Commentary Magazine


Topic: Middle East

A Challenge for Smart Power

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has posted the witness statements from its January 25 hearing regarding the United Nations. During the hearing (the video is here), there was an interesting colloquy regarding the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) between Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the new chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, and journalist Claudia Rosett.

Chabot noted that UNRWA refuses to vet its staff for ties to Hamas and “engages in anti-Israel and pro-Hamas propaganda and banks with Syrian institutions designated under the USA Patriot Act for terror financing and money laundering.” Then he posed a series of questions:

REP. CHABOT: Why is the U.S. still UNRWA’s largest single donor? Why have we given them about a half a billion dollars in the last two years alone? Why hasn’t the U.S. publicly criticized UNRWA for these problems and withheld funding until it reforms? Given that Hamas controls security in Gaza and that Hamas has confiscated UNRWA aid packages in the past, how can we possibly guarantee that U.S. contributions to UNRWA will not end up in Hamas’ hands?

MS. ROSETT: You can’t guarantee it. In fact, it does. … UNRWA is headquartered in Gaza and basically provides support services for what has become a terrorist enclave. … I asked how do you vet your staff to make sure that they are not terrorist members of Hamas? The answer I was given was we check them against the U.N. 1267 list. That sounds very impressive unless you happen to know that the 1267 list is al-Qaeda, which is maybe a problem in Gaza, but it’s not the main problem. The problem is Hamas.

So a temporary UN agency, formed 62 years ago for the relief of Arab and Jewish refugees from the 1948 war, is now a support group for a terrorist enclave — a quasi-permanent agency financed in large part by the United States, with contributions that — unlike UN dues — are voluntary.

Surely smart power is smart enough to find a tool to deal with this problem.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has posted the witness statements from its January 25 hearing regarding the United Nations. During the hearing (the video is here), there was an interesting colloquy regarding the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) between Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the new chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, and journalist Claudia Rosett.

Chabot noted that UNRWA refuses to vet its staff for ties to Hamas and “engages in anti-Israel and pro-Hamas propaganda and banks with Syrian institutions designated under the USA Patriot Act for terror financing and money laundering.” Then he posed a series of questions:

REP. CHABOT: Why is the U.S. still UNRWA’s largest single donor? Why have we given them about a half a billion dollars in the last two years alone? Why hasn’t the U.S. publicly criticized UNRWA for these problems and withheld funding until it reforms? Given that Hamas controls security in Gaza and that Hamas has confiscated UNRWA aid packages in the past, how can we possibly guarantee that U.S. contributions to UNRWA will not end up in Hamas’ hands?

MS. ROSETT: You can’t guarantee it. In fact, it does. … UNRWA is headquartered in Gaza and basically provides support services for what has become a terrorist enclave. … I asked how do you vet your staff to make sure that they are not terrorist members of Hamas? The answer I was given was we check them against the U.N. 1267 list. That sounds very impressive unless you happen to know that the 1267 list is al-Qaeda, which is maybe a problem in Gaza, but it’s not the main problem. The problem is Hamas.

So a temporary UN agency, formed 62 years ago for the relief of Arab and Jewish refugees from the 1948 war, is now a support group for a terrorist enclave — a quasi-permanent agency financed in large part by the United States, with contributions that — unlike UN dues — are voluntary.

Surely smart power is smart enough to find a tool to deal with this problem.

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Is It 1848 in the Arab World?

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

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Six Million Dead but Eleven, or Is It Twelve, Million Universalizing Lies

While Israel and most Jews commemorate the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah (which this year falls on May 1), which precedes the Jewish state’s Independence Day by a week, the international community has chosen to use the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. So throughout Europe and at UN facilities, there will be ceremonies to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day today. While all efforts to recall the murder of six million Jews are to be welcomed, the fact is many of those doing so in such places will attempt to maroon the Holocaust in history and separate it from the rising tide of anti-Semitism that is largely focused on a hatred of Israel that is currently sweeping Europe and the Middle East. Suffice it to say that those who will today bewail the Holocaust, while not also directly condemning those who seek to isolate and destroy Israel and the efforts of Holocaust-denying Iran to gain nuclear weapons. are hypocrites.

But Holocaust Remembrance Day is also an appropriate moment to think seriously about those Jews whose own efforts to “universalize” the Holocaust have done much to distort its meaning. In the new winter issue of the Jewish Review of Books, Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt dissects the impact of Simon Wiesenthal and his not-altogether-salubrious contribution to the way the world thinks about the Shoah.

Wiesenthal’s deceptions about his own experiences during the Holocaust are well known and have been debunked many times. Also well-known is the fact that his boasts about helping to track down 1,000 Nazi war criminals are largely bogus. In particular, his claim that he was responsible for the capture of Adolf Eichmann was a lie. But, as Lipstadt notes, otherwise hardened journalists like the left-wing Israeli author Tom Segev have given Wiesenthal a pass on all this because they approve of the way the Austrian survivor sought to universalize the Shoah. It was Wiesenthal who popularized the notion that there were eleven million victims of the Holocaust (six million Jews and five million non-Jews), a figure that has been largely accepted by most Jews as well as non-Jews — even though it is not true. As Lipstadt writes:

On the one hand, the total number of non-Jewish civilians killed by the Germans in the course of World War II is far higher than five million. On the other hand, the number of non-Jewish civilians killed for racial or ideological reasons does not come close to five million. … When Israeli historians Yehuda Bauer and Yisrael Gutman challenged Wiesenthal on this point, he admitted that he had invented the figure of eleven million victims in order to stimulate interest in the Holocaust among non-Jews. He chose five million because it was almost, but not quite, as large as six million. … In recent months, Wiesenthal’s concoction has been further improved upon by a group of rabbis and imams who visited Auschwitz under the aegis of the US State Department. The statement they issued after their visit referred to the “twelve million victims, six million Jews and six million non-Jews.” Now we have parity. One wonders what’s next.

Lies about the Holocaust, even well-intentioned lies, as Lipstadt notes, give ammunition to Holocaust deniers. But even if there were no Holocaust deniers, they would still be wrong, because any commemoration that is not rooted in the truth will ultimately do more harm than good. Distorting the history of the Holocaust in order to diminish Jewish suffering — and to avoid the conclusion that the best monument to the Shoah is a strong Jewish state that can ensure that the Jews will never again be victimized in this manner — is an insult to the memory of the six million.

While Israel and most Jews commemorate the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah (which this year falls on May 1), which precedes the Jewish state’s Independence Day by a week, the international community has chosen to use the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. So throughout Europe and at UN facilities, there will be ceremonies to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day today. While all efforts to recall the murder of six million Jews are to be welcomed, the fact is many of those doing so in such places will attempt to maroon the Holocaust in history and separate it from the rising tide of anti-Semitism that is largely focused on a hatred of Israel that is currently sweeping Europe and the Middle East. Suffice it to say that those who will today bewail the Holocaust, while not also directly condemning those who seek to isolate and destroy Israel and the efforts of Holocaust-denying Iran to gain nuclear weapons. are hypocrites.

But Holocaust Remembrance Day is also an appropriate moment to think seriously about those Jews whose own efforts to “universalize” the Holocaust have done much to distort its meaning. In the new winter issue of the Jewish Review of Books, Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt dissects the impact of Simon Wiesenthal and his not-altogether-salubrious contribution to the way the world thinks about the Shoah.

Wiesenthal’s deceptions about his own experiences during the Holocaust are well known and have been debunked many times. Also well-known is the fact that his boasts about helping to track down 1,000 Nazi war criminals are largely bogus. In particular, his claim that he was responsible for the capture of Adolf Eichmann was a lie. But, as Lipstadt notes, otherwise hardened journalists like the left-wing Israeli author Tom Segev have given Wiesenthal a pass on all this because they approve of the way the Austrian survivor sought to universalize the Shoah. It was Wiesenthal who popularized the notion that there were eleven million victims of the Holocaust (six million Jews and five million non-Jews), a figure that has been largely accepted by most Jews as well as non-Jews — even though it is not true. As Lipstadt writes:

On the one hand, the total number of non-Jewish civilians killed by the Germans in the course of World War II is far higher than five million. On the other hand, the number of non-Jewish civilians killed for racial or ideological reasons does not come close to five million. … When Israeli historians Yehuda Bauer and Yisrael Gutman challenged Wiesenthal on this point, he admitted that he had invented the figure of eleven million victims in order to stimulate interest in the Holocaust among non-Jews. He chose five million because it was almost, but not quite, as large as six million. … In recent months, Wiesenthal’s concoction has been further improved upon by a group of rabbis and imams who visited Auschwitz under the aegis of the US State Department. The statement they issued after their visit referred to the “twelve million victims, six million Jews and six million non-Jews.” Now we have parity. One wonders what’s next.

Lies about the Holocaust, even well-intentioned lies, as Lipstadt notes, give ammunition to Holocaust deniers. But even if there were no Holocaust deniers, they would still be wrong, because any commemoration that is not rooted in the truth will ultimately do more harm than good. Distorting the history of the Holocaust in order to diminish Jewish suffering — and to avoid the conclusion that the best monument to the Shoah is a strong Jewish state that can ensure that the Jews will never again be victimized in this manner — is an insult to the memory of the six million.

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Oh, Man, Not Another Sputnik Moment …

I keep a list of historical analogies — derived from years of grading papers — that tell me that the individual using them is (to be polite) more interested in rhetorical impact than historical accuracy. Before last night, the list began with “we need a Marshall Plan for X,” where X usually equals Africa or the Middle East, and ended with “the United States is a young country.” Both are fallacies: the Marshall Plan was a pump-priming program, not an effort to rebuild the infrastructure and remake the culture of half a continent; and while European settlement of North America is fairly recent, the U.S.’s political institutions have a longer continuous existence than those of any other country except, arguably, the United Kingdom.

Now, thanks to President Obama, I’ve got a third analogy to add to the list: “Sputnik moment.” To be fair, I should have added it years ago. The phrase, according to Google, has popped in and out of the news regularly over the past decade, with the president himself beginning to use it last June, in a speech in North Carolina. The analogy has the advantage of being an example of government spending — we now call it “investment,” I am told — that has not been utterly discredited by succeeding events. But that doesn’t make it correct.

First, as my colleague Jim Carafano pointed out back in September, Ike’s response to Sputnik’s launch wasn’t to pull out the checkbook. That was what the Gaither Report called for, but Eisenhower balked: as I noted recently, Ike was no softie on Communism, but he was also concerned by the threat to American liberties “posed not so much by big government as such, but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not at all it: there was also a risk of becoming ‘the captive of a scientific-technological elite.’ ” A striking phrase, especially in light of President Obama’s desire to expand government for the benefit of that elite.

Second, the launch of Sputnik marked a significant new national-security threat posed by a state with a hostile ideology, which we were already confronting around the world. If the USSR could orbit a satellite, it could launch a nuclear missile and vaporize an American city. If Sputnik had been orbited by, say, Britain, it would not have occasioned nearly as much angst. In other words, you can’t have a Sputnik moment absent a hostile superpower to provide the impetus for concern. I would not categorize the U.S.’s relationship with China or, certainly, India, as particularly similar to the one we had with the USSR — and the president went out of his way last night not to criticize foreign regimes (even ones like Iran, which are hostile and have, in fact, orbited a satellite). So where is the drive that will be necessary to sustain this “moment” going to come from? Certainly not from the White House. Read More

I keep a list of historical analogies — derived from years of grading papers — that tell me that the individual using them is (to be polite) more interested in rhetorical impact than historical accuracy. Before last night, the list began with “we need a Marshall Plan for X,” where X usually equals Africa or the Middle East, and ended with “the United States is a young country.” Both are fallacies: the Marshall Plan was a pump-priming program, not an effort to rebuild the infrastructure and remake the culture of half a continent; and while European settlement of North America is fairly recent, the U.S.’s political institutions have a longer continuous existence than those of any other country except, arguably, the United Kingdom.

Now, thanks to President Obama, I’ve got a third analogy to add to the list: “Sputnik moment.” To be fair, I should have added it years ago. The phrase, according to Google, has popped in and out of the news regularly over the past decade, with the president himself beginning to use it last June, in a speech in North Carolina. The analogy has the advantage of being an example of government spending — we now call it “investment,” I am told — that has not been utterly discredited by succeeding events. But that doesn’t make it correct.

First, as my colleague Jim Carafano pointed out back in September, Ike’s response to Sputnik’s launch wasn’t to pull out the checkbook. That was what the Gaither Report called for, but Eisenhower balked: as I noted recently, Ike was no softie on Communism, but he was also concerned by the threat to American liberties “posed not so much by big government as such, but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not at all it: there was also a risk of becoming ‘the captive of a scientific-technological elite.’ ” A striking phrase, especially in light of President Obama’s desire to expand government for the benefit of that elite.

Second, the launch of Sputnik marked a significant new national-security threat posed by a state with a hostile ideology, which we were already confronting around the world. If the USSR could orbit a satellite, it could launch a nuclear missile and vaporize an American city. If Sputnik had been orbited by, say, Britain, it would not have occasioned nearly as much angst. In other words, you can’t have a Sputnik moment absent a hostile superpower to provide the impetus for concern. I would not categorize the U.S.’s relationship with China or, certainly, India, as particularly similar to the one we had with the USSR — and the president went out of his way last night not to criticize foreign regimes (even ones like Iran, which are hostile and have, in fact, orbited a satellite). So where is the drive that will be necessary to sustain this “moment” going to come from? Certainly not from the White House.

Third, and most basically, I sometimes get the sense that the left doesn’t realize that 1890-2010 has already happened. A rule of life is that you can only do things for the first time once. We’ve tried the Progressive, administrative state, and have been trying it for years: its deficiencies are not going to be fixed by pretending in an “Ah ha!” moment that what we need is more administration. We’ve been trying Keynesianism almost continuously since the 1940s and even before the recession were at levels of government spending that Keynes experienced only during World War II: the idea that Keynes offers some sort of untried miracle cure is, to be nice about it, a fantasy. Since 1970, as Andrew Coulson points out, federal spending adjusted for inflation has increased by 190 percent, with no gains in reading, math, or science scores to show for it. None of these ideas are new. On the contrary: they are very, very old.

Leaving all this aside, I have to ask — does the proclamation of a new “Sputnik moment” work even as rhetoric? It certainly leaves me cold. The reason for that is, partly, because it’s not great history. But, more fundamentally, it’s because it’s so obviously instrumental. The president wants to look like he’s cutting the budget but also wants to spend more money. So he grabs at the NASA argument, the Sputnik analogy, the Internet analogy, and anything else that comes to hand. Rhetoric that’s shaped by this kind of desperation comes across as insincere. It might be more effective for the president to simply state his belief that we need to spend more money on education. He’d be wrong on the merits, but at least he wouldn’t be compounding the error with dubious grab-bag analogies.

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Obama’s Moment to Redefine the Modern Middle East

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution. Read More

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution.

Unfortunately, instead of someone like Bush, who had served as an ambassador, CIA director, and vice president, we have in the Oval Office a president with no foreign-policy credentials. This president seems to think that the entire region revolves around the moribund Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Already Obama missed a crucial opportunity in the summer of 2009 to encourage the Green Revolution in Iran. Let us hope that will be a learning experience. This time around, we need a president fully engaged in the moment — a president who will speak for the aspirations of the people of the Middle East (more than one line, please), while also working to provide a soft landing for longtime dictators and to ensure that radicals don’t seize power.

For all his lack of experience, Obama is no newcomer to the job. He is a fast learner, and he has a gift for rhetoric the likes of which always eluded George H.W. Bush. This may very well be his moment: the moment for redefining the modern Middle East. He should seize it — if he’s not too distracted with the domestic priorities that as usual dominated the State of the Union.

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A Consequential Event, a Tectonic Shift, a Silent President

Elliott Abrams writes that Hezbollah’s power grab in Lebanon is a “consequential event” — reflecting the continuing reduction of American influence in the Middle East as Iranian influence continues to rise:

The last straw may have been the decision to send an ambassador to Syria by recess appointment despite the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm the Administration’s candidate. That foolish gesture must have indicated to the Syrians and to Hizballah that the Administration had learned nothing from two years of insults and rebuffs by Damascus.

It is not clear that the administration has learned anything either from two years of insults and rebuffs by Iran. Iran deigns to take a meeting in Istanbul: the Minutes of the prior meeting 15 months ago are read and approved; Iran refuses to discuss any New Business unless sanctions are ended; the meeting ends without scheduling another one. A Turkish nuclear expert says the walkout means Iran is going to ride out the sanctions, which no one describes as “crippling.” Bad Rachel has a devastating summary of Obama’s “efforts to force engagement down the throats of our enemies.”

Boker tov, Boulder! has an illustrated round-up, with a comment by Mannie Sherberg that Lebanon may signal a “tectonic shift” in Middle East politics — with “much more quivering and quaking in Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt” than Israel:

Throughout modern history, we in the West have assumed that the Middle East was — and would remain — a Sunni region of the world with a small and insignificant minority of Shi’ites. That changed, of course, in 1979, but even then — with the single exception of Iran — the Middle East remained predominantly Sunni. Suddenly, with Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon, it and Iran — with a compliant Syria in-between — make up a very large chunk of the Middle East. … With Tunisia facing a very uncertain future, and with Egypt on the brink of what could be radical change, the next few years could see unimaginable turmoil in the Muslim world.

Barry Rubin writes that it is a very sad day for the Middle East and Western interests:

What do you think the rest of the region is going to take away from this? America cannot or will not protect you. Islamism and Iran are the wave of the future. Submit or die. And that’s even before Tehran gets nuclear weapons. The way things are going, maybe Iran doesn’t even need them.

And where is the United States? Asleep. … An American government that will put all of its resources into preventing the construction of apartment buildings in east Jerusalem can barely be roused to prevent the construction of an Islamist-dominated state in a country of tremendous strategic significance.

In a one-hour, 7,000-word speech to Congress and the nation last night, President Obama devoted one sentence to Iran, saying that because of a “diplomatic effort,” it now faces “tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” In last year’s speech, he emphatically promised “growing consequences” if Iran continued to ignore its obligations. Last night, he made no such promise.

About Lebanon, he had nothing to say.

Elliott Abrams writes that Hezbollah’s power grab in Lebanon is a “consequential event” — reflecting the continuing reduction of American influence in the Middle East as Iranian influence continues to rise:

The last straw may have been the decision to send an ambassador to Syria by recess appointment despite the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm the Administration’s candidate. That foolish gesture must have indicated to the Syrians and to Hizballah that the Administration had learned nothing from two years of insults and rebuffs by Damascus.

It is not clear that the administration has learned anything either from two years of insults and rebuffs by Iran. Iran deigns to take a meeting in Istanbul: the Minutes of the prior meeting 15 months ago are read and approved; Iran refuses to discuss any New Business unless sanctions are ended; the meeting ends without scheduling another one. A Turkish nuclear expert says the walkout means Iran is going to ride out the sanctions, which no one describes as “crippling.” Bad Rachel has a devastating summary of Obama’s “efforts to force engagement down the throats of our enemies.”

Boker tov, Boulder! has an illustrated round-up, with a comment by Mannie Sherberg that Lebanon may signal a “tectonic shift” in Middle East politics — with “much more quivering and quaking in Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt” than Israel:

Throughout modern history, we in the West have assumed that the Middle East was — and would remain — a Sunni region of the world with a small and insignificant minority of Shi’ites. That changed, of course, in 1979, but even then — with the single exception of Iran — the Middle East remained predominantly Sunni. Suddenly, with Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon, it and Iran — with a compliant Syria in-between — make up a very large chunk of the Middle East. … With Tunisia facing a very uncertain future, and with Egypt on the brink of what could be radical change, the next few years could see unimaginable turmoil in the Muslim world.

Barry Rubin writes that it is a very sad day for the Middle East and Western interests:

What do you think the rest of the region is going to take away from this? America cannot or will not protect you. Islamism and Iran are the wave of the future. Submit or die. And that’s even before Tehran gets nuclear weapons. The way things are going, maybe Iran doesn’t even need them.

And where is the United States? Asleep. … An American government that will put all of its resources into preventing the construction of apartment buildings in east Jerusalem can barely be roused to prevent the construction of an Islamist-dominated state in a country of tremendous strategic significance.

In a one-hour, 7,000-word speech to Congress and the nation last night, President Obama devoted one sentence to Iran, saying that because of a “diplomatic effort,” it now faces “tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” In last year’s speech, he emphatically promised “growing consequences” if Iran continued to ignore its obligations. Last night, he made no such promise.

About Lebanon, he had nothing to say.

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How the Guardian Helped Kill the Peace Process

As Alana noted yesterday, the extent of Palestinian concessions during peace talks, once made public, has seriously damaged PA leaders — and the State Department has weighed, noting that things are now going to be even harder than they were already.

The immediate fallout from the leaks should raise a number of important questions for the Guardian, but judging by the way it is spinning the story, it is hard to believe introspection is coming.

First, the Guardian appears shocked and angered by the extent of Palestinian concessions on settlements and yet blames Israel for the subsequent impasse on account of … settlements!

As Noah pointed out, if the main cause for lack of progress in the past 24 months was Palestinian insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze, one that included Jerusalem, as a precondition for talks — and this, thanks to U.S. backing — the papers reveal that it was merely a cynical pretext for the Palestinians’ not resuming talks once Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu took power. Otherwise, why make a sacred cow of something they had already conceded before? The answer may be that the Palestinians neither accepted nor rejected the Olmert offer but, rather, regarded it as still on the table, allowing them time to see if Olmert was going to survive politically. With Olmert (and Livni) out and Obama in, then, the Palestinians may have concluded that a better deal could be had with a more sympathetic U.S. administration in place. This is consistent with Palestinian behavior historically and a tried-and-tested recipe for disaster for their aspirations.

In his Guardian op-ed on the leaks, Jonathan Freedland wrote that:

Surely international opinion will see concrete proof of how far the Palestinians have been willing to go, ready to move up to and beyond their “red lines,” conceding ground that would once have been unthinkable — none more so than on Jerusalem. In the blame game that has long attended Middle East diplomacy, this could see a shift in the Palestinians’ favour. The effect of these papers on Israel will be the reverse.

What Freedland is telling us is not what might happen but rather what he ardently wishes would happen. He may be right, of course — but it is not like Israel was basking in the light of international favor before the leaks!

So in effect, the Guardian is saying, Thank heaven Israel will be forced to give back what the Palestinians conceded — that will surely lead to a more equitable result! (Though the Guardian also concedes that the chances for a deal are now dead in the water, thanks to their leak!)

Second, the fallout caused by the Guardian leak is that, in the short term, Palestinian negotiators will have to heed the calls of the street and be much less amenable to compromise than was demonstrated in the leaked papers. Why is it that private virtue and public vice deserve praise? Read More

As Alana noted yesterday, the extent of Palestinian concessions during peace talks, once made public, has seriously damaged PA leaders — and the State Department has weighed, noting that things are now going to be even harder than they were already.

The immediate fallout from the leaks should raise a number of important questions for the Guardian, but judging by the way it is spinning the story, it is hard to believe introspection is coming.

First, the Guardian appears shocked and angered by the extent of Palestinian concessions on settlements and yet blames Israel for the subsequent impasse on account of … settlements!

As Noah pointed out, if the main cause for lack of progress in the past 24 months was Palestinian insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze, one that included Jerusalem, as a precondition for talks — and this, thanks to U.S. backing — the papers reveal that it was merely a cynical pretext for the Palestinians’ not resuming talks once Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu took power. Otherwise, why make a sacred cow of something they had already conceded before? The answer may be that the Palestinians neither accepted nor rejected the Olmert offer but, rather, regarded it as still on the table, allowing them time to see if Olmert was going to survive politically. With Olmert (and Livni) out and Obama in, then, the Palestinians may have concluded that a better deal could be had with a more sympathetic U.S. administration in place. This is consistent with Palestinian behavior historically and a tried-and-tested recipe for disaster for their aspirations.

In his Guardian op-ed on the leaks, Jonathan Freedland wrote that:

Surely international opinion will see concrete proof of how far the Palestinians have been willing to go, ready to move up to and beyond their “red lines,” conceding ground that would once have been unthinkable — none more so than on Jerusalem. In the blame game that has long attended Middle East diplomacy, this could see a shift in the Palestinians’ favour. The effect of these papers on Israel will be the reverse.

What Freedland is telling us is not what might happen but rather what he ardently wishes would happen. He may be right, of course — but it is not like Israel was basking in the light of international favor before the leaks!

So in effect, the Guardian is saying, Thank heaven Israel will be forced to give back what the Palestinians conceded — that will surely lead to a more equitable result! (Though the Guardian also concedes that the chances for a deal are now dead in the water, thanks to their leak!)

Second, the fallout caused by the Guardian leak is that, in the short term, Palestinian negotiators will have to heed the calls of the street and be much less amenable to compromise than was demonstrated in the leaked papers. Why is it that private virtue and public vice deserve praise?

Again: in the established tradition of Arab leadership, privately held views can never be aired in public, because the public cannot take the truth. This is what the leaks show: Palestinian leaders — much like their Arab counterparts and their Palestinian predecessors — are prisoners of their own past lies and public rhetoric. What they might have agreed to in private has exploded in their faces once made public.

How then can one expect these talks to have ever come to fruition? Surely had the Palestinians and the Israelis signed such a deal, the reaction would have been the same — a rejection of the deal and the questioning the PA leadership’s legitimacy, as the Guardian has indeed done on Sunday.

The Guardian has then chosen to leak the papers with a goal – to discredit Israel and the Palestinian leadership at the same time, to peddle its own rejectionist agenda. And what exactly is this agenda? Today’s commentary on the leaks, titled, tellingly, “Papers reveal how Palestinian leaders gave up fight over refugees” by Seumus Milne and Ian Black, is worth quoting:

The documents have already become the focus of controversy among Israelis and Palestinians, revealing the scale of official Palestinian concessions rejected by Israel, but also throwing light on the huge imbalance of power in a peace process widely seen to have run into the sand.

Milne is an anti-imperialist firebrand, who has applauded “the resistance” against the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, trivialized the scale of Stalinist atrocities, repeatedly shilled for Hamas, and staunchly defended unrealistic Palestinian claims on refugees. In short, he’d be probably kicked out of the Nation for being too left-wing; but at the Guardian, he is the mainstream.

To him, the leaks are a wonderful opportunity to berate what appear to be much-needed Palestinian concessions for a viable agreement as a surrender to Israel and a betrayal of Palestinian rights.

The Guardian hates the revelations in these papers not because they supposedly show that Palestinian leaders were ready to make the necessary concessions for peace and that Israel was intransigent, but because it hates the fact that Palestinians must make any concessions if peace is ever to be achieved. That is why the real story behind the leaks is not the papers themselves but the Guardian’s agenda for leaking them.

The sanctimony of its articles since last weekend shows a contempt for the kinds of concessions that everyone knows are the necessary preconditions for a deal. Milne is flummoxed by the fact that the Palestinians would renounce the refugees’ claim to a right of return; his colleagues are fuming because Israeli settlements would be allowed to survive under Israeli sovereignty; the lead editorial on Sunday decried Hamas’s exclusion from negotiations; and they lament “the huge imbalance of power” between Israel and the Palestinians — something they wish would change in favor of the Palestinians so that it would be Israel, not the PA, that would have to concede.

The peace process may have been moribund, but surely, after this weekend’s leak, it is dead. The Guardian has just given it the coup de grace and is now busy taking credit for it.

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Politico Swallows New White House Spin on Israel

It’s a new year and a somewhat new crew running things at the White House, what with Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod gone, so it’s to be expected that we’re now getting a new spin about the Middle East from their successors. That’s the only way to interpret Ben Smith’s somewhat puzzling article in Politico today.

In the wake of the collapse of the administration’s last incompetent effort to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, there’s little question about the piece’s conclusion that the peace process is dead in the water. No one should be surprised that the president’s spin masters are attempting to absolve the president and his foreign-policy team of all blame for the Middle East failures that have marked their two years in office. But it is astonishing that Smith, who has been covering them during this period, has swallowed whole their absurd rewriting of the history of this period.

The main point of the piece seems to be that the White House is fed up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Smith, after two years of trying to “give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt as a prospective peace partner,” they’ve had it with him. Netanyahu’s “intransigence,” Smith writes, is chiefly responsible for the collapse of American diplomacy, though he — and his highly placed sources — concedes that the feckless Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is no better. The conclusion is that Obama is giving up on the whole thing, since the chances “of a personal alliance growing between the Israeli leader and President Barack Obama to be just about zero.”

This makes for a neat narrative designed to make Obama look good, but only rings true if you haven’t been paying the slightest attention to U.S.-Israel relations since January 2009.

Contrary to Smith, if there has been one consistent point about the administration’s attitude toward Israel during this period, it has been its hostility to Netanyahu. From the start, Obama, who prior to his election claimed to be all right with Israel but not with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, showed his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Israeli vote in February 2009. Rather than seek a common strategy to revive a peace process that had crashed in 2008, when Abbas refused Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state, Obama was determined to create some distance between the United States and Israel. Though the Palestinians had already conceded that most Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would stay under Israeli control even as they rejected Israel’s offer of peace, Obama drew a new line in the sand. The president demanded that Israel freeze all building, even in areas — like Jerusalem — where everyone knew that Israel would not retreat even in the event of peace. Finding themselves outflanked, the Palestinians had to similarly dig in their heels, and the last two years of failed attempts to get them back to the negotiating table were the inevitable result. Read More

It’s a new year and a somewhat new crew running things at the White House, what with Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod gone, so it’s to be expected that we’re now getting a new spin about the Middle East from their successors. That’s the only way to interpret Ben Smith’s somewhat puzzling article in Politico today.

In the wake of the collapse of the administration’s last incompetent effort to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, there’s little question about the piece’s conclusion that the peace process is dead in the water. No one should be surprised that the president’s spin masters are attempting to absolve the president and his foreign-policy team of all blame for the Middle East failures that have marked their two years in office. But it is astonishing that Smith, who has been covering them during this period, has swallowed whole their absurd rewriting of the history of this period.

The main point of the piece seems to be that the White House is fed up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Smith, after two years of trying to “give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt as a prospective peace partner,” they’ve had it with him. Netanyahu’s “intransigence,” Smith writes, is chiefly responsible for the collapse of American diplomacy, though he — and his highly placed sources — concedes that the feckless Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is no better. The conclusion is that Obama is giving up on the whole thing, since the chances “of a personal alliance growing between the Israeli leader and President Barack Obama to be just about zero.”

This makes for a neat narrative designed to make Obama look good, but only rings true if you haven’t been paying the slightest attention to U.S.-Israel relations since January 2009.

Contrary to Smith, if there has been one consistent point about the administration’s attitude toward Israel during this period, it has been its hostility to Netanyahu. From the start, Obama, who prior to his election claimed to be all right with Israel but not with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, showed his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Israeli vote in February 2009. Rather than seek a common strategy to revive a peace process that had crashed in 2008, when Abbas refused Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state, Obama was determined to create some distance between the United States and Israel. Though the Palestinians had already conceded that most Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would stay under Israeli control even as they rejected Israel’s offer of peace, Obama drew a new line in the sand. The president demanded that Israel freeze all building, even in areas — like Jerusalem — where everyone knew that Israel would not retreat even in the event of peace. Finding themselves outflanked, the Palestinians had to similarly dig in their heels, and the last two years of failed attempts to get them back to the negotiating table were the inevitable result.

Obama’s first attempts to outmaneuver Netanyahu seemed to be based on a foolish hope that the prime minister would be forced into a coalition with the American favorite Tzipi Livni or out of office altogether. Rather than being weakened by this, Netanyahu gained strength. In the spring of 2010, Obama tried again when he deliberately picked a fight with Israel over the construction of new homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The White House and the State Department subjected Netanyahu to an unprecedented campaign of abuse, but the result was no different than their previous efforts. Soon Obama was forced to back down and resort to a charm offensive aimed at damping down criticism from American Jews.

Rather than take responsibility for their own mistakes and the president’s relentless hostility to Netanyahu — whose grip on his parliamentary majority is stronger than ever — all we’re getting from the White House is more negative spin about Israel. But in order to believe a word of it, you’ve got to be afflicted with the sort of short-term memory loss that is the premise of Ben Smith’s article.

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Group that Recruits Pro-Palestinian ‘Martyrs’ Gets Okay from Bard

Compiling a list of the most egregious uses of the shootings in Arizona this month to stifle legitimate debate would be a herculean task. But surely among the worst is a statement issued by Bard College president Leon Botstein, who invoked the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in an attempt to shut up those who are asking questions about his institution’s decision to give the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) the status of an authorized student club with full access to campus facilities.

ISM is, of course, more than just another left-wing group that agitates against Israel. It is an avowedly anti-Zionist organization that has as its mission the task of sending activists into the Arab-Israeli conflict as non-combatant auxiliaries for Palestinian terror groups and their political fronts. The ISM gained fame a few years ago as the group that sent Rachel Corrie, an American college student from Washington State, into Gaza to act as a human shield for the Hamas terrorist organization. Corrie became an anti-Zionist martyr when an Israeli bulldozer that was demolishing a home that housed a Hamas arms-smuggling tunnel crushed her while she was defending it with her body.

Bard, a liberal arts school in New York’s Hudson Valley, is well known for its summer music festival, but it has now also apparently earned the distinction of being the only American college campus with an active ISM chapter. Given the extremism of this organization and its penchant for placing its volunteers in harm’s way, there are, understandably, some who question the decision to treat it as the moral equivalent of a chess club. A good argument can be made that it is not the college’s job to decide which political groups students can or cannot join. But it is slightly disingenuous to claim, as Botstein does, that the issue here is whether students should be allow to debate or express their opinions about the Middle East. Bard students certainly have the right to denounce the existence of a Jewish state, oppose its right to self-defense, and defend those who advocate and carry out terrorism in order to further that cause. But it is not unreasonable to assert that groups that exist in order to literally facilitate such actions might be considered as falling outside the bounds of even the most freewheeling campus debates.

Botstein urges critics of the ISM to keep the Arizona shooting in mind and thus lower their voices. But rather than acting as if the group’s critics are conducting some kind of a witch hunt, he would do better to worry about the consequences of allowing a group that is prepared to sacrifice the lives of students to further the cause of anti-Zionism. And instead of worrying that Bard’s Israel-haters will get their feelings hurt by those who question the propriety of their presence on campus, he might also spare a thought for the question of whether facilitating ISM’s rabid bias against Israel and its supporters might be creating a hostile environment for Jewish students there, as turned out to be the case when anti-Israel activism ran amok at the University of California’s Irvine campus a few years ago.

Compiling a list of the most egregious uses of the shootings in Arizona this month to stifle legitimate debate would be a herculean task. But surely among the worst is a statement issued by Bard College president Leon Botstein, who invoked the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in an attempt to shut up those who are asking questions about his institution’s decision to give the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) the status of an authorized student club with full access to campus facilities.

ISM is, of course, more than just another left-wing group that agitates against Israel. It is an avowedly anti-Zionist organization that has as its mission the task of sending activists into the Arab-Israeli conflict as non-combatant auxiliaries for Palestinian terror groups and their political fronts. The ISM gained fame a few years ago as the group that sent Rachel Corrie, an American college student from Washington State, into Gaza to act as a human shield for the Hamas terrorist organization. Corrie became an anti-Zionist martyr when an Israeli bulldozer that was demolishing a home that housed a Hamas arms-smuggling tunnel crushed her while she was defending it with her body.

Bard, a liberal arts school in New York’s Hudson Valley, is well known for its summer music festival, but it has now also apparently earned the distinction of being the only American college campus with an active ISM chapter. Given the extremism of this organization and its penchant for placing its volunteers in harm’s way, there are, understandably, some who question the decision to treat it as the moral equivalent of a chess club. A good argument can be made that it is not the college’s job to decide which political groups students can or cannot join. But it is slightly disingenuous to claim, as Botstein does, that the issue here is whether students should be allow to debate or express their opinions about the Middle East. Bard students certainly have the right to denounce the existence of a Jewish state, oppose its right to self-defense, and defend those who advocate and carry out terrorism in order to further that cause. But it is not unreasonable to assert that groups that exist in order to literally facilitate such actions might be considered as falling outside the bounds of even the most freewheeling campus debates.

Botstein urges critics of the ISM to keep the Arizona shooting in mind and thus lower their voices. But rather than acting as if the group’s critics are conducting some kind of a witch hunt, he would do better to worry about the consequences of allowing a group that is prepared to sacrifice the lives of students to further the cause of anti-Zionism. And instead of worrying that Bard’s Israel-haters will get their feelings hurt by those who question the propriety of their presence on campus, he might also spare a thought for the question of whether facilitating ISM’s rabid bias against Israel and its supporters might be creating a hostile environment for Jewish students there, as turned out to be the case when anti-Israel activism ran amok at the University of California’s Irvine campus a few years ago.

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Netanyahu’s Office Responds to Anti-Israel Time Article

If there was a bright side to Karl Vick’s Time magazine piece on Israel last week, it’s that it finally pushed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to issue a forceful response to the unhinged anti-Israel alarmists who’ve been claiming that the country is sliding toward fascism.

In a blunt and unapologetic letter to Time, Netanyahu’s senior adviser Ron Dermer called the allegations in the article “outrageous” and proceeded to tear apart the misleading and factually inaccurate statements in an expert manner. There’s too much information there to go through a blow-by-blow analysis, but check out Dermer’s letter in full here.

Dermer also gave a strong defense of Israel’s controversial new NGO law, which allows the Knesset to investigate whether certain NGOs are being funded by foreign governments. I’ve been critical of the law, but Dermer was able to skillfully convey the challenges Israel faces in addressing the growing number of foreign-funded NGOs that are working ceaselessly to undermine the country.

”What would Britain do if the French government was actively funding a British NGO that sought to eliminate the monarchy? What would the United States do if the Iranian government was funding American NGOs pressing for a withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East?” wrote Dermer.

And he noted that the NGO law might not be the perfect solution, and there is still a “vigorous public debate in Israel, including within the Likud party, over the best means to address the problem.”

“Israel has upheld its democratic values despite being threatened like no country on earth,” Dermer wrote in conclusion.

It’s sad that Israel still needs to be on the defensive on this subject. And even sadder that it has to point out that it’s worthy of being called a democracy.

But the letter was definitely necessary. Part of the reason the anti-Israel misinformation campaign has been so successful in the past few months is because Netanyahu’s office has not been quick enough to correct false reports and outright lies about controversial legislation. I hope this stronger public-relations effort continues.

If there was a bright side to Karl Vick’s Time magazine piece on Israel last week, it’s that it finally pushed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to issue a forceful response to the unhinged anti-Israel alarmists who’ve been claiming that the country is sliding toward fascism.

In a blunt and unapologetic letter to Time, Netanyahu’s senior adviser Ron Dermer called the allegations in the article “outrageous” and proceeded to tear apart the misleading and factually inaccurate statements in an expert manner. There’s too much information there to go through a blow-by-blow analysis, but check out Dermer’s letter in full here.

Dermer also gave a strong defense of Israel’s controversial new NGO law, which allows the Knesset to investigate whether certain NGOs are being funded by foreign governments. I’ve been critical of the law, but Dermer was able to skillfully convey the challenges Israel faces in addressing the growing number of foreign-funded NGOs that are working ceaselessly to undermine the country.

”What would Britain do if the French government was actively funding a British NGO that sought to eliminate the monarchy? What would the United States do if the Iranian government was funding American NGOs pressing for a withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East?” wrote Dermer.

And he noted that the NGO law might not be the perfect solution, and there is still a “vigorous public debate in Israel, including within the Likud party, over the best means to address the problem.”

“Israel has upheld its democratic values despite being threatened like no country on earth,” Dermer wrote in conclusion.

It’s sad that Israel still needs to be on the defensive on this subject. And even sadder that it has to point out that it’s worthy of being called a democracy.

But the letter was definitely necessary. Part of the reason the anti-Israel misinformation campaign has been so successful in the past few months is because Netanyahu’s office has not been quick enough to correct false reports and outright lies about controversial legislation. I hope this stronger public-relations effort continues.

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Morning Commentary

It looks like Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier misread the judicial system in Haiti. Just days after he mysteriously returned to the country after a 25-year exile, the former Haitian dictator was arrested for corruption, theft of public funds, and human rights abuses that he allegedly committed during his vicious 15-year reign: “Two days after his return to the country he left following a brutal 15-year rule, a noisy crowd of his supporters protested outside the state prosecutor’s office while he was questioned over accusations that he stole public funds and committed human rights abuses after taking over as president from his father in 1971.”

Time for another article about the futility of the peace process. At Pajamas Media, David Solway is understandably pessimistic that the Palestinian Authority will agree to the conditions necessary for a successful completion of the negotiations, at least at the moment: “Peace in the Middle East is, in any sober analysis, probably and at the very least generations away from accomplishment. Peace may emerge after another thirty or fifty years of grinding exhaustion or a major outbreak of hostilities that leaves the belligerents incapable of pursuing so debilitating a struggle. And this is a best case scenario.”

The media is now wondering why the media covers Palin so obsessively: “And so, to Mr. Douthat’s chicken-and-egg dilemma — which came first: Ms. Palin or the media’s sometimes obsessive coverage of her? — we might want to add a third actor: the audience,” writes Nate Silver. He notes that a Politico poll from last month found that 59 percent of Americans have a strong opinion on Palin, and so any coverage of her is likely to elicit a lot of interest from the general public.

The American Jewish Committee will honor German Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s support for Israel with its Light Unto the Nations Award at a ceremony in Berlin today: “Chancellor Merkel is a true light unto the nations,” said AJC executive director David Harris. “Her outspoken support for the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the values of human freedom and human dignity are hallmarks of Chancellor Merkel’s visionary political leadership.” Former recipients include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

Ricky Gervais’s performance at last weekend’s Golden Globe awards may have been panned by the mainstream media, but it’s also earned him folk-hero status among conservatives. Instead of taking the predictable swipes at people like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, Gervais turned the tables by relentlessly ridiculing the Hollywood elite in the audience: “It is an honour to be here in a room full of what I consider to be the most important people on the planet: actors. They’re just better than ordinary people, aren’t they?” If you haven’t seen the videos of his performance yet, they’re worth watching.

It looks like Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier misread the judicial system in Haiti. Just days after he mysteriously returned to the country after a 25-year exile, the former Haitian dictator was arrested for corruption, theft of public funds, and human rights abuses that he allegedly committed during his vicious 15-year reign: “Two days after his return to the country he left following a brutal 15-year rule, a noisy crowd of his supporters protested outside the state prosecutor’s office while he was questioned over accusations that he stole public funds and committed human rights abuses after taking over as president from his father in 1971.”

Time for another article about the futility of the peace process. At Pajamas Media, David Solway is understandably pessimistic that the Palestinian Authority will agree to the conditions necessary for a successful completion of the negotiations, at least at the moment: “Peace in the Middle East is, in any sober analysis, probably and at the very least generations away from accomplishment. Peace may emerge after another thirty or fifty years of grinding exhaustion or a major outbreak of hostilities that leaves the belligerents incapable of pursuing so debilitating a struggle. And this is a best case scenario.”

The media is now wondering why the media covers Palin so obsessively: “And so, to Mr. Douthat’s chicken-and-egg dilemma — which came first: Ms. Palin or the media’s sometimes obsessive coverage of her? — we might want to add a third actor: the audience,” writes Nate Silver. He notes that a Politico poll from last month found that 59 percent of Americans have a strong opinion on Palin, and so any coverage of her is likely to elicit a lot of interest from the general public.

The American Jewish Committee will honor German Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s support for Israel with its Light Unto the Nations Award at a ceremony in Berlin today: “Chancellor Merkel is a true light unto the nations,” said AJC executive director David Harris. “Her outspoken support for the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the values of human freedom and human dignity are hallmarks of Chancellor Merkel’s visionary political leadership.” Former recipients include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

Ricky Gervais’s performance at last weekend’s Golden Globe awards may have been panned by the mainstream media, but it’s also earned him folk-hero status among conservatives. Instead of taking the predictable swipes at people like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, Gervais turned the tables by relentlessly ridiculing the Hollywood elite in the audience: “It is an honour to be here in a room full of what I consider to be the most important people on the planet: actors. They’re just better than ordinary people, aren’t they?” If you haven’t seen the videos of his performance yet, they’re worth watching.

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Chris Christie’s Troubling Appointment

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has earned legions of fans with his take-no-prisoners style over the last year as he defied the unions and other entrenched interests in his drive to return his state to fiscal sanity. But while Christie has sought to silence the buzz about a possible presidential run, it appears that there might be a better reason to abandon this fantasy than his understandable reluctance: the governor has some explaining to do about his cozying up to an Islamist group in the state both before and after his election.

Christie’s decision to appoint attorney Sohail Mohammed to a state Superior Court judgeship has raised questions not only about his nominee’s record but also about the governor’s own stand. Mohammed is mainly known for the fact that he was the defense attorney for Muslims who were arrested in the wake of 9/11 because of their ties to terror organizations. In one case, Mohammed fought the government’s effort to deport Mohammed Qatanani, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and an influential member of the extremist — though well-connected — American Muslim Union. Though the New York Times praised him in 2008 during his deportation trial as a “revered imam” and portrayed the case as an overreaction to 9/11, Qatanani, a Palestinian, is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and admitted to being a member of Hamas when he was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1993 before coming to the United States. Though he claimed to be an advocate of interfaith dialogue (and was accepted as such by some liberal Jews), Qatanani was no moderate on the Middle East. His ties to Hamas were well known, and just the year before his deportation trial, Qatanani endorsed Israel’s absorption into an Islamic “Greater Syria.” Qatanani clearly lied about his record as an Islamist on documents that he used to enter the country. But he was nevertheless able to evade justice in the immigration courts because the judge accepted his undocumented claim that the Israelis tortured him.

Qatanani also benefited from having some highly placed friends in the justice system as a result of the political pull of the American Muslim Union, which boasts Sohail Mohammed as one of its board members. The AMU was able to get former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell, and then U.S. attorney Chris Christie to intervene on Qatanani’s behalf during the trial. As far as Christie was concerned, this was not a matter of merely signing a letter or making a phone call. The day before the Immigration Court announced its decision, Christie actually spoke at Qatanani’s mosque (Qatanani’s predecessor had boasted of raising at the mosque $2 million for Hamas via the now banned Holy Land Foundation) at a Ramadan breakfast dinner, where he embraced the imam while praising him as “a man of great good will.” Read More

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has earned legions of fans with his take-no-prisoners style over the last year as he defied the unions and other entrenched interests in his drive to return his state to fiscal sanity. But while Christie has sought to silence the buzz about a possible presidential run, it appears that there might be a better reason to abandon this fantasy than his understandable reluctance: the governor has some explaining to do about his cozying up to an Islamist group in the state both before and after his election.

Christie’s decision to appoint attorney Sohail Mohammed to a state Superior Court judgeship has raised questions not only about his nominee’s record but also about the governor’s own stand. Mohammed is mainly known for the fact that he was the defense attorney for Muslims who were arrested in the wake of 9/11 because of their ties to terror organizations. In one case, Mohammed fought the government’s effort to deport Mohammed Qatanani, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and an influential member of the extremist — though well-connected — American Muslim Union. Though the New York Times praised him in 2008 during his deportation trial as a “revered imam” and portrayed the case as an overreaction to 9/11, Qatanani, a Palestinian, is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and admitted to being a member of Hamas when he was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1993 before coming to the United States. Though he claimed to be an advocate of interfaith dialogue (and was accepted as such by some liberal Jews), Qatanani was no moderate on the Middle East. His ties to Hamas were well known, and just the year before his deportation trial, Qatanani endorsed Israel’s absorption into an Islamic “Greater Syria.” Qatanani clearly lied about his record as an Islamist on documents that he used to enter the country. But he was nevertheless able to evade justice in the immigration courts because the judge accepted his undocumented claim that the Israelis tortured him.

Qatanani also benefited from having some highly placed friends in the justice system as a result of the political pull of the American Muslim Union, which boasts Sohail Mohammed as one of its board members. The AMU was able to get former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell, and then U.S. attorney Chris Christie to intervene on Qatanani’s behalf during the trial. As far as Christie was concerned, this was not a matter of merely signing a letter or making a phone call. The day before the Immigration Court announced its decision, Christie actually spoke at Qatanani’s mosque (Qatanani’s predecessor had boasted of raising at the mosque $2 million for Hamas via the now banned Holy Land Foundation) at a Ramadan breakfast dinner, where he embraced the imam while praising him as “a man of great good will.”

Terror researcher Steve Emerson was quoted at the time as calling Christie’s involvement in the case “a disgrace and an act of pure political corruption,” especially since “I know for certain that Christie and the FBI had access to information about Qatanani’s background, involvement with and support of Hamas.”

Why would a man who was otherwise tasked as a U.S. attorney with defending America against such Islamists intervene on behalf of a Hamas supporter? The answer was obvious. Christie was already looking ahead to his race for governor against Corzine in 2009 and wanted the enthusiastic support of the state’s not-insignificant Muslim population. Christie’s record in the Qatanani case is a troubling chapter in his biography, and his willingness to further solidify his friendship with the American Muslim Union with his appointment of Sohail Mohammed to the court shows that his judgment on the issue of support for terrorism is highly questionable. If Christie’s name is mentioned again in the context of a presidential politics or even as a possible nominee for vice president, he is going to have to answer some tough questions about all this.

(Hat tip to Daniel Greenfield’s Sultan Knish blog)

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Israeli Shakeup Another Setback for Obama

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to break away from the Labor Party and form his own centrist faction is a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. With the remaining members of Labor now shifted to the opposition, Netanyahu has rid his coalition of several Knesset members who are opposed to his policies. In the long run, Barak’s new party will, as David Hazony noted yesterday, provide unwanted competition for the largest opposition party, Kadima, making the path to power for it and its leader, Tzipi Livni, far more difficult.

Livni is understandably upset about this development and vented her spleen today in some over-the-top comments when she complained that Barak’s decision was “the dirtiest act in history.” Given the fact that party-jumping has been a staple of Israeli politics throughout the country’s short history, it’s hard to make an argument that this understandable breakup between the centrists and the old leftists in Labor is any kind of a scandal. It is just the belated recognition on the part of Barak that he is better off letting Labor’s far-left activists merge with what remains of those factions that were to Labor’s left rather than sticking with them. Labor was once Israel’s dominant and natural party of government, but today it is as bankrupt — and obsolete — as the kibbutzim that symbolized the country’s socialist dreams.

But while Livni is the biggest Israeli loser in this transaction, there’s little doubt that it is just as much of a blow to President Barak Obama and his unrealistic approach to the Middle East. Read More

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to break away from the Labor Party and form his own centrist faction is a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. With the remaining members of Labor now shifted to the opposition, Netanyahu has rid his coalition of several Knesset members who are opposed to his policies. In the long run, Barak’s new party will, as David Hazony noted yesterday, provide unwanted competition for the largest opposition party, Kadima, making the path to power for it and its leader, Tzipi Livni, far more difficult.

Livni is understandably upset about this development and vented her spleen today in some over-the-top comments when she complained that Barak’s decision was “the dirtiest act in history.” Given the fact that party-jumping has been a staple of Israeli politics throughout the country’s short history, it’s hard to make an argument that this understandable breakup between the centrists and the old leftists in Labor is any kind of a scandal. It is just the belated recognition on the part of Barak that he is better off letting Labor’s far-left activists merge with what remains of those factions that were to Labor’s left rather than sticking with them. Labor was once Israel’s dominant and natural party of government, but today it is as bankrupt — and obsolete — as the kibbutzim that symbolized the country’s socialist dreams.

But while Livni is the biggest Israeli loser in this transaction, there’s little doubt that it is just as much of a blow to President Barak Obama and his unrealistic approach to the Middle East.

From the moment he took office, Obama has sought to overturn the cozier relationship that existed between Washington and Jerusalem under his predecessor. Throughout his first year in office, Obama seemed to be aiming at unseating Netanyahu, who had been elected weeks after the president was sworn in. By picking pointless fights over settlements and Jewish building in Jerusalem, Obama sought to destabilize Netanyahu’s coalition and hoped Livni would soon replace him. But his ill-considered attacks merely strengthened Netanyahu, who wisely sought to avoid a direct confrontation with his country’s only ally. It was already obvious that, far from collapsing, Netanyahu’s government would survive to the end of its four-year term or close to it. While the outcome of the next Israeli election that will probably occur in 2013 is as difficult to predict as that of Obama’s own re-election effort in 2012, Barak’s move renders the hopes of Livni — the Israeli leader whom both Obama and Secretary of State Clinton continue to treat as America’s favorite Israeli — less likely.

That means Obama is going to have to spend the rest of his term continuing to try to learn to live with the wily Netanyahu. Both Obama and the Palestinian Authority have spent the past two years acting as if they were just waiting around for a new weaker-willed Israeli government to materialize that would then magically create the circumstances under which peace would be achieved. As Barak-faction member Einat Wilf told the New York Times today, “I don’t belong to the camp that believes Israel is solely responsible for the failure of these negotiations. The Palestinians bear responsibility for not entering the talks. Some people have sent them a message to wait around for a new government.”

Barak’s move makes it clear that isn’t going to happen. While Israel’s critics will lament this development, it is high time that Americans accept the fact that the verdict of the Jewish state’s voters must be respected and that the Israeli consensus that has developed about the futility of further unilateral concessions to the Palestinians is entirely justified.

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A ‘Historic Opportunity’ in Tunisia

The Washington Post has a typically excellent editorial on the situation in Tunisia. The Post, with deputy editorial-page editor Jackson Diehl in the lead, has long been a courageous voice in the wilderness championing the embattled cause of Arab democracy. Now the Post editors write that the Jasmine Revolution presents a “historic opportunity”:

Though the revolution has no clear leaders and organized opposition parties are weak, the country is in other respects ready for a democratic transition. Its population is relatively well educated and its middle class substantial, and its women are emancipated by regional standards; Islamic fundamentalist forces are not as strong as they are in Algeria or Egypt. The constitution calls for fresh presidential elections in 60 days, and the country’s interim president indicated that calendar would be respected. The United States can join with France and the European Union in supporting and even helping to organize truly fair elections and in pushing back against those in Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab world, who will seek a quick restoration of autocracy.

Good advice.

The Obama administration came into office disdainful of President Bush’s pursuit of democracy in the Middle East. Now some senior officials may be having a change of heart, as witnessed by Secretary of State Clinton’s recent speech taking Arab states to task for not doing more to reform themselves. We shouldn’t get our hopes up — an awful lot can still go wrong in Tunisia. Certainly in the past we have seen hopes of democracy in the region dashed (Lebanon) or delayed (Iraq). But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, and Tunisia offers a great opportunity for the United States to show that it will stand with the Arab people, not just with their corrupt, unelected rulers.

The Washington Post has a typically excellent editorial on the situation in Tunisia. The Post, with deputy editorial-page editor Jackson Diehl in the lead, has long been a courageous voice in the wilderness championing the embattled cause of Arab democracy. Now the Post editors write that the Jasmine Revolution presents a “historic opportunity”:

Though the revolution has no clear leaders and organized opposition parties are weak, the country is in other respects ready for a democratic transition. Its population is relatively well educated and its middle class substantial, and its women are emancipated by regional standards; Islamic fundamentalist forces are not as strong as they are in Algeria or Egypt. The constitution calls for fresh presidential elections in 60 days, and the country’s interim president indicated that calendar would be respected. The United States can join with France and the European Union in supporting and even helping to organize truly fair elections and in pushing back against those in Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab world, who will seek a quick restoration of autocracy.

Good advice.

The Obama administration came into office disdainful of President Bush’s pursuit of democracy in the Middle East. Now some senior officials may be having a change of heart, as witnessed by Secretary of State Clinton’s recent speech taking Arab states to task for not doing more to reform themselves. We shouldn’t get our hopes up — an awful lot can still go wrong in Tunisia. Certainly in the past we have seen hopes of democracy in the region dashed (Lebanon) or delayed (Iraq). But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, and Tunisia offers a great opportunity for the United States to show that it will stand with the Arab people, not just with their corrupt, unelected rulers.

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Morning Commentary

The street riots in Tunisia could lead to a democratic revolution, but they could also lead to the rise of an extremist government, like the 1979 Islamic revolution did in Iran. In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum writes about the potential outcomes of Tunisia’s political transition: “A month ago, they turned to street protests. So far, this is not an Islamic revolution — but it isn’t a democratic revolution yet, either. Instead, we are witnessing a demographic revolution: the revolt of the frustrated young against their corrupt elders. Anyone who looked at the population numbers and job data could have guessed it might happen, and, as I say, many did.”

Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, Natan Sharansky, Alan Dershowitz, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and other Jewish leaders spoke out against the anti-Israel delegitimization movement at a south Florida summit on Sunday. While the boycott and divestment campaign hasn’t entered the mainstream in the U.S., it has been increasingly problematic in Europe: “‘When there is a boycott of Israeli products — buy them. When trade unions and universities want companies to divest of their holdings in Israeli companies — invest in them. When there is a speaker from Israel — attend the speech and make sure the speaker can be heard,’ Oren said. Most of all, ‘We must educate our community about BDS. We must unite actively to combat it,’ he said.”

Claudia Rosett wonders when Saudi Arabia is going to send Israel a thank-you note for Stuxnet. After all, if WikiLeaks has shown us anything, it’s that the Saudis fear a nuclear Iran almost as much as Israel and the U.S. do: “But if the broad picture painted by the Times is accurate (and there are gaps in the trail described), then surely there is another group of countries which for more wholesome reasons owe a profound thank you to Israel. Prominent among this crowd are the Middle East potentates, from the king of Saudi Arabia to the king of Bahrain to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, whose private pleadings — as made to U.S. officials and exposed by Wikileaks — were to do whatever it takes to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Stuxnet may be the first instance of cyberwarfare, writes Spencer Ackerman. But how far can these types of attacks go in helping us attain our national-security goals? “That also points to the downside. Just as strategic bombing doesn’t have a good track record of success, Stuxnet hasn’t taken down the Iranian nuclear program. Doctrine-writers may be tempted to view cyberwar as an alternative to a shooting war, but the evidence to date doesn’t suggest anything of the sort. Stuxnet just indicates that high-level cyberwarfare really is possible; it doesn’t indicate that it’s sufficient for achieving national objectives.”

Happy MLK Day. Foreign Policy’s Will Inboden asks President Obama to remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for human rights and justice when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao this week: “As my Shadow Government colleague Mike Green pointed out in his excellent preview of the Hu visit, China’s imprisonment of democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo means that the White House meeting this week will be ‘our first summit (indeed, our first state visit) between a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a world leader who is imprisoning another Nobel Peace Prize laureate.’ Martin Luther King Jr. also won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1964.”

The street riots in Tunisia could lead to a democratic revolution, but they could also lead to the rise of an extremist government, like the 1979 Islamic revolution did in Iran. In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum writes about the potential outcomes of Tunisia’s political transition: “A month ago, they turned to street protests. So far, this is not an Islamic revolution — but it isn’t a democratic revolution yet, either. Instead, we are witnessing a demographic revolution: the revolt of the frustrated young against their corrupt elders. Anyone who looked at the population numbers and job data could have guessed it might happen, and, as I say, many did.”

Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, Natan Sharansky, Alan Dershowitz, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and other Jewish leaders spoke out against the anti-Israel delegitimization movement at a south Florida summit on Sunday. While the boycott and divestment campaign hasn’t entered the mainstream in the U.S., it has been increasingly problematic in Europe: “‘When there is a boycott of Israeli products — buy them. When trade unions and universities want companies to divest of their holdings in Israeli companies — invest in them. When there is a speaker from Israel — attend the speech and make sure the speaker can be heard,’ Oren said. Most of all, ‘We must educate our community about BDS. We must unite actively to combat it,’ he said.”

Claudia Rosett wonders when Saudi Arabia is going to send Israel a thank-you note for Stuxnet. After all, if WikiLeaks has shown us anything, it’s that the Saudis fear a nuclear Iran almost as much as Israel and the U.S. do: “But if the broad picture painted by the Times is accurate (and there are gaps in the trail described), then surely there is another group of countries which for more wholesome reasons owe a profound thank you to Israel. Prominent among this crowd are the Middle East potentates, from the king of Saudi Arabia to the king of Bahrain to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, whose private pleadings — as made to U.S. officials and exposed by Wikileaks — were to do whatever it takes to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Stuxnet may be the first instance of cyberwarfare, writes Spencer Ackerman. But how far can these types of attacks go in helping us attain our national-security goals? “That also points to the downside. Just as strategic bombing doesn’t have a good track record of success, Stuxnet hasn’t taken down the Iranian nuclear program. Doctrine-writers may be tempted to view cyberwar as an alternative to a shooting war, but the evidence to date doesn’t suggest anything of the sort. Stuxnet just indicates that high-level cyberwarfare really is possible; it doesn’t indicate that it’s sufficient for achieving national objectives.”

Happy MLK Day. Foreign Policy’s Will Inboden asks President Obama to remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for human rights and justice when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao this week: “As my Shadow Government colleague Mike Green pointed out in his excellent preview of the Hu visit, China’s imprisonment of democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo means that the White House meeting this week will be ‘our first summit (indeed, our first state visit) between a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a world leader who is imprisoning another Nobel Peace Prize laureate.’ Martin Luther King Jr. also won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1964.”

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Hillary Speaks Loudly and Carries Off Big Shtick

Every once in a while, someone high up in the Obama administration says something halfway meaningful about human rights. Immediately afterward, pundits celebrate the statement, regardless of its having no connection to anything the administration actually does. In this way, America’s foundational defense of liberty is morphing into a series of symbolic nods to bygone superstition. Soon parents will explain to puzzled kids, “You see, in olden days, Americans believed they could impact freedom around the world if they did certain things, and so it’s tradition for leaders to praise ‘human rights’ when talking about oppressed people.”

Only such an explanation could make sense of the ambivalence toward human freedom displayed by Hillary Clinton this week. “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, adopting a tone reminiscent of the Bush administration, blasted Arab governments for stalled political change, warning that extremists were exploiting a lack of democracy to promote radical agendas across the Middle East,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon on Friday.

Here’s the “blast”: “While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. The region’s foundations are sinking into the sand.”

Well and good. But here’s the secretary of state’s less-celebrated remark, made in an interview with Al Arabiya, regarding actual American policy and the revolt in Tunisia: “We are not taking sides in it, we just hope there can be a peaceful resolution of it.” Look who’s sinking in the sand now.

It’s one thing to note that the revolution in Tunisia, like all infant revolutions, could lead to better or worse conditions. It’s quite another not to take the side of the oppressed at the outset — especially after delivering a “blast” to corrupt Arab governments. And especially after leaked diplomatic cables show American officials describing the regime of ousted Tunisian president Ben Ali as corrupt and “sclerotic,” with “no checks in the system.”

The Obama administration feels that the U.S. has no dog in the fight between freedom and autocracy. As a country, we’ve been there before — pre-9/11, to be exact. Look how peacefully those days came to a resolution. Still, one must pay lip service to tradition. So every now and then, the secretary of state or the president talk of reforming stagnant political orders and we all applaud. It’s kind of like saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes. It’s a question of manners, mostly. No one really believes, as they used to, that your soul escapes through your nose. We now know it evaporates through the process of American smart power.

Every once in a while, someone high up in the Obama administration says something halfway meaningful about human rights. Immediately afterward, pundits celebrate the statement, regardless of its having no connection to anything the administration actually does. In this way, America’s foundational defense of liberty is morphing into a series of symbolic nods to bygone superstition. Soon parents will explain to puzzled kids, “You see, in olden days, Americans believed they could impact freedom around the world if they did certain things, and so it’s tradition for leaders to praise ‘human rights’ when talking about oppressed people.”

Only such an explanation could make sense of the ambivalence toward human freedom displayed by Hillary Clinton this week. “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, adopting a tone reminiscent of the Bush administration, blasted Arab governments for stalled political change, warning that extremists were exploiting a lack of democracy to promote radical agendas across the Middle East,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon on Friday.

Here’s the “blast”: “While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. The region’s foundations are sinking into the sand.”

Well and good. But here’s the secretary of state’s less-celebrated remark, made in an interview with Al Arabiya, regarding actual American policy and the revolt in Tunisia: “We are not taking sides in it, we just hope there can be a peaceful resolution of it.” Look who’s sinking in the sand now.

It’s one thing to note that the revolution in Tunisia, like all infant revolutions, could lead to better or worse conditions. It’s quite another not to take the side of the oppressed at the outset — especially after delivering a “blast” to corrupt Arab governments. And especially after leaked diplomatic cables show American officials describing the regime of ousted Tunisian president Ben Ali as corrupt and “sclerotic,” with “no checks in the system.”

The Obama administration feels that the U.S. has no dog in the fight between freedom and autocracy. As a country, we’ve been there before — pre-9/11, to be exact. Look how peacefully those days came to a resolution. Still, one must pay lip service to tradition. So every now and then, the secretary of state or the president talk of reforming stagnant political orders and we all applaud. It’s kind of like saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes. It’s a question of manners, mostly. No one really believes, as they used to, that your soul escapes through your nose. We now know it evaporates through the process of American smart power.

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USAID, Spanish Government Supporting Anti-Israel Tourism Group?

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem. Read More

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem.

The involvement of USAID with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism is more tenuous, though. Another pamphlet on the website includes the USAID logo and the ministry’s logo, implying that the project was a collaboration between the two organizations.

The ministry also claims that USAID facilitated its involvement in an international tourism conference last October. “This activity came as part of the Palestine Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities’ membership at the Adventure Travel Trade Association and part of the support provided by the Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion (EDIP) project funded by the USAID,” says the website.

USAID’s own website says that it “supported Palestinian representation at the World Religious Tourism Expo,” though it doesn’t clarify who the representation was.

I’ve called USAID for comment, but as of now, they have been unable to get in touch with officials at their West Bank office, which is closed until after the holiday weekend. We’ll update this story as soon as more information arises.

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Stay Tuned to Tunisia

For all its reputation as the world’s most unstable region, the Middle East has actually been extremely stable in one respect — almost all of its states are ruled by dictators who tend to rule for decades. That’s why it’s very big news that a revolution has swept Tunisia, with reports that President Ben Ali has fled the country. Based on the (scant) reporting so far, it is not clear whether any political movement is behind these events. Most of the accounts describe fairly spontaneous protests and riots after a vegetable vendor set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his cart — his sole means of support — by the authorities.

Tunisians have long been fed up with the corrupt, illegitimate rule of Ben Ali and his hated wife, an Eva Peron figure. They and their family members have grown absurdly rich even as the rest of the country has stagnated. Many other peoples across the Arab world — in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other states — are fed up too. But they have scant chance to express their displeasure except covertly, because if there is one area in which Arab rulers excel, it is in building efficient police states. Now the police state in Tunisia has crumbled.

That is either good news or bad news. It all depends on what comes next. If Tunisia makes the transition to democratic rule, that would be an epochal development that could influence neighboring states in a positive way. If another dictator comes to the fore, that would not be so good. Even worse would be if that dictator emerges from the Islamist fringe. Stay tuned. It’s still early days, but certainly the end of Ben Ali’s long-lived and heavy-handed rule is not to be mourned, even if he was a reliable American ally.

For all its reputation as the world’s most unstable region, the Middle East has actually been extremely stable in one respect — almost all of its states are ruled by dictators who tend to rule for decades. That’s why it’s very big news that a revolution has swept Tunisia, with reports that President Ben Ali has fled the country. Based on the (scant) reporting so far, it is not clear whether any political movement is behind these events. Most of the accounts describe fairly spontaneous protests and riots after a vegetable vendor set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his cart — his sole means of support — by the authorities.

Tunisians have long been fed up with the corrupt, illegitimate rule of Ben Ali and his hated wife, an Eva Peron figure. They and their family members have grown absurdly rich even as the rest of the country has stagnated. Many other peoples across the Arab world — in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other states — are fed up too. But they have scant chance to express their displeasure except covertly, because if there is one area in which Arab rulers excel, it is in building efficient police states. Now the police state in Tunisia has crumbled.

That is either good news or bad news. It all depends on what comes next. If Tunisia makes the transition to democratic rule, that would be an epochal development that could influence neighboring states in a positive way. If another dictator comes to the fore, that would not be so good. Even worse would be if that dictator emerges from the Islamist fringe. Stay tuned. It’s still early days, but certainly the end of Ben Ali’s long-lived and heavy-handed rule is not to be mourned, even if he was a reliable American ally.

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Was Obama’s Speech His Finest Hour?

Obama’s Tucson speech was the best of his presidency, and his challenge to fulfill the expectations of the girl who came to meet her congresswoman on the corner will be a lasting contribution to presidential rhetoric. The suggestion by Garry Wills in “Obama’s Finest Hour” that the speech compares favorably with Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses strikes me as a tad excessive, but Obama gave a beautiful speech at a critical moment and lifted both the country and his own presidency. Everything a speech can do, it did.

In some sense, it was a sermon to himself, since he bears as much blame (and perhaps more) as anyone for the divisive rhetoric that has marked the first two years of his presidency. If there will be no more presidential denigration of political opponents as “enemies,” “hostage takers,” “bitter clingers,” people he has to “clean up after” who should “not do a lot of talking” and ride in the “back of the bus,” both the country and his presidency will be better for it. The clearest test of the Tucson sermon will be how well he is able to adhere to it.

At this moment, it may be worth recalling the final question at George W. Bush’s final news conference on January 12, 2009:

Q … You arrived here wanting to be a uniter, not a divider. Do you think Barack Obama can be a uniter, not a divider? Or is — with the challenges for any President and the unpopular decisions, is it impossible for any President to be uniter, not a divider?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope the tone is different for him than it has been for me. I am disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. I tried to do my part by not engaging in the name-calling and — and by the way, needless name-calling. I have worked to be respectful of my opponents on different issues. … It’s just the rhetoric got out of control at times –

Q Why?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know why. You need to ask those who — those who used the words they used. As I say, it’s not the first time it’s ever happened. … It’s happened throughout our history. And I would hope that, frankly, for the sake of the system itself, that if people disagree with President-Elect Obama, they treat him with respect. …  And so I wish him all the best. And no question he’ll be — there will be critics. And there should be. … I just hope the tone is respectful.

It would be a mistake to wish for a Kumbaya country; there are important issues that need to be debated and decided, on which the future of the country rests. But civility in debate can assist in their resolution.

And it would be an even bigger mistake to think that a speech is the solution in every situation. One of the reasons Obama’s sermon was a great speech is that a speech is what the occasion called for. In other situations, particularly in foreign affairs, an outstretched rhetorical hand has only limited efficacy; world problems are rarely resolved by declaring oneself a citizen of the world; and continually declaring that the time is now does not engender respect among the nations.

As Iran continues its efforts to change the Middle East, and with it the global balance of power, Obama’s challenge will be to summon not eloquence but resolution. His finest hour will require more than a speech.

Obama’s Tucson speech was the best of his presidency, and his challenge to fulfill the expectations of the girl who came to meet her congresswoman on the corner will be a lasting contribution to presidential rhetoric. The suggestion by Garry Wills in “Obama’s Finest Hour” that the speech compares favorably with Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses strikes me as a tad excessive, but Obama gave a beautiful speech at a critical moment and lifted both the country and his own presidency. Everything a speech can do, it did.

In some sense, it was a sermon to himself, since he bears as much blame (and perhaps more) as anyone for the divisive rhetoric that has marked the first two years of his presidency. If there will be no more presidential denigration of political opponents as “enemies,” “hostage takers,” “bitter clingers,” people he has to “clean up after” who should “not do a lot of talking” and ride in the “back of the bus,” both the country and his presidency will be better for it. The clearest test of the Tucson sermon will be how well he is able to adhere to it.

At this moment, it may be worth recalling the final question at George W. Bush’s final news conference on January 12, 2009:

Q … You arrived here wanting to be a uniter, not a divider. Do you think Barack Obama can be a uniter, not a divider? Or is — with the challenges for any President and the unpopular decisions, is it impossible for any President to be uniter, not a divider?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope the tone is different for him than it has been for me. I am disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. I tried to do my part by not engaging in the name-calling and — and by the way, needless name-calling. I have worked to be respectful of my opponents on different issues. … It’s just the rhetoric got out of control at times –

Q Why?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know why. You need to ask those who — those who used the words they used. As I say, it’s not the first time it’s ever happened. … It’s happened throughout our history. And I would hope that, frankly, for the sake of the system itself, that if people disagree with President-Elect Obama, they treat him with respect. …  And so I wish him all the best. And no question he’ll be — there will be critics. And there should be. … I just hope the tone is respectful.

It would be a mistake to wish for a Kumbaya country; there are important issues that need to be debated and decided, on which the future of the country rests. But civility in debate can assist in their resolution.

And it would be an even bigger mistake to think that a speech is the solution in every situation. One of the reasons Obama’s sermon was a great speech is that a speech is what the occasion called for. In other situations, particularly in foreign affairs, an outstretched rhetorical hand has only limited efficacy; world problems are rarely resolved by declaring oneself a citizen of the world; and continually declaring that the time is now does not engender respect among the nations.

As Iran continues its efforts to change the Middle East, and with it the global balance of power, Obama’s challenge will be to summon not eloquence but resolution. His finest hour will require more than a speech.

Read Less

Saber-Rattling: The New Normal

Americans will have to get used to something in the coming years: we are not necessarily the main audience for foreign saber-rattling. When China unveiled its new “stealth” fighter last week, American defense experts were quick to point out that because its design is clunky and primitive, the U.S. need not be overly concerned about this minor triumph. But we would be wrong to imagine the Chinese don’t know that. From their perspective, demonstrating that they have already built a stealth aircraft is more important than impressing American analysts with its characteristics.

The reason for that is simple: an arms-and-power race has been emerging in the Eastern hemisphere — and it’s centered on Asia. The U.S. has had stealth aircraft for years. But Russia announced the prototype test of its first stealth fighter in January 2010, and Japan is pursuing an indigenously designed stealth fighter as well. The Japanese effort has accelerated with the U.S. rejection of Tokyo’s offer to buy the F-22 Raptor. (Secretary Gates reiterated his stance on that in Japan on Wednesday.) India, meanwhile, took delivery this week of its first homegrown fighter jet, billed as the world’s lightest supersonic jet.

There are too many such developments to mention in a brief post for general readers; the fielding of new fighter jets is merely one category. Beyond arms buildups, another category is defense agreements with political, balance-of-power implications, such as the pact now in prospect between South Korea and Japan, or Russia’s cooperation agreements with Vietnam. In a separate category are the territorial disputes heating up between Russia, China, and Japan. Additional factors include the predatory competition between Russia and China for fossil-fuel resources, as well as their competition for clients in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

The timing of the Chinese fighter’s first test flight, which coincided with Bob Gates’s visit, was obviously intentional. China wants to reach a U.S. audience with these signals — but not solely a U.S. audience. The theme that Chinese negotiation is backed by thoroughly modern force is intended as much for Asian consumption as for American. And regardless of the intended audience, there is no better “straight man” for that theme than the U.S. secretary of defense.

Falling behind the neighbors has historically had dreadful consequences for Asian nations; since 1945, even our enemies in the region have relied on America’s power and network of alliances to preserve stability. But the principles we have traditionally acted on in defense of that stability are increasingly in question. The Asian nations are already shifting from a posture of maneuvering around the U.S. to one of maneuvering around each other. Not everything is “about” us; American thinking needs to adjust to that emerging reality. But everything will affect us. If we are unwilling to maintain the order we have built over the past 70-odd years, we will have to learn again the ways of a world that operates without effective American leadership.

Americans will have to get used to something in the coming years: we are not necessarily the main audience for foreign saber-rattling. When China unveiled its new “stealth” fighter last week, American defense experts were quick to point out that because its design is clunky and primitive, the U.S. need not be overly concerned about this minor triumph. But we would be wrong to imagine the Chinese don’t know that. From their perspective, demonstrating that they have already built a stealth aircraft is more important than impressing American analysts with its characteristics.

The reason for that is simple: an arms-and-power race has been emerging in the Eastern hemisphere — and it’s centered on Asia. The U.S. has had stealth aircraft for years. But Russia announced the prototype test of its first stealth fighter in January 2010, and Japan is pursuing an indigenously designed stealth fighter as well. The Japanese effort has accelerated with the U.S. rejection of Tokyo’s offer to buy the F-22 Raptor. (Secretary Gates reiterated his stance on that in Japan on Wednesday.) India, meanwhile, took delivery this week of its first homegrown fighter jet, billed as the world’s lightest supersonic jet.

There are too many such developments to mention in a brief post for general readers; the fielding of new fighter jets is merely one category. Beyond arms buildups, another category is defense agreements with political, balance-of-power implications, such as the pact now in prospect between South Korea and Japan, or Russia’s cooperation agreements with Vietnam. In a separate category are the territorial disputes heating up between Russia, China, and Japan. Additional factors include the predatory competition between Russia and China for fossil-fuel resources, as well as their competition for clients in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

The timing of the Chinese fighter’s first test flight, which coincided with Bob Gates’s visit, was obviously intentional. China wants to reach a U.S. audience with these signals — but not solely a U.S. audience. The theme that Chinese negotiation is backed by thoroughly modern force is intended as much for Asian consumption as for American. And regardless of the intended audience, there is no better “straight man” for that theme than the U.S. secretary of defense.

Falling behind the neighbors has historically had dreadful consequences for Asian nations; since 1945, even our enemies in the region have relied on America’s power and network of alliances to preserve stability. But the principles we have traditionally acted on in defense of that stability are increasingly in question. The Asian nations are already shifting from a posture of maneuvering around the U.S. to one of maneuvering around each other. Not everything is “about” us; American thinking needs to adjust to that emerging reality. But everything will affect us. If we are unwilling to maintain the order we have built over the past 70-odd years, we will have to learn again the ways of a world that operates without effective American leadership.

Read Less




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