecution of the July 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, and contrary to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s delusional and arrogant boasts, Hezbollah didn’t win. I toured South Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut – Hezbollah’s two major strongholds – after the war. The magnitude of the destruction was stunning. It looked like World War II blew through the place. (Click here and here to see photos.) Nasrallah survived and replenished his arsensal stocks, but, as Israeli military historian Michael Oren put it, “If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Israel didn’t win, either. None of Israel’s objectives in Lebanon were accomplished.

The best that can be said of that war is that it was a strategic draw with losses on both sides. Hezbollah absorbed the brunt of the damage.

It should be obvious why Israel didn’t prevail to observers of modern asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency. Olmert’s plan, such as it was, was doomed to fail from Day One. It may not have been obvious then, but it certainly should be by now.

American General David Petraeus proved counterinsurgency in Arabic countries can work. His surge of troops in Iraq is about a change of tactics more than an increase in numbers, and his tactics so far have surpassed all expectations. The “light footprint” model used during former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but American soldiers and Marines had no chance of defeating insurgents from behind barbed wire garrisons. Only now that the troops have left the relative safety and comfort of their bases and intimately integrated themselves into the Iraqi population are they able to isolate and track down the killers. They do so with help from the locals. They acquired that help because they slowly forged trusting relationships and alliances, and because they protect the civilians from violence.

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has one of the lowest approval ratings in his country’s history thanks to his disastrous prosecution of the July 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, and contrary to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s delusional and arrogant boasts, Hezbollah didn’t win. I toured South Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut – Hezbollah’s two major strongholds – after the war. The magnitude of the destruction was stunning. It looked like World War II blew through the place. (Click here and here to see photos.) Nasrallah survived and replenished his arsensal stocks, but, as Israeli military historian Michael Oren put it, “If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Israel didn’t win, either. None of Israel’s objectives in Lebanon were accomplished.

The best that can be said of that war is that it was a strategic draw with losses on both sides. Hezbollah absorbed the brunt of the damage.

It should be obvious why Israel didn’t prevail to observers of modern asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency. Olmert’s plan, such as it was, was doomed to fail from Day One. It may not have been obvious then, but it certainly should be by now.

American General David Petraeus proved counterinsurgency in Arabic countries can work. His surge of troops in Iraq is about a change of tactics more than an increase in numbers, and his tactics so far have surpassed all expectations. The “light footprint” model used during former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but American soldiers and Marines had no chance of defeating insurgents from behind barbed wire garrisons. Only now that the troops have left the relative safety and comfort of their bases and intimately integrated themselves into the Iraqi population are they able to isolate and track down the killers. They do so with help from the locals. They acquired that help because they slowly forged trusting relationships and alliances, and because they protect the civilians from violence.

The Israel Defense Forces did nothing of the sort in Lebanon. Most Lebanese Shias are so hostile to Israel that such a strategy might not work even if David Petraeus himself were in charge of it. Even then it would take years to produce the desired results, just as it has taken several years in Iraq. Israelis have no wish to spend years fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon. International pressure would force them out if they did.

A Petraeus-like strategy wasn’t an option for Olmert. That, however, doesn’t mean we can’t compare the effectiveness of the Olmert and Petraeus strategies.

The Israel Defense Forces fought a month-long asymmetrical war in Lebanon mostly with air strikes. Israel didn’t aim at civilians, but it goes without saying that Israel likewise didn’t protect civilians from violence as the Americans protect Iraqis from violence. That can’t be done from the air. Israel did nothing at all to inspire the people of South Lebanon to come around to their side. Israelis, from the point of view of South Lebanese, are faceless enemies that devastated their towns from the heavens.

Many Hezbollah fighters were killed in the targeted strikes. Bunkers and weapons caches were destroyed. Safe houses proved to be anything but. Civilians as well as combatants were heavily punished.

At the end of the day, though, none of it mattered. Hezbollah remains standing. Their weapons stocks have been replenished by Iran through Syria. Civilian supporters of Nasrallah’s militia are more ferociously anti-Israel than ever. United Nations troops who deployed to the area will inadvertently function as “human shields” for Hezbollah if war breaks out again.

Meanwhile in Iraq, Al Qaeda has been vanquished almost everywhere. Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Shia Mahdi Army militia declared a unilateral ceasefire. Many previously anti-American enemies have flipped to our side. Overall violence has been reduced by almost 90 percent. 75 percent of Baghdad is now secure.

Responsible political leaders and military commanders would be well-advised to analyze both approaches to assymetrical warfare and counterinsurgency, and to hew as closely as possible to the Petraeus model. Olmert’s is broken.

Senator Barack Obama, though, prefers the Olmert model whether he thinks of it that way or not. (Actually, I’m sure he doesn’t think of it as Olmert’s model, though basically that’s what it is.)

“Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq,” says a statement on the senator’s Web site. “He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.” [Emphasis added.]

Targeted strikes do kill some terrorists (and often, tragically, civilians, as well). But they have little or no effect overall in counterinsurgent urban warfare. Perhaps the senator or his advisors should read the new counterinsurgency manual – the one that has proven effective – and compare its strategy to targeted strikes which have proven to fail.

Here is just one critical excerpt:

Sometimes, the More You Protect Your Force, the Less Secure You May Be

1-149. Ultimate success in COIN [Counter-insurgency] is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained… . These practices ensure access to the intelligence needed to drive operations. Following them reinforces the connections with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.

From “Counterinsurgency/FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5”

This strategy was not available to Olmert and the Israel Defense Forces. It will be available to Obama and the United States military should he choose to excercise it.

Obama is competing in a Democratic primary race. Perhaps if he is elected commander in chief and no longer needs to appease the left-wing of his party he will reverse himself and keep Petraeus right where he is. Reality has a way of imposing itself on presidents.

He would be wise to carefully consider what works and what doesn’t, not only for the sakes of the United States and Iraq, but also for purely calculating and self-interested reasons. Obama is a likeable guy. He could, in theory, be a popular president. Olmert, though, was also popular once. He probably never will be again.

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Why Is Bush in Israel?

There is, alas, vanishingly little to say about Bush’s visit to Israel, the most profound effect of which, I feel safe predicting, will be traffic jams in Jerusalem. I share Yossi Alpher’s take: “This visit, like Bush’s Israeli-Palestinian peace process in general, looks to be all hype and superficiality.”

So instead of adding to the verbiage, I’m going to just post some links to what other people are saying.

Michael Oren: “Presidential visits are always characterized as ‘historic,’ but Mr. Bush’s trip to the Jewish state is marked by a lack of momentousness.”

The Economist speculates that Bush’s visit will provide an opportunity for the Israelis to get a read on where America’s commitment to thwarting the Iranian nuclear project stands. I am skeptical.

Amir Taheri: “The president’s tour can acquire a positive meaning only if it is used to shape a new alliance for reform, progress and democratization as the chief guarantor of Middle East peace and security.” I’m a big fan of Taheri’s, but really–is this even remotely plausible?

Jon Alterman, on the excellent new Harvard Middle East Strategy blog: “The Bush administration has been mugged by reality.”

There is, alas, vanishingly little to say about Bush’s visit to Israel, the most profound effect of which, I feel safe predicting, will be traffic jams in Jerusalem. I share Yossi Alpher’s take: “This visit, like Bush’s Israeli-Palestinian peace process in general, looks to be all hype and superficiality.”

So instead of adding to the verbiage, I’m going to just post some links to what other people are saying.

Michael Oren: “Presidential visits are always characterized as ‘historic,’ but Mr. Bush’s trip to the Jewish state is marked by a lack of momentousness.”

The Economist speculates that Bush’s visit will provide an opportunity for the Israelis to get a read on where America’s commitment to thwarting the Iranian nuclear project stands. I am skeptical.

Amir Taheri: “The president’s tour can acquire a positive meaning only if it is used to shape a new alliance for reform, progress and democratization as the chief guarantor of Middle East peace and security.” I’m a big fan of Taheri’s, but really–is this even remotely plausible?

Jon Alterman, on the excellent new Harvard Middle East Strategy blog: “The Bush administration has been mugged by reality.”

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Common Ground with Syria?

On the heels of my last post about Israeli-Syrian negotiations comes Michael Oren’s op-ed in the January 24 New York Times, “What if Israel and Syria Find Common Ground?” In this opinion piece, Oren—author of the best-selling Six Days of War (reviewed in COMMENTARY by Victor Davis Hanson) and the new Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present (reviewed in January’s COMMENTARY by me)—recommends that Israel make peace with Syria even if this means “forfeiting the Golan Heights” and initiating “a clash between Israel and Washington.”

Frankly, Oren, who has always been something of a hawk when it comes to Israeli-Arab relations, startles me. The surprise lies not so much in his readiness for Israel to “clash” with Washington, even though this is nothing to be made light of. Rather, it lies in his endorsing the argument that it is worth giving in to Syrian demands on the Golan because, as he put it in the Times, this would “invariably provide for the cessation of Syrian aid to Hamas and Hizballah.” More “crucial still,” he writes, “by detaching Syria from Iran’s orbit,” such a concession would enable Israel to “address the Iranian nuclear threat—perhaps by military means—without fear of retribution from Syrian ground forces and missiles.”

Let’s assume for the moment that Oren is right and that Syria can be bribed into ditching Hizballah, Iran, and Hamas by giving it back the Golan. Does this mean that the Israeli air force can then attack Iran’s nuclear installations with impunity? Hardly. Even if Israel does not have to worry about Syrian missiles and ground forces, it will still have to worry about Hizballah and Iranian missiles, as well as about the possible failure of its air attack, not to mention strongly condemnatory international reaction. And what if the United States attacks Iran first, in which case Syria would be highly unlikely to get involved even without the gift of the Golan? And how does Oren know how Syria will behave once it has the Golan back and is sitting on the Sea of Galilee and the cliffs overlooking northern Israel, or what unexpected political developments in Syria (or elsewhere in the Middle East) may take place five or ten years from now, or how the message that Israel is ready to cede territory for short-term gains will be interpreted by the Palestinians and the Arab world?

Land is an unchanging asset; it never loses its value. Political developments are contingent and unpredictable. To give up the unchanging for the contingent and the certain for the unpredictable is never a good idea, quite apart from the strong historical, legal, and moral claim that Israel has on the Golan. It’s not fear of clashing with Washington that should keep it from surrendering the Heights, but fear of compromising its own most vital interests.

On the heels of my last post about Israeli-Syrian negotiations comes Michael Oren’s op-ed in the January 24 New York Times, “What if Israel and Syria Find Common Ground?” In this opinion piece, Oren—author of the best-selling Six Days of War (reviewed in COMMENTARY by Victor Davis Hanson) and the new Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present (reviewed in January’s COMMENTARY by me)—recommends that Israel make peace with Syria even if this means “forfeiting the Golan Heights” and initiating “a clash between Israel and Washington.”

Frankly, Oren, who has always been something of a hawk when it comes to Israeli-Arab relations, startles me. The surprise lies not so much in his readiness for Israel to “clash” with Washington, even though this is nothing to be made light of. Rather, it lies in his endorsing the argument that it is worth giving in to Syrian demands on the Golan because, as he put it in the Times, this would “invariably provide for the cessation of Syrian aid to Hamas and Hizballah.” More “crucial still,” he writes, “by detaching Syria from Iran’s orbit,” such a concession would enable Israel to “address the Iranian nuclear threat—perhaps by military means—without fear of retribution from Syrian ground forces and missiles.”

Let’s assume for the moment that Oren is right and that Syria can be bribed into ditching Hizballah, Iran, and Hamas by giving it back the Golan. Does this mean that the Israeli air force can then attack Iran’s nuclear installations with impunity? Hardly. Even if Israel does not have to worry about Syrian missiles and ground forces, it will still have to worry about Hizballah and Iranian missiles, as well as about the possible failure of its air attack, not to mention strongly condemnatory international reaction. And what if the United States attacks Iran first, in which case Syria would be highly unlikely to get involved even without the gift of the Golan? And how does Oren know how Syria will behave once it has the Golan back and is sitting on the Sea of Galilee and the cliffs overlooking northern Israel, or what unexpected political developments in Syria (or elsewhere in the Middle East) may take place five or ten years from now, or how the message that Israel is ready to cede territory for short-term gains will be interpreted by the Palestinians and the Arab world?

Land is an unchanging asset; it never loses its value. Political developments are contingent and unpredictable. To give up the unchanging for the contingent and the certain for the unpredictable is never a good idea, quite apart from the strong historical, legal, and moral claim that Israel has on the Golan. It’s not fear of clashing with Washington that should keep it from surrendering the Heights, but fear of compromising its own most vital interests.

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