Commentary Magazine


Topic: Paris

Anti-Semitism and the “French Intifada”

Few quotes can do a better job of expressing the state of French Jewry than a Jewish Paris barber’s comment to JTA on France’s Jewish Defense League (known as LDJ): “I used to tell my grandsons to focus on the studies and stay out of trouble, but now I sent them to join the LDJ and defend our synagogues against the scum.”

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Few quotes can do a better job of expressing the state of French Jewry than a Jewish Paris barber’s comment to JTA on France’s Jewish Defense League (known as LDJ): “I used to tell my grandsons to focus on the studies and stay out of trouble, but now I sent them to join the LDJ and defend our synagogues against the scum.”

The comment perfectly encapsulates the frustration and fear felt by the Jewish community in France. The barber’s advice to his grandchildren had been the old adage: Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you. Well, trouble has arrived. The barber added: “The Arabs own the streets now. We need make them lose the appetite for messing with us if we’re to survive here. LDJ is our Iron Dome.”

The JTA story is a marvelous piece of reporting. It’s also a testament to the fact that French Jews, who tend to be quite patriotic about their country–the JTA story even opens with a scene at which LDJ members are guarding a synagogue and singing La Marseillaise–have given up relying on the French state to protect them.

As the story explains:

Unable to reach the Grand Synagogues of Sarcelles, some of the rioters smashed shop windows in this poor suburb where tens of thousands of Jews live amid many Muslims. They torched two cars and threw a firebomb at a nearby, smaller synagogue, which was only lightly damaged.

“We sang to thank them, but also to remind them and ourselves that we are equal French citizens entitled to safety,” said Eliyahu, a member of France’s Jewish Defense League, or LDJ, who agreed to be identified only by his first name.

It was the ninth synagogue attack in France since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza two weeks ago. To Eliyahu and many other French Jews, the attacks have contributed to a growing realization that, despite the extraordinary efforts of French authorities to protect them, French Jews need to rely mostly on themselves for their defense.

“The cops are here now, but it’ll be just us and the Arabs tomorrow,” said Serge Najar, a local community leader.

Nine synagogue attacks in two weeks is a full-blown crisis, especially considering the nature of the attacks and the threat posed had the LDJ not been there to supplement the French police. It obviously shows an angry anti-Semitism not based in Israel or Gaza or recent events; those have just been the convenient pretexts to express the hate.

But aside from French societal anti-Semitism, there is another failing of the French state that enables this. In his new book The French Intifada, the historian Andrew Hussey describes going through his normal metro transfer in 2007 on the day riots broke out in Paris led primarily by largely Arab and African immigrants. He arrives–without knowing the riots had begun–at the Gare du Nord station and sees that a gleeful, and terrifying, total breakdown of law and order is underway:

There is no word in French or English which expresses the opposite of the verb ‘to civilize’: the concept does not exist. But this was anti-civilization in action – a transgression of every code of behaviour that holds a society together. Like a terrorist attack or a football riot, the act of anti-civilization is a total experience: it undermines everything all at once. This is not an intellectual concept; it is a feeling. These kids were taking on the whole world around them – the police, the train authorities, passers-by – wrecking the station, the shops and the offices. And they knew exactly what they were doing.

And what were they doing? They were rebelling, but they were also taking advantage of a key weakness of Parisian order. At flashpoints, or geographic joints connecting different communities in the city, there is a precarious balance:

The Gare du Nord, at the heart of this district, is frontier territory. It is the dividing line between the wretched conditions of the banlieues, the suburbs outside the city, and the relative affluence of central Paris. It is where young banlieusards come to hang out, meet the opposite sex, shop, smoke, show-off and flirt – all the stuff that young people like to do. Paris is both near and distant; it is a few short steps away, but in terms of jobs, housing, making a life, for these young people it is as inaccessible and far away as America. So they cherish this small part of the city that belongs to them.

This is why the Gare du Nord is a flashpoint. The area is generally tense but stable: everyone in the right place, from the police to the dealers. But when the police come in hard, it can feel like another display of colonial power. So the battle cry of ‘Na’al abouk la France!’ is also a cry of hurt and rage. It expresses ancestral emotions of loss, shame and terror. This is what makes it such a powerful curse.

The outbreak of anti-Semitic violence in France is the result of a perfect storm of conditions. But those conditions are not new, and they are not rare, and they are not being adequately addressed. That’s why many Jews are leaving, and others are turning to the LDJ.

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Europe’s Jews: Unwanted, Dead or Alive

When the historian and founding president of Brandeis Abram Sachar wrote a history of the Jewish journey from the death camps to the establishment of the State of Israel, he called it The Redemption of the Unwanted. I’ve always found the term to be depressingly appropriate, both as a profound statement on the flipside of the Jews being the “chosen people” and as an insight into postwar Jewry.

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When the historian and founding president of Brandeis Abram Sachar wrote a history of the Jewish journey from the death camps to the establishment of the State of Israel, he called it The Redemption of the Unwanted. I’ve always found the term to be depressingly appropriate, both as a profound statement on the flipside of the Jews being the “chosen people” and as an insight into postwar Jewry.

Though the Holocaust was over, anti-Semitism was not. And while some Jews bravely chose to rebuild from the rubble–they were rebuilding not just European Jewry but Europe itself, though their European brethren would never concede as much–the Jewish people had understood their status. They were not fleeting victims or convenient scapegoats (or at least not only those things); they were unwanted, dead or alive.

That’s how it must have felt in the days, months, and years after the war. But now that decades have come and gone, should they still feel that way? Europe’s answer, repeated over the weekend, seems to be a clear yes. The main story of Sunday’s bubbling over of European anti-Semitism was the anti-Jewish rioting–perhaps attempted pogrom is a better term–at a Paris synagogue, in which Jews were trapped until evening by anti-Semitic protesters who “tried to force their way into a Paris synagogue Sunday with bats and chairs, then fought with security officers who blocked their way, according to police and a witness.”

The worst part is the sense of inevitability of the violence. Business Insider’s report on the incident has to include one of the most absurd qualifiers you’ll ever read in such a case. Here’s their opening sentence: “French interior minister Manuel Valls condemned ‘with the greatest force’ attacks on two Paris synagogues Sunday by pro-Palestinian protesters who broke away from an otherwise peaceful demonstration.”

It was an “otherwise peaceful demonstration”–you know, besides the attempted pogrom. (Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln….) And surely it is to be appreciated that the French government condemns pogroms. But is it ungrateful to point out that condemning the regular violence against Jews in France is just maybe not enough–not nearly? French Jews are voting with their feet because they feel unwanted, and they feel unwanted because the French state either can’t do anything about France’s horrendous anti-Semitism–a second synagogue was firebombed in Paris yesterday–or it won’t. Either way, the message is clear.

France was not the only location of European anti-Semitism yesterday. And though it may have been minor in comparison–and though there were anti-Semitic outbursts outside Europe too–the symbolism of one of the other incidents must have been truly terrifying. It was in Germany, and here is what happened, according to the AP:

German police allowed an anti-Israel protester to climb inside a police car and shout slogans including “child murderer Israel” and “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is Great!” — through a police megaphone, a spokeswoman for Frankfurt’s police said Sunday.

Police let the protester use the megaphone during a Free Gaza demonstration Saturday because he had offered to calm down a protest that had turned violent, spokeswoman Virginie Wegner told The Associated Press.

“We as police had come up spontaneously with this unusual method and he abused it — we didn’t expect that,” Wegner said, adding that police were investigating the incident. “Police are neutral during protests.”

Instead of calming things down, the protester — whose identity was not revealed — shouted anti-Israel slogans in German and Arabic in downtown Frankfurt. A video that went viral shows a crowd following the police car, cheering and repeating the chants.

I doubt the Jews of Germany will soon forget hearing anti-Jewish slogans shouted from a police megaphone–in 2014. There are a couple of things wrong with the Frankfurt police’s response. Obviously, letting a protester into the police car to access the megaphone was a boneheaded mistake. But then Wegner defends the police by saying, first, “we didn’t expect that,” and then saying “Police are neutral during protests.”

Well, maybe they should have expected it, and hopefully will from now on. As for their neutrality, it is clearly neutrality in theory not in practice, and it is not doing law and order any favors.

Pogroms in Paris, thuggish intimidation in Germany: does European Jewry have a future? It’s a question we keep asking, though I suspect we keep asking it because we don’t like the apparent answer–like the kid who keeps shaking and re-shaking the magic eight ball until the right prediction comes up. Clarity might be more helpful, which the anti-Semitic incidents do provide. Europe’s anti-Semites could not be clearer: their hatred of Jews has nothing to do with Israeli self-defense. It’s just a convenient excuse to target the unwanted.

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Obama Snubs Britain Yet Again

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

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Anarchists, Unite (a Little)!

The New York Times reports on the latest European letter bomb, this one sent to the Greek embassy in Rome: “An Italian group called the Informal Anarchist Federation claimed responsibility for the defused letter bomb, as well as for two letter bombs that exploded at the Swiss and Chilean embassies to Rome on Dec. 23, seriously injuring two people. … Italian and Greek police officials say that anarchist groups across Europe maintain close ties with each other through the Internet, and often act to call attention to their cause.”

If the Informal Anarchist Federation sounds a bit wishy-washy, you’ve got to remember there are certain organizational challenges inherent in anarchism. Imagine the chat-room drama that led to this moniker.

–We need a name.

–What’s this “we” stuff, Mr. Dictator? I’m an anarchist. I have a name. It’s Bob, and it suits me fine, thank you very much.

–Point taken, Bob. But how do we, excuse me, I mean, how does one indicate solidarity or cohesion without a representative name of some sort? Read More

The New York Times reports on the latest European letter bomb, this one sent to the Greek embassy in Rome: “An Italian group called the Informal Anarchist Federation claimed responsibility for the defused letter bomb, as well as for two letter bombs that exploded at the Swiss and Chilean embassies to Rome on Dec. 23, seriously injuring two people. … Italian and Greek police officials say that anarchist groups across Europe maintain close ties with each other through the Internet, and often act to call attention to their cause.”

If the Informal Anarchist Federation sounds a bit wishy-washy, you’ve got to remember there are certain organizational challenges inherent in anarchism. Imagine the chat-room drama that led to this moniker.

–We need a name.

–What’s this “we” stuff, Mr. Dictator? I’m an anarchist. I have a name. It’s Bob, and it suits me fine, thank you very much.

–Point taken, Bob. But how do we, excuse me, I mean, how does one indicate solidarity or cohesion without a representative name of some sort?

–Hello? Anonymous?

–That’s taken. Anonymous goes by Anonymous.

–What do you mean anonymous goes by anonymous? Since when?

–Since they launched the DDOS attacks in support of WikiLeaks.

–Those attacks were anonymous.

–Right. I mean, wrong. The A was capitalized.

–Damn. Typo in my paper.

–Live and learn. Anyway, we, uh, I mean this still needs a name.

–I’m thinking. Got it! Nobody. Signed Nobody. Menacing, right?

–“Nobody bombed an embassy in Paris today”?  “Governments around the world have to worry about nobody”?

–Point taken.

–How about a simple, non-dramatic, descriptive approach? The Anarchist Federation.

–What’s your home address again?

–Why?

–Well, as an anarchist, I’m obligated to bomb federations not join them.

–Take it easy. I’m thinking of a compromise. How about the Loose Anarchist Federation?

–Uh, little acronym issue there.

–Right. Hmmm. The Informal Anarchist Federation?

–”Look out. The Informal Anarchist Federation is after you. Better institute dress-down Fridays.” Why not the Business Casual Anarchist Federation? The Half-Baked Anarchist Federation …

–Holy cow! I’m about to the miss the mailman. I’ve got to post this letter bomb by noon.

–See what happens when you waste time collaborating as fellow citizens?

–Informal going once, twice …

–Fine. Thank goodness our names aren’t attached to this thing.

–After this, I say we go back to the old A in the circle.

–Sure. Because anarchism is all about tradition and institutions and safe symbols, isn’t it. Wouldn’t want to think for ourselves, would we …

–Logging off, Bob.

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Is President Obama the New Woodrow Wilson?

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

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French Critique of the Burka Ban

Two French students decided to produce a critique (I think that’s the word one must use among the educated elites) of the ban on the burka in their country. They thus dressed themselves in a burka and skimpy clothes underneath, and walked around upscale Paris streets and in front of French ministries (mostly in upscale Parisian areas) to bemuse the crowds and show off their long legs under the burkas. They did it, they say, to criticize the French law banning the burka. Clearly, judging by the reaction they got, they certainly made an impact. But, as critique often goes, there isn’t much critical thinking behind it. For clearly, had they really wished to test their theory, they should have tried their outfit in slightly different parts of towns. And one is left to wonder: If, instead of strolling past austere French policemen at the Defense Ministry or at Police Headquarters, they had walked in some predominately Muslim Parisian suburb, preferably near a mosque, possibly on a Friday morning, would their movie look different?

Two French students decided to produce a critique (I think that’s the word one must use among the educated elites) of the ban on the burka in their country. They thus dressed themselves in a burka and skimpy clothes underneath, and walked around upscale Paris streets and in front of French ministries (mostly in upscale Parisian areas) to bemuse the crowds and show off their long legs under the burkas. They did it, they say, to criticize the French law banning the burka. Clearly, judging by the reaction they got, they certainly made an impact. But, as critique often goes, there isn’t much critical thinking behind it. For clearly, had they really wished to test their theory, they should have tried their outfit in slightly different parts of towns. And one is left to wonder: If, instead of strolling past austere French policemen at the Defense Ministry or at Police Headquarters, they had walked in some predominately Muslim Parisian suburb, preferably near a mosque, possibly on a Friday morning, would their movie look different?

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Hmm, Moratorium Ended. Non-Peace Talks Don’t.

The settlement moratorium ended today. For now, Bibi didn’t give away something for nothing. And for now, Abbas didn’t walk out. It seems that giving the Palestinians precisely what they want isn’t necessarily essential to Israel’s security. But for the sake of argument, let’s say Abbas stays in the room. What then? Is he ready to recognize the Jewish state as the Jewish state? We’ve seen no sign of it. And that is something that can’t be finessed.

It is interesting that the New York Times saw Bibi’s move in terms of its impact on Obama. (“For President Obama, who had publicly called on Israel to extend the freeze, the Israeli decision was another setback in what has been a tortuous effort to help resolve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.”) And in a way, that is right. Bibi rebuffed Obama’s public pleas. Obama’s been trying to push a settlement freeze on Bibi from day one, and he’s having no luck. Still. Maybe Bibi has concluded there really is nothing to gain and much to lose from agreeing to the requests of Obama and George Mitchell.

For now, Abbas is stalling. (“Speaking in Paris during an official visit to France on Monday, Mr. Abbas said there would be no ‘quick decision’ on whether to withdraw from the peace talks, and he would consult with Arab leaders next Monday on how to proceed, according to The Associated Press. The announcement appeared designed to give American mediators time to continue diplomacy, but it remained unclear how Arab leaders would react.”) His bluff has been called. And he’s going to figure out some other gambit for getting out of doing what is required of him.

The settlement moratorium ended today. For now, Bibi didn’t give away something for nothing. And for now, Abbas didn’t walk out. It seems that giving the Palestinians precisely what they want isn’t necessarily essential to Israel’s security. But for the sake of argument, let’s say Abbas stays in the room. What then? Is he ready to recognize the Jewish state as the Jewish state? We’ve seen no sign of it. And that is something that can’t be finessed.

It is interesting that the New York Times saw Bibi’s move in terms of its impact on Obama. (“For President Obama, who had publicly called on Israel to extend the freeze, the Israeli decision was another setback in what has been a tortuous effort to help resolve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.”) And in a way, that is right. Bibi rebuffed Obama’s public pleas. Obama’s been trying to push a settlement freeze on Bibi from day one, and he’s having no luck. Still. Maybe Bibi has concluded there really is nothing to gain and much to lose from agreeing to the requests of Obama and George Mitchell.

For now, Abbas is stalling. (“Speaking in Paris during an official visit to France on Monday, Mr. Abbas said there would be no ‘quick decision’ on whether to withdraw from the peace talks, and he would consult with Arab leaders next Monday on how to proceed, according to The Associated Press. The announcement appeared designed to give American mediators time to continue diplomacy, but it remained unclear how Arab leaders would react.”) His bluff has been called. And he’s going to figure out some other gambit for getting out of doing what is required of him.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama’s baddest critic warns him about flip-floppery on the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Obama, you are not the mayor of Podunk arguing with the City Council over sewer versus septic; you are the president of the United States of America , the greatest country in the world! It may be that your utterances are sounding like indefensible rubbish to more and more of us, but at the very least you, the presidential enunciator of them, ought to have the courage to defend them —especially when they’re already in writing.”

Greg Sargent warns anti-Israel Democrats that the Emergency Committee for Israel is putting them “on notice that if they criticize Israel, they can expect to be targeted, too.” Or, to put it differently, it will be harder to fake being pro-Israel.

Charlie Cook warns Democrats that the Connecticut Senate race will tighten. And sure enough: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary telephone survey of Likely Connecticut Voters finds that Democrat Richard Blumenthal has slipped below the 50% mark of support this month against Republican Linda McMahon in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Bill Kristol warns the left to get a grip: “The ‘f*ck tea’ movement [the real name of a new leftist undertaking] — that’s what the left has come to. They can’t defend the results of Obama’s policies or the validity of Krugman’s arguments. They know it’s hard to sustain an antidemocratic ethos in a democracy. They realize they’ve degenerated into pro-am levels of whining and squabbling. So they curse their opponents.”

The Gray Lady warns politicians to avoid Michelle Obama’s vacation gaffe: “Forget the lush beaches of Bora Bora or the Campari-soaked cafes along the Côte d’Azur. And don’t even think about Rome or Paris. Astute Washington politicians have long known that when it comes to politically palatable summer vacations, it is best not to cross any oceans. Or even seas. Michelle Obama violated one of this city’s most sacrosanct unwritten rules when she went to Spain — during a recession, no less — with her daughter and a few friends.”

Senate Republicans warn the administration that its pick for ambassador to Turkey is a no-go: “The nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey is being held up in the Senate and the GOP has no intention of allowing a vote on the nomination any time soon. … The administration might be wary of spending its limited political capital to push through the Ricciardone nomination to a floor debate in the Senate because it could open up a broader public discussion of Turkey policy the White House might not think is useful given the delicate diplomatic environment.”

Douglas Schoen warns fellow Democrats: “The recent discouraging economic news is a watershed for the Obama administration — at least as far as the midterms are concerned. It discredits one of the administration’s few remaining positive arguments: that the administration ushered in an economic recovery that otherwise might not have occurred.”

Bibi warns the world, explains George Will: “If Iran were to ‘wipe the Zionist entity off the map,’ as it vows to do, it would, Netanyahu believes, achieve a regional ‘dominance not seen since Alexander.’ … He says that 1948 meant this: ‘For the first time in 2,000 years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend itself against attack.’ And he says: ‘The tragic history of the powerlessness of our people explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense.’ If Israel strikes Iran, the world will not be able to say it was not warned.” Nor will it be able to say that, by leaving the job to Israel, Obama fufilled his role as leader of the Free World.

Obama’s baddest critic warns him about flip-floppery on the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Obama, you are not the mayor of Podunk arguing with the City Council over sewer versus septic; you are the president of the United States of America , the greatest country in the world! It may be that your utterances are sounding like indefensible rubbish to more and more of us, but at the very least you, the presidential enunciator of them, ought to have the courage to defend them —especially when they’re already in writing.”

Greg Sargent warns anti-Israel Democrats that the Emergency Committee for Israel is putting them “on notice that if they criticize Israel, they can expect to be targeted, too.” Or, to put it differently, it will be harder to fake being pro-Israel.

Charlie Cook warns Democrats that the Connecticut Senate race will tighten. And sure enough: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary telephone survey of Likely Connecticut Voters finds that Democrat Richard Blumenthal has slipped below the 50% mark of support this month against Republican Linda McMahon in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Bill Kristol warns the left to get a grip: “The ‘f*ck tea’ movement [the real name of a new leftist undertaking] — that’s what the left has come to. They can’t defend the results of Obama’s policies or the validity of Krugman’s arguments. They know it’s hard to sustain an antidemocratic ethos in a democracy. They realize they’ve degenerated into pro-am levels of whining and squabbling. So they curse their opponents.”

The Gray Lady warns politicians to avoid Michelle Obama’s vacation gaffe: “Forget the lush beaches of Bora Bora or the Campari-soaked cafes along the Côte d’Azur. And don’t even think about Rome or Paris. Astute Washington politicians have long known that when it comes to politically palatable summer vacations, it is best not to cross any oceans. Or even seas. Michelle Obama violated one of this city’s most sacrosanct unwritten rules when she went to Spain — during a recession, no less — with her daughter and a few friends.”

Senate Republicans warn the administration that its pick for ambassador to Turkey is a no-go: “The nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey is being held up in the Senate and the GOP has no intention of allowing a vote on the nomination any time soon. … The administration might be wary of spending its limited political capital to push through the Ricciardone nomination to a floor debate in the Senate because it could open up a broader public discussion of Turkey policy the White House might not think is useful given the delicate diplomatic environment.”

Douglas Schoen warns fellow Democrats: “The recent discouraging economic news is a watershed for the Obama administration — at least as far as the midterms are concerned. It discredits one of the administration’s few remaining positive arguments: that the administration ushered in an economic recovery that otherwise might not have occurred.”

Bibi warns the world, explains George Will: “If Iran were to ‘wipe the Zionist entity off the map,’ as it vows to do, it would, Netanyahu believes, achieve a regional ‘dominance not seen since Alexander.’ … He says that 1948 meant this: ‘For the first time in 2,000 years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend itself against attack.’ And he says: ‘The tragic history of the powerlessness of our people explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense.’ If Israel strikes Iran, the world will not be able to say it was not warned.” Nor will it be able to say that, by leaving the job to Israel, Obama fufilled his role as leader of the Free World.

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70 Years Ago Today

On August 3, 1940, Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky — one of the towering figures in the history of Zionism — died in New York of a heart attack at age 59.

He had been in New York since March, pushing his plan for a Jewish army to fight Hitler, giving speeches that drew huge crowds at the Manhattan Center. On June 20 — under the headline “Jabotinsky Asks Jews for Army of 100,000 – Zionist Leader Calls for Men to Fight as a Unit — 4,000 Hear Plea” — the New York Times reported his words from the prior evening:

I challenge the Jews, wherever they are still free, to demand the right of fighting the giant rattlesnake, not just under British or French or Polish labels, but as a Jewish Army. Some shout that we only want others to fight, some whisper that a Jew only makes a good soldier when squeezed in between Gentile comrades. I challenge the Jewish youth to give them the lie.

The day before his death, he had contracted to publish his book on the Jews and the war. On August 3, he collapsed at an upstate New York training camp for the Zionist youth movement he created. His last words, reported in Shmuel Katz’s monumental biography, were “I am so tired.” Katz believed the real cause of death was “stress and overwork.”

More than 12,000 people stood on Second Avenue three days later outside his funeral services — conducted by three rabbis, with 200 cantors chanting and 750 people in attendance, including British, Polish, Czech, and other diplomats. As he had requested, there were no eulogies or speeches. The New York Times reported the next day that:

At the end of the chapel service, the coffin, draped with a Zionist flag, was carried from the funeral home, surrounded by an honor guard of 50 boys and girls. … Many men and women wept … a throng of 25,000 followed the cortege or lined the route. …

A motorcade of fifty cars and eight buses left for the New Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale, L.I., where a military service was held.

Jabotinsky’s 1935 will stipulated that he should be buried “wherever death finds me and my remains may not be brought to Palestine except by the order of that country’s eventual Jewish Government” — reflecting his faith in the eventual re-creation of the Jewish state. But it was not until 1964 that his body was transferred to Mount Herzl for burial.

It was a hero’s homecoming. In New York, the casket was carried through Manhattan to Kennedy airport in a hearse drawn by four white horses, with Times Square renamed “Jabotinsky Square” for the day; in Paris, the French government and Jewish community held a ceremony as the plane landed there on its way to Israel. In 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recalled the reception in Israel:

I clearly remember the immense funeral procession in the streets of Tel Aviv, which was unparalleled; I remember the tremendous emotion, sometimes tearful, of students and admirers, headed by the Chairman of the Herut Movement, Menachem Begin, who accompanied the coffin. A huge audience … came to pay their respects to the great Zionist leader; a bit late but wholeheartedly.

In a 2009 Knesset speech, Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the 1964 homecoming, which “made a tremendous impact on me.” On this day, we too should remember: read Midge Decter’s 1996 article (“one of those remarkable Eastern European Jews on whose like the world will never look again”); Hillel Halkin’s 2005 review (“one of the most intelligent, talented, honest, and likeable of all twentieth-century politicians”); Anne Lieberman’s extraordinary 2009 essay (which virtually channels Jabotinsky); and the resources at Jewish Ideas Daily.

On August 18, 2010, at 7:30 p.m., Americans for a Safe Israel will hold a special memorial at Park East Synagogue, 163 East 67th Street, with Douglas Feith as the keynote speaker.

On August 3, 1940, Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky — one of the towering figures in the history of Zionism — died in New York of a heart attack at age 59.

He had been in New York since March, pushing his plan for a Jewish army to fight Hitler, giving speeches that drew huge crowds at the Manhattan Center. On June 20 — under the headline “Jabotinsky Asks Jews for Army of 100,000 – Zionist Leader Calls for Men to Fight as a Unit — 4,000 Hear Plea” — the New York Times reported his words from the prior evening:

I challenge the Jews, wherever they are still free, to demand the right of fighting the giant rattlesnake, not just under British or French or Polish labels, but as a Jewish Army. Some shout that we only want others to fight, some whisper that a Jew only makes a good soldier when squeezed in between Gentile comrades. I challenge the Jewish youth to give them the lie.

The day before his death, he had contracted to publish his book on the Jews and the war. On August 3, he collapsed at an upstate New York training camp for the Zionist youth movement he created. His last words, reported in Shmuel Katz’s monumental biography, were “I am so tired.” Katz believed the real cause of death was “stress and overwork.”

More than 12,000 people stood on Second Avenue three days later outside his funeral services — conducted by three rabbis, with 200 cantors chanting and 750 people in attendance, including British, Polish, Czech, and other diplomats. As he had requested, there were no eulogies or speeches. The New York Times reported the next day that:

At the end of the chapel service, the coffin, draped with a Zionist flag, was carried from the funeral home, surrounded by an honor guard of 50 boys and girls. … Many men and women wept … a throng of 25,000 followed the cortege or lined the route. …

A motorcade of fifty cars and eight buses left for the New Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale, L.I., where a military service was held.

Jabotinsky’s 1935 will stipulated that he should be buried “wherever death finds me and my remains may not be brought to Palestine except by the order of that country’s eventual Jewish Government” — reflecting his faith in the eventual re-creation of the Jewish state. But it was not until 1964 that his body was transferred to Mount Herzl for burial.

It was a hero’s homecoming. In New York, the casket was carried through Manhattan to Kennedy airport in a hearse drawn by four white horses, with Times Square renamed “Jabotinsky Square” for the day; in Paris, the French government and Jewish community held a ceremony as the plane landed there on its way to Israel. In 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recalled the reception in Israel:

I clearly remember the immense funeral procession in the streets of Tel Aviv, which was unparalleled; I remember the tremendous emotion, sometimes tearful, of students and admirers, headed by the Chairman of the Herut Movement, Menachem Begin, who accompanied the coffin. A huge audience … came to pay their respects to the great Zionist leader; a bit late but wholeheartedly.

In a 2009 Knesset speech, Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the 1964 homecoming, which “made a tremendous impact on me.” On this day, we too should remember: read Midge Decter’s 1996 article (“one of those remarkable Eastern European Jews on whose like the world will never look again”); Hillel Halkin’s 2005 review (“one of the most intelligent, talented, honest, and likeable of all twentieth-century politicians”); Anne Lieberman’s extraordinary 2009 essay (which virtually channels Jabotinsky); and the resources at Jewish Ideas Daily.

On August 18, 2010, at 7:30 p.m., Americans for a Safe Israel will hold a special memorial at Park East Synagogue, 163 East 67th Street, with Douglas Feith as the keynote speaker.

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Sarkozy Has Figured It Out Too

As this report explains, “The American and French presidents called for quick action on sanctions against Iran on Tuesday, with U.S. President Barack Obama saying he believed such penalties could be approved by the United Nations in a matter of weeks.” But French President Nicolas Sarkozy can barely conceal his unease with Obama’s lackadaisical attitude toward the mullahs:

Mr. Sarkozy has been one of the strongest advocates for sanctions against Iran among the Western allies. “The time has come to take decisions,” he said at the news conference. “Iran cannot continue its mad race.”

Despite the public harmony, U.S. analysts who have discussed the issue with French leaders said Paris has grown concerned that Mr. Obama may be repeating the path of the Bush administration, which failed to halt Iran’s nuclear program through U.N. sanctions.

“There’s worry on Iran,” said Kurt Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO during both the Bush and Obama administrations. “The French… want to play hardball and they want to push, and I think they worry a little bit about where is the administration’s bottom line. Yes, we’re pushing sanctions, but what then?”

And then Obama’ s hamhanded diplomacy hasn’t helped matters any. (“The meeting between the two presidents comes at a tense time in bilateral relations. Mr. Sarkozy appeared publicly supportive of Mr. Obama’s candidacy during the 2008 presidential campaign. But relations have cooled as a result of perceived diplomatic snubs — the Obamas didn’t have dinner with the Sarkozys during their June visit to Paris, for example — and policy differences.”) So much for enhancing our relationship with allies.

Others are similarly perturbed that Obama’s sanctions approach is too little and too late. Danielle Pletka explains that in Obama’s obsession with engaging the Iranian regime:

He was unwilling to take no for an answer. How else to explain Mr. Obama’s lack of interest in the Iranian people’s democratic protests against the regime. Or his seeming indifference to Tehran’s failure to meet repeated international deadlines to respond to an offer endorsed by all five permanent U.N. Security Council members (and Germany) to allow Iran to enrich uranium in Russia, receiving back enriched fuel rods that do not lend themselves to weapons production. One might have hoped the administration was using that time to build international consensus for a plan B. But apparently that’s not the case.

So Obama goes through the motions, but with little indication that China or Russia will be joining in a unified sanctions effort or that the sanctions will be commensurate with the goal — persuading the mullahs to give up their nuclear ambitions. We are engaged now in a massive charade — Obama pretends to be serious about preventing a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state, our allies nervously eye one another, and the mullahs proceed with nary a care that they might face their own existential threat (give up the nukes or perish). But the kabuki dance must end soon.

After bludgeoning Israel over Jerusalem and making clear to all onlookers that there is nothing currently “rock solid” about the U.S. relationship with Israel, Obama nevertheless expects the Jewish state to continue to play along with the engagement/sanctions pantomime. However, if the Israeli government has learned anything over the last week, it is to appreciate just how deeply disingenuous is the Obama administration, and how little the Jewish state can rely on the Obami for its security. The Obama administration is dedicated to reorienting America away from its alliance with Israel and elevating (it imagines) its status in the Muslim World and within international organizations, which have little interest in doing whatever is necessary to enforce existing sanctions, let alone enacting new ones to prevent the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Certainly, Netanyahu shares Sarkozy’s skepticism. Now he must consider just how much longer to indulge the Obami’s creep toward containment. And for those here in the U.S. who correctly perceive that the unacceptable is on the verge of happening, the question remains: what, if anything, can be done to shake the administration from its slumber?

As this report explains, “The American and French presidents called for quick action on sanctions against Iran on Tuesday, with U.S. President Barack Obama saying he believed such penalties could be approved by the United Nations in a matter of weeks.” But French President Nicolas Sarkozy can barely conceal his unease with Obama’s lackadaisical attitude toward the mullahs:

Mr. Sarkozy has been one of the strongest advocates for sanctions against Iran among the Western allies. “The time has come to take decisions,” he said at the news conference. “Iran cannot continue its mad race.”

Despite the public harmony, U.S. analysts who have discussed the issue with French leaders said Paris has grown concerned that Mr. Obama may be repeating the path of the Bush administration, which failed to halt Iran’s nuclear program through U.N. sanctions.

“There’s worry on Iran,” said Kurt Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO during both the Bush and Obama administrations. “The French… want to play hardball and they want to push, and I think they worry a little bit about where is the administration’s bottom line. Yes, we’re pushing sanctions, but what then?”

And then Obama’ s hamhanded diplomacy hasn’t helped matters any. (“The meeting between the two presidents comes at a tense time in bilateral relations. Mr. Sarkozy appeared publicly supportive of Mr. Obama’s candidacy during the 2008 presidential campaign. But relations have cooled as a result of perceived diplomatic snubs — the Obamas didn’t have dinner with the Sarkozys during their June visit to Paris, for example — and policy differences.”) So much for enhancing our relationship with allies.

Others are similarly perturbed that Obama’s sanctions approach is too little and too late. Danielle Pletka explains that in Obama’s obsession with engaging the Iranian regime:

He was unwilling to take no for an answer. How else to explain Mr. Obama’s lack of interest in the Iranian people’s democratic protests against the regime. Or his seeming indifference to Tehran’s failure to meet repeated international deadlines to respond to an offer endorsed by all five permanent U.N. Security Council members (and Germany) to allow Iran to enrich uranium in Russia, receiving back enriched fuel rods that do not lend themselves to weapons production. One might have hoped the administration was using that time to build international consensus for a plan B. But apparently that’s not the case.

So Obama goes through the motions, but with little indication that China or Russia will be joining in a unified sanctions effort or that the sanctions will be commensurate with the goal — persuading the mullahs to give up their nuclear ambitions. We are engaged now in a massive charade — Obama pretends to be serious about preventing a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state, our allies nervously eye one another, and the mullahs proceed with nary a care that they might face their own existential threat (give up the nukes or perish). But the kabuki dance must end soon.

After bludgeoning Israel over Jerusalem and making clear to all onlookers that there is nothing currently “rock solid” about the U.S. relationship with Israel, Obama nevertheless expects the Jewish state to continue to play along with the engagement/sanctions pantomime. However, if the Israeli government has learned anything over the last week, it is to appreciate just how deeply disingenuous is the Obama administration, and how little the Jewish state can rely on the Obami for its security. The Obama administration is dedicated to reorienting America away from its alliance with Israel and elevating (it imagines) its status in the Muslim World and within international organizations, which have little interest in doing whatever is necessary to enforce existing sanctions, let alone enacting new ones to prevent the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Certainly, Netanyahu shares Sarkozy’s skepticism. Now he must consider just how much longer to indulge the Obami’s creep toward containment. And for those here in the U.S. who correctly perceive that the unacceptable is on the verge of happening, the question remains: what, if anything, can be done to shake the administration from its slumber?

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An Unusual Alignment of Interests

More than any other Arab head of state in the world, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has mastered the art of telling listeners what they want to hear.

Last week, he said his country is fully committed to peace in the Middle East, though he worries the Israel government isn’t. He knows this is what bien pensants in the West like to believe. He knows they find it refreshing that he can talk like a liberal while Iran’s Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten apocalypse.

He also knows how to talk like the right kind of hardliner. Yesterday, he condemned the double suicide-bombing in Moscow’s underground metro and urged the international community to “fight terror around the globe.”

It’s no wonder, then, that some in Washington, Paris, and even Jerusalem think he’s a man they can do business with. All they have to do is convince him that his alliance with Iran is counterproductive, that it runs contrary to his self-evident interests and public pronouncements.

Syria, though, is the most aggressive state sponsor of terrorism in the world after Iran. Assad doesn’t even try to keep up the pretense when he isn’t preening before peace processors. Last week, he said Israel only understands force — a statement perfectly in line with his behavior. And just two days ago, he and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi urged the Palestinian Authority to scrap negotiations with Israel and return to its terrorist roots.

It’s hard to say if Western diplomats and foreign policy makers are actually suckered in by his act or if they’re just playing along because doing so suits them. Either way, they’d be wise to ignore him even when he makes the right noises and pay a little more heed to what other Arab leaders are saying instead. Their interests are far more in line with ours than Assad’s are.

Over the weekend, all, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, rejected Syria’s and Libya’s calls for armed attacks against Israel. Most aren’t interested in signing a treaty with Benjamin Netanyahu any time soon, but at least they don’t yearn for another Operation Cast Lead or a Third Lebanon War. The status quo ultimately isn’t sustainable, but it’s mostly non-violent right now. There’s nothing urgent about it as long as the Syrian- and Iranian-led resistance bloc isn’t fueling its missiles.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two most influential of the Sunni Arab regimes, flatly reject the idea of dialogue with Tehran while publicly supporting the peace process theater. Even if they’re no more sincere about the latter than Bashar al-Assad, as long as their rhetoric matches their immobility and conflict aversion, who cares?

Meanwhile, Iraqis gave Ayad Allawi and his slate of staunchly anti-Iranian candidates a plurality of votes in the recent election. The moderate Nouri al-Maliki came in second while the pro-Iranian Iraqi National Alliance came in dead last. Iran tried to Lebanonize Iraq with its Sadrist militias but seems to have failed. The Saudis are profoundly relieved, and the rest of the Arabs outside Syria surely are, too.

So what we have here, for the most part, is an Arab Middle East that wants to put the Israeli conflict on ice and resist the resistance instead — which is more or less what the Israelis want to see happen. It’s an unusual alignment of interests, but it is authentic. Iran’s Khomeinist regime has been gunning for Arabs in the Middle East since it came to power — and not just in Lebanon and Iraq but also in the Gulf and North Africa.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are unreliable allies (and that’s being generous), but their interests really do overlap with our own and even with Israel’s once in a while. Assad, at the same time, can’t always be bothered even to pretend he shares interests with the U.S. and Israel. His government has been sanctioned and stigmatized for a reason, and it’s not because he’s misguided or misunderstood.

President Barack Obama clearly wants to tilt U.S. foreign policy more toward the Arabs, but he doesn’t have to do it at the expense of our alliance with Israel. Just start with what Washington, Jerusalem, and most of the Arab states have in common and build outward from there. The present alignment may only come round once in a century, so we best not blow it.

More than any other Arab head of state in the world, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has mastered the art of telling listeners what they want to hear.

Last week, he said his country is fully committed to peace in the Middle East, though he worries the Israel government isn’t. He knows this is what bien pensants in the West like to believe. He knows they find it refreshing that he can talk like a liberal while Iran’s Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten apocalypse.

He also knows how to talk like the right kind of hardliner. Yesterday, he condemned the double suicide-bombing in Moscow’s underground metro and urged the international community to “fight terror around the globe.”

It’s no wonder, then, that some in Washington, Paris, and even Jerusalem think he’s a man they can do business with. All they have to do is convince him that his alliance with Iran is counterproductive, that it runs contrary to his self-evident interests and public pronouncements.

Syria, though, is the most aggressive state sponsor of terrorism in the world after Iran. Assad doesn’t even try to keep up the pretense when he isn’t preening before peace processors. Last week, he said Israel only understands force — a statement perfectly in line with his behavior. And just two days ago, he and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi urged the Palestinian Authority to scrap negotiations with Israel and return to its terrorist roots.

It’s hard to say if Western diplomats and foreign policy makers are actually suckered in by his act or if they’re just playing along because doing so suits them. Either way, they’d be wise to ignore him even when he makes the right noises and pay a little more heed to what other Arab leaders are saying instead. Their interests are far more in line with ours than Assad’s are.

Over the weekend, all, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, rejected Syria’s and Libya’s calls for armed attacks against Israel. Most aren’t interested in signing a treaty with Benjamin Netanyahu any time soon, but at least they don’t yearn for another Operation Cast Lead or a Third Lebanon War. The status quo ultimately isn’t sustainable, but it’s mostly non-violent right now. There’s nothing urgent about it as long as the Syrian- and Iranian-led resistance bloc isn’t fueling its missiles.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two most influential of the Sunni Arab regimes, flatly reject the idea of dialogue with Tehran while publicly supporting the peace process theater. Even if they’re no more sincere about the latter than Bashar al-Assad, as long as their rhetoric matches their immobility and conflict aversion, who cares?

Meanwhile, Iraqis gave Ayad Allawi and his slate of staunchly anti-Iranian candidates a plurality of votes in the recent election. The moderate Nouri al-Maliki came in second while the pro-Iranian Iraqi National Alliance came in dead last. Iran tried to Lebanonize Iraq with its Sadrist militias but seems to have failed. The Saudis are profoundly relieved, and the rest of the Arabs outside Syria surely are, too.

So what we have here, for the most part, is an Arab Middle East that wants to put the Israeli conflict on ice and resist the resistance instead — which is more or less what the Israelis want to see happen. It’s an unusual alignment of interests, but it is authentic. Iran’s Khomeinist regime has been gunning for Arabs in the Middle East since it came to power — and not just in Lebanon and Iraq but also in the Gulf and North Africa.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are unreliable allies (and that’s being generous), but their interests really do overlap with our own and even with Israel’s once in a while. Assad, at the same time, can’t always be bothered even to pretend he shares interests with the U.S. and Israel. His government has been sanctioned and stigmatized for a reason, and it’s not because he’s misguided or misunderstood.

President Barack Obama clearly wants to tilt U.S. foreign policy more toward the Arabs, but he doesn’t have to do it at the expense of our alliance with Israel. Just start with what Washington, Jerusalem, and most of the Arab states have in common and build outward from there. The present alignment may only come round once in a century, so we best not blow it.

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Jason Bourne, Call Your Office

Another day, and another Western government chastises Israel for the use of non-Israeli passports in the assassination of Hamas terrorist mastermind Mahmoud al-Mabhou. This time it’s Australia’s turn. Australia’s PM, Kevin Rudd, was quoted as saying that

Any state that has been complicit in use or abuse of the Australian passport system, let alone for the conduct of an assassination, is treating Australia with contempt and there will therefore be action by the Australian government in response.

Clearly, one needs to believe Dubai’s police on the revelations about the forged passports. There is no smoking gun yet about Israel’s responsibility. And hopefully, Israel will keep quiet about this. As Yossi Melman indicates in today’s Haaretz, the investigation is rising to comical levels, even as the evidence against Israel is thin.

Look, anyone familiar with James Bond, Jason Bourne, and the Mission Impossible franchise knows that secret agents travel on forged passports. And even assuming Israel is responsible, what did anyone expect — a bunch of Israelis to show up at Dubai airport waving their Israeli passports? Just imagine the conversation.

UAE immigration officer: Nationality?

Agent: Israeli.

Immigration officer: Occupation?

Agent: Mossad agent.

Immigration officer: Purpose of your visit?

Agent: Targeted killing of a top Hamas terrorist.

Immigration officer: Welcome to our country, sir, and have a nice day.

Sure, it would have been preferable that those involved were not caught on camera and belatedly identified — although every new release of suspects by Dubai’s police makes their involvement look less credible. How many people does it takes to kill one Hamas terrorist, even in Dubai?

There would not have been so much grief in London, Paris, or Canberra. Countries are more likely to turn a blind eye when friendly secret services do not get caught abusing or violating their laws. The problem with the outrage is not the deed itself, then, but the embarrassment resulting from the exposure.

Finally, the international outrage has forgotten to take into account the obvious: Mahmoud al-Mabhou deserved to die. He was a terrorist. He was involved in something sinister and potentially very big — which had to do with arms-smuggling from Iran to Gaza. He had personally killed Israeli hostages. There should be little sorrow expressed about sending him to delight with heavenly virgins long before he had planned.

Another day, and another Western government chastises Israel for the use of non-Israeli passports in the assassination of Hamas terrorist mastermind Mahmoud al-Mabhou. This time it’s Australia’s turn. Australia’s PM, Kevin Rudd, was quoted as saying that

Any state that has been complicit in use or abuse of the Australian passport system, let alone for the conduct of an assassination, is treating Australia with contempt and there will therefore be action by the Australian government in response.

Clearly, one needs to believe Dubai’s police on the revelations about the forged passports. There is no smoking gun yet about Israel’s responsibility. And hopefully, Israel will keep quiet about this. As Yossi Melman indicates in today’s Haaretz, the investigation is rising to comical levels, even as the evidence against Israel is thin.

Look, anyone familiar with James Bond, Jason Bourne, and the Mission Impossible franchise knows that secret agents travel on forged passports. And even assuming Israel is responsible, what did anyone expect — a bunch of Israelis to show up at Dubai airport waving their Israeli passports? Just imagine the conversation.

UAE immigration officer: Nationality?

Agent: Israeli.

Immigration officer: Occupation?

Agent: Mossad agent.

Immigration officer: Purpose of your visit?

Agent: Targeted killing of a top Hamas terrorist.

Immigration officer: Welcome to our country, sir, and have a nice day.

Sure, it would have been preferable that those involved were not caught on camera and belatedly identified — although every new release of suspects by Dubai’s police makes their involvement look less credible. How many people does it takes to kill one Hamas terrorist, even in Dubai?

There would not have been so much grief in London, Paris, or Canberra. Countries are more likely to turn a blind eye when friendly secret services do not get caught abusing or violating their laws. The problem with the outrage is not the deed itself, then, but the embarrassment resulting from the exposure.

Finally, the international outrage has forgotten to take into account the obvious: Mahmoud al-Mabhou deserved to die. He was a terrorist. He was involved in something sinister and potentially very big — which had to do with arms-smuggling from Iran to Gaza. He had personally killed Israeli hostages. There should be little sorrow expressed about sending him to delight with heavenly virgins long before he had planned.

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Assassination, Spielberg-Style

I have no idea whether these details, reported in Haaretz, about the assassination last month in Dubai of Hamas honcho Mahmoud al-Mabhouh are accurate, but they certainly sound plausible. Citing a Paris-based intelligence journal, Haaretz reports:

One of the female agents dressed herself in the uniform of a reception clerk at Al Bustan Rotana, the hotel where Mabhouh was staying, and then knocked on his door.

When he opened it her fellow operatives rushed him and stunned him with an electric device, the journal said, then they injected poison into his veins, in order to disguise the cause of death.

All 10 agents carried European passports, the journal said.

Sounds like something out of Munich, the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie that presented a fictionalized account of how Israeli agents hunted down and killed members of the Black September organization responsible for the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Spielberg put a spin of moral equivalence on the operation, with Mossad agents worrying that they were becoming as bad as the Palestinian terrorists. That’s ridiculous. Members of terrorist organizations are legitimate targets for elimination — whether they are killed by Predators over Pakistan or by hit teams in Dubai. If Mossad was indeed responsible for Mabhouh’s demise, it deserves the thanks of all civilized countries. Such targeted killings won’t eliminate the threat from Hamas, but they will certainly help to diminish, at least in the short-term, that odious organization’s capacities for mayhem.

I have no idea whether these details, reported in Haaretz, about the assassination last month in Dubai of Hamas honcho Mahmoud al-Mabhouh are accurate, but they certainly sound plausible. Citing a Paris-based intelligence journal, Haaretz reports:

One of the female agents dressed herself in the uniform of a reception clerk at Al Bustan Rotana, the hotel where Mabhouh was staying, and then knocked on his door.

When he opened it her fellow operatives rushed him and stunned him with an electric device, the journal said, then they injected poison into his veins, in order to disguise the cause of death.

All 10 agents carried European passports, the journal said.

Sounds like something out of Munich, the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie that presented a fictionalized account of how Israeli agents hunted down and killed members of the Black September organization responsible for the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Spielberg put a spin of moral equivalence on the operation, with Mossad agents worrying that they were becoming as bad as the Palestinian terrorists. That’s ridiculous. Members of terrorist organizations are legitimate targets for elimination — whether they are killed by Predators over Pakistan or by hit teams in Dubai. If Mossad was indeed responsible for Mabhouh’s demise, it deserves the thanks of all civilized countries. Such targeted killings won’t eliminate the threat from Hamas, but they will certainly help to diminish, at least in the short-term, that odious organization’s capacities for mayhem.

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The Difference Between Drefyus and al-Qaeda

I have not read novelist Louis Begley’s new book Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, which received a favorable review in today’s New York Times Book Review section. However, there are some things that may be confidently asserted even without having perused that tome.

One is that there is absolutely no analogy to be drawn between Captain Alfred Dreyfus on the one hand, and Khalid Sheik Muhammad and the other al-Qaeda operatives on the other, who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay over the last several years.

A second is that there is no analogy between the machinations of the French Army’s High Command, which covered up the identity of the real German spy in Paris in the 1890s and instead chose to place the blame for a security breach on a loyal French Jew, and the efforts of the Bush administration to defend the United States against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

A third would be to note that if there is any common thread between the actors of 9/11 and those of the Dreyfus affair, it is not between the anti-Dreyfusards and the Bush administration but rather between the former and their fellow Jew haters in al-Qaeda, not to mention the lunatic Left, which has rationalized Islamist terrorism and attacked those who fight it.

One would think that such elemental facts would be known to the editors of the Book Review or to Ruth Scurr, who gave Begley’s book a rave. But apparently in this case political prejudices trump even the barest knowledge of history. Scurr applauds Begley when he asks: “Will some day in the near future the crimes of the Bush administration, like … the crimes against Dreyfus, disappear under the scar tissue of silence and indifference?” She goes on to note approvingly his desire for the emergence of “an American Zola or Proust” to speak up against Bush as those French writers did against the Dreyfus persecutors.

What can one say about such nonsense? Most Americans probably know little of the Dreyfus Affair. So it’s worth pointing out a few facts about the difference between our contemporary war on terror and the political and cultural conflict that turned France upside down over 100 years ago.

Unlike the al-Qaeda murderers who planned and executed 9/11, Dreyfus was innocent. One may criticize the zealousness of the Bush administration in their counter-offensive against al Qaeda. One may even criticize Guantanamo though when compared to the Devil’s Island accommodations offered Dreyfus, it looks more like a stay at the Waldorf than a prison. But in the end, the notion that KSM and other al-Qaeda members are the victims of persecution and, as Scurr put it, of “kangaroo trials,” is beyond absurd.

Unlike Bush’s critics, those who defended Dreyfus were speaking up for a genuine victim of injustice, a patriot wrongly accused and convicted solely because he was a Jew. But it is a telling insight into the depth of the political bias that Bush-haters have descended to observe that some are even prepared to analogize Dreyfus and al-Qaeda. The bizarre notion that virtually everything done by Bush after 9/11 was an attack on American liberty has become so firmly ingrained in the popular imagination that anything can and will be said to besmirch his administration. That it occurs to neither Begley nor Scurr that the anti-Semitism of the anti-Dreyfusards finds its echo in the forces that Bush sought to fight speaks volumes about the tone-deaf nature of their political vendetta.

Of course, the Dreyfus Affair does matter. For those who want to actually learn about the Dreyfus Affair, there is still no better place to turn to than Jean Louis Bredin’s 1986 The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.

But it matters not just because speaking out against injustice is the duty of all decent persons but also because the forces that sought to delegitimize Jewish identity in the 1890s are once again on the march in Europe. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in our time is due, in no small measure, to the influence of political Islam and the unwillingness of many Westerners to defend their democratic traditions. If any analogy is to be found today for the persecution of Dreyfus, it is in the lies that are hurled by Europeans and their Islamist friends against the State of Israel.

The spectacle of Dreyfus’s degradation in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris – as Dreyfus’s pitiful cries of his innocence and loyalty to France were drowned out by a mob screaming for the death of the Jews — helped motivate Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” and launch the modern Zionist movement. Today, as then, there are many in Europe and elsewhere who cry out for Jewish blood or attempt to portray Israel’s terrorist foes as innocent victims. Those like Begley and Scurr — who seem to think the fight against Islamist terrorists is the real evil of the day – have the bully pulpit of venues such as the Times from which to vent their spleen against Bush. But there is no resemblance between such jeremiads and a defense of Western values or of the Jews for which Zola is better remembered than his novels.

I have not read novelist Louis Begley’s new book Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, which received a favorable review in today’s New York Times Book Review section. However, there are some things that may be confidently asserted even without having perused that tome.

One is that there is absolutely no analogy to be drawn between Captain Alfred Dreyfus on the one hand, and Khalid Sheik Muhammad and the other al-Qaeda operatives on the other, who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay over the last several years.

A second is that there is no analogy between the machinations of the French Army’s High Command, which covered up the identity of the real German spy in Paris in the 1890s and instead chose to place the blame for a security breach on a loyal French Jew, and the efforts of the Bush administration to defend the United States against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

A third would be to note that if there is any common thread between the actors of 9/11 and those of the Dreyfus affair, it is not between the anti-Dreyfusards and the Bush administration but rather between the former and their fellow Jew haters in al-Qaeda, not to mention the lunatic Left, which has rationalized Islamist terrorism and attacked those who fight it.

One would think that such elemental facts would be known to the editors of the Book Review or to Ruth Scurr, who gave Begley’s book a rave. But apparently in this case political prejudices trump even the barest knowledge of history. Scurr applauds Begley when he asks: “Will some day in the near future the crimes of the Bush administration, like … the crimes against Dreyfus, disappear under the scar tissue of silence and indifference?” She goes on to note approvingly his desire for the emergence of “an American Zola or Proust” to speak up against Bush as those French writers did against the Dreyfus persecutors.

What can one say about such nonsense? Most Americans probably know little of the Dreyfus Affair. So it’s worth pointing out a few facts about the difference between our contemporary war on terror and the political and cultural conflict that turned France upside down over 100 years ago.

Unlike the al-Qaeda murderers who planned and executed 9/11, Dreyfus was innocent. One may criticize the zealousness of the Bush administration in their counter-offensive against al Qaeda. One may even criticize Guantanamo though when compared to the Devil’s Island accommodations offered Dreyfus, it looks more like a stay at the Waldorf than a prison. But in the end, the notion that KSM and other al-Qaeda members are the victims of persecution and, as Scurr put it, of “kangaroo trials,” is beyond absurd.

Unlike Bush’s critics, those who defended Dreyfus were speaking up for a genuine victim of injustice, a patriot wrongly accused and convicted solely because he was a Jew. But it is a telling insight into the depth of the political bias that Bush-haters have descended to observe that some are even prepared to analogize Dreyfus and al-Qaeda. The bizarre notion that virtually everything done by Bush after 9/11 was an attack on American liberty has become so firmly ingrained in the popular imagination that anything can and will be said to besmirch his administration. That it occurs to neither Begley nor Scurr that the anti-Semitism of the anti-Dreyfusards finds its echo in the forces that Bush sought to fight speaks volumes about the tone-deaf nature of their political vendetta.

Of course, the Dreyfus Affair does matter. For those who want to actually learn about the Dreyfus Affair, there is still no better place to turn to than Jean Louis Bredin’s 1986 The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.

But it matters not just because speaking out against injustice is the duty of all decent persons but also because the forces that sought to delegitimize Jewish identity in the 1890s are once again on the march in Europe. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in our time is due, in no small measure, to the influence of political Islam and the unwillingness of many Westerners to defend their democratic traditions. If any analogy is to be found today for the persecution of Dreyfus, it is in the lies that are hurled by Europeans and their Islamist friends against the State of Israel.

The spectacle of Dreyfus’s degradation in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris – as Dreyfus’s pitiful cries of his innocence and loyalty to France were drowned out by a mob screaming for the death of the Jews — helped motivate Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” and launch the modern Zionist movement. Today, as then, there are many in Europe and elsewhere who cry out for Jewish blood or attempt to portray Israel’s terrorist foes as innocent victims. Those like Begley and Scurr — who seem to think the fight against Islamist terrorists is the real evil of the day – have the bully pulpit of venues such as the Times from which to vent their spleen against Bush. But there is no resemblance between such jeremiads and a defense of Western values or of the Jews for which Zola is better remembered than his novels.

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The Dubai Effect

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules. Read More

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules.

Lebanon and Iraq have both been hailed as possible models for the rest of the region, but they aren’t really. Maybe they will be someday, but they aren’t today. Freewheeling Lebanon is more or less democratic, but it’s unstable. It blows up every year. The Beirut Spring in 2005 ousted the Syrian military dictatorship, but shaking off Iran and its private Hezbollah militia has proved nearly impossible. Iraq is likewise still too violent and dysfunctional to be an inspiring model right now.

Many of the skyscrapering steel and glass cities of the Persian Gulf feel like soulless shopping malls. It wouldn’t occur to anyone to suggest that one of these places is “the Paris of the Middle East,” as Beirut has often been called. Dubai’s outrageous attractions and socially liberal atmosphere, however, makes it something like a Las Vegas of the Middle East as a traveler’s destination. And it really is something like a Hong Kong or Singapore as a place to do business.

It features prominently in Vali Nasr’s compelling new book Forces of Fortune, where he argues that the Middle East may finally liberalize politically after it has first been transformed economically by a middle-class commercial revolution. Most in the West haven’t noticed, but that revolution has already begun. And what he calls “the Dubai effect” is a key part of it.

“People in the region who visit Dubai,” he writes, “return home wondering why their governments can’t issue passports in a day or provide clean mosques and schools, better airports, airlines and roads, and above all better government.”

He’s right. Most Beirutis I know look down on Dubai as artificial and gimmicky, but just about everyone else in the region who isn’t a radical Islamist thinks it’s amazing.

It’s different geopolitically, too. The government is more sincerely pro-American than the nominally pro-American governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Michael Yon put it this way when he visited in 2006 on his way to Iraq: “Our friends in the UAE want the Coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to succeed, and they are vocal about it. While much of the west, including many of our oldest allies, postures on about how the war on terror is a horrible mistake, the sentiment in the UAE is that it would be a horrible mistake not to face the facts about our common enemy, an enemy that might be just as happy to destroy the UAE as America.”

Its leadership has also stepped a long way back from the Arab-Israeli conflict. Neither Dubai nor any of the other UAE emirates have gone so far as to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but they also aren’t participating in the conflict or making it worse. Israeli citizens can and do visit, which is unthinkable almost everywhere else in the Arab world. A rotating tower designed by an Israeli architect is slated to be completed next year. There isn’t a chance that even Egypt or Jordan, both of which have signed peace treaties, would let an Israeli design one of their architectural set pieces.

Dubai has problems, of course, aside from the inevitable bursting of its financial bubble. Its government is a fairly benign dictatorship, especially compared with the likes of Syria and Iran, but it’s a dictatorship all the same. Many of its imported laborers live and work in ghastly conditions, and some are lured there under false pretenses.

It’s flawed, it’s weird, and its overall model of development can’t be ported everywhere else. Only so many cities can build ski resorts in the desert and underwater hotel rooms that go for $5,000 a night. But Dubai’s model needn’t be copied and pasted as-is, and Nasr’s “Dubai effect” is a powerful thing. The city proves to everyone who goes there that when an Arab Muslim country opens up its economy, keeps the clerics out of the saddle, and eschews radical causes, it can build places that are impressive not just by local standards but by international standards as well. If even half its foreign and domestic policies are adopted by its neighbors, the region will be a much nicer place for the people who live there, and less of a headache for everyone else.

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Damascus Reverts to Form

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding. Read More

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding.

“What Obama said about peace was a good thing,” he said. “We agree with him on the principles, but as I said, what’s the action plan? The sponsor has to draw up an action plan.”

Notice what he’s done here? He’s portraying himself as though not only Netanyahu but also Barack Obama were less interested in peace than he is. It should be obvious, though, that Assad isn’t serious. He supports terrorist organizations that kill Americans, Israelis, Iraqis, and Lebanese — not exactly the sort of behavior one associates with leaders who agree with Barack Obama “on the principles.” Yet he’s blaming the United States for his own roguish behavior, because the U.S. does not have an “action plan.”

“Assad said that while relations with the United States had improved,” Reuters reports, “issues such as continued U.S. sanctions against Syria were hindering any joint work towards peace in the Middle East.” Got that? If the United States doesn’t drop sanctions against Syria, Assad will continue burning the Middle East with terrorist proxies.

“The Syrian regime is temperamentally incapable of issuing a statement that doesn’t sound like a threat,” Lee Smith noted last week in the Weekly Standard. Assad sure knows how to say it, though. It’s rather extraordinary that he can actually threaten to murder people in so many countries while sounding as if he were asking why we all can’t just get along. At least Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bigoted and hysterical fulminations are honestly hostile. We best get used to Assad’s act, though, unless and until Obama and Sarkozy realize there’s nothing to be gained from politely “engaging” this man.

Assad backs terrorists and thugs who have killed Lebanon’s former prime minister, members of Lebanon’s parliament, American soldiers, and civilians as well as soldiers in Iraq and in Israel – all acts of war. Say what you will about former French President Jacques Chirac. Unlike with the generally improved Sarkozy, Chirac’s relationship with Syria’s fascist and terrorist government was appropriately terrible.

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Sarkozy: Still French

Throughout the six-month Lebanese presidential crisis, France remained the lone western party actively engaged in monitoring the Lebanese political process. In this vein, French President Nicholas Sarkozy pushed for the Hezbollah-led opposition to accept the will of the parliamentary majority and elect consensus candidate Michel Suleiman president without preconditions. In late December, Sarkozy demonstrated impressive guts when he publicly blamed Syria for the ongoing crisis and suspended contacts with Damascus until it ended its interference–all with Egypt’s diplomatic support. The move left Syria stunned, and France seemed to finally have a president who was willing to play hardball with anti-western forces.

Well, Sarkozy’s response to last week’s Doha agreement–which resolved the political crisis in terms favorable to Hezbollah–should dash such fantasies. Yesterday, Sarkozy phoned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to thank him for his “tireless efforts” in support of the Doha agreement, vowing to strengthen economic and political ties between Damascus and Paris and restoring full diplomatic relations. This only adds to the political windfall that Syria achieved through the Doha agreement–which strengthened its allies within Lebanon–and the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency proudly posted photos of long-lost friends Sarkozy and Assad atop its website.

Make no mistake: Sarkozy’s phone call to Assad represents a diplomatic retreat of epic proportions, as Sarkozy has entirely negated his strong stance against Syria’s role in Lebanon while achieving none of his demands! Indeed, the Doha agreement–which grants Hezbollah veto power within the current cabinet–has all the telltale signs of Syrian interference. Moreover, as the Doha agreement gives Hezbollah substantial influence in formulating a new elections law, Syria has acquired a new means for interfering in Lebanese politics for many years to come.

Ultimately, Sarkozy seems to have embraced the Doha agreement for the same reason that the Bush administration has: because it resolved the Lebanese political crisis without a civil war, which-thanks to constantly increasing support from Iran via Syria-Hezbollah might have won. Yet, unlike the Bush administration–which bizarrely sat on the sidelines throughout the presidential standoff–Sarkozy made clear demands of Syria. To surrender those demands completely in favor of the Doha agreement’s short-term quiet is the ultimate appeasement.

Throughout the six-month Lebanese presidential crisis, France remained the lone western party actively engaged in monitoring the Lebanese political process. In this vein, French President Nicholas Sarkozy pushed for the Hezbollah-led opposition to accept the will of the parliamentary majority and elect consensus candidate Michel Suleiman president without preconditions. In late December, Sarkozy demonstrated impressive guts when he publicly blamed Syria for the ongoing crisis and suspended contacts with Damascus until it ended its interference–all with Egypt’s diplomatic support. The move left Syria stunned, and France seemed to finally have a president who was willing to play hardball with anti-western forces.

Well, Sarkozy’s response to last week’s Doha agreement–which resolved the political crisis in terms favorable to Hezbollah–should dash such fantasies. Yesterday, Sarkozy phoned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to thank him for his “tireless efforts” in support of the Doha agreement, vowing to strengthen economic and political ties between Damascus and Paris and restoring full diplomatic relations. This only adds to the political windfall that Syria achieved through the Doha agreement–which strengthened its allies within Lebanon–and the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency proudly posted photos of long-lost friends Sarkozy and Assad atop its website.

Make no mistake: Sarkozy’s phone call to Assad represents a diplomatic retreat of epic proportions, as Sarkozy has entirely negated his strong stance against Syria’s role in Lebanon while achieving none of his demands! Indeed, the Doha agreement–which grants Hezbollah veto power within the current cabinet–has all the telltale signs of Syrian interference. Moreover, as the Doha agreement gives Hezbollah substantial influence in formulating a new elections law, Syria has acquired a new means for interfering in Lebanese politics for many years to come.

Ultimately, Sarkozy seems to have embraced the Doha agreement for the same reason that the Bush administration has: because it resolved the Lebanese political crisis without a civil war, which-thanks to constantly increasing support from Iran via Syria-Hezbollah might have won. Yet, unlike the Bush administration–which bizarrely sat on the sidelines throughout the presidential standoff–Sarkozy made clear demands of Syria. To surrender those demands completely in favor of the Doha agreement’s short-term quiet is the ultimate appeasement.

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Bookshelf

Is it possible for one person to write a first-rate large-scale reference book? Of course–if he’s Samuel Johnson. But even Dr. Johnson found it famously difficult to bring his Dictionary into being, and though there have been any number of noble successors to that great work, most of the significant reference books to be published in modern and postmodern times have been group efforts. The principal exceptions to this rule are books which, like H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage, H.L. Mencken’s New Dictionary of Quotations, or David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film, intentionally reflect the idiosyncratic personalities of their authors, and one normally turns to books such as these in search of illumination or amusement, not information.

When it comes to works of pure reference, the opposite rule holds true, and the wider the field of interest, the harder it is for an individual author, no matter how well informed he may be, to produce a book that is both comprehensive and trustworthy. Hence I was more than a little bit surprised to discover that The Oxford Companion to the American Musical: Theatre, Film, and Television (Oxford, 923 pp., $39.95) is the work of a single scholar, Thomas Hischak, and not surprised at all that it isn’t nearly as good as it ought to be.

Unearthing mistakes in a reference book is the sport of pedants, but the whole point of such tomes is that they should be scrupulously accurate, and I regret to say that I didn’t have to dig too deeply in the new Oxford Companion to pick nits, starting with an unacceptably high number of misspelled names (Sherie Rene Scott, Michel Legrand, Casey Nicolaw), missing persons (Conrad Salinger, Twyla Tharp) and mangled song titles (“Public Melody No. 1″). Nor does Hischak have the gift of writing the crisp, informative definitional prose that is indispensable to the lexicographer’s craft. Far more often than not he settles for flabby, anodyne boilerplate, especially when musical matters are involved. Here, for instance, is what he has to say about Leonard Bernstein’s compositional style: “His theatre music uses a variety of forms, from jazz to Latin to classical, and can be explosive and thrilling as well as tender and reflective.” True enough, I suppose, but does it tell you anything about Bernstein’s music beyond the immediately obvious? Another glaring example of his limp descriptive powers is the first sentence of his entry on Cabaret: “Arguably the most innovative, hard-hitting, and uncompromising musical of the 1960s, the powerful music-drama made few concessions to escapist entertainment, yet it was and remains very popular.” Again, this is true as far as it goes, but it is neither notably insightful nor memorably written.

In recent years Oxford University Press has acquired a reputation for publishing ill-edited books, and this one is-to put it very, very mildly-no exception. Somebody really should have stopped Hischak from describing Irving Caesar’s lyrics as “simple, direct, and sometimes contagious,” or referring to An American in Paris as a “symphonic suite.” At times his syntax comes totally unstuck: “Baxter’s career fell apart in the 1940s, suffered a nervous breakdown, and underwent a lobotomy before dying of pneumonia.” Poor career!

All these problems notwithstanding, The Oxford Companion to the American Musical is for the most part a reliable, fact-crammed reference tool, and I expect to keep my copy handy for some time to come. But it isn’t the vade mecum I’d hoped for, not by a long shot.

Is it possible for one person to write a first-rate large-scale reference book? Of course–if he’s Samuel Johnson. But even Dr. Johnson found it famously difficult to bring his Dictionary into being, and though there have been any number of noble successors to that great work, most of the significant reference books to be published in modern and postmodern times have been group efforts. The principal exceptions to this rule are books which, like H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage, H.L. Mencken’s New Dictionary of Quotations, or David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film, intentionally reflect the idiosyncratic personalities of their authors, and one normally turns to books such as these in search of illumination or amusement, not information.

When it comes to works of pure reference, the opposite rule holds true, and the wider the field of interest, the harder it is for an individual author, no matter how well informed he may be, to produce a book that is both comprehensive and trustworthy. Hence I was more than a little bit surprised to discover that The Oxford Companion to the American Musical: Theatre, Film, and Television (Oxford, 923 pp., $39.95) is the work of a single scholar, Thomas Hischak, and not surprised at all that it isn’t nearly as good as it ought to be.

Unearthing mistakes in a reference book is the sport of pedants, but the whole point of such tomes is that they should be scrupulously accurate, and I regret to say that I didn’t have to dig too deeply in the new Oxford Companion to pick nits, starting with an unacceptably high number of misspelled names (Sherie Rene Scott, Michel Legrand, Casey Nicolaw), missing persons (Conrad Salinger, Twyla Tharp) and mangled song titles (“Public Melody No. 1″). Nor does Hischak have the gift of writing the crisp, informative definitional prose that is indispensable to the lexicographer’s craft. Far more often than not he settles for flabby, anodyne boilerplate, especially when musical matters are involved. Here, for instance, is what he has to say about Leonard Bernstein’s compositional style: “His theatre music uses a variety of forms, from jazz to Latin to classical, and can be explosive and thrilling as well as tender and reflective.” True enough, I suppose, but does it tell you anything about Bernstein’s music beyond the immediately obvious? Another glaring example of his limp descriptive powers is the first sentence of his entry on Cabaret: “Arguably the most innovative, hard-hitting, and uncompromising musical of the 1960s, the powerful music-drama made few concessions to escapist entertainment, yet it was and remains very popular.” Again, this is true as far as it goes, but it is neither notably insightful nor memorably written.

In recent years Oxford University Press has acquired a reputation for publishing ill-edited books, and this one is-to put it very, very mildly-no exception. Somebody really should have stopped Hischak from describing Irving Caesar’s lyrics as “simple, direct, and sometimes contagious,” or referring to An American in Paris as a “symphonic suite.” At times his syntax comes totally unstuck: “Baxter’s career fell apart in the 1940s, suffered a nervous breakdown, and underwent a lobotomy before dying of pneumonia.” Poor career!

All these problems notwithstanding, The Oxford Companion to the American Musical is for the most part a reliable, fact-crammed reference tool, and I expect to keep my copy handy for some time to come. But it isn’t the vade mecum I’d hoped for, not by a long shot.

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Close Gitmo, Open the National Security Court

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch presents the maximalist position of civil liberties advocates when it comes to the War on Terror: He argues not only that we should close the detention facility at Guantanamo (which I agree with), but also that we should either try suspects in the criminal courts under standard criminal procedures or else release them. That’s going a bit too far for me, or, I suspect, most other Americans. To see why, consider this AP report:

Al-Arabiya television reports that a former Guantanamo detainee carried out a recent suicide bombing in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

A cousin says Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti released from Guantanamo in 2005, was reported missing two weeks ago and his family learned of his death Thursday through a friend in Iraq.

The cousin, Salem al-Ajmi, told Al-Arabiya on Thursday that the former detainee was behind the latest attack in Mosul, although he did not provide more details.

Three suicide car bombers targeted Iraqi security forces in Mosul on April 26, killing at least seven people.

Because it was “only” Iraqis who were killed, this apparent attack by a former Gitmo detainee will not cause much uproar in the United States. But imagine if he had struck not in Mosul but in New York, Paris, or London. Then it would be a different story. To avoid such a dire scenario, we need to have a way of dealing with detainees that goes beyond the normal safeguards of the criminal justice system.

Jack Goldsmith and Neal Katyal–the former a conservative law professor who served in the Bush Justice Department, the latter a liberal law professor who represented one of the Gitmo detainees in a successful appeal to the Supreme Court in 2006–have proposed just such a system: setting up a federal National Security Court run by specially selected federal judges. Roth argues against this idea, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch presents the maximalist position of civil liberties advocates when it comes to the War on Terror: He argues not only that we should close the detention facility at Guantanamo (which I agree with), but also that we should either try suspects in the criminal courts under standard criminal procedures or else release them. That’s going a bit too far for me, or, I suspect, most other Americans. To see why, consider this AP report:

Al-Arabiya television reports that a former Guantanamo detainee carried out a recent suicide bombing in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

A cousin says Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti released from Guantanamo in 2005, was reported missing two weeks ago and his family learned of his death Thursday through a friend in Iraq.

The cousin, Salem al-Ajmi, told Al-Arabiya on Thursday that the former detainee was behind the latest attack in Mosul, although he did not provide more details.

Three suicide car bombers targeted Iraqi security forces in Mosul on April 26, killing at least seven people.

Because it was “only” Iraqis who were killed, this apparent attack by a former Gitmo detainee will not cause much uproar in the United States. But imagine if he had struck not in Mosul but in New York, Paris, or London. Then it would be a different story. To avoid such a dire scenario, we need to have a way of dealing with detainees that goes beyond the normal safeguards of the criminal justice system.

Jack Goldsmith and Neal Katyal–the former a conservative law professor who served in the Bush Justice Department, the latter a liberal law professor who represented one of the Gitmo detainees in a successful appeal to the Supreme Court in 2006–have proposed just such a system: setting up a federal National Security Court run by specially selected federal judges. Roth argues against this idea, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

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“Patriotic” Chinese Protests

Sunday, thousands of angry Chinese took to the streets in anti-foreigner protests in major cities in China, including Wuhan, Harbin, Jinan, Xian, Qingdao, and Dalian. The demonstrations followed those occurring on Friday and Saturday, which took place around the country, including Beijing, Kunming, and Hefei. They were the largest anti-foreign protests in three years, since anti-Japan riots shook Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities in China.

Young Chinese, upset at foreign media coverage of recent ethnic disturbances and pro-Tibetan protests around the world, gathered in front of foreign stores, declared a boycott of French retailer Carrefour, and carried pictures of Mao Zedong. “Condemn CNN” and “Shut up you French,” seen on banners over the weekend, expressed popular sentiment. “We’re supporting the Olympics and boycotting Tibetan independence,” said the organizer of one of the demonstrations in the Chinese capital. As Zhu Xiaomeng, a student in Beijing who has been organizing a boycott of French companies, noted, “After 5,000 years, we’re not so soft anymore.”

That’s the message Beijing wants you to hear. Chinese state media triggered the protests in China with noxious anti-French stories that began appearing about a week ago, and Beijing has fueled demonstrations in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, London, Birmingham, and Manchester in Europe and San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, and Washington, D.C. by paying “patriotic” Chinese to participate.

The ugly tactic seems to be working. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, will be sending three envoys to Beijing to try to limit the damage (the first left France yesterday). He also invited Jin Jing, a disabled fencer who protected the Olympic flame in the Paris torch relay from protesters, to be his “personal guest.” There is, however, evidence that Beijing manufactured the incident that made the “wheelchair angel” a national symbol of Chinese defiance.

So the West is being intimidated once again by arrogant Chinese rulers. Eventually, we will learn that Beijing has been manipulating us all along. In the meantime, Western leaders will continue to apologize to the Middle Kingdom whenever it gets into a snit.

Sunday, thousands of angry Chinese took to the streets in anti-foreigner protests in major cities in China, including Wuhan, Harbin, Jinan, Xian, Qingdao, and Dalian. The demonstrations followed those occurring on Friday and Saturday, which took place around the country, including Beijing, Kunming, and Hefei. They were the largest anti-foreign protests in three years, since anti-Japan riots shook Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities in China.

Young Chinese, upset at foreign media coverage of recent ethnic disturbances and pro-Tibetan protests around the world, gathered in front of foreign stores, declared a boycott of French retailer Carrefour, and carried pictures of Mao Zedong. “Condemn CNN” and “Shut up you French,” seen on banners over the weekend, expressed popular sentiment. “We’re supporting the Olympics and boycotting Tibetan independence,” said the organizer of one of the demonstrations in the Chinese capital. As Zhu Xiaomeng, a student in Beijing who has been organizing a boycott of French companies, noted, “After 5,000 years, we’re not so soft anymore.”

That’s the message Beijing wants you to hear. Chinese state media triggered the protests in China with noxious anti-French stories that began appearing about a week ago, and Beijing has fueled demonstrations in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, London, Birmingham, and Manchester in Europe and San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, and Washington, D.C. by paying “patriotic” Chinese to participate.

The ugly tactic seems to be working. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, will be sending three envoys to Beijing to try to limit the damage (the first left France yesterday). He also invited Jin Jing, a disabled fencer who protected the Olympic flame in the Paris torch relay from protesters, to be his “personal guest.” There is, however, evidence that Beijing manufactured the incident that made the “wheelchair angel” a national symbol of Chinese defiance.

So the West is being intimidated once again by arrogant Chinese rulers. Eventually, we will learn that Beijing has been manipulating us all along. In the meantime, Western leaders will continue to apologize to the Middle Kingdom whenever it gets into a snit.

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