Commentary Magazine


Topic: terrorism

Conspiracy Theories and Palestinian Terror

Israel is not only still reeling from the horror of a Palestinian terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue earlier this week. Almost as shocking is the spectacle of hatred in Arab neighborhoods and cities in Jerusalem, the West Bank Gaza in which the two terrorists that hacked and shot four Jews praying and a Druze policeman are being treated as heroes. Yet the crime as well as the sometimes-violent demonstrations of glee and laudatory statements from Palestinian leaders about the murder of civilians has been largely treated in the Western media as just another unfortunate tit-for-tat between two warring peoples. Even worse, the motivation for terror attacks as well as the applause they generate is being represented as a function of Palestinian complaints about settlements, alleged discrimination or funding issues. But, as this report from the Times of Israel tracing the events of the last week shows, the explanations offered by the New York Times, to choose just the most egregious example of distorted coverage, are completely missing the madness that is driving the conflict.

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Israel is not only still reeling from the horror of a Palestinian terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue earlier this week. Almost as shocking is the spectacle of hatred in Arab neighborhoods and cities in Jerusalem, the West Bank Gaza in which the two terrorists that hacked and shot four Jews praying and a Druze policeman are being treated as heroes. Yet the crime as well as the sometimes-violent demonstrations of glee and laudatory statements from Palestinian leaders about the murder of civilians has been largely treated in the Western media as just another unfortunate tit-for-tat between two warring peoples. Even worse, the motivation for terror attacks as well as the applause they generate is being represented as a function of Palestinian complaints about settlements, alleged discrimination or funding issues. But, as this report from the Times of Israel tracing the events of the last week shows, the explanations offered by the New York Times, to choose just the most egregious example of distorted coverage, are completely missing the madness that is driving the conflict.

As the Times of Israel reports, the genesis of the synagogue attack and its violent aftermath may have been fueled in no small part by false reports about the murder of a Palestinian bus driver. The man was found hanged in his bus and both Israeli and Palestinian coroners ruled that the death was obviously a suicide. But in the hothouse Palestinian rumor mill in which conspiracy theories about alleged Jewish atrocities are the coin of the realm, this, along with wild claims about Israeli “violation of women at al-Aksa” was enough to send two men into a synagogue to murder and untold thousands of their compatriots into the streets to support their crime.

This is a significant fact because Western journalists, such as the New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren, have been seeking to explain the atrocity and the support for it by linking it to critiques of Israeli policies about allowing Jews to move to parts of Jerusalem or municipal funding policies that may short change Arabs. I have already critiqued Rudoren’s reporting in terms of its misperceptions about what is negotiable in the conflict as well as her false claims of moral equivalence about attacks on houses of worship. Our Seth Mandel also touched on these issues as well as Rudoren’s claims that her critics are biased.

But the big picture here is not so much the poor performance of the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief as it is the failure by her paper and most other mainstream publishing outlets to delve deeper into the real roots of Palestinian anger. By choosing to obsess over policy questions that dovetail with Obama administration complaints about Israel’s government, Rudoren ignored the mania of hate that seems to bubble up from the Palestinian street. That not only fails to explain what sends Palestinians out to slaughter Jews or to cheer such actions, it also demonstrates a lack of understanding as to why the conflict as a whole is so impervious to solutions.

If Palestinian leaders have consistently and repeatedly rejected Israeli peace offers throughout the last 15 years and, indeed, all chances at territorial compromise dating back to the 1930s, it is because their political culture is still driven by the same factors that led to the Har Nof massacre this week as well as the pogroms of 1929 and 1936 that were similarly motivated by false rumors about Jewish activity on the Temple Mount. It’s not just that Palestinians have had hatred for Jews driven into them by their leaders and media for a century, it’s that their view of the conflict is one that is rooted in belief that Jews are an enemy that must be driven from the land.

Israelis and their government are not perfect but the willingness of Palestinians to believe any tall tale about Jewish crimes has little to do with the Netanyahu government’s policies and everything to do with a variant of Jew hatred that has found a home in the Middle East in the last 100 years. While it is possible to talk about what Israel might do to appease their antagonists’ ambitions in order to promote peace, it is this virus of anti-Semitism that must be addressed if any Palestinian leader will ever have the courage to sign a peace deal with the Israelis that will recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn.

The lunacy that leads to blood-soaked bodies lying on a synagogue floor begins with this hate and paranoia that has driven itself deep into the psyche of the Palestinian imagination. It is the same psychosis that allows Palestinian Authority media and officials to promote conspiracy theories and praise terrorists. So long as even a supposed moderate such as PA leader Mahmoud Abbas can call a terrorist murderer a “martyr” who went straight to heaven, why should we be surprised that Jerusalem and West Bank Arabs think the Jews are raping Muslims on the Temple Mount or murdering bus drivers, even though these are imaginary crimes?

So long as mainstream media outlets ignore the truth about Palestinian politics and terror, it is also no surprise that their coverage of the conflict tells us more about their biases than anything happening on the ground.

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Jodi Rudoren and the Key Fallacy That Explains Media Ignorance

When I began my career as a young reporter straight out of college, it became immediately clear to me how much I didn’t know. That realization almost certainly saved my career because it taught me a lesson I later heard best expressed by Brit Hume: “Fairness is not an attitude. Fairness is a skill.” My editors took journalistic ethics seriously, and the reporters at our company took notice. When reporters in our newsroom got criticism over accusations of bias, they gave them appropriate consideration. They never would have worn them as a badge of honor. They never would have acted as unethically and unprofessionally, in other words, as Jodi Rudoren.

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When I began my career as a young reporter straight out of college, it became immediately clear to me how much I didn’t know. That realization almost certainly saved my career because it taught me a lesson I later heard best expressed by Brit Hume: “Fairness is not an attitude. Fairness is a skill.” My editors took journalistic ethics seriously, and the reporters at our company took notice. When reporters in our newsroom got criticism over accusations of bias, they gave them appropriate consideration. They never would have worn them as a badge of honor. They never would have acted as unethically and unprofessionally, in other words, as Jodi Rudoren.

The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief has established a record of not just inaccurate reporting but the kind of mistakes that should never get through layers of editors and fact checkers. This week on Twitter I criticized Rudoren’s latest batch of advocacy journalism for its many mistakes and also for how easily those mistakes could be prevented by going through the normal reporting process. Rudoren has responded to the Washington Examiner, and her reaction is quite telling. It boils down to: nothing will change, because she refuses to know what she doesn’t know.

The Examiner tried to reach out to me for comment, the request never came through, and so the article went up without it. It’s worth responding now, especially since Rudoren’s comments are so revealing and are themselves a thorough indictment of mainstream journalistic ethics. Here is the crux of her response to the Examiner:

“Broadly speaking, most of the criticism of our coverage, and it is immense, is not rooted in the values of mainstream journalism, but is done from the prism of advocacy. Frequently, these critics ignore the stories or parts of stories that don’t fit with their pre-determined conclusion of our bias (and we have pretty much equal accusations of biases on both sides),” New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren told the Washington Examiner.

“They often try to subject stories or sentences to some kind of scoring system — good for Israel, bad for Israel — which is problematic because the stories, and the subjects, are much more complex and nuanced than that,” Rudoren added.

It’s impossible not to notice that Rudoren’s comments prove the criticism of her to be completely correct. And she is making it clear she refuses to learn more, because she regards that learning process itself as a concession to her critics. Out of sheer pride, Rudoren will remain uninformed.

There are several critiques to unpack in her response, but the most important one is this: “we have pretty much equal accusations of biases on both sides.” Rudoren is a firm believer in the single most toxic fallacy that bad reporters believe in. Namely, the idea that if both sides of an issue hate your writing, you must be doing something right. In fact, it often means you are doing a great deal wrong.

That’s because both sides can be right in their criticism. Imagine another industry in which someone’s behavior receives howls of disapproval from all sides, and the person involved takes that to mean they must be doing their job well. It’s delusional, and we would say so. And so we should say so here. If there is a consensus that you’re terrible at your job, that consensus is not to be worn as a badge of honor. Rudoren, embarrassingly enough, believes it should be.

But there’s more to Rudoren’s statement, and it explains why she sees criticism of her as illegitimate. Pro-Israel readers who object to Rudoren’s reporting are considered by her to be uninterested in the truth and acting out of loyalty to Israel. It’s not surprising that a resident of the leftist bubble that is the Times would think this, but it’s rather amazing that she thinks it’s appropriate to say.

Later on in the article, she tells the Examiner that “People who are passionate about the issue and have a personal stake in it often struggle to see the full picture.” What she is saying is that people devoted to an issue–experts, for example–are to be dismissed. Rarely has a mainstream reporter embraced this kind of strident anti-intellectualism publicly, and even suggested that it forms the bedrock of their professional outlook.

And in addition to the anti-intellectualism, Rudoren says that her detractors are not “rooted in the values of mainstream journalism.” This is provably false. In fact, much of the criticism of her that prompted this exchange was based precisely in her own failure to adhere to basic journalistic ethics. I noted, for example, that she made statements about vandalism against mosques in Israel without providing numbers or even a citation. It turned out not to be true; she is just making up inflammatory “facts.” But in order to know that, you have to do the journalism that Rudoren refuses to do. You have to be her fact checker, in other words.

The ignorance of reporters about the subjects they cover is an ongoing problem, and it’s especially egregious when the subject turns to religion. Yet often when reporters take their base of knowledge of a subject and arrogantly assume it’s all they’ll ever need to know, they at least know something–anything, even basic information–about the issue. That’s not the case with Rudoren. Her mistakes include those that are disproved by merely looking at a map, for instance.

Somewhere along the line, liberal reporters and editors decided that the greater the depth and breadth of criticism of their work, the better they assumed it to be. This attitude has produced the work of Jodi Rudoren as its inevitable consequence. And it’s how, seemingly against all odds, coverage of Israel is still getting worse. The hope is that Rudoren represents the media hitting bottom, but I fear we’re not there yet.

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No Moral Equivalence for Synagogue Terror

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s terror attack in Jerusalem in which two Palestinian terrorists slaughtered four Jews in a synagogue, the international media was forced to change, at least for a day or two, their consistent narrative about the Middle East conflict which centered on alleged Israeli misbehavior rather than the reality of Palestinian intransigence, incitement, and violence. But even under these egregious circumstances, mainstream journalists sought to establish a flimsy moral equivalence between this atrocity and what they sought to claim were comparable Israeli outrages conducted against Muslims. An example of this came in the analysis by the New York Times’s Jodi Rudoren who asserted, “Jewish vandalism against mosques is a regular occurrence.” But while such regrettable instances have occurred, they are not “regular” and pale in comparison to the toll of Arab terrorism directed at Jewish targets.

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In the aftermath of Tuesday’s terror attack in Jerusalem in which two Palestinian terrorists slaughtered four Jews in a synagogue, the international media was forced to change, at least for a day or two, their consistent narrative about the Middle East conflict which centered on alleged Israeli misbehavior rather than the reality of Palestinian intransigence, incitement, and violence. But even under these egregious circumstances, mainstream journalists sought to establish a flimsy moral equivalence between this atrocity and what they sought to claim were comparable Israeli outrages conducted against Muslims. An example of this came in the analysis by the New York Times’s Jodi Rudoren who asserted, “Jewish vandalism against mosques is a regular occurrence.” But while such regrettable instances have occurred, they are not “regular” and pale in comparison to the toll of Arab terrorism directed at Jewish targets.

While much is made in both the Israeli and international media about “price tag” attacks from Israelis, especially West Bank settlers, against Arabs, an Internet listing of all such attacks in the last seven years yields approximately 20 such vandalism incidents against mosques. While each one deserves condemnation and punishment for the perpetrators, an average of two or three a year hardly counts as an epidemic. That is especially true when the same vilified West Bank settlers suffer daily attacks on their persons and property including deadly instances of terrorism as well as mere graffiti or arson. These attacks are so common that they rarely merit news coverage even in Israel, let alone the foreign press.

Among the attacks on Jewish targets in the West Bank was the burning of a historic Jewish synagogue in Jericho and the sack of the synagogue at the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus in 2000 at the start of the second intifada. During that assault a Muslim mob assisted by Palestinian Authority policemen desecrated sacred Jewish objects and then burned the building to the ground. Rudoren felt no need to mention these incidents in her attempt to provide historical context for this week’s terror attack.

Yet she did cite the 1994 murder of 29 Muslim worshippers by Baruch Goldstein as an example of how Jews have also committed terror. But that example actually tells us more about the lack of moral equivalence than anything else.

It should be remembered that Goldstein’s insane murder spree was condemned not only by the Israeli government but was widely condemned by a consensus of Israeli society. Goldstein’s act was considered a blot on the honor of the Jewish people by all but a few mad extremists on the far right. Just as important, it resulted in the banning by the Israeli government of Kach, the group of radical followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

By contrast, Palestinian society embraced the two synagogue murderers as heroes this week. Their act of barbarism was celebrated in the streets of Palestinian cities and endorsed by members of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party (though, forced by Secretary of State John Kerry, Abbas issued a condemnation) as well as their Hamas rivals. This is hardly surprising since Abbas had praised recent terror attacks on Jews by Palestinians and even said one who attempted to murder a Jewish activist was a “martyr” who went straight to heaven. Moreover, Goldstein’s murders still stand as one of the few examples of anti-Arab terrorism while attacks on Jews in the 20 years since his crime are almost too numerous to count.

The point here is not to excuse or rationalize any violence against Muslims, acts that are committed by only tiny minority and which almost all Israelis rightly condemn. It is to note that violence against Jews is considered praiseworthy by mainstream Palestinian culture. Seeking to treat such acts as if they are merely the other side of the coin from Jewish crimes isn’t merely a distortion of the facts, it is a willful attempt to obfuscate the truth about a conflict in which only one side is committed to the destruction of the other.

As I wrote yesterday, the cycle of violence in the Middle East is fed by a political culture that treats the war on Jews and Zionism as inextricably linked to Palestinian national identity. No amount of false moral equivalence by Rudoren or any other Western reporter can alter the fact that until that changes, we will continue to see more such attacks on Jews. Until the West and its media stops treating the Palestinian commitment to violence as somehow the fault of Israeli misbehavior or no different than isolated acts committed by Israelis, the Palestinians won’t get the message that this has to end if peace is to ever be achieved.

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The Dubious Embrace of Palestinian Unilateralism

A new craze is sweeping European politics: Palestinian unilateralism. One by one Europe’s parliaments and governments are choosing to endorse recognition of Palestinian statehood outside of any peace process with Israel. In doing so these democratic assemblies are sabotaging the very peaceful two-state outcome that they claim to believe in. And yet for many of those driving these moves, although they may talk the language of peace, this is now becoming about something quite different. It is not so much ending the conflict that appears to be galvanizing these parliamentary resolutions, but rather a completely warped notion of “justice.” Realizing the obsession of Palestinian statehood is the goal, regardless of whether it brings peace or not.

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A new craze is sweeping European politics: Palestinian unilateralism. One by one Europe’s parliaments and governments are choosing to endorse recognition of Palestinian statehood outside of any peace process with Israel. In doing so these democratic assemblies are sabotaging the very peaceful two-state outcome that they claim to believe in. And yet for many of those driving these moves, although they may talk the language of peace, this is now becoming about something quite different. It is not so much ending the conflict that appears to be galvanizing these parliamentary resolutions, but rather a completely warped notion of “justice.” Realizing the obsession of Palestinian statehood is the goal, regardless of whether it brings peace or not.

Just this week the Spanish parliament voted in favor of such a move advocating recognition of Palestinian statehood, with 319 parliamentarians supporting the motion and just two opposing, and one abstention. Similar votes have already passed the British and Irish parliaments and the French are to have an equivalent vote at the end of the month. In these countries the parliamentary motions in question have been non-binding on the governments, although the French president already appeared to express support for backing unilateral Palestinian moves at the Security Council. The Swedish government, meanwhile, officially recognized Palestinian statehood back in October.

For anyone genuinely committed to a peaceful two-state outcome it should be plain enough to see that such votes can only hinder attempts to achieve a meaningful resolution of this conflict. Quite apart from the fact that these purely symbolic resolutions do nothing material to make Palestinian statehood a reality, they actually make reaching a two-state agreement still less likely. After all, the reasoning behind the two-state process was that the Palestinians would receive sovereignty in return for committing to safeguard Israel’s security. But if Palestinians are led to believe that ultimately the world will intervene to force their state into being, then all incentive to reach an agreement with Israel is nullified.

By supporting Palestinian unilateralism European countries threaten to wreck the possibility of the very land for peace agreement that they themselves have repeatedly insisted they wish to be the guarantors of. Because when it comes to land for peace they are telling the Palestinians that they can now get the former without having to give the latter in return. What Europe’s parliamentary assemblies are conspiring to create is a two-state non-solution in which conceivably a Palestinian state might be made a reality, but the conflict would only continue, and in all likelihood intensify.

The problem is that Israel and many of her supporters have in fact unwittingly laid the groundwork for such an outcome. Since the advent of Oslo, Israel has been embarking on a peace process that hasn’t brought it any closer to peace, but has gradually eroded its claim to much of the territory it holds and with that its international standing. The eagerness to end the conflict with the Palestinians by establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank has led Israel to surrender its claim to these territories, so inadvertently accepting the role as an illegitimate occupier of Palestinian land. As such, for the rest of the world creating a Palestinian state is becoming less and less about achieving peace and more and more about winning “justice” for the Palestinians.

After all, European lawmakers can hardly have failed to notice the way things have been going. Quite the opposite. Not only are they well aware that twenty years of negotiations have gone nowhere, but they must also have noticed that far from Israel’s territorial concessions advancing peace, these moves have only assisted Palestinian militants in waging war and in the process getting as many of their own people killed as possible. And yet Europe’s politicians don’t seem to care.

Another thing that they can’t have missed, and don’t seem to care about, is what Palestinians have actually done with sovereignty when they’ve achieved it. The brutal theocratic despotism of Hamas in Gaza cuts a pretty chilling impression of what life might be like in a Palestinian state of the future. Yet equally Mahmoud Abbas’s semi-autonomous polity in the West Bank is not only deeply undemocratic, it is also viciously oppressive of its own Palestinian population. And what’s more, rather than use this opportunity for nation building, Abbas and his gang have instead channeled their energies into endless incitement against Israel, the consequences of which we are only now beginning to see borne out with incidents such as this week’s horrific synagogue attack in Jerusalem. As Ruthie Blum pointed out in her recent Israel Hayom column, the way is being paved for Islamic State in Israel.

If European parliamentarians really cared about making peace through two states a reality then they would be doing everything to make it clear to Palestinians that intransigence, incitement, and violence will get them nowhere. Yet having lost interest in such tiresome matters as security and stability for Israelis and Palestinians, Europe’s politicians prefer to champion an abstract notion of “justice,” no matter how many people get hurt along the way.

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Bahraini Moral Clarity and the ‘Al-Aqsa in Danger’ Myth

The most surprising response to yesterday’s deadly attack on worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue came from the Bahraini foreign minister. “It is forbidden to react to the crimes of the Israeli occupation against our brothers in Palestine by killing innocents in a house of prayer,” Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa reportedly wrote on his Arabic-language Twitter feed. “Those who will pay the price for the crime of killing innocents in a Jewish synagogue and for welcoming the crime are the Palestinian people.”

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The most surprising response to yesterday’s deadly attack on worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue came from the Bahraini foreign minister. “It is forbidden to react to the crimes of the Israeli occupation against our brothers in Palestine by killing innocents in a house of prayer,” Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa reportedly wrote on his Arabic-language Twitter feed. “Those who will pay the price for the crime of killing innocents in a Jewish synagogue and for welcoming the crime are the Palestinian people.”

For a senior Arab official to publicly condemn the killing of Jews by Muslims at all–much less with such moral clarity, devoid of any attempt to create a false equivalence to Israeli “crimes–is so unusual that it cries out for explanation. And the most likely explanation lies in the violence that has swept the Middle East in recent years. In a world where Muslim innocents are being killed in houses of prayer on a regular basis by fellow Muslims, mosques in Israel and the West Bank–including Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque–remain among the safest places in the Mideast for Muslims to pray. And the Arab world’s pragmatic axis, of which Bahrain is part, has no interest in seeing that change.

In August, for instance, Shi’ite gunmen opened fire in a Sunni mosque in Iraq, killing at least 73 people. In October, a suicide bomber killed at least 18 people at a Shi’ite mosque in Iraq. Those are just two of the dozens of deadly mosque attacks in recent years that have killed thousands of Muslims in numerous countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, and Nigeria. Almost all the perpetrators were fellow Muslims–usually Shi’ites or Sunnis attacking each other’s institutions.

By contrast, Israel and the West Bank are safe havens. True, there have been some vandalistic attacks on mosques–though far fewer than in, say, Holland. But there hasn’t been a lethal attack on a mosque in two decades. Indeed, for all the Palestinians’ efforts to libel Jewish visits to the Temple Mount as “attacks” on Al-Aqsa, anyone who’s been paying attention realizes that mosques elsewhere in the Muslim world have been suffering far worse fates than innocuous Jewish visitors.

Granted, both the Palestinians themselves and many Westerners are too fixated on the Palestinian cause to care; recent Jewish visits to the Mount have generated far more uproar in the West than lethal mosque attacks elsewhere ever have. But the pragmatic Arab states, as I’ve written before, are quite aware that Israel is the least of their problems, and they’d rather it stay that way.

The pragmatic Arab states don’t want another Palestinian-Israeli war distracting global attention from problems they consider far more pressing, like ISIS and Iran. And they know heinous attacks like the synagogue murder–especially when compounded by the fact, as Khalifa noted, that many Palestinians are “welcoming the crime”–could easily spark one: Israel can’t continue doing nothing in the face of such attacks. There’s also the risk that such crimes could spur a lone Jewish terrorist to commit a revenge attack, like Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Muslim worshippers in Hebron 20 years ago; that, too, would distract global–and Arab–attention from the problems pragmatic Arab states consider most pressing.

Consequently, these states have an interest in discouraging attacks like yesterday’s, and Khalifa took a two-pronged approach to doing so. First, he declared, an attack like this is morally unacceptable, even to many fellow Arab Muslims. And second, it’s counterproductive, because sparking a new conflict would ultimately hurt the Palestinians more than Israel. Or as Khalifa put it, “Those who will pay the price” for this attack “are the Palestinian people.”

Thus while figures as diverse as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and former British minister Sayeeda Warsi have implicitly justified the synagogue killing, and thereby encouraged more such crimes, by trying to paint it as morally equivalent to Jews visiting the Temple Mount the Bahraini foreign minister is trying to quench the flames by stating unequivocally that there’s never any excuse for killing worshippers at a house of prayer. For nobody understands the dangerous consequences of doing so better than Muslims elsewhere in the Middle East, who, unlike their Israeli-protected Palestinian brethren, have all too frequently been the victims of such killings.

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It Isn’t Just Jerusalem That’s Not Negotiable

Seeking to make sense of yesterday’s horrific terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, the New York Times stumbled across an unfortunate truth about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Quoting writer Yossi Klein Halevi’s characterization of the violence in the headline of its article on the aftermath of the atrocity, it noted that in this “war of neighbors,” differences are not negotiable. But while Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren intended this surprisingly sober analysis to apply only to the issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount or perhaps the city itself, were she to think more seriously about the subject, she would be forced to conclude that the same phrase applies to the entire conflict between Jews and Arabs over this small country.

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Seeking to make sense of yesterday’s horrific terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, the New York Times stumbled across an unfortunate truth about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Quoting writer Yossi Klein Halevi’s characterization of the violence in the headline of its article on the aftermath of the atrocity, it noted that in this “war of neighbors,” differences are not negotiable. But while Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren intended this surprisingly sober analysis to apply only to the issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount or perhaps the city itself, were she to think more seriously about the subject, she would be forced to conclude that the same phrase applies to the entire conflict between Jews and Arabs over this small country.

The infusion of religion into what all too many observers believe is a dispute over land and borders scares many of those who comment on the Middle East. Having spent the last few decades attempting to argue that peace could be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians if only the Jewish state were to give away more or all of the land it took possession of during the 1967 Six-Day War, those committed to this myth seek to divest the discussion about the path to peace of the absolutes of faith that make compromise impossible. Seen from that perspective, the dispute about the Temple Mount is one in which both sides can, as Rudoren does in her piece, be portrayed as being driven by religious zealots intent on blowing up an already combustible situation.

But while it is true that a minority of Jews would like to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount to make it place where both faiths can be freely observed (Jews currently may not pray on the Mount, a stand endorsed by Prime Minister Netanyahu), the hate and incitement that leads inevitably to the kind of bloody slaughter witnessed in a Har Nof synagogue where four Jews were murdered yesterday is not a function of a few isolated zealots or a twisted interpretation of Islam. Rather it is a product of mainstream Palestinian political culture in which religious symbols such as the imagined peril to the mosques on the Mount have been employed by generations of Palestinian leaders to whip up hatred for Jews. The purpose is not to defend the mosques or Arab claims to Jerusalem but to deny the right of Jews to life, sovereignty, or self-defense in any part of the country.

In order to understand the current spate of murders of Jews by Palestinians and why so many took to the streets of Gaza and West Bank cities to celebrate the bloody attack on Jews at prayer yesterday, we have to leave aside the clichés about cycles of violence and even-handed blame assessment and come face to face with the reality of Palestinian nationalism. From its inception early in the 20th century, Palestinian national identity has been inextricably linked to a war against Zionism and the growing Jewish presence in the country. Zionist leaders initially hoped the conflict could be solved through economic cooperation and then embraced territorial compromise as the panacea. But no solution has worked because the real focus of the dispute isn’t about land or a division of economic benefits but something far more fundamental that isn’t, as the Times said, “negotiable.”

Palestinians celebrated this latest horror, as they have been lauding every other recent terror attack and all those that preceded it throughout the last few decades. They did so not because Israel has failed to restrain Jewish extremists (it has done so) but because the basic elements of the conflict are not about details such as where Jews may or may not live in Jerusalem or where they may pray. Removing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in those parts of the city that Jordan illegally occupied between 1949 and 1967—“East Jerusalem”—won’t end the conflict any more than previous Israeli retreats or the several Israeli offers of statehood and independence for the Palestinians (that would have given them not only almost all the West Bank but a large share of Jerusalem) satisfied Palestinian opinion or its leadership.

Once you understand that, it’s easy to see that the obstacle to peace isn’t specific Israeli policies but the Jewish refusal to be evicted from their ancient homeland or to defend their hold on it. Indeed, rather than trying to interpret Palestinian extremism through the contemporary prism of the spread of ISIS-like fundamentalism, the current violence is better understood as just the latest iteration of the same virus of intolerance that has fueled the war on Israel for many decades.

Rudoren and some of her sources are wrong. The scheduling of prayer services ore entry to the Temple Mount is a negotiable issue if both sides were willing to view it as not being a zero-sum game. So, too, is the question about where the border of a Palestinian state that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state next door would be if parts of Jerusalem were included inside its borders. Nor is the red herring of municipal services to east Jerusalem Arabs, which Rudoren also speciously raised as a potential cause for terrorism, beyond discussion. That is especially true since most residents of Arab neighborhoods are, despite their complaints about Israelis, wary of being lumped in with the other victims of Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank kleptocracy.

But what isn’t negotiable is the demand heard on the Palestinian streets and in the official media of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas’s independent state in all but name in Gaza for Israel’s destruction. The praise being heard for this latest instance of “resistance to the occupation” isn’t about Jerusalem’s municipal boundary but the “occupation” of any part of the country—including all the territory that was under Israeli control prior to June 1967. That is what isn’t negotiable and won’t be until a sea change in Palestinian political culture occurs that will make the shocking pro-terror demonstrations impossible. Until the Palestinians give up their dreams of Israel’s destruction, more than Jerusalem will remain non-negotiable. And that is a reality that an American administration and its media cheering section at the Times that has falsely blamed Israel for the failure to achieve peace must also learn to take into account if they are to understand what is really happening in the region.

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Domestic Radicalization and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Israel appears to be facing a do-it-yourself terrorist offensive. By my count, based on data from this website, ten Israelis have been killed, and many more injured, since October 22 in low-tech attacks.

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Israel appears to be facing a do-it-yourself terrorist offensive. By my count, based on data from this website, ten Israelis have been killed, and many more injured, since October 22 in low-tech attacks.

The trend began on October 22 when a Palestinian rammed his car into a crowd waiting at a light-rail station in Jerusalem. A three-month-old girl and a 22-year-old woman were killed; 8 people were wounded.

On November 5, another Palestinian man drove another car into a light-rail station, this time killing a Border Police officer and injuring 14 individuals.

On November 10, in two separate incidents, Palestinian attackers stabbed and killed a 25-year-old woman near the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut and a 20-year-old soldier who was waiting at a train station in Tel Aviv. Two others were injured in the former attack.

And now on November 17, two attackers armed with a hatchet, knives, and a gun entered a synagogue in West Jerusalem and killed five people, one of them a policeman, the other four immigrants who held either joint U.S.-Israeli or joint British-Israeli citizenship. In addition three of the dead were rabbis.

This is the worst single terrorist attack in Israel in three years and arguably the worst spate of attacks since the defeat of the second intifada a decade ago. In some ways the reliance of these attackers on such primitive weapons–knives and hatchets and cars–is a sign of how successful the Israeli security services have been in shutting down the elaborate suicide-bomber networks which once terrorized Israel. This summer the Iron Dome system, moreover, showed that Israel was more or less safe from rocket attack. So terrorists have to resort to crude attacks with little planning to sow mayhem.

But as we are seeing, even crude attacks can be deadly–and not just in Israel. These “lone wolf” attacks are similar in spirit to those that we have recently seen in Ottawa, New York, Boston, and other place where fanatics inflamed by jihadist propaganda have set out to inflict indiscriminate casualties. Such attacks are inherently less deadly than more planned operations carried out by teams of people–but they are also much harder to stop.

The problem is that such attacks are typically carried out by radicalized Muslims who are citizens of the countries they attack, whether living in East Jerusalem or Cambridge, Massachusetts. And they are radicalized by propaganda that is all but impossible to stop, given the ability of jihadists to get their message out via the Internet.

For the U.S., this so far has been a relatively limited if still dangerous trend because so few American Muslims have been radicalized. For Israel, it is a rather more serious problem given that there are an estimated 1.6 million Arab citizens of Israel. If a substantial number become radicalized, Israeli leaders will face a true nightmare scenario.

Luckily that has not happened and is unlikely to happen despite all of the efforts by groups such as Hamas to raise an internal insurgency. In fact, although Arab Israelis gripe (understandably) about being second-class citizens, most realize they have richer and freer lives than if they lived in one of the dysfunctional Arab states that surround Israel.

Terrible as the recent attacks have been–and worse may be to come–the real story here may be how few Arab residents of Israel have chosen to take up arms against the Jewish state. That is, in part, to be sure, a tribute to the vigilance of the Israeli security services, but it is also a result of the fact that Israel is not a bad place to live even if you’re not Jewish.

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Kerry Calls Out Palestinian Incitement; Will Anything Change?

Many aspects of this morning’s barbaric terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, in which armed Palestinians murdered four Jews, are quite similar to past attacks. Americans were among the victims, for example; the Palestinians celebrated the killing of innocent Jews, encouraging their children to grow up and do the same; and the media–CNN especially, but also Canada’s CBC and others–covered the attack in ways that made them indistinguishable from Palestinian government-run propaganda outlets. But one thing was different: a heartening and truly revealing statement from Secretary of State John Kerry.

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Many aspects of this morning’s barbaric terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, in which armed Palestinians murdered four Jews, are quite similar to past attacks. Americans were among the victims, for example; the Palestinians celebrated the killing of innocent Jews, encouraging their children to grow up and do the same; and the media–CNN especially, but also Canada’s CBC and others–covered the attack in ways that made them indistinguishable from Palestinian government-run propaganda outlets. But one thing was different: a heartening and truly revealing statement from Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry has been, up to this point, playing an undeniably dangerous and counterproductive role in the peace process. He has used the negotiations as a vanity project, not a serious attempt to solve an intractable problem. But the worst part of Kerry’s destructive bumbling has been the State Department’s refusal to hold PA head Mahmoud Abbas accountable for his steady incitement of terror.

There is no question that Abbas’s incitement is partially responsible for the recent spate of terror attacks in Israel’s capital. And yet the State Department took Abbas’s side each time it had the chance, defending him as a man of peace. As I wrote in late October, spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked about Abbas’s incitement and here is what she said:

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s – as you know, President Abbas has renounced violence and consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states. I don’t have any other analysis for you to offer.

When you excuse the murder of innocents, you get more murder of innocents. And that’s exactly what happened, and what continued to happen, as Kerry’s State Department and the Obama White House sought to pick childish fights with Benjamin Netanyahu instead of acting like adults or playing a constructive role in the conflict.

There was never any doubt that Obama and Kerry’s behavior would encourage more bloodshed. Yet something has apparently changed:

Kerry telephoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer condolences following the gruesome killing spree by Palestinian assailants at a Jerusalem synagogue, while other world leaders also expressed horror at the attack.

Kerry, in London for talks on Iran and the Middle East, called the assault an “act of pure terror and senseless brutality” and called on the Palestinian leadership to condemn it “in the most powerful terms.”

Police said two attackers from East Jerusalem entered the synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood shortly after 7 a.m. and began attacking worshipers at morning prayers with a gun, a meat cleaver, and an ax. Both terrorists were killed by police.

Kerry blamed the attack on Palestinian calls for “days of rage” and said Palestinian leaders must take serious steps to refrain from such incitement.

So who’s right–old Kerry or new Kerry? Clearly, new Kerry is a vast upgrade. But there are two disquieting characteristics of this transformation that will temper enthusiasm for the secretary of state’s newfound moral compass.

The first is that Jews can be forgiven for thinking that the world sees them as sacrificial pawns. Today’s victims are of course not the first deaths in the Palestinians’ latest not-quite-intifada. And they were not the first Americans killed either. And they were not the first victims of Abbas’s incitement or his directive to take action against Jews in Jerusalem. The sad fact is that the world regards a certain amount of Jewish blood as the cost of doing business–not worth getting all worked up about.

The word for that is “expendable.” And that’s what the families of victims and those who survived previous attacks understand all too well: their loved ones were expendable to the international community and, most painfully, to the government of the United States of America. A line has now been crossed, apparently, and the Jews under attack are no longer considered expendable. But it’s unfortunate that the line was there to begin with.

The second disquieting facet of this is the age-old question: What now? That is, now that Kerry has admitted the role Palestinian incitement plays in Palestinian terror, what will he do about it? The answer is almost certainly: Nothing. The U.S. government is not going to defund the Palestinian Authority; Netanyahu has in the past fought for continued funding of the PA on the premise that Abbas must be propped up. Israel is doing its part by keeping the IDF in the West Bank; the U.S. does its part by keeping up the flow of cash.

Abbas condemned today’s attack, so perhaps Kerry’s new posture is at least keeping up the appearance of peace all around. And appearances can help. But incitement is not just about public statements from Abbas promoting violence–though he has been making such statements throughout the recent terror campaign. It’s about a system of education and Palestinian media that incites and demonizes Jews. Until the U.S. and the broader international community finds a way to crack down on this government-run culture of demonization, peace will remain farther than Kerry or his European counterparts like to pretend.

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Israel’s Waiting Game

These days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must feel like Jim Carrey’s character in the Truman Show when, while he’s sitting on a beach, it suddenly starts to rain only on Truman. Once he steps out of the rain, it follows him until the rain-control glitch is fixed and the “sky” opens up, soaking Truman in the ensuing, and inescapable, downpour. But at least by that time he had incontrovertible proof that, yes, they were out to get him.

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These days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must feel like Jim Carrey’s character in the Truman Show when, while he’s sitting on a beach, it suddenly starts to rain only on Truman. Once he steps out of the rain, it follows him until the rain-control glitch is fixed and the “sky” opens up, soaking Truman in the ensuing, and inescapable, downpour. But at least by that time he had incontrovertible proof that, yes, they were out to get him.

Yesterday, the Times of Israel reported that ultra-Orthodox political leaders claimed to have been approached to join an alternative coalition with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Labor, which would replace the current coalition. In other words, rearrange the government to exclude Likud. Lapid denies that such a move is afoot, and it’s likely the leaking of the story was meant more as a warning than an imminent threat.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem continues to simmer. More clashes in the city took place over the weekend, and an Arab driver of an Egged bus appeared to have committed suicide. There is no evidence to the contrary, but Palestinians nonetheless have circulated rumors that the Jews were somehow involved, raising the prospect of “retaliation” of some sort and now apparently an Arab Egged strike.

And then today Haaretz’s Barak Ravid got his hands on an internal European Union document that outlines sanctions against Israel that EU countries could take if Israel continues to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem and makes land designations that confuse ignorant Eurocrats. It doesn’t matter that Israel isn’t doing quite what the EU accuses it of, nor that the EU is wrong about what will bring peace and what will prevent it.

The real news of the EU document is that the EU has foreclosed the possibility that facts and rationality will determine Israel-Europe relations. Brussels is getting quite serious about being completely unserious. Today’s EU “red lines” are just that–today’s. Once conceded, they’ll find some more demands to chip away at Israeli sovereignty and further restrict Jewish rights.

After Haaretz published the leak, the EU explained to Ravid that they were not ready to deploy that threat just yet, in an utterly unconvincing (perhaps intentionally so?) response:

“It certainly was not on the ministers’ table today and it was not at the heart of today’s discussion,” Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs said, adding that she had read the report in Haaretz. “There was certainly no question of isolating or sanctioning anybody, rather how can we re-motivate people to get into a dialogue again, how to start a positive process with the Israelis and Palestinians to re-launch a peace process.”

Nonetheless, the foreign ministers’ meeting ended with a formal condemnation of Israeli building of settlements over the Green Line and a hint regarding punitive measures against Israel.

“Recalling that settlements are illegal under international law, the EU and its Member States remain committed to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products,” read the announcement. “The EU closely monitors the situation and its broader implications and remains ready to take further action in order to protect the viability of the two-state solution.”

When it rains, it pours, and when it pours, the UN is usually there to toss a bucket of water as well. Today Assistant Secretary-General Jens Toyberg-Frandzen got in on the act, warning that more violence in and around Jerusalem “is never too far below the surface.” He was happy to place the blame on Israel for settlements etc. (the standard way to excuse Palestinian terrorism), doing his part to contribute to the conflict’s self-fulfilling prophecy: if you excuse Palestinian terrorism, there will be more of it. But on the bright side, the esteemed assistant secretary-general had some good news–sort of:

On a positive note, Toyberg-Frandzen said a UN-brokered agreement to get building materials into Gaza to rebuild the territory following this summer’s war between Israel and Hamas allowed 1,086 Gazans to purchase construction materials by Nov. 13. He said it is also encouraging that Israel plans to increase the number of trucks with construction materials entering Gaza from the current 300 to 800 daily.

Of course construction materials help Hamas in two ways: they either resell them at a premium to those who actually need them, or they take them for themselves to build terror tunnels and other threats to Israel. Again, that’s the supposed “positive note”: the UN is helping Hamas get back on its feet.

So what is Netanyahu to do? Not much, in fact. The numbers still favor his Likud party even if early elections are called. And there won’t be a national consensus over specific action because it’s unclear what action can or should be taken to put Jerusalem at ease. Mahmoud Abbas either can’t or won’t get Palestinians in Jerusalem to stop the violence, so there’s no partner on the Palestinian side. And there does not appear to be a way to dislodge the political right from its perch, so Israelis know that they are unlikely to find an alternative to Netanyahu who brings more upside without substantial downside as well.

Israeli governments aren’t known for their stability. That was thought to only get worse as the two major parties lost their respective virtual monopolies on the right and left. But surprisingly enough, Israeli democracy is proving resilient. It turns out that Israelis are much harder to intimidate and bully than the Palestinians, the UN, and the EU thought.

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What to Do About ISIS

It is easy to call ISIS’s beheading of poor Peter Kassig–a former U.S. Army Ranger turned humanitarian aid worker in Syria–an act of “pure evil,” as President Obama has done. It is considerably harder to know how to oppose such evil effectively. And that is where the president has so far fallen short. To take only one example, the U.S. air campaign against ISIS is ten times smaller than the one against the Taliban in the fall of 2001. And the total number of troops authorized for the mission–now 3,000–is well short of what serious experts believe is necessary, with most realistic estimates falling in the range of 10,000 to 25,000.

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It is easy to call ISIS’s beheading of poor Peter Kassig–a former U.S. Army Ranger turned humanitarian aid worker in Syria–an act of “pure evil,” as President Obama has done. It is considerably harder to know how to oppose such evil effectively. And that is where the president has so far fallen short. To take only one example, the U.S. air campaign against ISIS is ten times smaller than the one against the Taliban in the fall of 2001. And the total number of troops authorized for the mission–now 3,000–is well short of what serious experts believe is necessary, with most realistic estimates falling in the range of 10,000 to 25,000.

In this just-released Council on Foreign Relations policy innovation memorandum, I outline my view of what a real strategy designed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS would look like. As you will see, I call for not only increasing the military effort but also doing more to train and mobilize Sunni tribes on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border, while extending our fight to the Assad regime in order to convince Sunnis to join the anti-ISIS campaign.

I also argue for preparing now to build a postwar order in both Syria and Iraq, unpalatable as the thought of “nation building” might be for some. It is hard to over-stress the importance of the latter point, because only by sketching out a hopeful future will the U.S. convince Syrians and Iraqis to risk their lives to fight ISIS. Declaring a no-fly zone over all or part of Syria would be an important first step in this regard because it would allow the Free Syrian Army to train and a free Syrian government to organize.

Sadly there is little sign so far that President Obama is willing to mount such a serious effort. But it is just possible that continuing outrage over ISIS beheading Americans could force his hand.

And for those who think that ISIS is deliberately trying to lure U.S. troops into Iraq and Syria: At the moment the desultory U.S. campaign is playing into their hands by allowing them to tell their followers that they have stood up to the Great Satan. A more effective U.S.-led campaign would not be so welcome to ISIS if it resulted in its dismemberment and defeat as previously happened to its forerunner, al-Qaeda in Iraq.

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Training Free Syrians in Turkey Is a Bad Idea

In 1997, against the backdrop of U.S. diplomatic outreach toward the Taliban, John Holzman, at the time the number two diplomatic official at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, suggested that the United States encourage engagement between the Taliban and “moderate Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and perhaps Indonesia.” Egypt and Indonesia were certainly moderate, but to suggest that pre-9/11 Saudi Arabia would be a great venue to encourage Taliban moderation illustrates perfectly both how too many diplomats turn a blind eye to Islamist ideology promoted by allies and also treat engagement and multilateralism as panaceas.

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In 1997, against the backdrop of U.S. diplomatic outreach toward the Taliban, John Holzman, at the time the number two diplomatic official at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, suggested that the United States encourage engagement between the Taliban and “moderate Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and perhaps Indonesia.” Egypt and Indonesia were certainly moderate, but to suggest that pre-9/11 Saudi Arabia would be a great venue to encourage Taliban moderation illustrates perfectly both how too many diplomats turn a blind eye to Islamist ideology promoted by allies and also treat engagement and multilateralism as panaceas.

Fast forward 17 years. What Pakistan once represented vis-à-vis the Taliban, today Turkey represents vis-à-vis many of the most extreme factions among the Syrian rebels. President Obama has made the training of “moderate” Syrian rebels a central pillar of his strategy to take on ISIS inside Syria and a way to diminish the need for ground combat forces which he is loath to deploy back to Iraq and Syria.

Let’s put aside the fact that training such forces would take more than a year and that they would be inserted against an ISIS foe which is now battle-hardened and brutal. And let’s also put aside the fact that there haven’t been any serious lessons learned as to why the military training program implemented in Iraq by such military luminaries as David Petraeus and current chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey has proven such an abject failure.

In order to implement their free Syrian training program, President Obama, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Secretary of State John Kerry have apparently decided to work primarily through Turkey:

Military officials from the United States and Turkey have met at the Turkish General Staff’s headquarters in Ankara for a third time to discuss equipping and training moderate Syrian rebels, and agreed on using the Hirfanlı military training center in Kırşehir for the training ground. Officials from both the United States European Command (EUCOM) and the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and high-ranking Turkish military officials agreed on a number of points about the training of Syrian opposition fighters in Turkey. Free Syrian Army (FSA) members, including Syrian Turkmens will be trained at the Hirfanlı gendarmerie training center in Kırşehir, sources told to the Hürriyet Daily News. U.S. officials will also take part in the training. The U.S. will primarily provide weapons and ammunition for the Syrian opposition, with the costs of the training also expected to be provided by Washington.

In other words, the United States will provide the money and the weapons, but defer to their Turkish counterparts the training. So, as Hagel seeks to implement Obama’s plan, he chooses to rely on a country that targets the secular, and promotes the radical. Rather than smother extremism inside Syria, such a plan will fan its flames.

When a similar plan was worked up before the Iraq war, Hungary stepped up to the plate. Whether or not that plan was effective—it was rushed by the time diplomats and lawyers hashed out its modalities—at least the Pentagon recognized that venues with a vested interest in Iraq and those which had a radically different vision from the United States should not be part of such sensitive missions. Training the Free Syrian Army at this point might be more symbolic than effective. But if that’s the path the Obama administration seeks to go down, let us hope that the end result would be better than Holzman’s plan to use Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda’s original underwriters, to “moderate” the Taliban.

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Kerry Lets Abbas Off the Hook Again

After a summit held in Jordan with its King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced himself satisfied that the dispute over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is on its way to being resolved. After hearing from both the Israelis and the Jordanians as well as meeting separately with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry admonished the parties to make good on their pledges to take “concrete steps” to ease tensions. Let’s hope Kerry is right that the worst is over in this latest episode and that a series of murders of Jews will prove to be a passing incident rather than a new intifada. But by giving Abbas a pass for his material role in inciting the violence, Kerry once again proved tone deaf to the reality of the conflict and the reason why his peace initiative failed.

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After a summit held in Jordan with its King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced himself satisfied that the dispute over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is on its way to being resolved. After hearing from both the Israelis and the Jordanians as well as meeting separately with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry admonished the parties to make good on their pledges to take “concrete steps” to ease tensions. Let’s hope Kerry is right that the worst is over in this latest episode and that a series of murders of Jews will prove to be a passing incident rather than a new intifada. But by giving Abbas a pass for his material role in inciting the violence, Kerry once again proved tone deaf to the reality of the conflict and the reason why his peace initiative failed.

The problem with Kerry’s evenhanded approach to the dispute disregards what actually happened. Israel has maintained the status quo on the Temple Mount in which Muslim religious authorities have complete control of the ancient site and Jews are allowed to visit but forbidden to pray. Some Jews have urged this be changed to give them the right to worship there too but the Netanyahu government, following in the footsteps of all its predecessors, has blocked this effort.

But that hasn’t satisfied the PA which has used this issue as a way to compete with Hamas in the battle for Palestinian public opinion. Rather than seeking to promote calm, Abbas deliberately ratcheted up tensions in recent month as he called on his people to do everything necessary to prevent Jews from “contaminating” the Temple Mount with their presence. When one Palestinian attempted to murder an activist who advocated Jewish prayer there, Abbas praised him as a “martyr” and said he went straight to heaven after being shot by police. Though many, including the New York Times, have tried to put forward the idea that the growing violence constitutes a “leaderless” intifada, the truth is, the unrest and violence is the direct result of two decades of PA incitement via its official media and schools. Abbas’s statements as well as the daily drumbeat of incitement from the PA media has created an atmosphere of religious war in which Muslims think the Jews are going to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount. The result has been entirely predictable in the form of a rash of “lone wolf” terror attacks on Jews — applauded by both Hamas and Fatah — that have taken several lives.

This is, of course, straight out of the traditional playbook of Palestinian nationalism having been first employed by Haj Amin el-Husseini, the pre-World War Two mufti of Jerusalem and Nazi ally, who helped incite several pogroms against Jews. As it was then, the point of the manufactured furor is not to push back against mythical Jewish attacks on Muslim rights or the mosques but to deny any rights — either historical or political — for Jews in Jerusalem or anywhere else in the country. As with the rest of a conflict that the PA could have ended several times in the last 15 years had it accepted Israeli peace offers of independence, pouring oil on this fire is a function of Palestinian resistance to the idea of any Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem or Israel, not a dispute that can be solved by good faith negotiations.

In playing the Temple Mount card, Abbas is walking a fine line between an attempt to boost his stock vis-à-vis Hamas and suicide since it is Israel that protects him against Hamas. Jordan, which has been forced by Abbas’s antics to condemn Israel as well, is similarly dependant on support for Israel, but can’t be seen to be against Palestinian terror if it is perceived as a “defense” of Arab rights.

But while we hope that this chapter is coming to a close, Kerry’s complacent pox on both your houses approach to Israel and the PA is only encouraging more Palestinian intransigence and violence. What was needed here was a direct U.S. condemnation of Abbas’s egregious incitement that led to bloodshed. But in its absence the likelihood grows that Abbas will continue to court disaster in his effort to boost his waning political clout in the West Bank. Kerry and President Obama’s continued effort to portray Abbas as a force for peace while flinging insults at Netanyahu is a formula for more unrest as well as an attack on the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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Wealthy Terrorists Don’t Need Foreign Aid

Last month, a group of international donors including the United States gathered in Cairo to make pledges to give financial aid to help rebuild Gaza in the wake of the war between Israel and Hamas this past summer. The amount pledged totaled $5.4 billion with the U.S. kicking in a few hundred million. The bulk of the money will go to aid organizations with the Palestinian Authority also getting a share. But while the world was told that all the money would be used for civilian purposes and to help those who lost their homes in the fighting, there was little doubt that the Hamas rulers of the strip would wind up getting their hands on a good deal of it. But the most curious thing about this exercise in international philanthropy was that no one thought to ask Hamas to pay for at least some of the damage they caused by igniting a bloody war. That’s the question that comes to mind today when you read that the Islamists have been named the world’s second-richest terrorist group.

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Last month, a group of international donors including the United States gathered in Cairo to make pledges to give financial aid to help rebuild Gaza in the wake of the war between Israel and Hamas this past summer. The amount pledged totaled $5.4 billion with the U.S. kicking in a few hundred million. The bulk of the money will go to aid organizations with the Palestinian Authority also getting a share. But while the world was told that all the money would be used for civilian purposes and to help those who lost their homes in the fighting, there was little doubt that the Hamas rulers of the strip would wind up getting their hands on a good deal of it. But the most curious thing about this exercise in international philanthropy was that no one thought to ask Hamas to pay for at least some of the damage they caused by igniting a bloody war. That’s the question that comes to mind today when you read that the Islamists have been named the world’s second-richest terrorist group.

According to Forbes Israel, Hamas is the runner-up to ISIS in the competition for the title of wealthiest terror organization. ISIS has $2 billion in assets while Hamas has only $1 billion. The former’s advantage is that it is now in control of some of Iraq’s oil flow and pulls in up to $3 million a day in revenue from that lucrative business. ISIS also was able to loot hundreds of millions from Mosul’s main bank when it seized that city. It also profits from the brisk trade in hostage ransoms with European nations anteing up large sums to save its citizens in ISIS’s hands. To its credit, the Obama administration has refused to play along, a principled policy that has led to the brutal murders of American captives.

Hamas has no oil fields or banks at its disposal. But it has something almost as good: An overpopulated strip of land where more than a million people live at their misery. Though Hamas long maintained an image as an efficient provider of social services to the people of Gaza, the reality is that it is—like its Fatah rivals in the West Bank—more akin to a mafia family than a government and rakes in money extorted or taxed from Gazans hand over fist. Hamas also profited handsomely from control of the smuggling tunnels that used to link Gaza to Egypt and also rakes in huge amounts of aid from its Gulf State patrons like Qatar.

Since Fatah now masquerades as a legitimate government and even a peace partner in the West Bank, it was not listed. But if it were, it’s likely that the considerable assets of this supposedly reformed terror group would also be considerable, considering the amount of money it and its leaders have looted from the billions in international aid that have poured into them since the 1993 Oslo Accords.

But the minutiae about which of these groups has the most cash ignores the more pertinent question about Gaza. While the West has committed itself to waging a half-hearted war to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS” in President Obama’s words, it has chosen to tolerate Hamas and let it remain in control of Gaza, even if it meant condemning a large civilian population to be used as human shields for its terror operations. And it has been allowed to save or re-invest its considerable fortune in rearming its cadres and rebuilding its defenses in the aftermath of the terrorist war it launched this year.

The world looks at the ruined homes of Gaza and rightly expresses its sympathy and its desire to help its people. But the problem with the international aid process is not merely that it is not likely to keep all of the billions coming in out of the clutches of Hamas. It is that so long as we are prepared to tolerate Hamas’s continued sovereignty over the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza, more war and bloodshed is likely to ensue. The threat from ISIS as it seeks to overrun all of Iraq and Syria is one that the U.S. and its allies needed to address. But the danger of allowing terrorist groups to become rulers of populations is not limited to those places with oil. In the absence of a commitment to overthrow Hamas, money donated to Gaza is an investment in future war, not peace or humanitarian values. Its place on the list of wealthiest terror group mocks the West as much as it does the Palestinians who suffer under their rule.

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Turkish Islamists Train Snipers in Syria

That Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is hostile toward social media, and harbors special animus for Twitter, is becoming conventional wisdom. But perhaps conventional wisdom is wrong. After all, Erdoğan seems far more concerned with the content of tweets and Facebook posts than he sometimes is with the actual platforms. Case in point is this recent tweet from Ribat Medya, a Turkish Islamist outlet. It shows sniper training on behalf of radical Islamist forces inside Syria, and directs users to this photo essay.

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That Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is hostile toward social media, and harbors special animus for Twitter, is becoming conventional wisdom. But perhaps conventional wisdom is wrong. After all, Erdoğan seems far more concerned with the content of tweets and Facebook posts than he sometimes is with the actual platforms. Case in point is this recent tweet from Ribat Medya, a Turkish Islamist outlet. It shows sniper training on behalf of radical Islamist forces inside Syria, and directs users to this photo essay.

So what to make from this? Firstly, it’s an open secret that Turkey passively if not actively supports radical Islamist factions inside Syria, up to and including ISIS, whose members it has allowed to transit Turkish territory. Secondly, Erdoğan has assumed the power to shut down websites and Twitter feeds without so much as a court order. And yet, sites depicting the training of terrorist snipers inside Syria by Turks remain up. But should an environmentalist condemn the cutting down of trees in an urban park, Erdoğan labels him a terrorist and demands stiff jail terms.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize that for Erdoğan, the problem isn’t Twitter any more than the problem is newspapers or television stations. Rather, the issue is whether or not such technology adheres to Erdoğan’s agenda. And by nature of his silence on these tweets, it is clear once again that Erdoğan does not consider ISIS, Jebhat al-Nusra, or the İnsani Yardım Vakfı to be terrorist groups or feeders, but rather honorable organizations to allow to operate unmolested.

Welcome to the reality of the new Turkey, same as the old Saudi Arabia.

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Obama, Abbas, and ‘Contaminating’ Jews

In a follow-up to his now infamous column in which he quoted “senior administration officials” hurling vulgar insults at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg echoed the Obama foreign-policy team in praising Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as “the best interlocutor Israel is going to have” in the pursuit of peace. Though he acknowledged the Palestinian had “flaws,” the onus for the lack of progress toward peace was placed squarely on Israel, which was urged to take measures to appease Abbas. Given that Abbas’s “flaws” had already demonstrated his utter lack of interest in making peace, Goldberg’s incendiary pieces told us more about Obama’s animus for Israel than the state of the peace process. But Abbas’s most recent bouts of incitement toward violence place those who have vouched for him in a difficult spot and make their current silence about his activities all the more reprehensible.

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In a follow-up to his now infamous column in which he quoted “senior administration officials” hurling vulgar insults at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg echoed the Obama foreign-policy team in praising Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as “the best interlocutor Israel is going to have” in the pursuit of peace. Though he acknowledged the Palestinian had “flaws,” the onus for the lack of progress toward peace was placed squarely on Israel, which was urged to take measures to appease Abbas. Given that Abbas’s “flaws” had already demonstrated his utter lack of interest in making peace, Goldberg’s incendiary pieces told us more about Obama’s animus for Israel than the state of the peace process. But Abbas’s most recent bouts of incitement toward violence place those who have vouched for him in a difficult spot and make their current silence about his activities all the more reprehensible.

Abbas helped launch the latest round of Palestinian violence by urging his people to resist Jews who venture onto the Temple Mount by all means. Those means turned out to be murder and when the PA head praised a slain terrorist who had attempted to murder a Jewish activist as a “martyr” who was heading straight to heaven, it showed just how far he was willing to go to capitalize on traditional memes of Palestinian hatred for Jews. Today, in the wake of more fatal car attacks and stabbings of Jews, Abbas doubled down on the hate. Referring to the attempts by some Jews to gain the right to pray on what it the holiest site in Judaism, Abbas was reported as saying the following in the Times of Israel:

“Keep the settlers and the extremists away from Al-Aqsa and our holy places,” Abbas demanded. “We will not allow our holy places to be contaminated. Keep them away from us and we will stay away from them, but if they enter al-Aqsa, [we] will protect al-Aqsa and the church and the entire country,” he said. It was unclear what church Abbas was referring to.

It should be acknowledged that Abbas is locked in a fierce competition with Hamas for support from Palestinians and by diving even deeper into the barrel of ancient libels, he is, by his own lights, merely pandering to domestic opinion. But the green light he is giving to random violence by Palestinians is unmistakable. The question is when will his Washington cheering section recognize that they have invested heavily in a figure that is counting on their support insulating him against any consequences for his actions?

On its face, Abbas would seem to be the last person who would want a third intifada since he stands to lose the most by an open breach with an Israeli security apparatus that is his only guarantee of survival against Hamas. Nor can he afford to alienate the Americans or the European Union since both provide him with the cash he needs to irrigate the corrupt kleptocracy that he presides over in the West Bank.

That ought to give both Israel and the West some leverage in moderating his language even if it has never been enough to cause him to be willing to defy Palestinian public opinion and negotiate a peace deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

That is why the silence of the West about Abbas is so frustrating for Israel. For months, the Obama administration has been lauding the PA head as a courageous man of peace while badmouthing Netanyahu as an obstacle to it in both on and off the record statements. Thus it is no surprise that Abbas believes he has virtual carte blanche from his donors and political sponsors to go as far as he wants when it comes to inciting violence.

The problem here is that while the White House and State Department can often be relied upon to issue statements urging both sides to show restraint and condemning violence of all kinds, they generally have no problem being specific when it comes to Israel and Netanyahu. But even if we leave aside the unfair nature of most of the criticisms of the Israeli, they find it difficult, if not impossible to turn the same critical gaze at Abbas.

Let’s concede that even if Abbas were to have held his tongue and sought to calm tensions over Jerusalem, there is no guarantee that no violence would have occurred. But by seeking to outpace Hamas when it comes to fanning the flames about the mosques on the Temple Mount, Abbas has made a material contribution to Middle East violence. And he is doing it on the American taxpayer’s dime.

It should also be stated that some inflammatory voices on the Israeli right have contributed to the problem. As unfair as the status quo on the Temple Mount might be to Jews, overturning it right now would be the sort of thing that will get a lot of people killed. But it should be pointed out that instead of feeding and/or profiting from anger over this issue, Netanyahu and his government have tried to prevent violence, not encourage it, but keep getting slammed by Western critics for not altogether conceding Jewish rights throughout Jerusalem.

The issue here isn’t so much who gets to pray on the Temple Mount since there is no chance of the status quo being altered. Rather it is whether the West thinks it is OK for the recipient of their largesse to refer to Jews as “contaminators” of their own capital city. Such language isn’t merely pandering to Palestinian opinion; it is a sign that Abbas is part of the problem of violence and hate, not its potential solution.

For years, the same people hammering Netanyahu and excusing Abbas now were the ones urging a similar policy toward Yasir Arafat and his blatant incitement toward hate. Those who did so bore a degree of responsibility for the violence that ensued when Arafat blew up the peace process with a bloody second intifada. The same judgment will apply to the president and his cheerleaders as they stand by and watch Abbas play the same card.

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Humanity Lost: Jewish Victims of Terror and the New York Times

Reading this New York Times dispatch on the victims of Palestinian terrorism back in 1995 is truly stepping into a time warp. The story is about the killing of New Jersey native Alisa Flatow, a case that became famous for the Flatow family’s lawsuit against the Iranian funders of Palestinian terror. In the story we read about Flatow, although the focus of this particular piece is on those like her: young American Jews whose pintele yid (Jewish spark/core) takes them to Israel to study. Headlined “Studying in Israel: Shaken Youths, Unshaken Resolve,” the story is inspiring–and meant to be:

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Reading this New York Times dispatch on the victims of Palestinian terrorism back in 1995 is truly stepping into a time warp. The story is about the killing of New Jersey native Alisa Flatow, a case that became famous for the Flatow family’s lawsuit against the Iranian funders of Palestinian terror. In the story we read about Flatow, although the focus of this particular piece is on those like her: young American Jews whose pintele yid (Jewish spark/core) takes them to Israel to study. Headlined “Studying in Israel: Shaken Youths, Unshaken Resolve,” the story is inspiring–and meant to be:

“I have not gotten one phone call from a nervous parent, thank God,” said Robert Katz, director of academic affairs at Bar-Ilan University’s office in New York. “This isn’t complacency. They’re not calling because they’re committed and they’re not going anywhere. The prevailing attitude is this is the place where we are and this is where we’re going to be and we’re not budging.” …

“They’re shaken emotionally,” said Efrem Nulman, dean of students at Yeshiva. “But they’re not shaken in their commitment or their core beliefs. In a nutshell, our students have a deep and strong commitment to Israel in general and to studying in Israel in particular. These students have become accustomed to despicable acts of terrorism.”

The president of Brandeis, Jehuda Reinharz, attended Ms. Flatow’s funeral and said afterward that he had spoken with many of the 50 Brandeis students taking courses in Israel. Her death, he said, has shocked the students, but it hasn’t changed their minds.

These Jews would not be intimidated by acts of terror into abandoning their people and their dreams of Jewish life in the Holy Land. I was struck, however, not by what the Times was writing about these students but by what the Times was showing about itself. Namely, the Palestinian terror campaign had also not shaken the Times; the paper was still dedicated to humanizing the victims of terrorism and celebrating the religious passion that kept young Jews coming to Israel in defiance of their tormentors.

That was a different time, maybe. But it was also a different Times.

A friend in Israel passed along this beautiful remembrance of one of yesterday’s victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks, 26-year-old Dahlia Lemkus, written by Sherry Mandell. She writes that although the New York Times put in the effort to learn about Lemkus’s Palestinian murderer, “We learn nothing about 26 year old Dahlia, who was just getting started in life after finishing college, studying occupational therapy so that she could have a job where she could help people who were sick or infirm or disabled to live in a fuller way.” Mandell proceeds to tell the readers all about Lemkus.

Defenders of the Times might try to argue that unlike the students in the 1995 story, Lemkus wasn’t American. But then neither was her Palestinian murderer, and the Times makes sure to humanize him. It’s actually worse than that, though. In today’s story by Jodi Rudoren on a Palestinian man killed by the IDF when he aimed a gun at soldiers, Rudoren reflects back on Lemkus and tells us she was a “female settler,” just to put a thumb on the scales against her. (There is also the passive voice; the lede says “Israeli forces fatally shot” the Palestinian while yesterday’s Palestinian attacks “left an Israeli soldier and a female settler dead.”) When Lemkus is mentioned again in the story, she is again referred to as the “female settler.”

The Times isn’t even humanizing American victims of Palestinian terror anymore either. The American-born rabbi Yehuda Glick was shot last month in an attempted assassination by a Palestinian in Jerusalem. Glick is a nonviolent proponent of equal rights for Jews at their holy site, the Temple Mount, on which Muslims have full prayer rights but Jews don’t.

The first words of the Times story on the shooting of Glick are: “An Israeli-American agitator.” Later we’re told he’s “widely viewed as a provocative figure who has exacerbated tensions between Muslims and Jews.” Around the same time, a Palestinian with links to Hamas was killed while attempting to carry out an attack on Israeli civilians. As our Tom Wilson noted, the State Department, in offering its condolences to the family of the Palestinian, played up the Palestinian’s American citizenship and refused to consider him a terrorist. At the same time, Glick’s family went ignored by American officials.

The Obama administration and the New York Times seem to be rather in-sync, then. The Times is ostensibly the same institution now as it was in 1995. On this issue, however, it couldn’t be more different. Somewhere along the line over the last twenty years, Jewish victims of Palestinian terror stopped being quite fully human to the Times. No doubt those who carry out these attacks feel the same way.

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The Hard Truths Obama Needs to Hear

“The four-star commander of war operations in Iraq and Syria said politics is the key to defeating the Islamic militants there — and more U.S. troops will not necessarily help resolve the complex sectarian conflict roiling the two nations.”

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“The four-star commander of war operations in Iraq and Syria said politics is the key to defeating the Islamic militants there — and more U.S. troops will not necessarily help resolve the complex sectarian conflict roiling the two nations.”

Except for the reference to Syria, this sounds like something that General George Casey would have said between 2004 and 2006 when he was the top U.S. commander in Iraq. In fact it is a comment made just last week by General Lloyd Austin, the commander of Central Command.

There is no doubt that Austin is right today, as Casey was once right, that Iraqi politics holds the solution to dealing with Iraqi problems. But what Casey didn’t grasp, as he steadfastly refused to ask for more troops, was that U.S. forces, if intelligently employed, could alter Iraqi politics in beneficial ways, whereas failure to send more forces would lead to greater chaos and increased polarization, making political progress impossible. In fact, the surge of 2007-2008, which Casey opposed, created a breakthrough that allowed Iraqi politics to begin functioning again.

That lesson applies today. As long as Iraq continues to be split between the forces of ISIS and the Quds Force, political progress will be impossible. But if the U.S. can foster greater progress in rolling back ISIS, the resulting sense of security could undermine the support that Iranian-backed militias have gained among Iraqi Shiites.

Such progress will not come about if the U.S. is standing on the lines, however. It will only happen if the U.S. does more to aid the creation of indigenous security forces–especially among the Sunni tribes–that can fight back effectively against ISIS. And that, in turn, is unlikely to happen when the Obama administration is willing to put no more than 3,000 troops on the ground and to prevent them from accompanying indigenous forces into combat where the American presence, however small, could be crucial to success. If the U.S. ramps up its involvement deploying, say, 15,000 advisers and Special Operations personnel and relaxes their rules of engagement, it will not only have a greater chance of achieving battlefield success against ISIS but also of boosting American influence to affect the Iraqi political process.

It is quite possible that the president will refuse to do more no matter what because he is politically and ideologically opposed to greater American involvement in Iraq or the Middle East more broadly. But as a first step it is important that the U.S. commander for the region–that would be Gen. Austin–speak bluntly and forthrightly to the president, telling him that the U.S. will never achieve his objective to “degrade and eventually defeat” ISIS unless it makes more of a commitment. Comments to the effect that it’s all on the Iraqis to make political progress–and that there is little we can do until then–don’t help.

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Dream of Rivals: Why Bibi’s Still On Top

Two terrorist attacks today in Israel have already claimed one life–that of a young woman–and left a soldier in critical condition, in addition to the others less seriously wounded in the attacks. The incidents extend the spasm of violence by Palestinians who have flirted with igniting a full-blown intifada, though the security fence and other precautions have thus far prevented a comparable terror campaign. They also put the spotlight on the Israeli leadership, highlighting an interesting political phenomenon.

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Two terrorist attacks today in Israel have already claimed one life–that of a young woman–and left a soldier in critical condition, in addition to the others less seriously wounded in the attacks. The incidents extend the spasm of violence by Palestinians who have flirted with igniting a full-blown intifada, though the security fence and other precautions have thus far prevented a comparable terror campaign. They also put the spotlight on the Israeli leadership, highlighting an interesting political phenomenon.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has studiously, if not always successfully, attempted to avoid scenarios that could be destabilizing to Israeli politics, knowing as he does that governing coalitions are almost always more fragile than they look and that one perceived failure could bring them down. The Palestinians have, of course, not always played along. Case in point: Netanyahu is far more hesitant to go to war than most of his predecessors; this past summer, Hamas made avoiding a ground war impossible.

Netanyahu’s government survived the Gaza war, and now must deal with terror from within–a far greater challenge than calling on the IDF to win a ground war in Palestinian territory. Additionally, Netanyahu continues to deal with fluctuating Israeli public opinion polls and the fact that in the new reality of Israel’s fragmented party politics, rival parties are seemingly perpetually in striking distance. On top of all this, Netanyahu tends to get under the skin of even those who would agree with him politically, and has no natural ideological base since he’s much more of a pragmatist than an ideologue.

So why is Netanyahu still standing, and why do the latest Knesset polls show him in the lead once again if new elections were to be held? There are two answers. The first is the underappreciated maturity of Israeli democracy. Bibi may not be well liked personally, and the political scene may feature a constant casting-about for alternatives, but in the end Israeli voters are still keeping their priorities straight by refusing to turn national elections into pure popularity contests.

Security crises often turn into political crises. But the prevalence of security concerns and the failure of the Palestinians to produce a serious peace partner have kept the Israeli electorate fairly steady. Having oriented their national government with security concerns in mind, a desire for a reorientation isn’t likely to produce one: to whom would they turn?

That question leads to the second reason for the Netanyahu government’s relative stability. The Israeli electorate has, as I’ve written in the past, achieved a kind of ideological equilibrium–and it’s one that leaves the left mostly out of the loop. Once upon a time, when the Israeli left was viewed as less naïve and fanciful than its current iteration (Ehud Barak was, after all, leader of the Labor Party just four years ago, though the marriage was by then an unhappy one), you could imagine a swing of the pendulum from right to left and back again in Knesset elections. That’s not the case today.

So where would the pendulum swing, then? In the Times of Israel, editor David Horovitz writes that for those who have really had it with Bibi, desperate times are calling for desperate measures:

So who is this alternative to Netanyahu, considered by at least some in the middle ground of Israeli politics?

Step forward Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s minister of foreign affairs and the head of the Yisrael Beytenu coalition faction.

Horovitz notes, with record-obliterating understatement, that Lieberman (whose surname is often transliterated in Israel without the first “e”) “is not a man usually highlighted as the embodiment of Israeli political moderation.” No kidding. He continues:

And yet there are those among the coalition’s unhappy centrists who see Liberman as a pragmatist — at least relative to Netanyahu; as someone who would initiate policy rather than defensively respond, as Netanyahu is deemed by his critics to do; and as the possible key piece of a future coalition jigsaw built around Yesh Atid (19 seats), Labor (15), Hatnua (6) and Kadima (2).

As a consequence of various comings and goings in what was the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu slate in the 2013 elections, Liberman’s party now holds 13 seats in the Knesset. If you add in Meretz (six seats), and/or one or both of the ultra-Orthodox parties (Shas with its 11 seats, and United Torah Judaism 7), the arithmetic starts to look interesting.

OK, I’ll take the bait. I did, after all, write an essay in COMMENTARY three summers ago explaining how the Knesset math made Lieberman a force to be reckoned with and a perennial kingmaker with his eye on the ultimate prize. But what do the numbers say? Here’s the latest Knesset Channel poll. It finds Likud with 22 seats (up from 19), Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi with 18 (up from 12), Labor at 15, Yesh Atid at nine, Meretz at nine, and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu at … seven seats.

An outlier? Does not appear to be. More like a trend. Here’s the NRG poll from six days earlier. It found Likud with 21, Bennett with 17, Labor with 15, and Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beiteinu with nine each.

That raises a different question: Is Netanyahu vulnerable from within Likud? The answer there seems to be no as well. Had there been a real chance to unseat Netanyahu as Likud leader, current Israeli President Ruby Rivlin would have been more likely to stay and challenge Bibi. The presidency is a ceremonial role. The premiership is where the power is. And don’t forget that Lieberman himself recently split from Likud.

The palace intrigue in Jerusalem has become noticeably unintriguing of late. That’s because the Israeli electorate has more or less arranged their Knesset representation to manage a status quo that hasn’t changed much either. Bibi is always instinctively looking over his shoulder. But it’s doubtful that when he does, he sees Avigdor Lieberman.

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Is Another “Awakening” Needed in Iraq?

If you want to feel optimistic about the state of the fight against ISIS, you can read this dispatch from Ben Hubbard of the New York Times in Baghdad. He claims that “the group’s momentum appears to be stalling.” The “nut graf” (as newspaper types call the core of the story):

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If you want to feel optimistic about the state of the fight against ISIS, you can read this dispatch from Ben Hubbard of the New York Times in Baghdad. He claims that “the group’s momentum appears to be stalling.” The “nut graf” (as newspaper types call the core of the story):

The international airstrike campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has clearly played a role in slowing the Sunni Muslim group’s advance. But analysts say other factors are having a major effect, including unfavorable sectarian and political demographics, pushback from overrun communities, damage to the group’s financial base in Syria and slight improvements by ground forces in Iraq.

There is something to this analysis, but not too much. Mainly what Hubbard is reporting on is the obvious fact that ISIS, as a Sunni jihadist group, can only take root in Sunni-majority areas. It is running out of new Sunni areas to conquer in Iraq largely because it has already taken control of most of the Sunni Triangle stretching from Fallujah to Mosul. That’s hardly great news, insofar as ISIS’s control over an area the size of the United Kingdom appears as strong as ever.

True, there are some signs of tribal revolts against ISIS, for example among the Jubouri tribe in Iraq, but ISIS is able to crush them with its typical ferocity. Meanwhile even the addition of Kurdish pesh merga fighters has not ended the ISIS offensive on Kobani, and while there are some slight improvements visible among anti-ISIS forces in Iraq, there is general acknowledgement that it will be a long time before Mosul or Fallujah can be liberated. To make matters worse, a lot of whatever success there has been in stalling ISIS’s momentum in Iraq comes from the actions of bloodthirsty, Iranian-backed militias under the direction of the Quds Force. Their growing power ensures that more Sunnis will continue to rally to ISIS for protection.

In many ways the situation feels, as the perspicacious Iraq analyst Joel Rayburn, a U.S. army colonel, has pointed out, like the dark days of 2005-2006 when there were scattered tribal revolts against al-Qaeda in Iraq, the ISIS predecessor, that AQI was able to “defeat brutally in detail.” The only way to defeat ISIS is by catalyzing a larger Awakening-style tribal uprising among the Sunnis. But that will require more direct American military intervention in Iraq and Syria than President Obama has been willing to countenance.

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Rand Paul’s Utopian Realism and 2016

Rarely is foreign policy decisive in a presidential election, and so it is that much less a factor in congressional midterms. The Iraq war provided an exception to this, both in George W. Bush’s second midterms and in Barack Obama’s election two years later. And although they have not resurfaced to quite that extent, foreign policy was still quite relevant to this week’s midterm elections, with implications for those seeking the presidency in 2016.

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Rarely is foreign policy decisive in a presidential election, and so it is that much less a factor in congressional midterms. The Iraq war provided an exception to this, both in George W. Bush’s second midterms and in Barack Obama’s election two years later. And although they have not resurfaced to quite that extent, foreign policy was still quite relevant to this week’s midterm elections, with implications for those seeking the presidency in 2016.

At Bloomberg View, Lanhee Chen (a top advisor to Mitt Romney) writes that foreign policy helped Republicans win over Asian-American voters on Tuesday. Chen looks at the exit polls, and notes that while “one should be careful about drawing too many conclusions from a sample of just 129 Asian respondents, the marked emphasis on foreign policy among these voters is still noteworthy – and outside the margin of error for the poll.”

And at the Daily Beast Eli Lake goes into detail on how the Republican wave, and specifically its takeover of the Senate majority, could impact American foreign policy going forward. Republicans elected young, promising hawks like Tom Cotton in Arkansas, and more importantly the GOP will take the chairmanships of the foreign-policy related Senate committees. “You could call it the neoconservatives’ revenge or the year of the hawks,” Lake writes. “But it has produced an interesting moment in Washington, where even the dovish side of the Republican Party now acknowledges the midterms were a win for their party’s American exceptionalists.”

One person who wasn’t happy was Ron Paul, who tweeted his wild apocalyptic take on the election. And one person who could not have been happy about that tweet was Paul’s son, Rand, who plans to run for president and therefore would benefit from his father declining to set his hair on fire in public every time a Republican says something nice about America’s role in the world.

More substantively, however, it raises the question of whether the midterms produced a wave Paul can ride to his party’s nomination or one that washed him out of contention. Paul has noticed that what appeared to be a noninterventionist moment in the GOP has not solidified into a major shift in conservative foreign-policy circles. And so it was Paul who has shifted.

At first that shift was mainly one of tone, and I am sympathetic to those who felt that this shift was being exaggerated by hawks who wanted to portray Paul as someone who decided that he couldn’t beat them so he joined them. But with Paul’s speech to the annual dinner of the Center for the National Interest, it’s clear Paul wants to be seen as shifting more than his tone. The key part of the speech was this:

The war on terror is not over, and America cannot disengage from the world.

President Obama claims that al Qaeda is decimated.  But a recent report by the RAND Corporation tracked a 58 percent increase over the last three years in jihadist terror groups.

To contain and ultimately defeat radical Islam, America must have confidence in our constitutional republic, our leadership, and our values.

To defend our country we must understand that a hatred of our values exists, and acknowledge that interventions in foreign countries may well exacerbate this hatred, but that ultimately, we must be willing and able to defend our country and our interests.

Prosecuting the war on terror is far more consequential than standing athwart hypothetical ground invasions. The war on terror is far more relevant to America’s day-to-day security maintenance because it involves the prevention of the multitude of threats to the American homeland. It’s also significant because of the noninterventionists’ much-feared renewed land war in the Middle East.

The possibility of putting “boots on the ground”–or additional boots on the ground, depending on how you look at it–in Iraq and elsewhere is not because America is interested in toppling the Iraqi government but in preserving it. The entity threatening to bring down allied governments is the network of Islamist terrorists, in this case specifically ISIS. The global war on terror, then, can be just as much about preventing additional land wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Rand Paul seems to understand this, if his speech is any indication. His supporters, especially his libertarian supporters who are once again looking to Gary Johnson, won’t like it. Others will, as James Poulos seeks to over at the Federalist, reimagine Paul’s limited policy aims as a broad and grand and ocean-deep set of assumptions about human nature. Aside from the unfortunate (but common) false characterizations about neoconservatives, Poulos interprets Rand Paul’s foreign policy as no less a utopian scheme than the strains of conservative foreign policy Poulos says Paul rejects. Elsewhere, Poulos credits Paul with ideas that neoconservatives have long been championing, such as the underestimated role of corruption in global affairs.

Suddenly, Paul’s unique approach to American foreign policy relies on nuance to even tell it apart from the status quo. That’s because Paul can read the polls, and he’s been watching the electorate he hopes to lead. One wonders, then, whether what will ultimately undo Paul is that he will have convinced his once-ardent supporters that he’s left their camp while failing to convince those who doubted him all along.

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