Commentary Magazine


Topic: minister

Billy Graham and the Temptations of Politics

In an interview with Christianity Today, Billy Graham, 92, said this:

I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

Graham, of course, was not a particularly powerful force in American politics. Rather, he was known as the “pastor to the president.” He was a friend to presidents of both parties — and he certainly wasn’t as political as, say, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (who is not a minister but is certainly a prominent Christian).

Still, we know that Graham’s close association with Richard Nixon is one he came to regret, especially in the aftermath of Watergate. Tapes released in 2002 revealed Graham as saying disparaging things about Jews, which Graham was embarrassed by and for which he apologized. And proximity to power can appeal to one’s ego and pride. Ministering to the powerful can be a heady experience.

It’s important to point out that the Reverend Graham was not offering a sweeping condemnation of Christians who involve themselves in politics. My guess is that he would agree that according to Christian doctrine, God has never detached Himself from the affairs of the world; that in the Hebrew Bible, certain kings win the outright approval of God; that civil government was itself established by God; and that because politics, in its deepest and best sense, is about justice, it would be foolish to exclude Christians from the realm of politics. Some are called to participate in that arena.

But what Graham was saying — and what Christians need to pay special attention to — is that politics is an arena in which the witness of believers
can be easily harmed. Issue by issue, act by act, faith can become — or can be reasonably seen to become — subordinate to a political party or ideology. In addition, the passions and emotions politics can stir up can cause people to act in troubling ways. Grace can give way to bitterness and brittleness, to viewing political opponents as political enemies. Read More

In an interview with Christianity Today, Billy Graham, 92, said this:

I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

Graham, of course, was not a particularly powerful force in American politics. Rather, he was known as the “pastor to the president.” He was a friend to presidents of both parties — and he certainly wasn’t as political as, say, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (who is not a minister but is certainly a prominent Christian).

Still, we know that Graham’s close association with Richard Nixon is one he came to regret, especially in the aftermath of Watergate. Tapes released in 2002 revealed Graham as saying disparaging things about Jews, which Graham was embarrassed by and for which he apologized. And proximity to power can appeal to one’s ego and pride. Ministering to the powerful can be a heady experience.

It’s important to point out that the Reverend Graham was not offering a sweeping condemnation of Christians who involve themselves in politics. My guess is that he would agree that according to Christian doctrine, God has never detached Himself from the affairs of the world; that in the Hebrew Bible, certain kings win the outright approval of God; that civil government was itself established by God; and that because politics, in its deepest and best sense, is about justice, it would be foolish to exclude Christians from the realm of politics. Some are called to participate in that arena.

But what Graham was saying — and what Christians need to pay special attention to — is that politics is an arena in which the witness of believers
can be easily harmed. Issue by issue, act by act, faith can become — or can be reasonably seen to become — subordinate to a political party or ideology. In addition, the passions and emotions politics can stir up can cause people to act in troubling ways. Grace can give way to bitterness and brittleness, to viewing political opponents as political enemies.

The writer Sheldon Vanauken has written about the fine line between zeal and anger. Admitting that he was caught up in the mood and action of the 1960s, Vanauken wrote that Jesus, he thought, would surely have him oppose what appeared to him to be an unjust war (Vietnam). “But the movement,” Vanauken conceded, “whatever its ideals, did a good deal of hating.” And Jesus, he said, was gradually pushed to the rear. “Movement goals, not God, became first.” Vanauken admitted that that is not quite what God had in mind.

In 1951, Prime Minister Winston Churchill offered Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis the title of Commander of the British Empire, a high and appropriate distinction. But Lewis refused the honor. “I feel greatly obligated to the Prime Minister,” he responded, “and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable. There are always, however, knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there.”

In his own way, what Graham is saying, I think, is that he wishes he had followed the Lewis example. I can understand why. For those of us who claim the title Christian, faith should always be more important than politics. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be involved in politics; it simply means we should do so with care, with wisdom, with our eyes wide open.

The City of Man may be our residence for now, but the City of God is our home.

Read Less

Group Defies Dutch Government, Continues to Fund Anti-Israel Website

A government-funded Netherlands organization has rejected requests from the Dutch foreign minister to stop supporting financially the Electronic Intifada. The Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), which receives about 90 percent of its budget from the Dutch government, said it will continue to steer money to the anti-Israel online publication, in a potential violation of Dutch law:

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal last week told a Netherlands interchurch group, the ICCO, that its funding of Palestinian website Electronic Intifada, which it said has published calls to promote Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel, contradicts official Dutch government policy.

Rosenthal urged the ICCO to remedy the situation, saying that continuing such activities could endanger the group’s government funding. ICCO receives some 75 million Euros from the Dutch government. “There’s nothing wrong with holding critical views, but going directly against government policy is something else,” Rosenthal said.

Promoting Anti-Semitism is illegal in the Netherlands, and the Dutch foreign minister has suggested that by funding the Electronic Intifada, the ICCO may be in violation of this policy. But the group remained defiant in a press release last Friday, saying that it did not see a reason to cut off funding for the website, praising the anti-Israel boycott and divestment movement:

Thursday the 13th of January ICCO discussed its funding of the website The Electronic Intifada with Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal. It was a tough and straightforward discussion, but ICCO sees no reason to change its policy. International law is the main guideline for ICCO’s work.

According the Minister, the site offers a platform for the call for boycott of Israel. Supporting this website is therefore, in the Minister’s view, diametrically opposed to Dutch foreign policy. ICCO disagrees with the Minister on this.

Since 2005, more than 170 Palestinian and some Israeli organisations have called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli policy. The purpose is for Israel to comply with International law and respect human rights. This pressure is justified as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories continue. It is a peaceful and legal way to push for an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and to achieve a peaceful and just solution. …

It is a good custom in the Netherlands for civil organisations to make their own decisions. ICCO therefore doesn’t see reason to change its policy.

As I wrote in November, the Electronic Intifada is one of the major promoters of Israel-demonization propaganda on the Internet. The publication is founded and run by vicious anti-Israel demagogue Ali Abunimah, and its articles often cross the line of legitimate criticism of the Jewish state into the swamp of anti-Semitism. Its writers promote a one-state solution, accuse the Israeli government of “ethnically cleansing” the Palestinian people, and use Nazi and apartheid epithets to describe Israel.

It’s a pretty brazen move for the ICCO to release such a strong public statement flouting the foreign minister’s request, especially when the group receives nearly all its budget from the Dutch government.

But will there be any consequences? I’d like to hope so, but judging by the ICCO’s cavalier attitude, I’m going to guess no.

A government-funded Netherlands organization has rejected requests from the Dutch foreign minister to stop supporting financially the Electronic Intifada. The Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), which receives about 90 percent of its budget from the Dutch government, said it will continue to steer money to the anti-Israel online publication, in a potential violation of Dutch law:

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal last week told a Netherlands interchurch group, the ICCO, that its funding of Palestinian website Electronic Intifada, which it said has published calls to promote Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel, contradicts official Dutch government policy.

Rosenthal urged the ICCO to remedy the situation, saying that continuing such activities could endanger the group’s government funding. ICCO receives some 75 million Euros from the Dutch government. “There’s nothing wrong with holding critical views, but going directly against government policy is something else,” Rosenthal said.

Promoting Anti-Semitism is illegal in the Netherlands, and the Dutch foreign minister has suggested that by funding the Electronic Intifada, the ICCO may be in violation of this policy. But the group remained defiant in a press release last Friday, saying that it did not see a reason to cut off funding for the website, praising the anti-Israel boycott and divestment movement:

Thursday the 13th of January ICCO discussed its funding of the website The Electronic Intifada with Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal. It was a tough and straightforward discussion, but ICCO sees no reason to change its policy. International law is the main guideline for ICCO’s work.

According the Minister, the site offers a platform for the call for boycott of Israel. Supporting this website is therefore, in the Minister’s view, diametrically opposed to Dutch foreign policy. ICCO disagrees with the Minister on this.

Since 2005, more than 170 Palestinian and some Israeli organisations have called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli policy. The purpose is for Israel to comply with International law and respect human rights. This pressure is justified as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories continue. It is a peaceful and legal way to push for an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and to achieve a peaceful and just solution. …

It is a good custom in the Netherlands for civil organisations to make their own decisions. ICCO therefore doesn’t see reason to change its policy.

As I wrote in November, the Electronic Intifada is one of the major promoters of Israel-demonization propaganda on the Internet. The publication is founded and run by vicious anti-Israel demagogue Ali Abunimah, and its articles often cross the line of legitimate criticism of the Jewish state into the swamp of anti-Semitism. Its writers promote a one-state solution, accuse the Israeli government of “ethnically cleansing” the Palestinian people, and use Nazi and apartheid epithets to describe Israel.

It’s a pretty brazen move for the ICCO to release such a strong public statement flouting the foreign minister’s request, especially when the group receives nearly all its budget from the Dutch government.

But will there be any consequences? I’d like to hope so, but judging by the ICCO’s cavalier attitude, I’m going to guess no.

Read Less

Iran Declares War on Purim

Less than two years ago, the readers of the New York Times were being treated to Roger Cohen’s tribute to Iran’s supposedly kindly treatment of the remnant of a once-great Jewish community. Cohen’s rosy description of life inside the Islamist republic was widely scorned for his willingness to buy into the lies being peddled by the tyrants of Tehran. The Times columnist’s motive for trying to soften the image of that openly anti-Semitic government was to undermine support for sanctions or the use of force to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The point was that if Iran’s eliminationist rhetoric about the State of Israel could be rationalized or its reputation for Jew-hatred wished away, it would be that much harder to forge an international consensus on the need to stop this regime for gaining nuclear capability.

In the intervening two years since Cohen’s fallacious pro-Iranian broadside, we haven’t heard much about the treatment of the small Jewish community there. But this week, via a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, we learned that the Iranian news agency FARS has announced that the site of the Tomb of Mordechai and Esther in the city of Hamdan has lost its official status as a religious pilgrimage site. The FARS report says that Iranian children are now being taught that the site, which honors the biblical heroine Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, who are the central figures in the story of the Jewish holiday of Purim, was “an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty.” FARS went on to say that the name of the shrine must be obliterated in order to teach Iranians to “beware of the crimes of the Jews.” It goes on to say that the site must become “a Holocaust memorial” to the “Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai” and be placed under the supervision of the state religious-endowments authority. This is, of course, the same Iranian government that officially denies the fact of the actual Holocaust.

The Iranian account speaks of the events of the Purim story, in which Esther and Mordechai foiled a plan hatched by the King’s minister Haman to exterminate the Jews of the Persian Empire, who then strike back against the forces arrayed to slaughter them.

The action against the tomb appears to be a response to a demonstration by Iranian students who called for its destruction in response to a false report that Israel was digging beneath the al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem.

While we cannot know whether the Iranians will follow through on this threat and actually tear down the tomb or transform it into a center of anti-Jewish hate, it does provide yet another insight into the virulent nature of the attitudes of those in power there. Not satisfied with whipping up hatred against the State of Israel and the tiny, cowed remnant community that still lives there, the Iranians are now striking out against biblical Jews. The vicious nature of this regime is rooted in a view of Islam that apologists for Tehran have consistently sought to ignore. While the blow against Esther and Mordechai may be purely symbolic, it must be placed in the context of a long-running campaign of incitement against Jews and Israel that makes the possible acquisition of nuclear arms by this country even more alarming.

The Iranian war on Purim makes it even more imperative that they never be allowed to gain the power to do what the ayatollah’s ancient hero Haman attempted: the physical elimination of a Jewish population. Anyone who thinks that we can live with a nuclear Iran needs to consider the madness of allowing a government that thinks the Purim story should be reversed the power to do just that.

Less than two years ago, the readers of the New York Times were being treated to Roger Cohen’s tribute to Iran’s supposedly kindly treatment of the remnant of a once-great Jewish community. Cohen’s rosy description of life inside the Islamist republic was widely scorned for his willingness to buy into the lies being peddled by the tyrants of Tehran. The Times columnist’s motive for trying to soften the image of that openly anti-Semitic government was to undermine support for sanctions or the use of force to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The point was that if Iran’s eliminationist rhetoric about the State of Israel could be rationalized or its reputation for Jew-hatred wished away, it would be that much harder to forge an international consensus on the need to stop this regime for gaining nuclear capability.

In the intervening two years since Cohen’s fallacious pro-Iranian broadside, we haven’t heard much about the treatment of the small Jewish community there. But this week, via a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, we learned that the Iranian news agency FARS has announced that the site of the Tomb of Mordechai and Esther in the city of Hamdan has lost its official status as a religious pilgrimage site. The FARS report says that Iranian children are now being taught that the site, which honors the biblical heroine Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, who are the central figures in the story of the Jewish holiday of Purim, was “an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty.” FARS went on to say that the name of the shrine must be obliterated in order to teach Iranians to “beware of the crimes of the Jews.” It goes on to say that the site must become “a Holocaust memorial” to the “Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai” and be placed under the supervision of the state religious-endowments authority. This is, of course, the same Iranian government that officially denies the fact of the actual Holocaust.

The Iranian account speaks of the events of the Purim story, in which Esther and Mordechai foiled a plan hatched by the King’s minister Haman to exterminate the Jews of the Persian Empire, who then strike back against the forces arrayed to slaughter them.

The action against the tomb appears to be a response to a demonstration by Iranian students who called for its destruction in response to a false report that Israel was digging beneath the al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem.

While we cannot know whether the Iranians will follow through on this threat and actually tear down the tomb or transform it into a center of anti-Jewish hate, it does provide yet another insight into the virulent nature of the attitudes of those in power there. Not satisfied with whipping up hatred against the State of Israel and the tiny, cowed remnant community that still lives there, the Iranians are now striking out against biblical Jews. The vicious nature of this regime is rooted in a view of Islam that apologists for Tehran have consistently sought to ignore. While the blow against Esther and Mordechai may be purely symbolic, it must be placed in the context of a long-running campaign of incitement against Jews and Israel that makes the possible acquisition of nuclear arms by this country even more alarming.

The Iranian war on Purim makes it even more imperative that they never be allowed to gain the power to do what the ayatollah’s ancient hero Haman attempted: the physical elimination of a Jewish population. Anyone who thinks that we can live with a nuclear Iran needs to consider the madness of allowing a government that thinks the Purim story should be reversed the power to do just that.

Read Less

In Praise of Jonathan Chait

I’ve gone a few rounds with Jonathan Chait in the past (he affectionately refers to me as the Bush administration’s Minister of Propaganda). I’m therefore delighted to draw attention to a piece he wrote — not to rebut it but to praise it.

According to Chait, “Conservatives are furious that the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords is being pinned on them. Their indignation is justified. The mania of Giffords’ would-be assassin may be slightly more right-wing than left-wing, but on the whole it is largely disconnected from even loosely organized extreme right-wing politics.”

Chait goes on to say this:

I can see why those concerned about the rise of right-wing hysteria would want to use Loughner as a cautionary tale — even if he wasn’t a product of right-wing rage, they may be thinking, he is an example of what right-wing rage could lead to. Yet they fail to understand that this will appear to conservatives as an attempt to use the emotion of the moment to stigmatize them. The mania of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party must be dealt with on their own terms.

A few weeks ago, Chait had nice things to say about something I wrote; today I have something nice to say about what he wrote.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

I’ve gone a few rounds with Jonathan Chait in the past (he affectionately refers to me as the Bush administration’s Minister of Propaganda). I’m therefore delighted to draw attention to a piece he wrote — not to rebut it but to praise it.

According to Chait, “Conservatives are furious that the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords is being pinned on them. Their indignation is justified. The mania of Giffords’ would-be assassin may be slightly more right-wing than left-wing, but on the whole it is largely disconnected from even loosely organized extreme right-wing politics.”

Chait goes on to say this:

I can see why those concerned about the rise of right-wing hysteria would want to use Loughner as a cautionary tale — even if he wasn’t a product of right-wing rage, they may be thinking, he is an example of what right-wing rage could lead to. Yet they fail to understand that this will appear to conservatives as an attempt to use the emotion of the moment to stigmatize them. The mania of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party must be dealt with on their own terms.

A few weeks ago, Chait had nice things to say about something I wrote; today I have something nice to say about what he wrote.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Read Less

An Edifice Over an Abyss

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s valuable interview with Jennifer Rubin (part one on Friday; part two today) contains a useful observation about the current Palestinian push for recognition of a state. Oren says there are two models of Middle East state-building:

In the first, you build from the bottom up. Then you are bestowed or declare independence. The second is that you attain independence and figure out what institutions you will have later. This was the model for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Israel is the first model. We had more than 60 years to build institutions. … Oslo was the classic second model, and Arafat rejected institution building. We saw how that worked out. It’s building an edifice over an abyss.

This reminds me of Ron Dermer’s presentation to AIPAC in May 2009, previewing the one Netanyahu would make days later in his first meeting with President Obama. Dermer described Netanyahu’s plan as a three-track approach: two bottom-up tracks (security and economic development) combined with a top-down one (political negotiations). The goal was not an immediate “peace-to-end-all-peace, deal of the century,” but developments on the ground necessary to make peace possible:

What happened in Annapolis is that the government almost exclusively focused on political negotiation. They invested all their energy … in reaching an elusive agreement. And I agree with Aaron [David Miller] that there is no way now on the Palestinian side to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues. Yet despite that, the previous government just decided to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate …

What Netanyahu will do – and you will see it in a rather dramatic fashion over the next two years … is work to change the reality on the ground, first through security [by facilitating creation of a Palestinian police force] … and [removing] bureaucratic obstacles to economic development. …

What has happened up to now is to try to build the pyramid from the top down. It doesn’t work that way. You have to … have the Palestinians have rule of law, have a decent economy … and slowly but surely you actually build lots of stakeholders.

In the last two years, security in the West Bank has improved, as has the Palestinian economy – developments for which Netanyahu has been given insufficient credit. But Palestinian society remains steeped in anti-Semitism, and the Palestinian Authority lacks the rule of law: a “president” whose term expired two years ago; an unelected “prime minister;” local elections that were cancelled; and political reform that is, in the words of a former PA minister, “a joke.” The next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says it is impossible to track the PA’s use of American aid (“Try looking at their budgets … you’ll never find out where that money goes”).

An undemocratic, anti-Semitic state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one (much less one with defensible borders), is unlikely to “live side by side in peace.” The Palestinians are pushing the edifice, but the abyss is still there.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s valuable interview with Jennifer Rubin (part one on Friday; part two today) contains a useful observation about the current Palestinian push for recognition of a state. Oren says there are two models of Middle East state-building:

In the first, you build from the bottom up. Then you are bestowed or declare independence. The second is that you attain independence and figure out what institutions you will have later. This was the model for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Israel is the first model. We had more than 60 years to build institutions. … Oslo was the classic second model, and Arafat rejected institution building. We saw how that worked out. It’s building an edifice over an abyss.

This reminds me of Ron Dermer’s presentation to AIPAC in May 2009, previewing the one Netanyahu would make days later in his first meeting with President Obama. Dermer described Netanyahu’s plan as a three-track approach: two bottom-up tracks (security and economic development) combined with a top-down one (political negotiations). The goal was not an immediate “peace-to-end-all-peace, deal of the century,” but developments on the ground necessary to make peace possible:

What happened in Annapolis is that the government almost exclusively focused on political negotiation. They invested all their energy … in reaching an elusive agreement. And I agree with Aaron [David Miller] that there is no way now on the Palestinian side to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues. Yet despite that, the previous government just decided to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate …

What Netanyahu will do – and you will see it in a rather dramatic fashion over the next two years … is work to change the reality on the ground, first through security [by facilitating creation of a Palestinian police force] … and [removing] bureaucratic obstacles to economic development. …

What has happened up to now is to try to build the pyramid from the top down. It doesn’t work that way. You have to … have the Palestinians have rule of law, have a decent economy … and slowly but surely you actually build lots of stakeholders.

In the last two years, security in the West Bank has improved, as has the Palestinian economy – developments for which Netanyahu has been given insufficient credit. But Palestinian society remains steeped in anti-Semitism, and the Palestinian Authority lacks the rule of law: a “president” whose term expired two years ago; an unelected “prime minister;” local elections that were cancelled; and political reform that is, in the words of a former PA minister, “a joke.” The next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says it is impossible to track the PA’s use of American aid (“Try looking at their budgets … you’ll never find out where that money goes”).

An undemocratic, anti-Semitic state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one (much less one with defensible borders), is unlikely to “live side by side in peace.” The Palestinians are pushing the edifice, but the abyss is still there.

Read Less

Morning Commentary

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

Read Less

The Value of a Written Commitment

An Israeli official noted on Friday that the U.S. had still not produced a letter confirming the promises made to Benjamin Netanyahu the week before, including the pledge to give Israel 20 F-35 stealth warplanes worth $3 billion, which produced this reaction from Benny Begin:

“It looks like the free stealth fighters have slipped,” said Benny Begin, a minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party who is opposed to the proposed U.S. deal, warning that Washington was setting a trap to extract major concessions later down the line.

“One may wonder if you cannot agree to understandings from one week to the next, what could happen over three months,” Begin told the Army Radio on Friday.

With this administration, it is a good idea to get oral understandings in writing, since Hillary Clinton famously argued last year that a six-year unwritten understanding of a “settlement freeze” (no new settlements or expansion of the borders of existing ones) was “unenforceable” — and that henceforth every new apartment (or announcement of one) would be considered a “settlement.” No wonder the Israeli security cabinet decided that an oral understanding would not be worth the paper it was written on.

Of course, with this administration, the value of a written understanding may not be worth much more. One of the provisions of the 2004 Bush letter was that the “United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” than the Roadmap (emphasis added), with its requirement of a negotiated settlement based on UN Resolution 242. Israel sought the commitment to prevent the possibility that a complete withdrawal from Gaza might eventually lead the UN (or a subsequent U.S. administration) to seek to impose a complete withdrawal from the West Bank, rather than an agreed withdrawal to defensible borders.

Rather than reaffirm that commitment, the new U.S. letter commits only to opposing a UN declaration of a Palestinian state for a year (which coincidentally ends at the same time the Palestinian prime minister says he will have established the institutions of a state). The one-year commitment is thus less a promise than a threat — you’ve got a year to come to an agreement — that will add a perverse influence to the process: pressure on Israel from the time limit and a reverse incentive for the Palestinians to wait for its expiration, in the hope they can then transfer the issue to the UN without opposition from the United States. It is not clear what the value of such a letter is.

An Israeli official noted on Friday that the U.S. had still not produced a letter confirming the promises made to Benjamin Netanyahu the week before, including the pledge to give Israel 20 F-35 stealth warplanes worth $3 billion, which produced this reaction from Benny Begin:

“It looks like the free stealth fighters have slipped,” said Benny Begin, a minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party who is opposed to the proposed U.S. deal, warning that Washington was setting a trap to extract major concessions later down the line.

“One may wonder if you cannot agree to understandings from one week to the next, what could happen over three months,” Begin told the Army Radio on Friday.

With this administration, it is a good idea to get oral understandings in writing, since Hillary Clinton famously argued last year that a six-year unwritten understanding of a “settlement freeze” (no new settlements or expansion of the borders of existing ones) was “unenforceable” — and that henceforth every new apartment (or announcement of one) would be considered a “settlement.” No wonder the Israeli security cabinet decided that an oral understanding would not be worth the paper it was written on.

Of course, with this administration, the value of a written understanding may not be worth much more. One of the provisions of the 2004 Bush letter was that the “United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” than the Roadmap (emphasis added), with its requirement of a negotiated settlement based on UN Resolution 242. Israel sought the commitment to prevent the possibility that a complete withdrawal from Gaza might eventually lead the UN (or a subsequent U.S. administration) to seek to impose a complete withdrawal from the West Bank, rather than an agreed withdrawal to defensible borders.

Rather than reaffirm that commitment, the new U.S. letter commits only to opposing a UN declaration of a Palestinian state for a year (which coincidentally ends at the same time the Palestinian prime minister says he will have established the institutions of a state). The one-year commitment is thus less a promise than a threat — you’ve got a year to come to an agreement — that will add a perverse influence to the process: pressure on Israel from the time limit and a reverse incentive for the Palestinians to wait for its expiration, in the hope they can then transfer the issue to the UN without opposition from the United States. It is not clear what the value of such a letter is.

Read Less

Some Historical Perspective on Negative Campaigning

Every election, it seems, political commentators and reporters suggest that the most recent election we’re in is “the nastiest, most negative election season of all time.” You have to be largely clueless about American history to argue such things — as this short video by Reason.tv highlights. The truth is that angry, fractious elections and political bickering have characterized American politics since the country’s founding.

Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. According to Professor Kerwin Swint, author of Mudslingers, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

The 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley was a race the New York Sun said deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” One pamphlet circulated by Greeley’s supporters called the Grant Administration the “crowning point of governmental wickedness” and accused Grant of bringing forth a “burning lava of seething corruption, a foul despotism….”

Or consider the 1884 race between Grover Cleveland and James Blaine. Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, which led Blaine supporters to chant what became a national slogan: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” (After Cleveland won the election, his supporters answered: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”). The Reverend Samuel Burchard, a Presbyterian minister, spoke at a gathering of pro-Blaine clergy in New York City just days before the election: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been Rum, Romanism, and Rebellions.” Accusations of Blaine’s corruption, as well as charges of his own sexual scandals, also dominated the debate. At campaign rallies, Democrats chanted, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!”

And despite the deep differences that exist between political figures today, we do not settle our differences the way Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr did, by duels at 10 paces with flintlock pistols. Heated exchanges are endemic to politics and what we are seeing today, while often not edifying, is not outside the norm of American history.

Like most people, I wish our debates were less trivial, more spirited, and more serious and contained fewer ad hominem attacks. We should have a clash of views about substantively important matters, such as what the proper role and purpose of the state should be in our lives. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords,” is how Theodore Roosevelt put it. We should therefore hope for serious, honest, reasoned arguments.

Abraham Lincoln is a unique figure in American history, and there is a danger in measuring the quality of our arguments by the quality of his. But there is a lot to be said for holding him up as the ideal. And if you read the words of Lincoln, you will find him constantly making his case in a compelling and philosophically serious way. That is what is most notable about his debates with Stephen Douglas. The burden was on Lincoln to show why Douglas’s advocacy for “popular sovereignty” was incompatible with self-government and the moral meaning of the Declaration of Independence — which is precisely what Lincoln did. If you read the transcripts of the debates, there was plenty of “negative” campaigning going on. But it is long forgotten, because the quality of the debate was so good and the stakes so high. The lesson for us is to aim high, not low, when it comes to the caliber of arguments we make to the public.

Politics is about important matters, and we should bring to it seriousness of purpose. But we should also bring to it a sense of history.

Every election, it seems, political commentators and reporters suggest that the most recent election we’re in is “the nastiest, most negative election season of all time.” You have to be largely clueless about American history to argue such things — as this short video by Reason.tv highlights. The truth is that angry, fractious elections and political bickering have characterized American politics since the country’s founding.

Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. According to Professor Kerwin Swint, author of Mudslingers, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

The 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley was a race the New York Sun said deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” One pamphlet circulated by Greeley’s supporters called the Grant Administration the “crowning point of governmental wickedness” and accused Grant of bringing forth a “burning lava of seething corruption, a foul despotism….”

Or consider the 1884 race between Grover Cleveland and James Blaine. Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, which led Blaine supporters to chant what became a national slogan: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” (After Cleveland won the election, his supporters answered: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”). The Reverend Samuel Burchard, a Presbyterian minister, spoke at a gathering of pro-Blaine clergy in New York City just days before the election: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been Rum, Romanism, and Rebellions.” Accusations of Blaine’s corruption, as well as charges of his own sexual scandals, also dominated the debate. At campaign rallies, Democrats chanted, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!”

And despite the deep differences that exist between political figures today, we do not settle our differences the way Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr did, by duels at 10 paces with flintlock pistols. Heated exchanges are endemic to politics and what we are seeing today, while often not edifying, is not outside the norm of American history.

Like most people, I wish our debates were less trivial, more spirited, and more serious and contained fewer ad hominem attacks. We should have a clash of views about substantively important matters, such as what the proper role and purpose of the state should be in our lives. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords,” is how Theodore Roosevelt put it. We should therefore hope for serious, honest, reasoned arguments.

Abraham Lincoln is a unique figure in American history, and there is a danger in measuring the quality of our arguments by the quality of his. But there is a lot to be said for holding him up as the ideal. And if you read the words of Lincoln, you will find him constantly making his case in a compelling and philosophically serious way. That is what is most notable about his debates with Stephen Douglas. The burden was on Lincoln to show why Douglas’s advocacy for “popular sovereignty” was incompatible with self-government and the moral meaning of the Declaration of Independence — which is precisely what Lincoln did. If you read the transcripts of the debates, there was plenty of “negative” campaigning going on. But it is long forgotten, because the quality of the debate was so good and the stakes so high. The lesson for us is to aim high, not low, when it comes to the caliber of arguments we make to the public.

Politics is about important matters, and we should bring to it seriousness of purpose. But we should also bring to it a sense of history.

Read Less

Winston Churchill in Perspective

In his own day, Winston Churchill was an intensely controversial figure, one who would never have become prime minister were it not for Britain’s desperate straits in May 1940. Yet for decades after the war his heroic leadership made him almost universally acclaimed for saving Western civilization.

The halo began to wear thin in the 1990s when the British historian John Charmley began attacking Churchill for not having tried to strike a deal with Nazi Germany, which would supposedly have preserved the British Empire. Charmley, a right-winger, seemed to think that the empire was worth saving even at the cost of leaving Hitler in power.

Now comes Richard Toye, a left-wing British historian, to attack Churchill for having shown too much devotion to the empire. I confess to not having read his book, Churchill’s Empire, but the glowing review in the New York Times from ultra-left-wing British columnist Johann Hari makes it sound like a standard-issue anti-imperial screed from today’s academy. Hari recites Churchill’s record in defense of the empire, from his early days as a young army officer on the Northwest Frontier, the Sudan, and South Africa, up to his time as a minister who sent the Black and Tans to Ireland, repressed an Iraqi revolt, and tried to stymie Indian independence. Much of Hari’s approach (and Toye’s?) consists of quoting out of context Churchill’s colorful rhetoric. For example:

When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

Apparently, Hari is not familiar with the technique of using rhetorical exaggeration to make a point. Undoubtedly, Churchill was opposed to Gandhi’s independence crusade, but, as far as I know, he made no attempt to actually have Gandhi trampled by an elephant. Gandhi was detained under house arrest in the Aga Khan Palace (not exactly Devil’s Island) for two years during World War II but that’s because he was trying to undermine the British war effort against Germany and Japan. If he had succeeded and India had fallen under the sway of Japanese militarists, he and other anti-British activists would soon have found out what real repression feels like.

In trying to paint Churchill as “cruel and cramped,” Hari also dredges up the Harvard historian Caroline Elkins’s allegations that British prison camps in Kenya during the Mau Mau revolt in the 1950s amounted to a “British gulag” — a charge that has been rejected by pretty much all serious historians of the period. There is no doubt that British authorities locked up large numbers of Mau Mau suspects but the conditions under which they were held bore no resemblance to those experienced by Solzhenitsyn and other inmates of the real gulag.

There are indications of a remarkable lack of perspective in Hari’s (and Toyes’s) indictment, which misses two larger points about imperialism. First, for most of his life Churchill championed the empire at a time when imperialism was considered the norm. Empires have existed since ancient Mesopotamia and much of the world was ruled by them until the late 1940s. Hari is right that even in Churchill’s day not everyone favored imperialism but most did — including many Americans such as Theodore Roosevelt. By the standards of its day, the British Empire was, with the possible exception of the American Empire, the most liberal and enlightened in the world — certainly far more humane than the empires carved out by the Belgians and Germans in Africa. It is absurd to second-guess Churchill’s pro-imperial views from the vantage point of 21st century political correctness, which extols nationalism (perhaps wrongly) as the epitome of human development.

This bring us to the second point that Hari and his ilk overlook — namely the alternatives to British imperialism. Not only the alternative of other European empires, most of them far more brutal; but also the alternative of other indigenous regimes, most of which were even worse. Empire was not just a European phenomenon, after all; many of the native powers that British soldiers fought, whether the Zulus or the Moghuls, were imperialists in their own right. That, in fact, is one of the reasons why Britain was able to win and police its empire at such low cost — many of its subject peoples considered British rule preferable to that of local dynasties.

Once the British empire and other Western regimes passed from the scene, what replaced them? In India there was civil strife that killed over a million people. At least India managed to establish a more or less democratic government, thanks to the legacy of British rule. That’s more than can be said for most countries where the British did not stay as long. Many places once ruled by British, French, or other European bureaucrats fell under the sway of native tyrants, whose rule turned out to be far less competent and far more bloody. Idi Amin, who took over the former British colony of Uganda, comes to mind. Given the historical record of much of the post-independence world, it is by no means so obvious that Churchill’s preferred alternative — British rule — was not, in the end, superior.

In his own day, Winston Churchill was an intensely controversial figure, one who would never have become prime minister were it not for Britain’s desperate straits in May 1940. Yet for decades after the war his heroic leadership made him almost universally acclaimed for saving Western civilization.

The halo began to wear thin in the 1990s when the British historian John Charmley began attacking Churchill for not having tried to strike a deal with Nazi Germany, which would supposedly have preserved the British Empire. Charmley, a right-winger, seemed to think that the empire was worth saving even at the cost of leaving Hitler in power.

Now comes Richard Toye, a left-wing British historian, to attack Churchill for having shown too much devotion to the empire. I confess to not having read his book, Churchill’s Empire, but the glowing review in the New York Times from ultra-left-wing British columnist Johann Hari makes it sound like a standard-issue anti-imperial screed from today’s academy. Hari recites Churchill’s record in defense of the empire, from his early days as a young army officer on the Northwest Frontier, the Sudan, and South Africa, up to his time as a minister who sent the Black and Tans to Ireland, repressed an Iraqi revolt, and tried to stymie Indian independence. Much of Hari’s approach (and Toye’s?) consists of quoting out of context Churchill’s colorful rhetoric. For example:

When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

Apparently, Hari is not familiar with the technique of using rhetorical exaggeration to make a point. Undoubtedly, Churchill was opposed to Gandhi’s independence crusade, but, as far as I know, he made no attempt to actually have Gandhi trampled by an elephant. Gandhi was detained under house arrest in the Aga Khan Palace (not exactly Devil’s Island) for two years during World War II but that’s because he was trying to undermine the British war effort against Germany and Japan. If he had succeeded and India had fallen under the sway of Japanese militarists, he and other anti-British activists would soon have found out what real repression feels like.

In trying to paint Churchill as “cruel and cramped,” Hari also dredges up the Harvard historian Caroline Elkins’s allegations that British prison camps in Kenya during the Mau Mau revolt in the 1950s amounted to a “British gulag” — a charge that has been rejected by pretty much all serious historians of the period. There is no doubt that British authorities locked up large numbers of Mau Mau suspects but the conditions under which they were held bore no resemblance to those experienced by Solzhenitsyn and other inmates of the real gulag.

There are indications of a remarkable lack of perspective in Hari’s (and Toyes’s) indictment, which misses two larger points about imperialism. First, for most of his life Churchill championed the empire at a time when imperialism was considered the norm. Empires have existed since ancient Mesopotamia and much of the world was ruled by them until the late 1940s. Hari is right that even in Churchill’s day not everyone favored imperialism but most did — including many Americans such as Theodore Roosevelt. By the standards of its day, the British Empire was, with the possible exception of the American Empire, the most liberal and enlightened in the world — certainly far more humane than the empires carved out by the Belgians and Germans in Africa. It is absurd to second-guess Churchill’s pro-imperial views from the vantage point of 21st century political correctness, which extols nationalism (perhaps wrongly) as the epitome of human development.

This bring us to the second point that Hari and his ilk overlook — namely the alternatives to British imperialism. Not only the alternative of other European empires, most of them far more brutal; but also the alternative of other indigenous regimes, most of which were even worse. Empire was not just a European phenomenon, after all; many of the native powers that British soldiers fought, whether the Zulus or the Moghuls, were imperialists in their own right. That, in fact, is one of the reasons why Britain was able to win and police its empire at such low cost — many of its subject peoples considered British rule preferable to that of local dynasties.

Once the British empire and other Western regimes passed from the scene, what replaced them? In India there was civil strife that killed over a million people. At least India managed to establish a more or less democratic government, thanks to the legacy of British rule. That’s more than can be said for most countries where the British did not stay as long. Many places once ruled by British, French, or other European bureaucrats fell under the sway of native tyrants, whose rule turned out to be far less competent and far more bloody. Idi Amin, who took over the former British colony of Uganda, comes to mind. Given the historical record of much of the post-independence world, it is by no means so obvious that Churchill’s preferred alternative — British rule — was not, in the end, superior.

Read Less

Why No Outrage Over Oliver Stone?

Oliver Stone’s outburst of rank anti-Semitism in an interview last weekend with the Sunday Times of London has barely created a ripple in the mainstream media. Just as the sophisticates in liberal media outlets and the Hollywood elite gave a collective shrug of indifference when Mel Gibson issued his original anti-Semitic rantings, we have heard not much at all from the trend setters (too busy with their Roman Polanski victory celebrations?). The ADL issued a statement that nicely sums up what others prefer to ignore:

Oliver Stone has once again shown his conspiratorial colors with his comments about ‘Jewish domination of the media’ and control over U.S. foreign policy. His words conjure up some of the most stereotypical and conspiratorial notions of undue Jewish power and influence.

The myth of Jewish control is an old stereotype that persists to this day. Stone uses it in a particularly egregious fashion by suggesting that Hitler has gotten an unfair shake because of Jewish influence.

This is the most absurd kind of analysis and shows the extent to which Oliver Stone is willing to propound his anti-Semitic and conspiratorial views.

Israel’s Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein blasted Stone:

“Beyond the ignorance he proves with his comments, his demonization of the Jewish people could be a sequel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the minister said. “When a man of Stone’s stature says such things, it could lead to a new wave of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, and it may even cause real harm to Jewish communities and individuals.”

It’s not like Stone’s interview didn’t have newsworthy remarks:

In the interview, Stone said America’s focus on the Holocaust was a product of the “Jewish domination of the media.” He said his upcoming Showtime documentary series Secret History of America would put Hitler and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin “in context.” “Hitler did far more damage to the Russians than the Jewish people, 25 or 30 [million killed],” Stone said … Stone, who recently met with Ahmadinejad, said American policy toward Iran was “horrible.”

“Iran isn’t necessarily the good guy,” he said. “But we don’t know the full story!”

By contrast, Stone praised Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez as “a brave, blunt, earthy” man, who does not censor the Internet in his country.

Stone also raised an uproar when he defended Hitler at a press conference in January.

“Hitler is an easy scapegoat throughout history and it’s been used cheaply,” he said at the time. “He’s the product of a series of actions. It’s cause and effect.”

Maybe it’s Stone’s long leftist track record — who can forget his glowing biopic of Fidel Castro? — that has earned him a pass from the liberal U.S. media.

But maybe there is something else at work. Stone’s venomous rant against “Jewish domination of the media” and his assertion about the “Israel lobby” (“They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has f***** up United States foreign policy for years”) are not so different from what comes from the lips of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the writings of the Israel-hating left, and the bile-drenched blogs of those who, for example, claimed John McCain was surrounded by Jewish neocon advisers.

It’s reasonable to conclude that Oliver Stone hasn’t been called out by the liberals — those who advertise themselves as experts on diversity and bigotry — because a great deal of what he said doesn’t sound all that objectionable to far too many of them. And of course, it’s rather embarrassing for those seeking respectability (the “tough love for Israel” gang) to illuminate that anti-Israel venom is, when you scratch the surface, nothing more than old-fashioned Jew-hating.

Oliver Stone’s outburst of rank anti-Semitism in an interview last weekend with the Sunday Times of London has barely created a ripple in the mainstream media. Just as the sophisticates in liberal media outlets and the Hollywood elite gave a collective shrug of indifference when Mel Gibson issued his original anti-Semitic rantings, we have heard not much at all from the trend setters (too busy with their Roman Polanski victory celebrations?). The ADL issued a statement that nicely sums up what others prefer to ignore:

Oliver Stone has once again shown his conspiratorial colors with his comments about ‘Jewish domination of the media’ and control over U.S. foreign policy. His words conjure up some of the most stereotypical and conspiratorial notions of undue Jewish power and influence.

The myth of Jewish control is an old stereotype that persists to this day. Stone uses it in a particularly egregious fashion by suggesting that Hitler has gotten an unfair shake because of Jewish influence.

This is the most absurd kind of analysis and shows the extent to which Oliver Stone is willing to propound his anti-Semitic and conspiratorial views.

Israel’s Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein blasted Stone:

“Beyond the ignorance he proves with his comments, his demonization of the Jewish people could be a sequel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the minister said. “When a man of Stone’s stature says such things, it could lead to a new wave of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, and it may even cause real harm to Jewish communities and individuals.”

It’s not like Stone’s interview didn’t have newsworthy remarks:

In the interview, Stone said America’s focus on the Holocaust was a product of the “Jewish domination of the media.” He said his upcoming Showtime documentary series Secret History of America would put Hitler and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin “in context.” “Hitler did far more damage to the Russians than the Jewish people, 25 or 30 [million killed],” Stone said … Stone, who recently met with Ahmadinejad, said American policy toward Iran was “horrible.”

“Iran isn’t necessarily the good guy,” he said. “But we don’t know the full story!”

By contrast, Stone praised Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez as “a brave, blunt, earthy” man, who does not censor the Internet in his country.

Stone also raised an uproar when he defended Hitler at a press conference in January.

“Hitler is an easy scapegoat throughout history and it’s been used cheaply,” he said at the time. “He’s the product of a series of actions. It’s cause and effect.”

Maybe it’s Stone’s long leftist track record — who can forget his glowing biopic of Fidel Castro? — that has earned him a pass from the liberal U.S. media.

But maybe there is something else at work. Stone’s venomous rant against “Jewish domination of the media” and his assertion about the “Israel lobby” (“They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has f***** up United States foreign policy for years”) are not so different from what comes from the lips of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the writings of the Israel-hating left, and the bile-drenched blogs of those who, for example, claimed John McCain was surrounded by Jewish neocon advisers.

It’s reasonable to conclude that Oliver Stone hasn’t been called out by the liberals — those who advertise themselves as experts on diversity and bigotry — because a great deal of what he said doesn’t sound all that objectionable to far too many of them. And of course, it’s rather embarrassing for those seeking respectability (the “tough love for Israel” gang) to illuminate that anti-Israel venom is, when you scratch the surface, nothing more than old-fashioned Jew-hating.

Read Less

Frolicking with Despots

This report confirms many of the worst qualities of the Obama foreign team brain trust — unprofessional, oblivious, juvenile, and shockingly insensitive. It seems Special Adviser on Innovation Alec J. Ross and Policy Planning staffer Jared Cohen, two of the State Department’s best and brightest, are yucking it up in Syria. No, really:

For example, according to Ross, on Tuesday Cohen challenged the Syrian Minister of Telecom to a cake-eating contest and called it “Creative Diplomacy.” Match that, Tehran! Ross and Cohen both tweeted about their trip to the Tonino Lamborghini Caffe Lounge in Damascus, but while Ross was “amused” by the place, Cohen wants his 300,000-plus tweeps to know that “I’m not kidding when I say I just had the greatest frappacino ever at Kalamoun University north of Damascus.” Good to know! …

In between drinking frappuccinos and touring such places as the Souk al-Hamadiye, the famous covered marketplace in Damascus, Cohen and Ross did find time to hold substantive meetings with Syrian students, entrepreneurs, civic leaders, government officials, and Assad himself.

The students complained that the Syrian government blocked Google, Tashkil, Facebook, YouTube, etc., according to Cohen. Apparently they don’t block Twitter. …

Ross explained that the trip is not just about engaging Assad. “This trip to Syria will test Syria’s willingness to engage more responsibly on issues of netfreedom,” he tweeted.

Is it any wonder despots think they’re getting a free pass from Obama? There certainly is reason for their oppressed and brutalized people to despair.

This report confirms many of the worst qualities of the Obama foreign team brain trust — unprofessional, oblivious, juvenile, and shockingly insensitive. It seems Special Adviser on Innovation Alec J. Ross and Policy Planning staffer Jared Cohen, two of the State Department’s best and brightest, are yucking it up in Syria. No, really:

For example, according to Ross, on Tuesday Cohen challenged the Syrian Minister of Telecom to a cake-eating contest and called it “Creative Diplomacy.” Match that, Tehran! Ross and Cohen both tweeted about their trip to the Tonino Lamborghini Caffe Lounge in Damascus, but while Ross was “amused” by the place, Cohen wants his 300,000-plus tweeps to know that “I’m not kidding when I say I just had the greatest frappacino ever at Kalamoun University north of Damascus.” Good to know! …

In between drinking frappuccinos and touring such places as the Souk al-Hamadiye, the famous covered marketplace in Damascus, Cohen and Ross did find time to hold substantive meetings with Syrian students, entrepreneurs, civic leaders, government officials, and Assad himself.

The students complained that the Syrian government blocked Google, Tashkil, Facebook, YouTube, etc., according to Cohen. Apparently they don’t block Twitter. …

Ross explained that the trip is not just about engaging Assad. “This trip to Syria will test Syria’s willingness to engage more responsibly on issues of netfreedom,” he tweeted.

Is it any wonder despots think they’re getting a free pass from Obama? There certainly is reason for their oppressed and brutalized people to despair.

Read Less

Who’s Angry Now? Brown Compares Whitman to Goebbels

California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown was once known as “Governor Moonbeam” because of his eccentric manner way back in the 1970s, when he served two terms in the same office he’s trying for now. But you would think that after four decades in public life, Brown, who has always fancied himself an advocate of a purer brand of politics than the average lifetime politician, would have learned that calling your opponent a Nazi isn’t so smart.

Politico reports that, in a conversation with a reporter, Brown compared his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, the former eBay chief who triumphed in this week’s GOP primary, to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda. According to KCBS’s Doug Sovern, Brown claimed that:

She’ll have people believing whatever she wants about me. It’s like Goebbels. … Goebbels invented this kind of propaganda. He took control of the whole world. She wants to be president. That’s her ambition, the first woman president. That’s what this is all about.

Brown’s over-the-top paranoia about his opponent speaks volumes about his own view of the world, in which any opponent who brings up the details from his own long and not terribly successful record while holding numerous public offices is a Nazi. And because inappropriate Nazi analogies are one of the few political sins that can guarantee a liberal Democrat like Brown criticism from mainstream liberal Jewish organizations, he should be expecting a call (accompanied by a news release) from the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman sometime in the next day or two, in which he will be instructed that it is not appropriate behavior to compare a former business executive to the regime that slaughtered six million Jews just because she takes Jerry Brown’s name in vain.

We can expect Brown — who hasn’t denied the slur but instead had his office issue the usual weasel-worded claim that his words were “taken out of context” — to eventually apologize. But in a year in which the liberal media have seized every opportunity to brand Republicans and the Tea Party movement as extremists and as a threat to democracy, it’s interesting to note that invariably, it is liberal Democrats like Brown who are coarsening the public square with attempts to demonize their opponents for having the temerity to question their bona fides. The ADL itself stepped into dangerous territory last fall with a report titled “Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies,” in which it speciously linked Republican critics of the Obama administration with militias and other far-right extremists.

But contrary to the ADL’s inappropriate and highly partisan report, most of the rage this year seems to come from Democrats and liberals like Brown who are willing to say anything to besmirch those who dare to oppose them. While I don’t doubt that the ADL will rightly take Brown to task for his loose talk about Goebbels, the group ought to think seriously about the fact that most of the anger we’re hearing lately is not from Tea Partiers heading to Washington with their pitchforks but from liberals who are crying in their beer about the imminent prospect of defeat at the hands of a re-energized GOP.

California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown was once known as “Governor Moonbeam” because of his eccentric manner way back in the 1970s, when he served two terms in the same office he’s trying for now. But you would think that after four decades in public life, Brown, who has always fancied himself an advocate of a purer brand of politics than the average lifetime politician, would have learned that calling your opponent a Nazi isn’t so smart.

Politico reports that, in a conversation with a reporter, Brown compared his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, the former eBay chief who triumphed in this week’s GOP primary, to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda. According to KCBS’s Doug Sovern, Brown claimed that:

She’ll have people believing whatever she wants about me. It’s like Goebbels. … Goebbels invented this kind of propaganda. He took control of the whole world. She wants to be president. That’s her ambition, the first woman president. That’s what this is all about.

Brown’s over-the-top paranoia about his opponent speaks volumes about his own view of the world, in which any opponent who brings up the details from his own long and not terribly successful record while holding numerous public offices is a Nazi. And because inappropriate Nazi analogies are one of the few political sins that can guarantee a liberal Democrat like Brown criticism from mainstream liberal Jewish organizations, he should be expecting a call (accompanied by a news release) from the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman sometime in the next day or two, in which he will be instructed that it is not appropriate behavior to compare a former business executive to the regime that slaughtered six million Jews just because she takes Jerry Brown’s name in vain.

We can expect Brown — who hasn’t denied the slur but instead had his office issue the usual weasel-worded claim that his words were “taken out of context” — to eventually apologize. But in a year in which the liberal media have seized every opportunity to brand Republicans and the Tea Party movement as extremists and as a threat to democracy, it’s interesting to note that invariably, it is liberal Democrats like Brown who are coarsening the public square with attempts to demonize their opponents for having the temerity to question their bona fides. The ADL itself stepped into dangerous territory last fall with a report titled “Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies,” in which it speciously linked Republican critics of the Obama administration with militias and other far-right extremists.

But contrary to the ADL’s inappropriate and highly partisan report, most of the rage this year seems to come from Democrats and liberals like Brown who are willing to say anything to besmirch those who dare to oppose them. While I don’t doubt that the ADL will rightly take Brown to task for his loose talk about Goebbels, the group ought to think seriously about the fact that most of the anger we’re hearing lately is not from Tea Partiers heading to Washington with their pitchforks but from liberals who are crying in their beer about the imminent prospect of defeat at the hands of a re-energized GOP.

Read Less

Another Hand-Wringing Jew

It’s getting to be a trend: Jews publicly expressing their antipathy or outright disdain for Israel. The latest comes from Emily Schaeffer, a 31-year-old lawyer who has come to despise the Jewish state. Perhaps it was her abominable Jewish education, a not uncommon malady:

Schaeffer attended public school, but always felt at home when she took part in activities of the Reform movement. “My parents sent me there when I was five. I went once a week after school, and later twice a week. In the movement we had lessons about Judaism and about Israel, in a very lighthearted way. Once we made a map of Israel out of ice cream and marked the cities with colorful M&M candies. It was Zionism-lite. At that time I also went to synagogue.”

Very lite, it seems. And one suspects she heard from the bima much more about minimum wage and global warming than about Zionism. From there it was on to Reform-movement activities, where she had a grand time and that “altered the course of her life.” She eventually went to live in Israel and, as the lefty Haaretz puts it, became “an Israeli devoid of nationalistic sentiment and full of human compassion.”

Thereafter she fled Israel with a bad case of cognitive dissonance during the second intifada:

“The intifada caused me a profound crisis. I was very disappointed with both sides. I lived on Mahaneh Yehuda street then. Within a day, all the Arab workers, Palestinians from the territories, some of whom I was really friendly with, disappeared. They just disappeared. It was the first time I experienced a war situation. I knew there had been terror attacks in the market and I was tense all the time. I was afraid to be outside too long, I wanted to listen to the news all the time. I was going crazy.”

This caused her not to rethink her chumminess with those killing Jews but rather to return to the U.S. (an option not available to most Israelis), where again she sought out the Israel-haters: “She joined the dialogue group and the Jews Against the Occupation organization in New York. And she once again immersed herself in the bloody conflict that she had abandoned.”

Of course, her “human compassion” does not extend to the Jews attempting to survive in a hostile neighborhood but rather to the killers of Jews:

In Jerusalem she discovered the hidden world, for her at least, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In those days, before the second intifada, she found a common language with Meretz activists on the Mount Scopus campus. “I met my first Palestinian friend then, Sari Abu-Ziad, the oldest son of Ziad Abu-Ziad, who was a minister in the Palestinian government then. He told me about his childhood, what a checkpoint was, what it meant to feel like you’re living in a prison, what it’s like to be an Arabic-speaker in Israel, how frightened he was. He studied at the Hebrew University. This was before the 1999 election. We gave out stickers that said ‘With Barak There’s Hope.’ We believed that things could change. That year I plunged deep into the conflict, and it broke my heart.”

She really wanted to love Israel, but it wasn’t easy for her. “I grew up with the belief that Jews are moral people, that our job is to help the weak. It might sound naive now, but the contradiction between the essence of the Jewish state and what I saw really upset me. It was hard for my mother to accept the questions and doubts I felt. She said: ‘We were refugees, we suffered, we finally got a state, and Israel has to be a good country.’ I told her it was hard for me to see that my people were capable of doing such terrible things, that the country I dreamed about was occupying another people. That’s still something that’s very hard for me to deal with.”

She now has a spiffy career suing Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, trying to halt construction and alter the course of the “wall,” which has saved countless lives from butchers and pizza bombers. And now she’s suing Canada because two Canadian construction companies operate in what she refers to as the “occupied territories.”

In her counter-reality, Israel was the aggressor and the war criminal in Gaza:

“People think of themselves as moral, and what happened there, the number of children that were killed, the strikes on population centers, raised tough questions. It was hard for Israelis to accept the unnecessary death there. On the other hand, most of the country shifted in the other direction and wholeheartedly supported violence against civilians, and even more have become convinced that there will never be peace, and that the Palestinians, even if they are children, are the enemy.”

Any mention of the Herculean efforts to avoid civilian casualties or of Hamas terrorists who hide behind old women and infants? Oh, no. She’s got “compassion,” you see. And then there was the thrill of meeting with the Elders group — a fine bunch of Israel-haters that includes Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and Mary Robinson. Her great joy was receiving a picture of herself with Carter.

Other than signing her up for a lifetime membership in J Street, what is to be done? American Jewry might begin by providing an Israel-strong rather than an Israel-lite education. The Palestinians have done a fine job snaring ill-educated, largely secularized Jews who are steeped in leftism and predisposed to accept the Third World liberation claptrap of the Palestinians. Unless American Jewry does an equally good job restating the case for Israel, explaining Israel’s democratic system (which affords Emily a courtroom to vilify and hamstring the Jewish state), and publicizing the efforts of Israel to grant Palestinians their own state even as the Palestinians continue to reject it and return again and again to violence, there will be many more Emilys. And it wouldn’t hurt if the editors of Haaretz didn’t lionize a woman whose career is based on endangering their lives.

It’s getting to be a trend: Jews publicly expressing their antipathy or outright disdain for Israel. The latest comes from Emily Schaeffer, a 31-year-old lawyer who has come to despise the Jewish state. Perhaps it was her abominable Jewish education, a not uncommon malady:

Schaeffer attended public school, but always felt at home when she took part in activities of the Reform movement. “My parents sent me there when I was five. I went once a week after school, and later twice a week. In the movement we had lessons about Judaism and about Israel, in a very lighthearted way. Once we made a map of Israel out of ice cream and marked the cities with colorful M&M candies. It was Zionism-lite. At that time I also went to synagogue.”

Very lite, it seems. And one suspects she heard from the bima much more about minimum wage and global warming than about Zionism. From there it was on to Reform-movement activities, where she had a grand time and that “altered the course of her life.” She eventually went to live in Israel and, as the lefty Haaretz puts it, became “an Israeli devoid of nationalistic sentiment and full of human compassion.”

Thereafter she fled Israel with a bad case of cognitive dissonance during the second intifada:

“The intifada caused me a profound crisis. I was very disappointed with both sides. I lived on Mahaneh Yehuda street then. Within a day, all the Arab workers, Palestinians from the territories, some of whom I was really friendly with, disappeared. They just disappeared. It was the first time I experienced a war situation. I knew there had been terror attacks in the market and I was tense all the time. I was afraid to be outside too long, I wanted to listen to the news all the time. I was going crazy.”

This caused her not to rethink her chumminess with those killing Jews but rather to return to the U.S. (an option not available to most Israelis), where again she sought out the Israel-haters: “She joined the dialogue group and the Jews Against the Occupation organization in New York. And she once again immersed herself in the bloody conflict that she had abandoned.”

Of course, her “human compassion” does not extend to the Jews attempting to survive in a hostile neighborhood but rather to the killers of Jews:

In Jerusalem she discovered the hidden world, for her at least, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In those days, before the second intifada, she found a common language with Meretz activists on the Mount Scopus campus. “I met my first Palestinian friend then, Sari Abu-Ziad, the oldest son of Ziad Abu-Ziad, who was a minister in the Palestinian government then. He told me about his childhood, what a checkpoint was, what it meant to feel like you’re living in a prison, what it’s like to be an Arabic-speaker in Israel, how frightened he was. He studied at the Hebrew University. This was before the 1999 election. We gave out stickers that said ‘With Barak There’s Hope.’ We believed that things could change. That year I plunged deep into the conflict, and it broke my heart.”

She really wanted to love Israel, but it wasn’t easy for her. “I grew up with the belief that Jews are moral people, that our job is to help the weak. It might sound naive now, but the contradiction between the essence of the Jewish state and what I saw really upset me. It was hard for my mother to accept the questions and doubts I felt. She said: ‘We were refugees, we suffered, we finally got a state, and Israel has to be a good country.’ I told her it was hard for me to see that my people were capable of doing such terrible things, that the country I dreamed about was occupying another people. That’s still something that’s very hard for me to deal with.”

She now has a spiffy career suing Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, trying to halt construction and alter the course of the “wall,” which has saved countless lives from butchers and pizza bombers. And now she’s suing Canada because two Canadian construction companies operate in what she refers to as the “occupied territories.”

In her counter-reality, Israel was the aggressor and the war criminal in Gaza:

“People think of themselves as moral, and what happened there, the number of children that were killed, the strikes on population centers, raised tough questions. It was hard for Israelis to accept the unnecessary death there. On the other hand, most of the country shifted in the other direction and wholeheartedly supported violence against civilians, and even more have become convinced that there will never be peace, and that the Palestinians, even if they are children, are the enemy.”

Any mention of the Herculean efforts to avoid civilian casualties or of Hamas terrorists who hide behind old women and infants? Oh, no. She’s got “compassion,” you see. And then there was the thrill of meeting with the Elders group — a fine bunch of Israel-haters that includes Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and Mary Robinson. Her great joy was receiving a picture of herself with Carter.

Other than signing her up for a lifetime membership in J Street, what is to be done? American Jewry might begin by providing an Israel-strong rather than an Israel-lite education. The Palestinians have done a fine job snaring ill-educated, largely secularized Jews who are steeped in leftism and predisposed to accept the Third World liberation claptrap of the Palestinians. Unless American Jewry does an equally good job restating the case for Israel, explaining Israel’s democratic system (which affords Emily a courtroom to vilify and hamstring the Jewish state), and publicizing the efforts of Israel to grant Palestinians their own state even as the Palestinians continue to reject it and return again and again to violence, there will be many more Emilys. And it wouldn’t hurt if the editors of Haaretz didn’t lionize a woman whose career is based on endangering their lives.

Read Less

Blindness to the Real Syrian Problem

Cliff May wonders whether Dianne Feinstein is dumb or just pretending to be. Feinstein on the shipment of missiles to Hezbollah and the potential for war, pronounces: “There’s only one thing that’s going to solve it, and that’s a two-state solution.” Thunk. As May observes, is it really possible that the “chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, believes that Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria would be satisfied with a two-state solution — assuming that one of those states is Israel”? Well, to be honest, that is not far removed from the claptrap we hear from the administration, which has reduced every issue to a pretext for “focusing” (haven’t we focused for decades?) on the non-existent peace process.

For a saner take on what is really at issue in Syria, read Lee Smith’s compelling piece on the SCUDs and what the administration is doing about that situation. The contrast to the prior administration is stark:

This past week was a bad one for those eager to reach out to Syria. It was reported that Damascus is believed to have transferred to Hezbollah Scud missiles that would be able to reach any part of Israel. “The threat that Syria might transfer more advanced weapons to Hezbollah has existed for a long time,” says Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Middle East affairs in the George W. Bush White House and is now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “With respect to Scuds, it has been understood the Israelis would interdict such a shipment. I do not recall the Bush Administration ever expressing disagreement with that view.”

The Obama Administration seems to feel differently. Initial reports explained that the White House convinced the Israelis not to attack the arms shipment and promised that Kerry would deliver a strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during his visit to Damascus early this month. U.S. officials confirmed Kerry did indeed convey the Americans’ displeasure even as more recent reports suggest that the Obama Administration now believes that the actual transfer may not have occurred.

As Smith notes, the great danger here is that Syria and its senior partner Iran will once again perceive American weakness if we don’t respond (with something more meaningful than a tongue-lashing for the Syrian minister) to this latest act of aggression. (“If we let Syria off the hook for its proven acts of terror against U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, as well as U.S. allies in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq, we have all but announced that in the event of future attacks on the U.S. homeland we will never retaliate against the states without which so-called stateless terrorist organizations cannot exist. We will have effectively disabled any deterrence we have against our adversaries and made our cities vulnerable to anyone who can lie his way past the Transportation Security Administration.”) But we should not be reassured that it is John Kerry delivering the message to Damascus, Smith says. He — and his wife, we learn — have a soft spot for Bashar al-Assad.

So Feinstein is not alone in her silliness. Unfortunately, the president and those carrying out his foreign policy are equally confused.

Cliff May wonders whether Dianne Feinstein is dumb or just pretending to be. Feinstein on the shipment of missiles to Hezbollah and the potential for war, pronounces: “There’s only one thing that’s going to solve it, and that’s a two-state solution.” Thunk. As May observes, is it really possible that the “chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, believes that Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria would be satisfied with a two-state solution — assuming that one of those states is Israel”? Well, to be honest, that is not far removed from the claptrap we hear from the administration, which has reduced every issue to a pretext for “focusing” (haven’t we focused for decades?) on the non-existent peace process.

For a saner take on what is really at issue in Syria, read Lee Smith’s compelling piece on the SCUDs and what the administration is doing about that situation. The contrast to the prior administration is stark:

This past week was a bad one for those eager to reach out to Syria. It was reported that Damascus is believed to have transferred to Hezbollah Scud missiles that would be able to reach any part of Israel. “The threat that Syria might transfer more advanced weapons to Hezbollah has existed for a long time,” says Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Middle East affairs in the George W. Bush White House and is now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “With respect to Scuds, it has been understood the Israelis would interdict such a shipment. I do not recall the Bush Administration ever expressing disagreement with that view.”

The Obama Administration seems to feel differently. Initial reports explained that the White House convinced the Israelis not to attack the arms shipment and promised that Kerry would deliver a strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during his visit to Damascus early this month. U.S. officials confirmed Kerry did indeed convey the Americans’ displeasure even as more recent reports suggest that the Obama Administration now believes that the actual transfer may not have occurred.

As Smith notes, the great danger here is that Syria and its senior partner Iran will once again perceive American weakness if we don’t respond (with something more meaningful than a tongue-lashing for the Syrian minister) to this latest act of aggression. (“If we let Syria off the hook for its proven acts of terror against U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, as well as U.S. allies in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq, we have all but announced that in the event of future attacks on the U.S. homeland we will never retaliate against the states without which so-called stateless terrorist organizations cannot exist. We will have effectively disabled any deterrence we have against our adversaries and made our cities vulnerable to anyone who can lie his way past the Transportation Security Administration.”) But we should not be reassured that it is John Kerry delivering the message to Damascus, Smith says. He — and his wife, we learn — have a soft spot for Bashar al-Assad.

So Feinstein is not alone in her silliness. Unfortunately, the president and those carrying out his foreign policy are equally confused.

Read Less

Palestinians Beat Their Swords into Rocks

While marketing gurus in Israel and the United States ponder the proper methodology for “rebranding” the Jewish State to make people think better of it, the Palestinians continue to eschew ad agencies and rely on The New York Times. That’s the only way to explain the Gray Lady’s curious dispatch today, which claims that the Palestinians have put away their decades-long predilection for violence and become disciples of Mahatma Gandhi.

According to the Times’s Ethan Bronner, “Senior Palestinian leaders — men who once commanded militias — are joining unarmed protest marches against Israeli policies and are being arrested.” How inspiring! It would seem that finally the Palestinians have decided to beat their swords into plowshares and find a way to live with Israel. “It is all about self-empowerment,” said Hasan Abu-Libdeh, the Palestinian economy minister. “We want ordinary people to feel like stockholders in the process of building a state.”

But rather than Fatah focusing on improving life in its putative state or encouraging peaceful people-to-people exchanges with their Jewish neighbors, the whole point of this allegedly non-violent action is to merely carry on their struggle against Israel without all the bad press associated with suicide bombings. Hence, the “self-empowerment” that Minister Abu-Libdeh is referring to is a campaign to boycott the goods produced by Jews who live in the territories and for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work in and around the settlements to give up their jobs. As for the non-violent “protest marches,” they are directed at Israel’s security fence and consist of throwing stones at any Jews present and attempts to damage or destroy the barrier that was erected to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from crossing into Israel and committing mass murder. How any of that empowers ordinary Palestinians in any way is left unexplained.

If there is any change of tactics on the part of Fatah, it is only because Israeli military actions in the West Bank and the erection of the fence have effectively taken the terrorist card out of the P.A.’s hand. Take down that fence and terrorism becomes an attractive option again for a movement that continues to vie with Hamas for popularity in a political culture that continues to value the shedding of Jewish blood over the building of an economy.

Thus it is hard to escape the conclusion that even the most attractive manifestation of Palestinian nationalism is still obsessed with expunging any manifestation of Jewish life around them. Far from a “third way,” as Bronner claims it to be for Palestinians who are frustrated with the “failure” of either terrorism or diplomacy to achieve their goals, the new tactic seems to be merely a way of creating pressure on Israel to lower its guard and make terrorism a bit easier. And if their goal was merely to declare a Palestinian state (as Bronner says Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wants to do in 2011) what is the point of the ongoing obsession with eradicating the scattered Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank as a precondition for statehood? Apparently, the notion of sovereignty is only meaningful for them if every Jew has been thrown out of the territory.

More to the point, diplomacy hasn’t failed the Palestinians. Rather, it is the Palestinians who have failed to embrace the diplomatic option as 17 years of peace talks have proved that their leadership isn’t interested in taking yes for an answer since they have repeatedly refused Israel’s offers of a state in the West Bank and Gaza, including a share of Jerusalem. The last refusal came in 2008 when the same PA that now claims to be pursuing non-violence turned down Ehud Olmert. Thus, the attempt to convince the world that this is an argument about settlements or the fence (which, as Bronner notes, has made of the village of Bilin an international tourist attraction for celebrities, such as Rajmohan Gandhi or Martin Luther King III, who want to get a little attention for bashing Israel) rather than an ongoing existential struggle against any manifestation of Zionism, is absurd.

While marketing gurus in Israel and the United States ponder the proper methodology for “rebranding” the Jewish State to make people think better of it, the Palestinians continue to eschew ad agencies and rely on The New York Times. That’s the only way to explain the Gray Lady’s curious dispatch today, which claims that the Palestinians have put away their decades-long predilection for violence and become disciples of Mahatma Gandhi.

According to the Times’s Ethan Bronner, “Senior Palestinian leaders — men who once commanded militias — are joining unarmed protest marches against Israeli policies and are being arrested.” How inspiring! It would seem that finally the Palestinians have decided to beat their swords into plowshares and find a way to live with Israel. “It is all about self-empowerment,” said Hasan Abu-Libdeh, the Palestinian economy minister. “We want ordinary people to feel like stockholders in the process of building a state.”

But rather than Fatah focusing on improving life in its putative state or encouraging peaceful people-to-people exchanges with their Jewish neighbors, the whole point of this allegedly non-violent action is to merely carry on their struggle against Israel without all the bad press associated with suicide bombings. Hence, the “self-empowerment” that Minister Abu-Libdeh is referring to is a campaign to boycott the goods produced by Jews who live in the territories and for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work in and around the settlements to give up their jobs. As for the non-violent “protest marches,” they are directed at Israel’s security fence and consist of throwing stones at any Jews present and attempts to damage or destroy the barrier that was erected to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from crossing into Israel and committing mass murder. How any of that empowers ordinary Palestinians in any way is left unexplained.

If there is any change of tactics on the part of Fatah, it is only because Israeli military actions in the West Bank and the erection of the fence have effectively taken the terrorist card out of the P.A.’s hand. Take down that fence and terrorism becomes an attractive option again for a movement that continues to vie with Hamas for popularity in a political culture that continues to value the shedding of Jewish blood over the building of an economy.

Thus it is hard to escape the conclusion that even the most attractive manifestation of Palestinian nationalism is still obsessed with expunging any manifestation of Jewish life around them. Far from a “third way,” as Bronner claims it to be for Palestinians who are frustrated with the “failure” of either terrorism or diplomacy to achieve their goals, the new tactic seems to be merely a way of creating pressure on Israel to lower its guard and make terrorism a bit easier. And if their goal was merely to declare a Palestinian state (as Bronner says Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wants to do in 2011) what is the point of the ongoing obsession with eradicating the scattered Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank as a precondition for statehood? Apparently, the notion of sovereignty is only meaningful for them if every Jew has been thrown out of the territory.

More to the point, diplomacy hasn’t failed the Palestinians. Rather, it is the Palestinians who have failed to embrace the diplomatic option as 17 years of peace talks have proved that their leadership isn’t interested in taking yes for an answer since they have repeatedly refused Israel’s offers of a state in the West Bank and Gaza, including a share of Jerusalem. The last refusal came in 2008 when the same PA that now claims to be pursuing non-violence turned down Ehud Olmert. Thus, the attempt to convince the world that this is an argument about settlements or the fence (which, as Bronner notes, has made of the village of Bilin an international tourist attraction for celebrities, such as Rajmohan Gandhi or Martin Luther King III, who want to get a little attention for bashing Israel) rather than an ongoing existential struggle against any manifestation of Zionism, is absurd.

Read Less

Dowd Goes Around the Bend

Goodness knows whether Maureen Dowd’s latest column — a noxious propaganda brew on behalf of the Kingdom of Saud and its foreign minister’s ludicrous moral relativism — was born of abject ignorance or whether she was sent trolling for Saudi money to help her employer’s bottom line. Or maybe she’s trying to out-Friedman her colleague when it comes to ingratiating herself with despotic abusers of human rights. Doesn’t really matter. From Dowd we hear unfiltered this argument:

The Middle Eastern foreign minister was talking about enlightened “liberal” trends in his country, contrasting that with the benighted “extreme” conservative religious movement in a neighboring state.

But the wild thing was that the minister was Prince Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia — an absolute Muslim monarchy ruling over one of the most religiously and socially intolerant places on earth — and the country he deemed too “religiously determined” and regressive was the democracy of Israel.

“We are breaking away from the shackles of the past,” the prince said, sitting in his sprawling, glinting ranch house with its stable of Arabian horses and one oversized white bunny. “We are moving in the direction of a liberal society. What is happening in Israel is the opposite; you are moving into a more religiously oriented culture and into a more religiously determined politics and to a very extreme sense of nationhood,” which was coming “to a boiling point.”

She gets in her swipe at Israel, sniffing that it is “growing less secular with religious militants and the chief rabbinate that would like to impose a harsh and exclusive interpretation of Judaism upon the entire society” and hissing that in “Orthodox synagogues, some men still say a morning prayer thanking God for not making them a woman.” And then she proceeds to assure us that while Gloria Steinem wouldn’t applaud Saudi Arabia as a feminist paradise, “I can confirm that, at their own galactically glacial pace, they are chipping away at gender apartheid and cultural repression.”

Oh really? Perhaps she had not heard about or was not permitted a peak at the real Saudi Arabia. From a more discerning eye, another perspective is in order:

Saudi Arabia, modern-day: A man finds his daughter exchanging messages with a male friend on Facebook and murders her. A young woman caught sitting in a car with a man who is not her relative gets gang-raped, is then sentenced to 90 lashes (or 200, depending on which news report you read) for having appeared thus in public, and is later beaten by her brother for bringing shame on the family.

Same place, same time: The marriage of an eight-year-old girl to a 48-year-old man is upheld by a judge despite her mother’s attempts to have the marriage annulled. A death-row inmate sells his 15-year-old daughter in marriage to a fellow prisoner to pay off some debts. The marriage is consummated. “It is incorrect to say that it’s not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger,” says Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom’s grand mufti. “A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she’s too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her.”

Dowd’s hosts seem not to have given her the full story. There was much more to learn if she had strayed from her handlers or picked up a news account or two. She might then have asked:

Who, exactly, is it the misogyny-frenzied brutes in charge of administering “justice” to the Saudi distaff side are protecting—and from what?  When they condemn a woman who’s been gang-raped to 200 lashes for “having sex outside marriage,” or give a destitute 75-year-old widow 40 lashes for engaging in “prohibited mingling” by receiving charity from two young male relatives, or, in the most recent (known) instance, sentence a 13-year-old girl to 90 lashes—to be delivered in front of her classmates—for bringing a cell phone to school—what do they believe they are doing?

Any of that going on in Israel? Which is the “regressive” locale — the nation with women political leaders and a functioning court system that protects women and girls from abuse or the land of child brides and lashings? It boggles the mind that Dowd would entertain and abet the attempt to equate the two. But then again, Dowd was never one to get bogged down in facts or let reality interfere with a column or, for that matter, a swank sojourn on someone else’s dime.

Goodness knows whether Maureen Dowd’s latest column — a noxious propaganda brew on behalf of the Kingdom of Saud and its foreign minister’s ludicrous moral relativism — was born of abject ignorance or whether she was sent trolling for Saudi money to help her employer’s bottom line. Or maybe she’s trying to out-Friedman her colleague when it comes to ingratiating herself with despotic abusers of human rights. Doesn’t really matter. From Dowd we hear unfiltered this argument:

The Middle Eastern foreign minister was talking about enlightened “liberal” trends in his country, contrasting that with the benighted “extreme” conservative religious movement in a neighboring state.

But the wild thing was that the minister was Prince Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia — an absolute Muslim monarchy ruling over one of the most religiously and socially intolerant places on earth — and the country he deemed too “religiously determined” and regressive was the democracy of Israel.

“We are breaking away from the shackles of the past,” the prince said, sitting in his sprawling, glinting ranch house with its stable of Arabian horses and one oversized white bunny. “We are moving in the direction of a liberal society. What is happening in Israel is the opposite; you are moving into a more religiously oriented culture and into a more religiously determined politics and to a very extreme sense of nationhood,” which was coming “to a boiling point.”

She gets in her swipe at Israel, sniffing that it is “growing less secular with religious militants and the chief rabbinate that would like to impose a harsh and exclusive interpretation of Judaism upon the entire society” and hissing that in “Orthodox synagogues, some men still say a morning prayer thanking God for not making them a woman.” And then she proceeds to assure us that while Gloria Steinem wouldn’t applaud Saudi Arabia as a feminist paradise, “I can confirm that, at their own galactically glacial pace, they are chipping away at gender apartheid and cultural repression.”

Oh really? Perhaps she had not heard about or was not permitted a peak at the real Saudi Arabia. From a more discerning eye, another perspective is in order:

Saudi Arabia, modern-day: A man finds his daughter exchanging messages with a male friend on Facebook and murders her. A young woman caught sitting in a car with a man who is not her relative gets gang-raped, is then sentenced to 90 lashes (or 200, depending on which news report you read) for having appeared thus in public, and is later beaten by her brother for bringing shame on the family.

Same place, same time: The marriage of an eight-year-old girl to a 48-year-old man is upheld by a judge despite her mother’s attempts to have the marriage annulled. A death-row inmate sells his 15-year-old daughter in marriage to a fellow prisoner to pay off some debts. The marriage is consummated. “It is incorrect to say that it’s not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger,” says Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom’s grand mufti. “A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she’s too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her.”

Dowd’s hosts seem not to have given her the full story. There was much more to learn if she had strayed from her handlers or picked up a news account or two. She might then have asked:

Who, exactly, is it the misogyny-frenzied brutes in charge of administering “justice” to the Saudi distaff side are protecting—and from what?  When they condemn a woman who’s been gang-raped to 200 lashes for “having sex outside marriage,” or give a destitute 75-year-old widow 40 lashes for engaging in “prohibited mingling” by receiving charity from two young male relatives, or, in the most recent (known) instance, sentence a 13-year-old girl to 90 lashes—to be delivered in front of her classmates—for bringing a cell phone to school—what do they believe they are doing?

Any of that going on in Israel? Which is the “regressive” locale — the nation with women political leaders and a functioning court system that protects women and girls from abuse or the land of child brides and lashings? It boggles the mind that Dowd would entertain and abet the attempt to equate the two. But then again, Dowd was never one to get bogged down in facts or let reality interfere with a column or, for that matter, a swank sojourn on someone else’s dime.

Read Less

America’s Uncertain Presence in Haiti’s Uncertain Future

The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it’s hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it’s equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.

Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti’s best years — the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil — were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

The American intervention in 1994 during the Clinton administration had less strategic justification; it was mainly an example of altruism in action although there were also concerns about Haitian boat people flooding into the United States if we did not stabilize the situation. That intervention involved putting Jean-Bertrand Aristide back into power. He turned out to be a singularly inept and vicious ruler whose departure was facilitated by the Bush administration in 1996. Since then the president of Haiti has been Rene Preval, but he has enjoyed limited power over a violent and chaotic country.

What stability there is has come from “Minustah,” which sounds like a Southern pronunciation of “minister” but in fact is the French acronym for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. This is a Brazilian-led military and police mission designed to defeat Haiti’s notorious gangs and allow the government to rule. As has become apparent during the post-earthquake looting and mayhem, Minustah has not been terribly successful since being established in 1994. Brazil’s heart is in the right place, but its troops, and those of other nations, have not been able to impose the kind of peace that NATO forces have brought to Bosnia and Kosovo.

Given American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is scant chance we will take over the peacekeeping mission ourselves. But it would make sense to provide more support to Minustah and work in general to strengthen such international mechanisms. We desperately need a way to place dysfunctional countries like Haiti into international receivership. Until such a mechanism is invented, it appears, alas, that Haiti will continue to experience more of the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century.

The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it’s hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it’s equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.

Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti’s best years — the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil — were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

The American intervention in 1994 during the Clinton administration had less strategic justification; it was mainly an example of altruism in action although there were also concerns about Haitian boat people flooding into the United States if we did not stabilize the situation. That intervention involved putting Jean-Bertrand Aristide back into power. He turned out to be a singularly inept and vicious ruler whose departure was facilitated by the Bush administration in 1996. Since then the president of Haiti has been Rene Preval, but he has enjoyed limited power over a violent and chaotic country.

What stability there is has come from “Minustah,” which sounds like a Southern pronunciation of “minister” but in fact is the French acronym for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. This is a Brazilian-led military and police mission designed to defeat Haiti’s notorious gangs and allow the government to rule. As has become apparent during the post-earthquake looting and mayhem, Minustah has not been terribly successful since being established in 1994. Brazil’s heart is in the right place, but its troops, and those of other nations, have not been able to impose the kind of peace that NATO forces have brought to Bosnia and Kosovo.

Given American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is scant chance we will take over the peacekeeping mission ourselves. But it would make sense to provide more support to Minustah and work in general to strengthen such international mechanisms. We desperately need a way to place dysfunctional countries like Haiti into international receivership. Until such a mechanism is invented, it appears, alas, that Haiti will continue to experience more of the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century.

Read Less

Honest Broker, Anyone?

Nothing in George Mitchell’s interview with PBS last week received more attention than the envoy’s implied threat to revoke American loan guarantees to Israel. That’s a pity — because far more worrisome is the goal he set for the negotiations, as highlighted by Aluf Benn in today’s Haaretz. “We think the way forward … is full implementation of the Arab peace initiative,” Mitchell declared“That’s the comprehensive peace in the region that is the objective set forth by the president.”

The Arab initiative mandates a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines — every last inch of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. It also demands a solution to the refugee problem “in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194,” which Arabs interpret as allowing the refugees to “return” to Israel.

Later in the interview, Mitchell says this initiative requires “a negotiation and a discussion,” and that you can’t negotiate by telling “one side you have to agree in advance to what the other side wants.” Yet by saying his goal is “full implementation” of this initiative, he’s effectively saying, “You can have your negotiation and discussion, but Washington has no intention of being an honest broker: it fully backs the Arab position on borders, Jerusalem, and even (to some extent) the refugees.”

This is the administration’s clearest statement yet that it’s abandoning the position held by every previous U.S. administration: that Israel needs “defensible borders” — which everyone agrees the 1967 lines are not. Mitchell also thereby abandoned the position, held by every previous administration, that any deal must acknowledge Israel’s historic ties to the Temple Mount via some Israeli role there, even if only symbolic (see Bill Clinton’s idea of “sovereignty under the Mount”). The Arab initiative requires Israel to just get out.

And Mitchell effectively took Syria’s side on that border dispute: no Israeli government ever agreed to withdraw farther than the international border, whereas the Arab initiative mandates the 1967 lines — i.e., including the territory Syria illegally annexed pre-1967.

Even worse, the Arab initiative addresses none of Israel’s concerns, such as recognition as a Jewish state or security arrangements. That means Mitchell just announced support for all Arab demands without obtaining any parallel concession to Israel. Under those circumstances, why would the Arabs bother making any?

And his repeated demand that Israeli-Palestinian talks deal with borders first indicates that this was no slip of the tongue. After all, the only thing Israel has to give is territory; having once ceded that via an agreement on borders, it has nothing left to trade for, say, security arrangements — which, as a veteran Israeli negotiator told Benn, has actually proved one of the hardest issues to resolve in previous rounds of talks. Borders first, an Israeli minister summed up, is “a trap. We only give, we don’t get anything.”

George Bush’s Road Map viewed the Arab initiative as merely one of many “foundations” for talks. Mitchell’s adoption of its “full implementation” as a goal thus represents a deterioration in U.S. positions that ought to worry all Israel supporters.

Nothing in George Mitchell’s interview with PBS last week received more attention than the envoy’s implied threat to revoke American loan guarantees to Israel. That’s a pity — because far more worrisome is the goal he set for the negotiations, as highlighted by Aluf Benn in today’s Haaretz. “We think the way forward … is full implementation of the Arab peace initiative,” Mitchell declared“That’s the comprehensive peace in the region that is the objective set forth by the president.”

The Arab initiative mandates a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines — every last inch of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. It also demands a solution to the refugee problem “in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194,” which Arabs interpret as allowing the refugees to “return” to Israel.

Later in the interview, Mitchell says this initiative requires “a negotiation and a discussion,” and that you can’t negotiate by telling “one side you have to agree in advance to what the other side wants.” Yet by saying his goal is “full implementation” of this initiative, he’s effectively saying, “You can have your negotiation and discussion, but Washington has no intention of being an honest broker: it fully backs the Arab position on borders, Jerusalem, and even (to some extent) the refugees.”

This is the administration’s clearest statement yet that it’s abandoning the position held by every previous U.S. administration: that Israel needs “defensible borders” — which everyone agrees the 1967 lines are not. Mitchell also thereby abandoned the position, held by every previous administration, that any deal must acknowledge Israel’s historic ties to the Temple Mount via some Israeli role there, even if only symbolic (see Bill Clinton’s idea of “sovereignty under the Mount”). The Arab initiative requires Israel to just get out.

And Mitchell effectively took Syria’s side on that border dispute: no Israeli government ever agreed to withdraw farther than the international border, whereas the Arab initiative mandates the 1967 lines — i.e., including the territory Syria illegally annexed pre-1967.

Even worse, the Arab initiative addresses none of Israel’s concerns, such as recognition as a Jewish state or security arrangements. That means Mitchell just announced support for all Arab demands without obtaining any parallel concession to Israel. Under those circumstances, why would the Arabs bother making any?

And his repeated demand that Israeli-Palestinian talks deal with borders first indicates that this was no slip of the tongue. After all, the only thing Israel has to give is territory; having once ceded that via an agreement on borders, it has nothing left to trade for, say, security arrangements — which, as a veteran Israeli negotiator told Benn, has actually proved one of the hardest issues to resolve in previous rounds of talks. Borders first, an Israeli minister summed up, is “a trap. We only give, we don’t get anything.”

George Bush’s Road Map viewed the Arab initiative as merely one of many “foundations” for talks. Mitchell’s adoption of its “full implementation” as a goal thus represents a deterioration in U.S. positions that ought to worry all Israel supporters.

Read Less

Going Google

Beijing is ready to say good-bye to Google. Wang Chen, China’s State Council Information Office minister, has responded to Google’s principled threat to pull out of China:

Our country is at a crucial stage of reform and development, and this is a period of marked social conflicts … Properly guiding Internet opinion is a major measure for protecting Internet information security. Internet media must always make nurturing positive, progressive mainstream opinion an important duty. Currently, the Internet gives space for spreading rumours and issuing false information and other actions that diminish confidence, and this is causing serious damage to society and the public interest.

Let’s put this retrograde autocratic boilerplate up against this week’s column by China fetishist Thomas Friedman. The multi-Pulitzer Man sounded, characteristically, indistinguishable from a China lobbyist:

All the long-term investments that China has made over the last two decades are just blossoming and could really propel the Chinese economy into the 21st-century knowledge age, starting with its massive investment in infrastructure. Ten years ago, China had a lot bridges and roads to nowhere. Well, many of them are now connected. It is also on a crash program of building subways in major cities and high-speed trains to interconnect them. China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband. Check into a motel in any major city and you’ll have broadband access. America has about 80 million broadband users.

Poor, declining America. The writing is on the wall, isn’t it? A once-great nation is now muddling along with its quaint democratic government, passé freedoms, sub-bullet-speed trains and — the kiss of death for any great civilization — bad motel Internet.

That’s an interesting metric by which to assess superpower status. Friedman might want to put a little more weight on the fact that those 80 million Americans can perform what would constitute a Chinese Miracle: entering “Tiananmen massacre” into a search engine and getting a result. But no. Apparently “the 21st-century knowledge age” is best suited to states that systematically ban knowledge. The important thing is Jetsons-like rail travel. Here’s Friedman’s sci-fi-Wi-Fi obsession on particularly nasty display in a column from last week:

Being in China right now I am more convinced than ever that when historians look back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they will say that the most important thing to happen was not the Great Recession, but China’s Green Leap Forward. The Beijing leadership clearly understands that the E.T. — Energy Technology — revolution is both a necessity and an opportunity, and they do not intend to miss it.

We, by contrast, intend to fix Afghanistan. Have a nice day.

There’s the backward U.S. for you, focusing on terrorism and freedom when the future belongs to trains and laptops.

But what does Friedman do now? Upon his return to the impossibly slow U.S., how does he explain Google’s decision that human rights trump a share of the Chinese market? How does he discuss this without citing an old-fashioned American emphasis on liberty and justice? Whose side will Friedman and other China obsessives take? If other Internet and tech giants (grudgingly) follow, where does that leave his beloved regime?

The truth is that Wang Chen’s statement tells you everything you need to know about China’s supposedly inevitable rise. Beijing doesn’t enjoy enough legitimacy to allow its citizens to hear dissenting opinions. Without the free flow of ideas, China’s citizens will, in turn, remain insufficient to the task of true innovation. Instead, government-backed quasi-corporations will continue to tinker with gadgets from the disco era — bullet trains and solar power. The world’s Tom Friedmans will continue to swoon. Important technological innovation will come, inevitably, in a form few if any have predicted — let alone ranted about for years in the New York Times. And when it comes, it will come from a part of the world where disagreement and tension give birth to genius, not information blockades.

Even as the Obama administration abandons the long-standing American policy of supporting human rights and democracy abroad, other parties take up the torch to heartening effect. That, after all, is what it means to be a superpower: to embrace and offer compelling ideas that resonate in unexpected corners and live in unforeseen contingents. Ideas that, to some extent, do the work of advancing your interests for you. We saw this unfold with Iran’s pro-American democrats, and now we see it in the American corporate sector. Such displays of integrity can’t but shame cynics on their speed trains to magical futures.

Beijing is ready to say good-bye to Google. Wang Chen, China’s State Council Information Office minister, has responded to Google’s principled threat to pull out of China:

Our country is at a crucial stage of reform and development, and this is a period of marked social conflicts … Properly guiding Internet opinion is a major measure for protecting Internet information security. Internet media must always make nurturing positive, progressive mainstream opinion an important duty. Currently, the Internet gives space for spreading rumours and issuing false information and other actions that diminish confidence, and this is causing serious damage to society and the public interest.

Let’s put this retrograde autocratic boilerplate up against this week’s column by China fetishist Thomas Friedman. The multi-Pulitzer Man sounded, characteristically, indistinguishable from a China lobbyist:

All the long-term investments that China has made over the last two decades are just blossoming and could really propel the Chinese economy into the 21st-century knowledge age, starting with its massive investment in infrastructure. Ten years ago, China had a lot bridges and roads to nowhere. Well, many of them are now connected. It is also on a crash program of building subways in major cities and high-speed trains to interconnect them. China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband. Check into a motel in any major city and you’ll have broadband access. America has about 80 million broadband users.

Poor, declining America. The writing is on the wall, isn’t it? A once-great nation is now muddling along with its quaint democratic government, passé freedoms, sub-bullet-speed trains and — the kiss of death for any great civilization — bad motel Internet.

That’s an interesting metric by which to assess superpower status. Friedman might want to put a little more weight on the fact that those 80 million Americans can perform what would constitute a Chinese Miracle: entering “Tiananmen massacre” into a search engine and getting a result. But no. Apparently “the 21st-century knowledge age” is best suited to states that systematically ban knowledge. The important thing is Jetsons-like rail travel. Here’s Friedman’s sci-fi-Wi-Fi obsession on particularly nasty display in a column from last week:

Being in China right now I am more convinced than ever that when historians look back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they will say that the most important thing to happen was not the Great Recession, but China’s Green Leap Forward. The Beijing leadership clearly understands that the E.T. — Energy Technology — revolution is both a necessity and an opportunity, and they do not intend to miss it.

We, by contrast, intend to fix Afghanistan. Have a nice day.

There’s the backward U.S. for you, focusing on terrorism and freedom when the future belongs to trains and laptops.

But what does Friedman do now? Upon his return to the impossibly slow U.S., how does he explain Google’s decision that human rights trump a share of the Chinese market? How does he discuss this without citing an old-fashioned American emphasis on liberty and justice? Whose side will Friedman and other China obsessives take? If other Internet and tech giants (grudgingly) follow, where does that leave his beloved regime?

The truth is that Wang Chen’s statement tells you everything you need to know about China’s supposedly inevitable rise. Beijing doesn’t enjoy enough legitimacy to allow its citizens to hear dissenting opinions. Without the free flow of ideas, China’s citizens will, in turn, remain insufficient to the task of true innovation. Instead, government-backed quasi-corporations will continue to tinker with gadgets from the disco era — bullet trains and solar power. The world’s Tom Friedmans will continue to swoon. Important technological innovation will come, inevitably, in a form few if any have predicted — let alone ranted about for years in the New York Times. And when it comes, it will come from a part of the world where disagreement and tension give birth to genius, not information blockades.

Even as the Obama administration abandons the long-standing American policy of supporting human rights and democracy abroad, other parties take up the torch to heartening effect. That, after all, is what it means to be a superpower: to embrace and offer compelling ideas that resonate in unexpected corners and live in unforeseen contingents. Ideas that, to some extent, do the work of advancing your interests for you. We saw this unfold with Iran’s pro-American democrats, and now we see it in the American corporate sector. Such displays of integrity can’t but shame cynics on their speed trains to magical futures.

Read Less

Something’s Rotten in the State of Israel’s Legal System

Something is deeply wrong with a justice system when mainstream journalists and politicians take it for granted that a suspect’s political views will affect the legal proceedings against him.

Consider the following sentence from a column that appeared Monday in Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz: “If the attorney general decides to bring charges against Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister may decide that, in his bid to reach a plea bargain that will keep him out of prison, he is better off bringing down the government, and possibly even the Knesset, and disguising himself as a moderate in a government that has Kadima and Labor [two left-of-center parties] at its center.”

The author, Amir Oren, is no right-wing conspiracy theorist; he’s a veteran, left-of-center journalist and star columnist for a respected highbrow daily. And he considers it patently obvious that if Lieberman wants prosecutors to treat him leniently, he would be wise to swerve Left.

Nor is Oren alone in this belief. In 2007, after then prime minister Ehud Olmert appointed Daniel Friedmann, a well-known critic of the Supreme Court’s judicial activism, as justice minister, Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz: “The justice system … has two alternatives for coping with this blow: hunkering down in its bunker and waiting for the government to change, or speeding up criminal proceedings against Olmert and working with greater vigor to topple him, which would also bring about Friedmann’s departure.”

Like Oren, Verter is a veteran left-of-center journalist and a star Haaretz columnist. And like Oren, he considers it self-evident that legal officials could and would use their prosecutorial powers to oust a politician whose policies they oppose.

And here’s another star Haaretz columnist and veteran left-of-center journalist, Ari Shavit, writing after the 2006 indictment of then Justice Minister Haim Ramon for sexual harassment:

Twelve hours before kissing the soldier identified as H, Haim Ramon sat at a private dinner and joked that he had to be careful, because something was liable to happen to him. Because something has happened to every justice minister who intended to shake up the judicial system the way he did, something that prevented the minister from ultimately filling the post. …

[Another] senior minister, whose lifelong dream has been to serve as minister of justice, decided at the beginning of the week to concede the coveted position because he was convinced that if he didn’t do so, he would shortly find himself questioned under caution in a police investigation. The senior minister … determined that there was no chance that a person known as a critic of the rule of law would be able to serve as justice minister without the rule of law finding a way to distance him from the public arena on some criminal pretext or another.

That mainstream politicians and journalists believe the legal system biased in this fashion is worrying even if they’re wrong. That so many probably wouldn’t believe it were there not some truth to it is even worse. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the lack of concern: it’s just a fact of life, to be noted casually in a column.

Something is deeply wrong with a justice system when mainstream journalists and politicians take it for granted that a suspect’s political views will affect the legal proceedings against him.

Consider the following sentence from a column that appeared Monday in Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz: “If the attorney general decides to bring charges against Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister may decide that, in his bid to reach a plea bargain that will keep him out of prison, he is better off bringing down the government, and possibly even the Knesset, and disguising himself as a moderate in a government that has Kadima and Labor [two left-of-center parties] at its center.”

The author, Amir Oren, is no right-wing conspiracy theorist; he’s a veteran, left-of-center journalist and star columnist for a respected highbrow daily. And he considers it patently obvious that if Lieberman wants prosecutors to treat him leniently, he would be wise to swerve Left.

Nor is Oren alone in this belief. In 2007, after then prime minister Ehud Olmert appointed Daniel Friedmann, a well-known critic of the Supreme Court’s judicial activism, as justice minister, Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz: “The justice system … has two alternatives for coping with this blow: hunkering down in its bunker and waiting for the government to change, or speeding up criminal proceedings against Olmert and working with greater vigor to topple him, which would also bring about Friedmann’s departure.”

Like Oren, Verter is a veteran left-of-center journalist and a star Haaretz columnist. And like Oren, he considers it self-evident that legal officials could and would use their prosecutorial powers to oust a politician whose policies they oppose.

And here’s another star Haaretz columnist and veteran left-of-center journalist, Ari Shavit, writing after the 2006 indictment of then Justice Minister Haim Ramon for sexual harassment:

Twelve hours before kissing the soldier identified as H, Haim Ramon sat at a private dinner and joked that he had to be careful, because something was liable to happen to him. Because something has happened to every justice minister who intended to shake up the judicial system the way he did, something that prevented the minister from ultimately filling the post. …

[Another] senior minister, whose lifelong dream has been to serve as minister of justice, decided at the beginning of the week to concede the coveted position because he was convinced that if he didn’t do so, he would shortly find himself questioned under caution in a police investigation. The senior minister … determined that there was no chance that a person known as a critic of the rule of law would be able to serve as justice minister without the rule of law finding a way to distance him from the public arena on some criminal pretext or another.

That mainstream politicians and journalists believe the legal system biased in this fashion is worrying even if they’re wrong. That so many probably wouldn’t believe it were there not some truth to it is even worse. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the lack of concern: it’s just a fact of life, to be noted casually in a column.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.