Commentary Magazine


Topic: New York Review

The Unintended Consequences of a Unilateral Declaration of Statehood for Palestine

Anyone taking seriously the Palestinians’ current diplomatic offensive against Israel — by way of a UN resolution on settlements and international recognition of Palestine as an independent state — should think again. In a must-read piece in the New York Review of Books, Robert Malley and Hussein Agha offer a unique insight into Palestinian thinking. Their bottom line:

“In the hope of alarming Israelis, some Palestinians toy with options they haven’t seriously considered, don’t believe in, or cannot implement. … It’s a curious list: unilaterally declaring statehood, obtaining UN recognition, dissolving the PA, or walking away from the idea of negotiated partition altogether and calling for a single, binational state. Not one of these ideas has been well thought out, debated, or genuinely considered as a strategic choice, which, of course, is not their point. They are essentially attempts to show that Palestinians have alternatives to negotiation with Israel even as the proposals’ lack of seriousness demonstrably establishes that they currently have none.”

Palestinian diplomats quietly explain that even if the PA eventually declares independence unilaterally, it does not aspire to go beyond the rhetoric of the declaration and the whirlwind of diplomatic recognition they anticipate will follow. They think such a step might put them in a better position to negotiate with Israel on the outstanding issues that remain unsolved without realizing that such a dramatic step — taken from Ramallah by the PA rather than from Algiers by the PLO as happened 23 years ago — may trigger far worse consequences this time.

Israel might take unilateral actions to respond, which would expose the inadequacy of Palestinian proclamations and further reduce for the future the space available for a Palestinian sovereign entity. Israel could easily show the hollowness of such a declaration by challenging the PA to establish sovereignty for real — and Palestinians have no intentions, let alone a plan, to even begin doing so at border crossings, checkpoints, on the airwaves, in their airspace, on their shores, and in many other areas where independence may be affirmed (controversially, one may add, in the absence of agreement with Israel) by the exercise of sovereign attributes. Read More

Anyone taking seriously the Palestinians’ current diplomatic offensive against Israel — by way of a UN resolution on settlements and international recognition of Palestine as an independent state — should think again. In a must-read piece in the New York Review of Books, Robert Malley and Hussein Agha offer a unique insight into Palestinian thinking. Their bottom line:

“In the hope of alarming Israelis, some Palestinians toy with options they haven’t seriously considered, don’t believe in, or cannot implement. … It’s a curious list: unilaterally declaring statehood, obtaining UN recognition, dissolving the PA, or walking away from the idea of negotiated partition altogether and calling for a single, binational state. Not one of these ideas has been well thought out, debated, or genuinely considered as a strategic choice, which, of course, is not their point. They are essentially attempts to show that Palestinians have alternatives to negotiation with Israel even as the proposals’ lack of seriousness demonstrably establishes that they currently have none.”

Palestinian diplomats quietly explain that even if the PA eventually declares independence unilaterally, it does not aspire to go beyond the rhetoric of the declaration and the whirlwind of diplomatic recognition they anticipate will follow. They think such a step might put them in a better position to negotiate with Israel on the outstanding issues that remain unsolved without realizing that such a dramatic step — taken from Ramallah by the PA rather than from Algiers by the PLO as happened 23 years ago — may trigger far worse consequences this time.

Israel might take unilateral actions to respond, which would expose the inadequacy of Palestinian proclamations and further reduce for the future the space available for a Palestinian sovereign entity. Israel could easily show the hollowness of such a declaration by challenging the PA to establish sovereignty for real — and Palestinians have no intentions, let alone a plan, to even begin doing so at border crossings, checkpoints, on the airwaves, in their airspace, on their shores, and in many other areas where independence may be affirmed (controversially, one may add, in the absence of agreement with Israel) by the exercise of sovereign attributes.

The Arab world — already under pressure on account of developments in Tunisia and uncertain succession challenges from Egypt to Saudi Arabia — might only act in so far as their actions will safeguard the regimes. As usual, their support will be rhetorical — with some diplomatic backing here and there — but hardly decisive. There may be some pledges of cash; whether the money comes is a different, and altogether sadly familiar, story.

Meanwhile, rejectionists in Gaza, Damascus, and Tehran will probably see this development as an opportunity — to wreak havoc, to fan the flames of conflict, to corner the PA for its acquiescence to Israel, and to establish themselves once and for all as the authentic standard bearers of the Palestinian cause.

Clearly, then, the only way forward seems to be the old one and the one that Palestinians currently avoid — direct negotiations with Israel to solve all outstanding issues. Instead, the PA and its diplomatic apparatus pursues the beaten path of failure — change the international balance in your favor so as to weaken your opponent’s negotiating ability, in the hope that this strategy will obviate the need for direct talks. Hence the quest for a UN resolution on settlements — to get the UN, not direct negotiations, to solve borders and territory.

Palestinians are woefully unprepared to handle both the likely consequences of a unilateral declaration and the Israeli response — not to mention the practical implications of independence. They also fail to see that all the successful diplomacy in the world will not undo what history did since 1947 to their ambitions.

What they want, in other words, is sovereignty without responsibility — a goal that reveals their game.

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley may not see it this way, of course, but their exposure of how hollow and unserious the current PA strategy is does a great service to those who are considering support for either Palestinian unilateral independence or, for that matter, the current Palestinian effort to get the UN Security Council to condemn settlements.

Settlements will not go away with a UN resolution. Palestine will not be independent just because its president said so and many heads of state around the world upgraded Palestinian missions to embassy status in La Paz, Santiago, or even Moscow.

Only direct talks will achieve this — with a full appreciation that history cannot be undone, no matter how unfair it may look to you.

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Portraits of the Peace Process in Its 92nd Year

In the National Interest, Benny Morris succinctly summarizes the peace process, writing that there can be disagreement about tactical mistakes made over the years, but that:

[T]here can be no serious argument about what transpired in July and December 2000, when Arafat sequentially rejected comprehensive Israeli and Israeli-American proposals for a two-state solution which would have given the Palestinians (“the Clinton Parameters”) sovereignty and independence in 95% of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip, and half of Jerusalem (including half or three-quarters of the Old City).

And further that:

[T]here can be no serious argument either about Abbas’s rejection of the similar, perhaps even slightly better deal, offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. (Indeed, these rejections of a two-state solution were already a tradition set in stone: The Palestinians’ leaders had rejected two-state compromises in 1937 (the Peel proposals), 1947 (the UN General Assembly partition resolution) and (implicitly) in 1978 (when Arafat rejected the Sadat-Begin Camp David agreement, which provided for “autonomy” in the Palestinan territories).

That is six Palestinian rejections of a Palestinian state: 1937, 1947, 1978, 2000 (twice), 2008.

Actually, the correct number is seven, since Morris omitted the first one: in 1919, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, and Emir Feisal Ibn al-Hussein al-Hashemi signed an agreement providing for Arab recognition of the Balfour Declaration, Arab retention of the Muslim holy sites, and WZO agreement to the establishment of an Arab state. Later that year, the Arabs repudiated the agreement.

We are now in the 92nd year of a peace process in which the Palestinians are the first people in history to be offered a state seven times, reject it seven times, and set preconditions for discussing an eighth offer.

In the February 10 issue of the New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley also provide an interesting analysis of the peace process. They assert the Obama administration has badly damaged U.S. credibility:

[It] was repeatedly rebuffed—by Israel, from whom it had demanded a full halt in settlement construction; by Palestinians it pressed to engage in direct negotiations; by Arab states it hoped would take steps to normalize relations with Israel. An administration that never tires of saying it cannot want peace more than the parties routinely belies that claim by the desperation it exhibits in pursuing that goal. Today, there is little trust, no direct talks, no settlement freeze, and, one at times suspects, not much of a US policy.

Agha and Malley do not recommend a policy of their own. They suggest Mahmoud Abbas is the “last Palestinian” able to end the conflict, but it is an unconvincing conclusion. He has already missed multiple moments: in 2005, he received all of Gaza and presided over its conversion into Hamastan; in 2006, he could not win an election against a terrorist group; in 2007, he got thrown out of Gaza altogether; in 2008, he received the seventh offer of a state and turned it down; in 2009, he arrived in Washington D.C. and told the Washington Post he would do nothing but wait; in 2010, he is turning to the UN rather than negotiate. His term of office ended more than two years ago.

Rather than being the key to peace, he is a reflection of the fact that on the Palestinian side, in the 92nd year, there is no one there to make it.

In the National Interest, Benny Morris succinctly summarizes the peace process, writing that there can be disagreement about tactical mistakes made over the years, but that:

[T]here can be no serious argument about what transpired in July and December 2000, when Arafat sequentially rejected comprehensive Israeli and Israeli-American proposals for a two-state solution which would have given the Palestinians (“the Clinton Parameters”) sovereignty and independence in 95% of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip, and half of Jerusalem (including half or three-quarters of the Old City).

And further that:

[T]here can be no serious argument either about Abbas’s rejection of the similar, perhaps even slightly better deal, offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. (Indeed, these rejections of a two-state solution were already a tradition set in stone: The Palestinians’ leaders had rejected two-state compromises in 1937 (the Peel proposals), 1947 (the UN General Assembly partition resolution) and (implicitly) in 1978 (when Arafat rejected the Sadat-Begin Camp David agreement, which provided for “autonomy” in the Palestinan territories).

That is six Palestinian rejections of a Palestinian state: 1937, 1947, 1978, 2000 (twice), 2008.

Actually, the correct number is seven, since Morris omitted the first one: in 1919, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, and Emir Feisal Ibn al-Hussein al-Hashemi signed an agreement providing for Arab recognition of the Balfour Declaration, Arab retention of the Muslim holy sites, and WZO agreement to the establishment of an Arab state. Later that year, the Arabs repudiated the agreement.

We are now in the 92nd year of a peace process in which the Palestinians are the first people in history to be offered a state seven times, reject it seven times, and set preconditions for discussing an eighth offer.

In the February 10 issue of the New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley also provide an interesting analysis of the peace process. They assert the Obama administration has badly damaged U.S. credibility:

[It] was repeatedly rebuffed—by Israel, from whom it had demanded a full halt in settlement construction; by Palestinians it pressed to engage in direct negotiations; by Arab states it hoped would take steps to normalize relations with Israel. An administration that never tires of saying it cannot want peace more than the parties routinely belies that claim by the desperation it exhibits in pursuing that goal. Today, there is little trust, no direct talks, no settlement freeze, and, one at times suspects, not much of a US policy.

Agha and Malley do not recommend a policy of their own. They suggest Mahmoud Abbas is the “last Palestinian” able to end the conflict, but it is an unconvincing conclusion. He has already missed multiple moments: in 2005, he received all of Gaza and presided over its conversion into Hamastan; in 2006, he could not win an election against a terrorist group; in 2007, he got thrown out of Gaza altogether; in 2008, he received the seventh offer of a state and turned it down; in 2009, he arrived in Washington D.C. and told the Washington Post he would do nothing but wait; in 2010, he is turning to the UN rather than negotiate. His term of office ended more than two years ago.

Rather than being the key to peace, he is a reflection of the fact that on the Palestinian side, in the 92nd year, there is no one there to make it.

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Getting a Grip on Obama’s Real Place in History

During the 2008 campaign, the historian Garry Wills compared Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race with Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union address. Now he’s back at it, though he’s raising the bar a bit higher.

As both Alana and Rick have pointed out, according to Wills, President Obama’s Tucson speech “bears comparison with two Lincoln speeches even greater than the Copper Union address” — Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address.

Actually, it doesn’t.

I thought the president’s speech was a very good one. But the gushing Professor Wills really does need to get a grip on himself.

We also learn in his blog that (surprise) the New York Review wanted to publish a booklet printing the Lincoln and Obama speeches together, but the Obama campaign (wisely) discouraged that idea, perhaps to avoid any suspicion that they were calling Obama a second Lincoln. “Well,” Wills informs us, in the aftermath of the Tucson speech, “I am willing to risk such opposition now.”

It should be clear by now, even to Obama’s most passionate supporters, that he’s no Lincoln (he’s closer to being another Carter). Any effort to pretend that Obama belongs anywhere in same conversation with Lincoln is really quite silly. But such is the state of mind of the New York Review of Books and its writers these days. It’s not enough to be admiring of Obama; they have to be worshipful.

Like besotted adolescents, the left is rekindling its love affair with Barack Obama after only a single speech. Be warned: queasiness to follow.

During the 2008 campaign, the historian Garry Wills compared Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race with Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union address. Now he’s back at it, though he’s raising the bar a bit higher.

As both Alana and Rick have pointed out, according to Wills, President Obama’s Tucson speech “bears comparison with two Lincoln speeches even greater than the Copper Union address” — Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address.

Actually, it doesn’t.

I thought the president’s speech was a very good one. But the gushing Professor Wills really does need to get a grip on himself.

We also learn in his blog that (surprise) the New York Review wanted to publish a booklet printing the Lincoln and Obama speeches together, but the Obama campaign (wisely) discouraged that idea, perhaps to avoid any suspicion that they were calling Obama a second Lincoln. “Well,” Wills informs us, in the aftermath of the Tucson speech, “I am willing to risk such opposition now.”

It should be clear by now, even to Obama’s most passionate supporters, that he’s no Lincoln (he’s closer to being another Carter). Any effort to pretend that Obama belongs anywhere in same conversation with Lincoln is really quite silly. But such is the state of mind of the New York Review of Books and its writers these days. It’s not enough to be admiring of Obama; they have to be worshipful.

Like besotted adolescents, the left is rekindling its love affair with Barack Obama after only a single speech. Be warned: queasiness to follow.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Hooray for Newton, Massachusetts!: “Temple Beth Avodah, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Newton, has abruptly canceled an event with the president of J Street, a lobbying group that supports liberal positions on Israel, because of vociferous objections from some members of the congregation about J Street’s politics.” Bravo — why should Jews, even liberal ones, keep up the facade that the Soros-funded group is a legitimate, pro-Israel organization.

Three cheers for hope and change: “The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, was re-elected on Wednesday to lead the Democrats in the next Congress, despite her party’s loss of more than 60 seats and its majority control of the House in the midterm elections. Officials said that Ms. Pelosi defeated Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina in an internal party vote, 150 to 43.” We now know that there are 43 Dems who have sense enough to perhaps join their Republican colleagues on key votes.

Bingo! “The whole TSA procedure is hugely frustrating to travelers because not only is it needlessly invasive, but it is also a complete waste of time. Other countries facing similar threats respond in much less irritating and much more intelligent and effective ways. Israel, for example, does not do body scans and invasive pat-downs. If the Republicans want to cut government spending, a good place to start would be to abolish TSA. I say this as a very frequent traveler who regularly flies 150,000 miles per year.”

Wow-wee. Look what $1.5B in aid and Muslim Outreach got us: “Financial ties between Egypt and Iran have recently improved as a result of the Misr Iran Development Bank (MIDB), jointly owned by the two countries, according to a report by the Atlantic Monthly on Monday. According to the report, the MIDB, founded in 1975, has become a potential route for Teheran to bypass imposed economic sanctions with Egypt. The bank serves as evidence of the complex challenge faced by the US in enforcing international sanctions against Iran.”

Bravo, Just Journalism, for documenting 10 years of the London Review of Books‘s noxious anti-Israel screeds. “The LRB consistently portrayed Israel as a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime out of all proportion to reality, while sympathetic portraits abounded of groups designated as terrorist organisations by the British government such as Hamas and Hezbollah. While the Palestinian narrative was fully represented, Israel’s narrative on its legitimate security concerns, Arab rejectionism and terrorism was near absent.” Do you think they could do the New York Review of Books next?

Kudos to Lela Gilbert, who highlights this: “Recent terrorist attacks against Christians in Iraq have spotlighted their desperate circumstances in the Middle East, characterized by threats of terror and bloodshed, and culminating in a silent exodus from their ancient homelands—an exodus that mirrors that of the Jews half a century before. Murders, rapes, beatings, extortions, the burning and desecration of houses of worship and mob violence are abuses are all too familiar to surviving Jews who remember their own perilous journeys.” Where’s our Islam-Explainer-in-Chief, and why doesn’t he ever talk about this topic?

Way to go! First an earmark ban and now this: “House Republicans announced Wednesday they plan to force a floor vote on defunding NPR in response to the firing of analyst Juan Williams last month. House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) said that cutting funds to the publicly subsidized news organization was the winner of the conference’s weekly ‘YouCut’ contest, in which the public votes online on spending items they want eliminated.”

Whew. No candidates like Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom this year. But Stan “the Man” Musial, Yo-Yo Ma, and Angela Merkel will get their awards. Also Bush 41. Bush 43 will have to wait to get his — maybe in Marco Rubio’s first term. (Yeah, yeah — Maya Angelou is an awful poet, but harmless enough.)

Better late than never. A gathering of 100 CEOs delivered the administration some long overdue pushback: “The CEOs, in a vote, said the government’s top priority should be to foster global trade and create a more business-friendly environment. But CEOs also said uncertainty about government policy on taxes and regulation remained a barrier to unlocking $2 trillion in capital sitting in the treasuries of U.S. non-financial businesses.”

Hooray for Newton, Massachusetts!: “Temple Beth Avodah, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Newton, has abruptly canceled an event with the president of J Street, a lobbying group that supports liberal positions on Israel, because of vociferous objections from some members of the congregation about J Street’s politics.” Bravo — why should Jews, even liberal ones, keep up the facade that the Soros-funded group is a legitimate, pro-Israel organization.

Three cheers for hope and change: “The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, was re-elected on Wednesday to lead the Democrats in the next Congress, despite her party’s loss of more than 60 seats and its majority control of the House in the midterm elections. Officials said that Ms. Pelosi defeated Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina in an internal party vote, 150 to 43.” We now know that there are 43 Dems who have sense enough to perhaps join their Republican colleagues on key votes.

Bingo! “The whole TSA procedure is hugely frustrating to travelers because not only is it needlessly invasive, but it is also a complete waste of time. Other countries facing similar threats respond in much less irritating and much more intelligent and effective ways. Israel, for example, does not do body scans and invasive pat-downs. If the Republicans want to cut government spending, a good place to start would be to abolish TSA. I say this as a very frequent traveler who regularly flies 150,000 miles per year.”

Wow-wee. Look what $1.5B in aid and Muslim Outreach got us: “Financial ties between Egypt and Iran have recently improved as a result of the Misr Iran Development Bank (MIDB), jointly owned by the two countries, according to a report by the Atlantic Monthly on Monday. According to the report, the MIDB, founded in 1975, has become a potential route for Teheran to bypass imposed economic sanctions with Egypt. The bank serves as evidence of the complex challenge faced by the US in enforcing international sanctions against Iran.”

Bravo, Just Journalism, for documenting 10 years of the London Review of Books‘s noxious anti-Israel screeds. “The LRB consistently portrayed Israel as a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime out of all proportion to reality, while sympathetic portraits abounded of groups designated as terrorist organisations by the British government such as Hamas and Hezbollah. While the Palestinian narrative was fully represented, Israel’s narrative on its legitimate security concerns, Arab rejectionism and terrorism was near absent.” Do you think they could do the New York Review of Books next?

Kudos to Lela Gilbert, who highlights this: “Recent terrorist attacks against Christians in Iraq have spotlighted their desperate circumstances in the Middle East, characterized by threats of terror and bloodshed, and culminating in a silent exodus from their ancient homelands—an exodus that mirrors that of the Jews half a century before. Murders, rapes, beatings, extortions, the burning and desecration of houses of worship and mob violence are abuses are all too familiar to surviving Jews who remember their own perilous journeys.” Where’s our Islam-Explainer-in-Chief, and why doesn’t he ever talk about this topic?

Way to go! First an earmark ban and now this: “House Republicans announced Wednesday they plan to force a floor vote on defunding NPR in response to the firing of analyst Juan Williams last month. House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) said that cutting funds to the publicly subsidized news organization was the winner of the conference’s weekly ‘YouCut’ contest, in which the public votes online on spending items they want eliminated.”

Whew. No candidates like Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom this year. But Stan “the Man” Musial, Yo-Yo Ma, and Angela Merkel will get their awards. Also Bush 41. Bush 43 will have to wait to get his — maybe in Marco Rubio’s first term. (Yeah, yeah — Maya Angelou is an awful poet, but harmless enough.)

Better late than never. A gathering of 100 CEOs delivered the administration some long overdue pushback: “The CEOs, in a vote, said the government’s top priority should be to foster global trade and create a more business-friendly environment. But CEOs also said uncertainty about government policy on taxes and regulation remained a barrier to unlocking $2 trillion in capital sitting in the treasuries of U.S. non-financial businesses.”

Read Less

What We Had Here Was Not a Failure to Communicate

The day before the election, the New York Review of Books posted a rant about right-wing radio and TV hosts by Yale professor David Bromwich.

Regarding Rush Limbaugh, Bromwich mixed faux analysis (“Limbaugh seldom speaks overtly about race,” but “no careful listener can doubt that race is an element”) with personal insults (Limbaugh is a “demagogue” with a “sadistic streak” who “mixes truth and falsehood at pleasure” and is “almost infantile in his self-love”). Bromwich’s analysis of Glenn Beck was that he is a “charlatan” with an “alarmingly incoherent personality” who exerts his “strongest enchantment” when he “goes awry.” Nuanced.

It was surprising to see an article composed of little more than ad hominem attacks published in a journal with intellectual pretensions – but perhaps it simply reflected the well-known fact that left-wing intellectuals are hard-wired to write like that when they are scared.

Bromwich’s piece was a reminder of the leftist tendency to oscillate between love of the people in the abstract and disappointment in actually existing people. Two years ago, the people who attended Obama rallies were the people we were waiting for; two years later, the president’s press secretary told them to get drug-tested, the vice president lectured them to stop whining, and the president warned them he was beginning to think they were not serious. And those were the supporters; opponents were branded class enemies.

Bromwich attributes Obama’s political problems not to his policies or programs but to the absence of an effective communications strategy:

Looking back, one feels it was an astonishing negligence for the Obama White House to embark on a campaign for national health care without a solid strategy for fighting the tenacious opposition it could expect at the hands of Fox radio and TV.

Bromwich does not indicate what the strategy should have been — only that it should have been solid (solid strategies are the best kind). But if you can’t convince the public of your program when you have the mainstream media (CBS, NBC, ABC), public television (PBS), the most established cable news network (CNN), the “news” show most watched by young voters (The Daily Show), and unlimited access to the bully pulpit, it is not likely that your problem was the hands of a single network. More likely it was the people.

The day before the election, the New York Review of Books posted a rant about right-wing radio and TV hosts by Yale professor David Bromwich.

Regarding Rush Limbaugh, Bromwich mixed faux analysis (“Limbaugh seldom speaks overtly about race,” but “no careful listener can doubt that race is an element”) with personal insults (Limbaugh is a “demagogue” with a “sadistic streak” who “mixes truth and falsehood at pleasure” and is “almost infantile in his self-love”). Bromwich’s analysis of Glenn Beck was that he is a “charlatan” with an “alarmingly incoherent personality” who exerts his “strongest enchantment” when he “goes awry.” Nuanced.

It was surprising to see an article composed of little more than ad hominem attacks published in a journal with intellectual pretensions – but perhaps it simply reflected the well-known fact that left-wing intellectuals are hard-wired to write like that when they are scared.

Bromwich’s piece was a reminder of the leftist tendency to oscillate between love of the people in the abstract and disappointment in actually existing people. Two years ago, the people who attended Obama rallies were the people we were waiting for; two years later, the president’s press secretary told them to get drug-tested, the vice president lectured them to stop whining, and the president warned them he was beginning to think they were not serious. And those were the supporters; opponents were branded class enemies.

Bromwich attributes Obama’s political problems not to his policies or programs but to the absence of an effective communications strategy:

Looking back, one feels it was an astonishing negligence for the Obama White House to embark on a campaign for national health care without a solid strategy for fighting the tenacious opposition it could expect at the hands of Fox radio and TV.

Bromwich does not indicate what the strategy should have been — only that it should have been solid (solid strategies are the best kind). But if you can’t convince the public of your program when you have the mainstream media (CBS, NBC, ABC), public television (PBS), the most established cable news network (CNN), the “news” show most watched by young voters (The Daily Show), and unlimited access to the bully pulpit, it is not likely that your problem was the hands of a single network. More likely it was the people.

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The Good-Things-Only Health-Care System

Back in August 2009, Bill Clinton pled with Democrats not to lose their nerve and let a health-care bill die. He offered two comforting predictions:

I’m telling you no matter how low [Republicans] drive support for this with misinformation, the minute the president signs a health care reform bill his approval will go up. Secondly, within a year, when all those bad things they say will happen don’t happen, and all the good things happen, approval will explode.

What seems about to explode, in 49 days, is the same cigar that blew up in the Democrats’ face when they tried this in 1994. Back then it was simply a failed attempt, planned in secret by the president’s wife and a committee of experts; this time it was legislation, rammed through on a party-line vote, by legislators who six months after are unwilling to advertise their “historic” vote. The electorate seems considerably more angry this year.

The public instinctively knew that the endlessly-repeated promises about ObamaCare – it would be deficit-neutral; not affect those satisfied with their existing plans; not limit the quality or availability of medical care; and not produce (in Bill Clinton’s terms) any “bad things” but only “good things” — were false assurances. But the public was constantly told that CBO projections showed ObamaCare would reduce the deficit — and who were you gonna believe, the CBO or the Republicans’ “misinformation”?

In “Health Care: The Disquieting Truth” in the current issue of the New York Review of Books, Arnold Relman, a professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School, writes that:

The seemingly optimistic reports of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which were important in supporting the Democrats’ legislative proposals, should not be misunderstood. The deficit reduction predicted by the CBO referred to covering only the added costs of the legislation for the first ten years, not to the likelihood of stemming the continuously rising costs of existing federal programs.

Relman further notes that the CBO was concerned only with the federal budget, not state budgets or the financial condition of the entire public and private health-care system, which, he concludes, seems headed toward bankruptcy. He ends by describing a new study predicting ObamaCare will, in fact, add $562 billion to the federal deficit in the first ten years.

It is clear from Relman’s article that the Obama administration’s approach to health care is the same it adopted with respect to the budget. In the latter case, it massively increased spending — and is now arguing that a huge increase in taxes is necessary to cure the resulting “unsustainable” deficits. In the former, it pushed through changes and mandates that will dramatically increase health-care costs — and will next argue that health care must be government-controlled to cure the coming cost crisis.

Relman’s own cure is a dramatic restriction or elimination of private insurance and imposition of more government regulation and health care – which he says would “undoubtedly” result in “huge savings” while “making medical care more efficient and effective” at the same time. His approach would apparently produce only good things and not bad things.

Back in August 2009, Bill Clinton pled with Democrats not to lose their nerve and let a health-care bill die. He offered two comforting predictions:

I’m telling you no matter how low [Republicans] drive support for this with misinformation, the minute the president signs a health care reform bill his approval will go up. Secondly, within a year, when all those bad things they say will happen don’t happen, and all the good things happen, approval will explode.

What seems about to explode, in 49 days, is the same cigar that blew up in the Democrats’ face when they tried this in 1994. Back then it was simply a failed attempt, planned in secret by the president’s wife and a committee of experts; this time it was legislation, rammed through on a party-line vote, by legislators who six months after are unwilling to advertise their “historic” vote. The electorate seems considerably more angry this year.

The public instinctively knew that the endlessly-repeated promises about ObamaCare – it would be deficit-neutral; not affect those satisfied with their existing plans; not limit the quality or availability of medical care; and not produce (in Bill Clinton’s terms) any “bad things” but only “good things” — were false assurances. But the public was constantly told that CBO projections showed ObamaCare would reduce the deficit — and who were you gonna believe, the CBO or the Republicans’ “misinformation”?

In “Health Care: The Disquieting Truth” in the current issue of the New York Review of Books, Arnold Relman, a professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School, writes that:

The seemingly optimistic reports of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which were important in supporting the Democrats’ legislative proposals, should not be misunderstood. The deficit reduction predicted by the CBO referred to covering only the added costs of the legislation for the first ten years, not to the likelihood of stemming the continuously rising costs of existing federal programs.

Relman further notes that the CBO was concerned only with the federal budget, not state budgets or the financial condition of the entire public and private health-care system, which, he concludes, seems headed toward bankruptcy. He ends by describing a new study predicting ObamaCare will, in fact, add $562 billion to the federal deficit in the first ten years.

It is clear from Relman’s article that the Obama administration’s approach to health care is the same it adopted with respect to the budget. In the latter case, it massively increased spending — and is now arguing that a huge increase in taxes is necessary to cure the resulting “unsustainable” deficits. In the former, it pushed through changes and mandates that will dramatically increase health-care costs — and will next argue that health care must be government-controlled to cure the coming cost crisis.

Relman’s own cure is a dramatic restriction or elimination of private insurance and imposition of more government regulation and health care – which he says would “undoubtedly” result in “huge savings” while “making medical care more efficient and effective” at the same time. His approach would apparently produce only good things and not bad things.

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Tony Judt’s Specious Clichés About Israel

Once again today the New York Times devoted the largest share of its op-ed page to an attack on Israel, as author and academic Tony Judt attempted to set the paper’s readers straight on what he considers the tired clichés of the Middle East. But as was the case with previous occupiers of this space, such as Michael Chabon, Judt flies under false colors. He affects a pose of Olympian detachment while treating both anti-Israel and pro-Israel arguments with equal disdain. This “plague on both your houses” approach seems reasonable on its face but it is utterly disingenuous.

That’s because of Judt’s own views on Israel and Zionism, about which he is less than candid in this article. Judt has written at length in the New York Review of Books, his usual literary home, about his opposition to Zionism. He is entitled to this belief, however hateful it might be, but such a stance ought to disqualify him from writing pieces in a mainstream newspaper that purport to take an objective stance on the subject.

As for his six clichés, they are all specious points of discussion and contain numerous false arguments. Here are a few:

* The anti-Israel arguments that he dismisses as merely absurd and worthy of being ignored are, while specious, widely disseminated around the world by a rising tide of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic incitement. But Judt, as do other critics of Israel, asserts that friends of Israel treat all criticisms of the state as being intended to delegitimize it. True. But it is a fact that all too many of these critics actually do intend to do just that. To point this out is not “self-defeating” on Israel’s part. To ignore the widespread attacks on Zionism that are now commonplace in Europe and on American college campuses would be to abandon the field to Israel’s foes.

* He acknowledges that Israel is a working democracy but then claims “the expression of strong dissent from official policy is increasingly discouraged,” as if those who oppose the Netanyahu government must only do so in private. This is absurd as not only is there an open season on Netanyahu in the Israeli media but also Arabs openly disparage Zionism on the floor of the Knesset. Even worse, Judt goes on to claim that Hamas’s regime in Gaza is a democracy too. It is true that Hamas won an election in 2006 — but it seized total power there in a bloody coup. Not only is there no hope of another election in which Gazans might hold Hamas accountable for its misrule — a typical example of Third World Democracy, which means “one man, one vote, one time” — but the result of that coup has been the imposition of Islamist practices on secular Palestinians and a tyrannical suppression of all opposing views. If that is Judt’s idea of democracy, it is no wonder he doesn’t value the concept very highly.

* He disparages the idea that not Israel and the Palestinians are to blame. He simply dismisses “the failure of negotiations in 2000” as having reinforced the Israeli belief that “there is no one to talk to.” But Camp David in 2000 didn’t prove that Israelis couldn’t talk to Palestinians. They can, even to Hamas. But it did prove — as did Mahmoud Abbas’s similar refusal in 2008 of an offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem — that the Palestinians aren’t interested in or capable of making peace under any circumstances. The Palestinians may be weak but they could be living in their own state with a signed peace treaty guaranteeing their independence if their political culture didn’t prohibit them from acknowledging the legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders.

* His inclusion of a cliché about an “Israel lobby,” which is “disproportionately influential,” is a tip-off of his bias. The “Israel lobby” has influence in this country not because the people at AIPAC are geniuses but because the vast majority of Americans support Israel.

* Last, and perhaps most important, he claims that the debate about the link between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism is a cliché. But his attempt to dismiss anti-Semitic attacks on Israel depends on the reader being ignorant of the nature of most such attacks in international forums these days. The fact that for anti-Zionists the only alleged injustices in the world worth protesting are those committed by the one Jewish state in the world — the only country the legitimacy of whose existence is a matter of debate — betrays the prejudice behind such sentiments. Judt’s claim that one can “acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and still be an anti-Zionist” is a contradiction in terms but I suppose that’s how he rationalizes his own beliefs. The idea that you can be a foe of a besieged country’s founding ideology and basis of legitimacy yet avoid being branded as someone who would like to see it destroyed is mere sophistry. But when you are an American Jewish academic who despises Israel but doesn’t wish to be associated with the vulgar Jew-haters who act on their beliefs, I suppose that’s the only stance you can take when you write in the New York Times.

Once again today the New York Times devoted the largest share of its op-ed page to an attack on Israel, as author and academic Tony Judt attempted to set the paper’s readers straight on what he considers the tired clichés of the Middle East. But as was the case with previous occupiers of this space, such as Michael Chabon, Judt flies under false colors. He affects a pose of Olympian detachment while treating both anti-Israel and pro-Israel arguments with equal disdain. This “plague on both your houses” approach seems reasonable on its face but it is utterly disingenuous.

That’s because of Judt’s own views on Israel and Zionism, about which he is less than candid in this article. Judt has written at length in the New York Review of Books, his usual literary home, about his opposition to Zionism. He is entitled to this belief, however hateful it might be, but such a stance ought to disqualify him from writing pieces in a mainstream newspaper that purport to take an objective stance on the subject.

As for his six clichés, they are all specious points of discussion and contain numerous false arguments. Here are a few:

* The anti-Israel arguments that he dismisses as merely absurd and worthy of being ignored are, while specious, widely disseminated around the world by a rising tide of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic incitement. But Judt, as do other critics of Israel, asserts that friends of Israel treat all criticisms of the state as being intended to delegitimize it. True. But it is a fact that all too many of these critics actually do intend to do just that. To point this out is not “self-defeating” on Israel’s part. To ignore the widespread attacks on Zionism that are now commonplace in Europe and on American college campuses would be to abandon the field to Israel’s foes.

* He acknowledges that Israel is a working democracy but then claims “the expression of strong dissent from official policy is increasingly discouraged,” as if those who oppose the Netanyahu government must only do so in private. This is absurd as not only is there an open season on Netanyahu in the Israeli media but also Arabs openly disparage Zionism on the floor of the Knesset. Even worse, Judt goes on to claim that Hamas’s regime in Gaza is a democracy too. It is true that Hamas won an election in 2006 — but it seized total power there in a bloody coup. Not only is there no hope of another election in which Gazans might hold Hamas accountable for its misrule — a typical example of Third World Democracy, which means “one man, one vote, one time” — but the result of that coup has been the imposition of Islamist practices on secular Palestinians and a tyrannical suppression of all opposing views. If that is Judt’s idea of democracy, it is no wonder he doesn’t value the concept very highly.

* He disparages the idea that not Israel and the Palestinians are to blame. He simply dismisses “the failure of negotiations in 2000” as having reinforced the Israeli belief that “there is no one to talk to.” But Camp David in 2000 didn’t prove that Israelis couldn’t talk to Palestinians. They can, even to Hamas. But it did prove — as did Mahmoud Abbas’s similar refusal in 2008 of an offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem — that the Palestinians aren’t interested in or capable of making peace under any circumstances. The Palestinians may be weak but they could be living in their own state with a signed peace treaty guaranteeing their independence if their political culture didn’t prohibit them from acknowledging the legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders.

* His inclusion of a cliché about an “Israel lobby,” which is “disproportionately influential,” is a tip-off of his bias. The “Israel lobby” has influence in this country not because the people at AIPAC are geniuses but because the vast majority of Americans support Israel.

* Last, and perhaps most important, he claims that the debate about the link between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism is a cliché. But his attempt to dismiss anti-Semitic attacks on Israel depends on the reader being ignorant of the nature of most such attacks in international forums these days. The fact that for anti-Zionists the only alleged injustices in the world worth protesting are those committed by the one Jewish state in the world — the only country the legitimacy of whose existence is a matter of debate — betrays the prejudice behind such sentiments. Judt’s claim that one can “acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and still be an anti-Zionist” is a contradiction in terms but I suppose that’s how he rationalizes his own beliefs. The idea that you can be a foe of a besieged country’s founding ideology and basis of legitimacy yet avoid being branded as someone who would like to see it destroyed is mere sophistry. But when you are an American Jewish academic who despises Israel but doesn’t wish to be associated with the vulgar Jew-haters who act on their beliefs, I suppose that’s the only stance you can take when you write in the New York Times.

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“Liberal Zionists” Must Choose: Hamas or Israel

The confrontation at sea this morning between pro-Palestinian activists seeking to end the international blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza and Israeli forces seeking to enforce the closure has put the State of Israel in a difficult position. Despite the fact that the aim of the so-called “freedom flotilla” was to bring aid to the terrorist regime running Gaza, the deaths of several persons on board one of the ships that resisted Israeli commandos who boarded the vessel has created a public-relations bonanza for the anti-Zionist groups that organized the effort. The chorus of condemnations raining down on Jerusalem only hours after the incident shows the depth of anti-Israeli passion around the world, as governments, NGOs, and UN officials are all chiming in with the usual refrains about the use of “disproportionate” force, as well as the myth about the ships’ seeking to alleviate a humanitarian crisis in a region where food and medical supplies are not barred by the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, which is aimed at forcing Hamas to either step down from power or recognize Israel.

But while Israeli spokesmen will be scrambling to tell their side of the story in the coming days, the spotlight on “liberal Zionists” will be crucial in determining not only the way American Jewry responds to the crisis but also the reaction from the Obama administration.

As with the case of Israel’s December 2008 counterattack on terrorist strongholds in Gaza after years of ceaseless missile attacks on its southern towns and villages, today’s naval confrontation offers American Jews a stark choice. They can back Israel or Hamas.

Despite the drumbeat of condemnations against Israel that will be heard in the coming days over this event, the fact is the Gaza flotilla was inspired and supported by Hamas as the presence of several Hamas leaders at its launch in Turkey revealed. The convoy’s supposed goal of bringing succor to starving Palestinians in Gaza is a lie. The Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Hamasistan has not halted the flow of food and medicine to the region. The blockade is aimed at preventing “construction” materials from flowing into Gaza, since Hamas uses these materials to strengthen its military defenses as well as its homegrown arms industry. Talk about aid to suffering Palestinians is nothing but a cover for efforts to aid the Islamists of Hamas, whose ruthless hold on the district was achieved by a bloody coup.

Moreover, the supposedly peaceful intent of the volunteers on the ships is given the lie by an Al-Jazeera news report from the flotilla yesterday that was publicized today by Palestine Media Watch. In the tape, the so-called humanitarians chant Islamist slogans about killing the Jews as they invoke the example of Khaibar, where the Prophet Mohammed’s forces slaughtered the Jews in the year 628. Another participant speaks of their goal being either “martyrdom” or Gaza. It appears that by shooting at Israelis boarding at least one of the ships, some have achieved the former goal. The question of whether Israel’s forces might have been better prepared to subdue them is one for Israelis to consider, but it is not germane to the question of whether the blockade is justified or the contention that those on board the ships were innocent humanitarian victims considering that the Hamas supporters’ goal was to provoke bloodshed no matter what the Israelis did.

The question now is whether self-proclaimed liberal Zionists — to use the phrase made popular by the controversy over Peter Beinart’s Israel-bashing essay in the New York Review of Books — such as J Street will use this incident to bolster their campaign for American Jews to distance themselves from Israel. In December 2008, J Street stood virtually alone as it condemned Israel’s counterattack on Gaza, exposing its extremist nature. President Obama has belatedly realized that this left-wing lobby is not representative of American Jewry, as his May “charm offensive” toward Jews, which sought to back away from a policy of confrontation with Israel, revealed. But with J Street renewing its call for an end to the blockade of Hamas in a statement that echoes the rhetoric of anti-Zionist groups about Gaza and for America to force Israel into more concessions to Hamas, American Jews, especially those who consider themselves liberals, must decide whether they stand with a group that essentially backs the short-term goals of Hamas and its supporters or an Israeli government that was elected by its people. At a time when Israel needs American support as much as it ever did, liberals must understand that the administration will be looking to them to see whether they can abandon Israel with impunity.

Americans who are looking to excuse themselves from the more difficult task of explaining the truth of Israel’s dilemma to a hostile world may seize upon the convoy deaths as a fresh rationale for quitting the ranks of country’s supporters. But if that is what amounts to liberal Zionism these days, then its adherents must be judged as, at best, fair-weather friends and, at worst, little different from open anti-Zionists who implicitly support the Palestinian terror organization’s goal of eliminating the Jewish state. If liberal Zionism in 2010 amounts to the backing of Hamas’s propaganda campaign and the delegitimization of Israeli self-defense, then it is time to admit that such liberals have left the Zionist camp altogether.

The confrontation at sea this morning between pro-Palestinian activists seeking to end the international blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza and Israeli forces seeking to enforce the closure has put the State of Israel in a difficult position. Despite the fact that the aim of the so-called “freedom flotilla” was to bring aid to the terrorist regime running Gaza, the deaths of several persons on board one of the ships that resisted Israeli commandos who boarded the vessel has created a public-relations bonanza for the anti-Zionist groups that organized the effort. The chorus of condemnations raining down on Jerusalem only hours after the incident shows the depth of anti-Israeli passion around the world, as governments, NGOs, and UN officials are all chiming in with the usual refrains about the use of “disproportionate” force, as well as the myth about the ships’ seeking to alleviate a humanitarian crisis in a region where food and medical supplies are not barred by the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, which is aimed at forcing Hamas to either step down from power or recognize Israel.

But while Israeli spokesmen will be scrambling to tell their side of the story in the coming days, the spotlight on “liberal Zionists” will be crucial in determining not only the way American Jewry responds to the crisis but also the reaction from the Obama administration.

As with the case of Israel’s December 2008 counterattack on terrorist strongholds in Gaza after years of ceaseless missile attacks on its southern towns and villages, today’s naval confrontation offers American Jews a stark choice. They can back Israel or Hamas.

Despite the drumbeat of condemnations against Israel that will be heard in the coming days over this event, the fact is the Gaza flotilla was inspired and supported by Hamas as the presence of several Hamas leaders at its launch in Turkey revealed. The convoy’s supposed goal of bringing succor to starving Palestinians in Gaza is a lie. The Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Hamasistan has not halted the flow of food and medicine to the region. The blockade is aimed at preventing “construction” materials from flowing into Gaza, since Hamas uses these materials to strengthen its military defenses as well as its homegrown arms industry. Talk about aid to suffering Palestinians is nothing but a cover for efforts to aid the Islamists of Hamas, whose ruthless hold on the district was achieved by a bloody coup.

Moreover, the supposedly peaceful intent of the volunteers on the ships is given the lie by an Al-Jazeera news report from the flotilla yesterday that was publicized today by Palestine Media Watch. In the tape, the so-called humanitarians chant Islamist slogans about killing the Jews as they invoke the example of Khaibar, where the Prophet Mohammed’s forces slaughtered the Jews in the year 628. Another participant speaks of their goal being either “martyrdom” or Gaza. It appears that by shooting at Israelis boarding at least one of the ships, some have achieved the former goal. The question of whether Israel’s forces might have been better prepared to subdue them is one for Israelis to consider, but it is not germane to the question of whether the blockade is justified or the contention that those on board the ships were innocent humanitarian victims considering that the Hamas supporters’ goal was to provoke bloodshed no matter what the Israelis did.

The question now is whether self-proclaimed liberal Zionists — to use the phrase made popular by the controversy over Peter Beinart’s Israel-bashing essay in the New York Review of Books — such as J Street will use this incident to bolster their campaign for American Jews to distance themselves from Israel. In December 2008, J Street stood virtually alone as it condemned Israel’s counterattack on Gaza, exposing its extremist nature. President Obama has belatedly realized that this left-wing lobby is not representative of American Jewry, as his May “charm offensive” toward Jews, which sought to back away from a policy of confrontation with Israel, revealed. But with J Street renewing its call for an end to the blockade of Hamas in a statement that echoes the rhetoric of anti-Zionist groups about Gaza and for America to force Israel into more concessions to Hamas, American Jews, especially those who consider themselves liberals, must decide whether they stand with a group that essentially backs the short-term goals of Hamas and its supporters or an Israeli government that was elected by its people. At a time when Israel needs American support as much as it ever did, liberals must understand that the administration will be looking to them to see whether they can abandon Israel with impunity.

Americans who are looking to excuse themselves from the more difficult task of explaining the truth of Israel’s dilemma to a hostile world may seize upon the convoy deaths as a fresh rationale for quitting the ranks of country’s supporters. But if that is what amounts to liberal Zionism these days, then its adherents must be judged as, at best, fair-weather friends and, at worst, little different from open anti-Zionists who implicitly support the Palestinian terror organization’s goal of eliminating the Jewish state. If liberal Zionism in 2010 amounts to the backing of Hamas’s propaganda campaign and the delegitimization of Israeli self-defense, then it is time to admit that such liberals have left the Zionist camp altogether.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas's] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas's] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Peter Beinart and the Destruction of Liberal Zionism

In political debates, it remains true that the messenger usually matters more than the message. I say this because Peter Beinart’s much-discussed essay in the New York Review of Books and the reaction to it has been in substance merely a procession of the kind of cliches on liberal disaffection with Israel that anyone who has been paying attention became familiar with years ago. But because Beinart is a Jewish former editor of a steadfastly pro-Israel magazine, the New Republic, his public apostasy has garnered attention in great disproportion to the quality or originality of his complaints.

The most important requirement for joining the Israel-bashers is to charge Israel with bad faith in the course of the effort to bring peace to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, which is the glue that holds the narrative together and makes the recriminations seem warranted. This charge has two subordinate tenets: revisionism for dealing with the past, and conspiracy theory for dealing with the present. Thus, in Beinart’s telling, large numbers of Israelis are racists and authoritarians who never really wanted peace, and their political leaders are fanatics manipulating guileless Americans and Palestinians while mainstream American Jewish organizations enable them from the sidelines.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

In political debates, it remains true that the messenger usually matters more than the message. I say this because Peter Beinart’s much-discussed essay in the New York Review of Books and the reaction to it has been in substance merely a procession of the kind of cliches on liberal disaffection with Israel that anyone who has been paying attention became familiar with years ago. But because Beinart is a Jewish former editor of a steadfastly pro-Israel magazine, the New Republic, his public apostasy has garnered attention in great disproportion to the quality or originality of his complaints.

The most important requirement for joining the Israel-bashers is to charge Israel with bad faith in the course of the effort to bring peace to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, which is the glue that holds the narrative together and makes the recriminations seem warranted. This charge has two subordinate tenets: revisionism for dealing with the past, and conspiracy theory for dealing with the present. Thus, in Beinart’s telling, large numbers of Israelis are racists and authoritarians who never really wanted peace, and their political leaders are fanatics manipulating guileless Americans and Palestinians while mainstream American Jewish organizations enable them from the sidelines.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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New York Review of Books Not Even Pretending Anymore

Over at the Corner, Michael Rubin notes that the New York Review of Books, unlike the New York Times, has not served its readers notice that Peter Galbraith, a longtime contributor, has undisclosed financial interests related to a subject he has written about frequently.

If the TNYRB editors want to get their ethical house in order, they should also take a look at the current issue. It contains a piece by Ed Witten gushing over J Street (gushing is perhaps too modest a word; the piece reads more like a press release written by a J Street summer intern). A writer is free, of course, to gush over J Street if he likes. But Witten serves on J Street’s advisory council. Nowhere is this flagrant conflict of interest disclosed to readers.

Over at the Corner, Michael Rubin notes that the New York Review of Books, unlike the New York Times, has not served its readers notice that Peter Galbraith, a longtime contributor, has undisclosed financial interests related to a subject he has written about frequently.

If the TNYRB editors want to get their ethical house in order, they should also take a look at the current issue. It contains a piece by Ed Witten gushing over J Street (gushing is perhaps too modest a word; the piece reads more like a press release written by a J Street summer intern). A writer is free, of course, to gush over J Street if he likes. But Witten serves on J Street’s advisory council. Nowhere is this flagrant conflict of interest disclosed to readers.

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The Left vs. Barack Obama

If you want a measure of how deep is the commitment of those on the Left to surrender and retreat in Afghanistan and Iraq, take a look at Garry Wills’s short piece in the New York Review of Books titled “A One-Term President?: The Choice.” In it, Wills argues:

It is unlikely that we will soon have another president with the moral and rhetorical force to talk us out of a foolish commitment that cannot be sustained without shame and defeat. If it costs him his presidency, what other achievement can match it?

Wills often reflects the views of a significant portion of the Democratic base. As you can see, Barack Obama’s political life continues to get more and more complicated by the day.

If you want a measure of how deep is the commitment of those on the Left to surrender and retreat in Afghanistan and Iraq, take a look at Garry Wills’s short piece in the New York Review of Books titled “A One-Term President?: The Choice.” In it, Wills argues:

It is unlikely that we will soon have another president with the moral and rhetorical force to talk us out of a foolish commitment that cannot be sustained without shame and defeat. If it costs him his presidency, what other achievement can match it?

Wills often reflects the views of a significant portion of the Democratic base. As you can see, Barack Obama’s political life continues to get more and more complicated by the day.

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No Indigenous Enrichment

Writing in yesterday’s Washington Post, Ray Takeyh attacks the Bush Administration’s decision to support a new incentive package for Iran. According to Takeyh,

As President Bush addressed the Israeli parliament last week, denouncing negotiations with recalcitrant regimes as the “false comfort of appeasement,” his diplomats, in conjunction with their European counterparts, offered Iran another incentive package to stop enriching uranium. Even though they are making another effort to disarm Iran through mediation, the administration’s approach is hopelessly defective. Beyond insisting on onerous conditions that are unlikely to be met by any Iranian government, the United States and its allies still hope that Tehran will trade its enrichment rights for inducements. If Washington is going to mitigate the Iranian nuclear danger, it must discard the formula of exchanging commercial contracts for nuclear rights and seek more imaginative solutions.

There may be plenty of good reasons to criticize the new incentive package–though its exact details are not yet known–and there are obvious partisan reasons, in the midst of an electoral campaign, for Takeyh to accuse the administration of hypocrisy. The fact is, the U.S. administration has agreed to enhance the incentives package because Europeans have so persistently claimed that Iran will concede on enrichment only if there are solid U.S. incentives on the table (an oblique admission of failure on Europe’s part, after six years of dialogue with Iran). But the U.S. is not only offering incentives in the delusional hope that somehow Iran will relent under a mixture of pressure and temptation. The U.S. and its European allies assume that the offer will be presented and either accepted or rejected before the IAEA releases its expected report–due by June 3. A further Iranian rejection–which Takeyh himself anticipates, given statements by Iran’s Supreme Leader to this extent–will provide grounds for additional consensus-based sanctions at the UN level, or at least at the EU level. It may not be much of a strategy, but it is something, and it is hardly appeasement–given that the incentives, once trumped by Iran, will make it easier to tighten sanctions.

What’s the alternative?

Takeyh says that ‘it is time to discard the formula of “suspension for incentives” for one that trades “enrichment for transparency.” He is proposing, in other words, indigenous enrichment, but under tight international control–something along the lines recently suggested by William Luers, Thomas Pickering, and Jim Walsh in the New York Review of Books.

There is no ideal solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran. But to suggest that, because Iran got away with its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is set to cross the nuclear threshold sometimes soon, we have no choice but to concede and hope for the best, does not seem to be the preferred alternative to the current course. After all, there is no tight control regime. Iran may have several undeclared clandestine facilities at work. Iran’s history of nuclear deception makes it harder to believe that what we see is what we have–we may concede on enrichment and transfer of technology and still get an Iranian nuclear bomb.

But beyond the risks of letting enrichment happen in Iran’s specific case, the lesson learned from this debacle would be for other countries to trump the NPT as Iran did and go along the path of nuclearization. Iran would be rewarded for violating the NPT and for ignoring successive UN Security Council resolutions. We would forego our principles and handsomely reward bad behavior–a practice that, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, may well be called “appeasement”: “to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles.”

Writing in yesterday’s Washington Post, Ray Takeyh attacks the Bush Administration’s decision to support a new incentive package for Iran. According to Takeyh,

As President Bush addressed the Israeli parliament last week, denouncing negotiations with recalcitrant regimes as the “false comfort of appeasement,” his diplomats, in conjunction with their European counterparts, offered Iran another incentive package to stop enriching uranium. Even though they are making another effort to disarm Iran through mediation, the administration’s approach is hopelessly defective. Beyond insisting on onerous conditions that are unlikely to be met by any Iranian government, the United States and its allies still hope that Tehran will trade its enrichment rights for inducements. If Washington is going to mitigate the Iranian nuclear danger, it must discard the formula of exchanging commercial contracts for nuclear rights and seek more imaginative solutions.

There may be plenty of good reasons to criticize the new incentive package–though its exact details are not yet known–and there are obvious partisan reasons, in the midst of an electoral campaign, for Takeyh to accuse the administration of hypocrisy. The fact is, the U.S. administration has agreed to enhance the incentives package because Europeans have so persistently claimed that Iran will concede on enrichment only if there are solid U.S. incentives on the table (an oblique admission of failure on Europe’s part, after six years of dialogue with Iran). But the U.S. is not only offering incentives in the delusional hope that somehow Iran will relent under a mixture of pressure and temptation. The U.S. and its European allies assume that the offer will be presented and either accepted or rejected before the IAEA releases its expected report–due by June 3. A further Iranian rejection–which Takeyh himself anticipates, given statements by Iran’s Supreme Leader to this extent–will provide grounds for additional consensus-based sanctions at the UN level, or at least at the EU level. It may not be much of a strategy, but it is something, and it is hardly appeasement–given that the incentives, once trumped by Iran, will make it easier to tighten sanctions.

What’s the alternative?

Takeyh says that ‘it is time to discard the formula of “suspension for incentives” for one that trades “enrichment for transparency.” He is proposing, in other words, indigenous enrichment, but under tight international control–something along the lines recently suggested by William Luers, Thomas Pickering, and Jim Walsh in the New York Review of Books.

There is no ideal solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran. But to suggest that, because Iran got away with its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is set to cross the nuclear threshold sometimes soon, we have no choice but to concede and hope for the best, does not seem to be the preferred alternative to the current course. After all, there is no tight control regime. Iran may have several undeclared clandestine facilities at work. Iran’s history of nuclear deception makes it harder to believe that what we see is what we have–we may concede on enrichment and transfer of technology and still get an Iranian nuclear bomb.

But beyond the risks of letting enrichment happen in Iran’s specific case, the lesson learned from this debacle would be for other countries to trump the NPT as Iran did and go along the path of nuclearization. Iran would be rewarded for violating the NPT and for ignoring successive UN Security Council resolutions. We would forego our principles and handsomely reward bad behavior–a practice that, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, may well be called “appeasement”: “to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles.”

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Annapolis: Engaging With What?

Yesterday I attended two Annapolis-related presentations in Washington, the first at the New America Foundation and the second at the National Press Club, sponsored by The Israel Project. The events offered a useful contrast in the way that two camps view not just the state of the peace process, but the conflict itself. The Israel Project symposium featured Shmuel Rosner of Haaretz, Tamara Cofman Wittes of Brookings, and David Wurmser, the former Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney. This was by far the more interesting presentation, as the three participants were serious people trafficking in serious ideas.

The New America event, on the other hand, was intended to publicize the “re-release” of a letter first published in the New York Review of Books on October 10th, most notably signed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, and Brent Scowcroft, which has now attracted a couple dozen more signatories. It was ignored the first time it was published, and it’s enjoyable to predict that the addition of the signatures of Joseph Wilson and Gary Hart is going to further cement its irrelevance.

In any event, the New America panelists were Daniel Levy, Robert Malley, Ghaith al-Omari, and Steve Clemons, and they lodged as their major criticism the United States and Israel’s refusal to “engage” Hamas. That refusal is shaping up, for the realist and leftist critics of the peace process, as a primary objection, and in the coming months it will likely be invoked by the same critics as a major reason why Annapolis accomplished nothing. This faction is positioning its argument so that the failure of Annapolis can be leveraged to undermine the isolation of Hamas. As such, it is worth wondering whether people like Malley and Levy actually have a point.

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Yesterday I attended two Annapolis-related presentations in Washington, the first at the New America Foundation and the second at the National Press Club, sponsored by The Israel Project. The events offered a useful contrast in the way that two camps view not just the state of the peace process, but the conflict itself. The Israel Project symposium featured Shmuel Rosner of Haaretz, Tamara Cofman Wittes of Brookings, and David Wurmser, the former Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney. This was by far the more interesting presentation, as the three participants were serious people trafficking in serious ideas.

The New America event, on the other hand, was intended to publicize the “re-release” of a letter first published in the New York Review of Books on October 10th, most notably signed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, and Brent Scowcroft, which has now attracted a couple dozen more signatories. It was ignored the first time it was published, and it’s enjoyable to predict that the addition of the signatures of Joseph Wilson and Gary Hart is going to further cement its irrelevance.

In any event, the New America panelists were Daniel Levy, Robert Malley, Ghaith al-Omari, and Steve Clemons, and they lodged as their major criticism the United States and Israel’s refusal to “engage” Hamas. That refusal is shaping up, for the realist and leftist critics of the peace process, as a primary objection, and in the coming months it will likely be invoked by the same critics as a major reason why Annapolis accomplished nothing. This faction is positioning its argument so that the failure of Annapolis can be leveraged to undermine the isolation of Hamas. As such, it is worth wondering whether people like Malley and Levy actually have a point.

The engagement camp says that it wishes to bolster the moderates while engaging the extremists, which is presented as a cost-free way to conduct diplomacy—never mind that U.S. diplomatic attention directed at Hamas thoroughly would discredit Mahmoud Abbas, whose only selling point to the Palestinian people at this point is the fact that he is the Palestinians’ only focal point for American and Israeli attention. That is a rather obvious point, of course. But the one I wish to emphasize involves the incompleteness with which the engagement camp makes its case.

What I have always found strange about the engagers is their reluctance to make arguments that move beyond bumper-sticker bromides about the need to talk to your enemies, and to explain precisely what would be up for discussion with Hamas. The Hamas charter seems to preempt diplomacy insofar as it says that “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.” I say “seems,” because perhaps in practice Hamas does not hew to the strict language of its founding declaration—but alas, there is no historic or contemporary evidence for this conceit. Hamas is famous for denying the right of Israel to exist, but not many people seem to pay much regard to the fact that Hamas also denies the right of Palestine to exist: Hamas has always been abundantly clear that its goal is the violent imposition of an Islamic caliphate throughout the Middle East—not the establishment of a Palestinian state.

So what, pray tell, do people like Daniel Levy and Robert Malley propose is up for negotiation with Hamas? In the face of both Hamas’s plainly stated antipathy to diplomacy, in addition to decades of concrete experience of the same, would it not behoove Levy and Malley to pay special attention to this particular aspect of engaging Hamas? Shouldn’t an explanation about the contours of, and prospects for, a successful pursuit of diplomacy with Hamas indeed be the very first thing to which Levy and Malley set themselves? I know that if I were arguing in good faith for engagement, this is where I would be compelled to start: to provide an answer to the question, What can Israel offer Hamas other than its own suicide?

At yesterday’s event, as he has elsewhere, Levy proposed an Israel-Hamas cease-fire as a starting measure…and then changed the subject. Well, what comes after that, Daniel? How many times has Hamas agreed to cease-fires with Israel (and with Fatah) out of its own need to regroup and rearm, only to attack later at a time of its choosing? At what point in the course of the “engagement” process do the leaders of Hamas renounce the basic premises and tactics for which their movement stands? Does Khaled Mashal march down to his local Al Jazeera office in Damascus to announce to the world that because he got a phone call from a member of the Quartet, he’s realized that all the crazy stuff in the Hamas charter—about how the Jews started the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution, both World Wars, the League of Nations, the United Nations, the Rotary Club and the Freemasons, all in pursuit of Zionist world domination—was perhaps a bit too anti-Semitic? Can you tell us, Robert Malley—you who has argued repeatedly that giving money, diplomatic attention, and concessions to Hamas will change the group—of a single instance in which Hamas permanently has moderated a position or altered its behavior because of diplomatic pressure? As people who continuously are banging on the table about “genuine engagement” with Hamas, is it too much to ask, you know, for some genuine details?

As it stands right now, the intellectual output of the Levy-Malley faction involves bromides about “engagement” that are quickly buried in an avalanche of ambiguous diplomatic jargon designed to avoid the possibility of having to commit themselves to engaging in a serious explanation of how diplomacy is going to transform Hamas from a genocidal Islamic supremacist group to a peaceful Palestinian nationalist movement. This is an act of alchemy that Levy and Malley cannot credibly perform, and it is the reason why all of their voluminous babble about engagement never manages to rise above the level of the vague cliché.

There are dozens of reasons why Annapolis will be unable to achieve anything close to its stated goals, but, contrary to popular opinion, one of them is not the absence, next week, of representatives of Hamas at the Naval Academy. Nevertheless, that absence will emerge, from the Scowcrofts and Malleys, as a major source of the peace process’s failure. I propose a different failure: the refusal of the most prolific advocates for engagement to display a little intellectual courage and put themselves on the record explaining how their concessions are going to transform Hamas. Because if that actually works, and one of the most intransigent Islamist groups in the world can be defeated by diplomacy, then clearly there are two other diplomatic summits that should be convened—between Israel and Hizballah, and the United States and al Qaeda.

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Dyson, Right and Wrong

When the great physicist and futurist Freeman Dyson puts pen to paper, as happens too rarely nowadays, the result is worth a look. Dyson is certainly not always right—indeed it’s probably fair to say he’s rarely right—but he sees things others don’t, and offers engaging explanations.

Dyson’s latest contribution, “Our Biotech Future,” in the current New York Review of Books, is no exception. It sees far and deep, but also misses the obvious. Taking up a number of the themes of his fascinating 1999 book The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet, Dyson agrees with the common cliché that the 21st century will be the age of biotechnology, but he argues that most people who make that claim have failed to see what it will mean.

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When the great physicist and futurist Freeman Dyson puts pen to paper, as happens too rarely nowadays, the result is worth a look. Dyson is certainly not always right—indeed it’s probably fair to say he’s rarely right—but he sees things others don’t, and offers engaging explanations.

Dyson’s latest contribution, “Our Biotech Future,” in the current New York Review of Books, is no exception. It sees far and deep, but also misses the obvious. Taking up a number of the themes of his fascinating 1999 book The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet, Dyson agrees with the common cliché that the 21st century will be the age of biotechnology, but he argues that most people who make that claim have failed to see what it will mean.

The development of biotechnology, Dyson argues, will resemble the revolution in information technology of the last 50 years: it might begin as the province of industrial giants, but very quickly it will be “domesticated” in the hands of countless individual enthusiasts, who will apply the new power to manipulate plant and animal life to create unimagined new artistic, commercial, and recreational possibilities. Freeman writes:

Domesticated biotechnology, once it gets into the hands of housewives and children, will give us an explosion of diversity of new living creatures, rather than the monoculture crops that the big corporations prefer. New lineages will proliferate to replace those that monoculture farming and deforestation have destroyed. Designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture.

Dyson then launches into a fascinating re-conception of the history of biology, arguing (with help from the work of biologist Carl Woese) that there was a pre-evolutionary age, when species boundaries were porous and vague, and that with the aid of biotechnology, we may be taking the natural world back to such a state, crossing and intermixing species to a point at which we human beings may be the only distinct species left. Such profound manipulation of the biological world, Dyson argues, could empower us to overcome serious problems—creating plants capable of converting sunlight into chemical energy at unimagined efficiencies, for instance, or turning fertile fields into the next great industrial space, relieving rural poverty in the process.

For techno-utopianism, Dyson’s essay is actually quite serious and thoughtful. But he somehow misses the glaring distinction that makes biotechnology unique. Dyson’s vision of our biotech future seems to be one in which all species except homo sapiens will be denatured into a nourishing bio-soup. This vision rests on a peculiar assumption: that no one will try to bring our own species into the mix. But that prospect is precisely the most novel and important one raised by the ever-expanding horizons of biotechnology—and any futurist ignores it at his peril.

From its beginnings, the enormous, beneficent power of modern science has been directed to manipulating the world to better suit the needs of humanity. The revolutionary prospect raised by biotechnology is the reversal of that conception of science: rather than shape the world to suit man’s needs, why not shape man himself to suit man’s wishes? The question is: what limiting principles, if any, should guide that effort?

Dyson accidentally approaches the great dilemma of biotechnology, but does not address it directly, when he writes that, unlike biological evolution, “cultural evolution is not Darwinian. Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance.”

He takes this to mean that cultural evolution is more efficient. But cultural evolution is far more precarious than biological evolution. Cultural advances are preserved and transmitted not by genes but by education: they require the self-conscious passing down of knowledge and ideas. The fear of undermining that task of transmission through the biotechnological alteration of humanity is what motivates the worries of the “bioconservatives,” and what threatens to rob the biotech revolution of any limiting principle at all. (I sought, with mixed success, to lay out this theme at some length in this 2004 essay.)

The positive potential of biotech is clear and enormous—as Dyson points out in his characteristically brilliant way. But its unique risks are also enormous. We need to understand both to be able to foster biotechnology without harming ourselves or our culture. Dyson falls far short in clarifying those risks.

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Weekend Reading

In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, George Soros, the billionaire investor, philanthropist, amateur political scientist, and self-styled “stateless statesman,” has an essay detailing the allegedly malign influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American policy and political discourse. According to Soros, the influence wielded by AIPAC has succeeded in silencing any real criticism of the Bush administration’s stance toward Israel, or of Israel’s toward the Palestinians, to the real detriment of the national interest. Anyone who dares to speak out publicly against this insidious state of affairs is tarred with the epithet “anti-Semite” and summarily drummed out of polite society.

Soros is, of course, hardly the first public figure to bring such charges in recent years—without, incidentally, suffering any visible negative effects. Quite the contrary. In March 2006, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, leaped to fame with a lengthy paper on much the same theme in the London Review of Books. (Mearsheimer and Walt criticized not AIPAC alone but a far more nebulous group, the “Israel Lobby,” of which AIPAC constituted one element.) The ranks of such “questioners” have also been swollen lately by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and others, again to a chorus of approbation.

In COMMENTARY, both George Soros and the question of the “Israel Lobby” have received attention of another kind. In “The Mind of George Soros” (March 2004) Joshua Muravchik examined the life, the ideas, and the political megalomania of the financier. More recently, in “Dual Loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby,’” our senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld deconstructed the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt and located them within a historical tradition of similarly suspect exercises. We offer these two indispensable articles for your weekend reading.

In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, George Soros, the billionaire investor, philanthropist, amateur political scientist, and self-styled “stateless statesman,” has an essay detailing the allegedly malign influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American policy and political discourse. According to Soros, the influence wielded by AIPAC has succeeded in silencing any real criticism of the Bush administration’s stance toward Israel, or of Israel’s toward the Palestinians, to the real detriment of the national interest. Anyone who dares to speak out publicly against this insidious state of affairs is tarred with the epithet “anti-Semite” and summarily drummed out of polite society.

Soros is, of course, hardly the first public figure to bring such charges in recent years—without, incidentally, suffering any visible negative effects. Quite the contrary. In March 2006, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, leaped to fame with a lengthy paper on much the same theme in the London Review of Books. (Mearsheimer and Walt criticized not AIPAC alone but a far more nebulous group, the “Israel Lobby,” of which AIPAC constituted one element.) The ranks of such “questioners” have also been swollen lately by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and others, again to a chorus of approbation.

In COMMENTARY, both George Soros and the question of the “Israel Lobby” have received attention of another kind. In “The Mind of George Soros” (March 2004) Joshua Muravchik examined the life, the ideas, and the political megalomania of the financier. More recently, in “Dual Loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby,’” our senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld deconstructed the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt and located them within a historical tradition of similarly suspect exercises. We offer these two indispensable articles for your weekend reading.

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News from the Continent: False Prophets

The new anti-Semitism described by Alvin H. Rosenfeld in a controversial essay published by the American Jewish Committee is not a myth, as his critics would have us believe. It is, sadly, all too real a phenomenon. If one criticism can be levelled at Rosenfeld’s essay on the succor that anti-Semitism receives from the anti-Israel rhetoric of liberal Jewish intellectuals, it is that his pool of examples, with the single exception of the British academic Jacqueline Rose, is drawn exclusively from the U.S. In fact, the emergence of Jewish voices demonizing Israel (and making condemnation of Israel, in some cases, their only expression of Jewish identity) is not unique to America.

This phenomenon is well known in Europe. If Rosenfeld ever publishes a second version of his essay, he will not have any difficulty bringing in literally dozens of additional examples. The continental landscape is littered with Jewish intellectuals engaged in exactly the kind of rhetoric he criticizes.

One of their newest outlets is Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), an organization now bidding to be the voice of Anglo-Jewry, as evidenced by its role in a debate hosted last week by the ultraliberal Guardian blog, Comment Is Free. Having taken part in this debate, I will not repeat what I said there. But a few more considerations are in order, as they apply to the debate triggered in America by Rosenfeld’s essay.

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The new anti-Semitism described by Alvin H. Rosenfeld in a controversial essay published by the American Jewish Committee is not a myth, as his critics would have us believe. It is, sadly, all too real a phenomenon. If one criticism can be levelled at Rosenfeld’s essay on the succor that anti-Semitism receives from the anti-Israel rhetoric of liberal Jewish intellectuals, it is that his pool of examples, with the single exception of the British academic Jacqueline Rose, is drawn exclusively from the U.S. In fact, the emergence of Jewish voices demonizing Israel (and making condemnation of Israel, in some cases, their only expression of Jewish identity) is not unique to America.

This phenomenon is well known in Europe. If Rosenfeld ever publishes a second version of his essay, he will not have any difficulty bringing in literally dozens of additional examples. The continental landscape is littered with Jewish intellectuals engaged in exactly the kind of rhetoric he criticizes.

One of their newest outlets is Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), an organization now bidding to be the voice of Anglo-Jewry, as evidenced by its role in a debate hosted last week by the ultraliberal Guardian blog, Comment Is Free. Having taken part in this debate, I will not repeat what I said there. But a few more considerations are in order, as they apply to the debate triggered in America by Rosenfeld’s essay.


First, the oft-repeated claim (framed in identical terms by both IJV and New York University professor and leading anti-Zionist Tony Judt) that the views of anti-Zionists are being censored is risible. Jaqueline Rose’s The Question of Zion was published by Princeton University Press, not by the Jewish underground in Warsaw circa 1943. Judt’s tirades against Israel feature in the New York Review of Books (and Haaretz, no less). The price that Jimmy Carter has paid for his book is, aside from exactly the robust debate he wished to trigger, a hefty financial gain from over a half million copies sold. Not exactly, in other words, the fate of beleaguered dissenters.

As for IJV, the percentage of professors in its membership suggests that establishment figures with access to mainstream publishing options predominate over the disenfranchised and voiceless. Antony Lerman, for example, is the director of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, a once-serious Jewish think tank based in London, and a frequent guest at the court of London’s radical mayor, Ken Livingstone. IJV’s initiator, Brian Klug, and his colleague Avi Shlaim are both Oxford dons. Shlaim routinely publishes in the Guardian, the International Herald Tribune, and the London Review of Books (the same journal that published John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s “The Israel Lobby”). It is hard to pretend, with such credentials, that IJV does not enjoy all the privileges of membership in Britain’s intellectual establishment. How can these people claim that their views are suppressed? What they really object to, it seems, is the fact that their views are challenged.

The claim that these anti-Zionist Jewish intellectuals are dissidents whose daring words against Israel are an act of courage is absurd. By posing as victims, these quintessential establishment figures wish to hide their intolerance for opponents. Demonizing their opponents as the enemies of free speech and human rights serves, as University of London professor David Hirsh remarked in the IJV debate, one purpose only: to create a self-mythologizing narrative of resistance, through which liberals can reclaim their role as the enlightened but stifled vanguard.

Through their self-nomination as the true heirs of the biblical prophets, Lerman, Klug, and company demonstrate a complete ignorance of what the prophets actually stood for. They claim that the essence of Judaism lies in fighting for social justice, human rights, and pacifism. Yet the prophets they invoke—as even a cursory reading of scripture will demonstrate—were neither pacifists nor champions of human rights, but rather advocates of absolute rule by the divine, a system hardly palatable to the modern Left.

Such a clumsy effort at biblical interpretation reveals more than ignorance of Jewish thought. It shows that, for this class of liberal Jewish intellectuals, being Jewish is equivalent to being progressive. And if this is the case, then the converse must also be true: to be a progressive is to be Jewish. These days, most self-respecting progressive thinkers view Israel, the nation-state of the Jews, as nothing other than an embarrassment and “an anachronism,” as Judt wrote. Small wonder, then, that Jewish intellectuals avid of membership in the liberal elite must denounce Israel.

But surely the real question is not whether pro-Israel views are mainstream in the Jewish world; nor is it fruitful to debate who censors whom in the Jewish battle of ideas over Jewish identity and the place Israel occupies in that battle. The real question is whether liberal Jewish intellectuals, by speaking against Israel, merely exercise their freedom of speech, or whether by doing so they offer succor to Israel’s enemies.

The answer to this question is, sadly, the latter. The most extreme views of Israel, including distortions, fabrications, and double standards aimed at demonizing the Jewish state and providing a mandate for its destruction, become legitimate once Jews endorse them. This alibi—i.e., that Jews themselves level these criticisms—becomes a vital tool for those who harbor the oldest hatred but cannot freely express it. The cover offered by liberal Jews enables the anti-Semites, under the pretext of anti-Zionism, to attack all other Jews who fail to comply with the political orthodoxy of the age.

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