Commentary Magazine


Topic: religious extremism

Why Smear Israel and Whitewash Iran?

The decision of the Obama administration to take a firm stand on Iran’s decision to send one of the participants in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran to serve as its ambassador to the United Nations may have surprised the Islamist regime. A year of diplomacy aimed at appeasing the Iranians and allowing them to keep their nuclear infrastructure must have convinced Tehran that there was almost nothing it could do to get a rise out of Washington. By denying the terrorist turned diplomat a visa, the president indicated that he understood there are limits to how far he can go toward accommodating the ayatollahs in an effort to get out of having to keep his campaign pledges on the nuclear issue. The dismay among some of the foreign-policy establishment about the latent hostility toward Iran that was illustrated by the anger over the appointment was palpable.

But those determined to push the dubious theory that the election of Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s faux presidential election last year indicates a shift to moderation are undaunted. The New York Times has been a notable advocate for this position on both its editorial and news pages, but it surpassed itself today with the publication of a remarkable piece by two scholars alleging that not only is the Islamist regime changing but that Iran and Israel are like two ships passing in the night as the Jewish state becomes an extremist theocracy. That its thesis is an absurd libel of Israel and a whitewash of Iran is so obvious it is barely worth the effort to refute it. In short, Israel is a pluralist democracy where the rule of law prevails despite the ongoing war being waged against its existence by most of the Arab and Muslim world. Iran is a theocratic tyranny where free expression and freedom of religion are forbidden and women, gays, and minorities are brutally oppressed. Iran is also the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and its foreign policy is aimed at propping up one of the world’s worst tyrants in Syria’s Bashar Assad as well as Hezbollah and other terrorists seeking to destabilize the Middle East.

So while the argument that the Times featured today is so risible as to merit satire rather than a lengthy response, it is worth asking why the newspaper gives space to such laughable arguments. The answer is both simple and not particularly funny. Some portions of the foreign-policy establishment in this country—of which the Times remains a leading outlet—are deeply unhappy about the resilience of the U.S.-Israel alliance even after more than five years of Obama administration efforts to downgrade these ties and desirous of détente with Iran. Such articles say more about confidence in the success of the slow-motion betrayal of President Obama’s promise to stop Iran’s nuclear program than they do about either Israel or Iran.

Read More

The decision of the Obama administration to take a firm stand on Iran’s decision to send one of the participants in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran to serve as its ambassador to the United Nations may have surprised the Islamist regime. A year of diplomacy aimed at appeasing the Iranians and allowing them to keep their nuclear infrastructure must have convinced Tehran that there was almost nothing it could do to get a rise out of Washington. By denying the terrorist turned diplomat a visa, the president indicated that he understood there are limits to how far he can go toward accommodating the ayatollahs in an effort to get out of having to keep his campaign pledges on the nuclear issue. The dismay among some of the foreign-policy establishment about the latent hostility toward Iran that was illustrated by the anger over the appointment was palpable.

But those determined to push the dubious theory that the election of Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s faux presidential election last year indicates a shift to moderation are undaunted. The New York Times has been a notable advocate for this position on both its editorial and news pages, but it surpassed itself today with the publication of a remarkable piece by two scholars alleging that not only is the Islamist regime changing but that Iran and Israel are like two ships passing in the night as the Jewish state becomes an extremist theocracy. That its thesis is an absurd libel of Israel and a whitewash of Iran is so obvious it is barely worth the effort to refute it. In short, Israel is a pluralist democracy where the rule of law prevails despite the ongoing war being waged against its existence by most of the Arab and Muslim world. Iran is a theocratic tyranny where free expression and freedom of religion are forbidden and women, gays, and minorities are brutally oppressed. Iran is also the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and its foreign policy is aimed at propping up one of the world’s worst tyrants in Syria’s Bashar Assad as well as Hezbollah and other terrorists seeking to destabilize the Middle East.

So while the argument that the Times featured today is so risible as to merit satire rather than a lengthy response, it is worth asking why the newspaper gives space to such laughable arguments. The answer is both simple and not particularly funny. Some portions of the foreign-policy establishment in this country—of which the Times remains a leading outlet—are deeply unhappy about the resilience of the U.S.-Israel alliance even after more than five years of Obama administration efforts to downgrade these ties and desirous of détente with Iran. Such articles say more about confidence in the success of the slow-motion betrayal of President Obama’s promise to stop Iran’s nuclear program than they do about either Israel or Iran.

As for the notion that Israel is becoming more extremist and Iran more moderate, only by cherry-picking scattered facts about either nation can one possibly justify such an absurd pair of arguments. Suffice it to say that while Israel’s Orthodox population is growing and the conflict between some elements of the Haredi community and the rest of the country is troubling, there is simply no coherent analogy to be drawn between even the ultra-Orthodox parties and the Islamist leadership in Iran. While the Haredi leadership deserves criticism for the way it has discredited Judaism in the eyes of Israel’s secular majority as well its stances on education and universal military service, it is not guilty of terrorism. Moreover, despite the assumption that Israel is becoming more extreme, it must be pointed out that the political influence of the Haredim is at its lowest point in the country’s recent history as their parties have, for the first time in decades, been excluded from the government, even one led from the right by Benjamin Netanyahu. The authors assume that criticism from that government of U.S. pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians is a sign of extremism. But such sentiments merely represent realism on the part of an Israeli public—both secular and religious—that understands that the Palestinians aren’t interested in peace. Far from Israels government and people abandoning democracy as the authors charge, it is those Israelis who rationalize the anti-Semitic boycotts of the state who are seeking to overturn the verdicts of the ballot box by foreign pressure and economic warfare.

As for Iran, the authors can cite no real evidence that Rouhani’s election has changed the country. That’s because there is none. It remains a vicious tyranny and the clerics and their military followers show no sign of loosening the grip on power as the reaction to the 2009 Tehran protests illustrated.

But the willingness of the Times to give such prominent play to the authors’ ridiculous assertions does tell us a lot about how important the smearing of Israel and the whitewashing of Iran is to the success of a foreign policy aimed at détente with Tehran. While seemingly unimportant in the great scheme of things, the dustup about Iran’s U.N. appointment shows that Americans and in particular Congress has not yet been persuaded by Kerry to think well of Iran. Those who confidently predict, as do the authors of this travesty, that Israel’s alliance with the U.S. will not stand the test of time understand neither the lasting bonds between these two great democracies nor the difference between Israeli freedom and Iranian despotism.

Read Less

Pinkwashing? Gay Rights Shows the Difference Between Israel and Palestinians

Some people don’t want to talk about gay rights in the Middle East. The left calls it “pinkwashing” and treats it as irrelevant to any analysis of the region. But it remains a fascinating window into two societies. As the Times of Israel reports, gay Palestinian Arabs are flocking to supposedly repressive Israel. In the West Bank and Gaza, they face persecution and death. In Israel, they find freedom.

Palestinian gays not only can’t come out at home. If they want to meet as a group, the only place they can go is Tel Aviv, where as the Times of Israel notes, a monthly gathering called the Palestinian Queer Party convenes. That’s because the repressive Muslim culture that predominates in the territories considers gays to be anathemas while Israel is a liberal democracy where, despite deep differences between various elements of society, people can live and do as they please. Though the “Israel is apartheid” crowd is at pains to stifle discussion of the gay angle to the Middle East conflict, it actually tells you all you need to know about the difference between the two societies and why hopes for peace need to wait until Palestinians embrace freedom for their own people as well as coexistence with Jews.

Read More

Some people don’t want to talk about gay rights in the Middle East. The left calls it “pinkwashing” and treats it as irrelevant to any analysis of the region. But it remains a fascinating window into two societies. As the Times of Israel reports, gay Palestinian Arabs are flocking to supposedly repressive Israel. In the West Bank and Gaza, they face persecution and death. In Israel, they find freedom.

Palestinian gays not only can’t come out at home. If they want to meet as a group, the only place they can go is Tel Aviv, where as the Times of Israel notes, a monthly gathering called the Palestinian Queer Party convenes. That’s because the repressive Muslim culture that predominates in the territories considers gays to be anathemas while Israel is a liberal democracy where, despite deep differences between various elements of society, people can live and do as they please. Though the “Israel is apartheid” crowd is at pains to stifle discussion of the gay angle to the Middle East conflict, it actually tells you all you need to know about the difference between the two societies and why hopes for peace need to wait until Palestinians embrace freedom for their own people as well as coexistence with Jews.

The stories in the Times of Israel piece don’t speak to the national conflict between Arabs and Jews. But they do speak volumes about one of the main points Israel’s defenders harp on: the fact that it is the region’s only true democracy. What the Palestinians have created for themselves in their independent state in all but name in Gaza and their autonomous government in the West Bank are two more places on the globe where human rights are not respected and violence rules.

The connection between the violence the ruling Palestinian groups use on their own people is not unrelated to the violence they attempt to inflict on the Israelis. The absence of political freedom makes peace with Israel a difficult proposition under the best of circumstances. But the influence of radical Islamist ideology, even in the West Bank that is supposedly more liberal than Hamas-ruled Gaza, makes it even more unlikely. That’s why the ability of the Islamist clerics and their supporters to terrorize gays is an indicator of a lack of desire for peace.

Israel is a free country, something you wouldn’t know if your only view of the Jewish state was delivered to you by mainstream media coverage. The anti-Israel crowd can call mentions of gay rights “pinkwashing.” But all that means is that they don’t wish to acknowledge the difference between Israeli and Palestinian cultures.

Read Less