Commentary Magazine


Topic: The Netherlands

French-German Rift Puts Voters and Markets On Edge

The dominoes continue to fall. The deepening of the Eurozone economic crisis claimed the sitting governments of Greece and then of Italy, and the biggest domino yet–French President Nicolas Sarkozy–trailed French socialist Francois Hollande after the first round of voting during the weekend. As the French political class began preparing this morning for the upcoming runoff between Hollande and Sarkozy, they were greeted with the expected news of the collapse of the Dutch government.

This latest is the most significant for France, if only because the Netherlands was generally supportive of the austerity-first budget strategy promoted by Germany and backed by Sarkozy. But the political currents began pulling the French president as well, who was sufficiently spooked by the events of the past week, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

Following the weekend political developments in France and the Netherlands, the German-inspired fiscal pact, agreed by Eurozone leaders in Brussels in December, could also be delayed or thrown into question.

In a U-turn from his earlier stance, Mr. Sarkozy has used recent campaign rallies to call for changing the course of Eurozone policies to ensure they are also designed to stimulate growth.

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The dominoes continue to fall. The deepening of the Eurozone economic crisis claimed the sitting governments of Greece and then of Italy, and the biggest domino yet–French President Nicolas Sarkozy–trailed French socialist Francois Hollande after the first round of voting during the weekend. As the French political class began preparing this morning for the upcoming runoff between Hollande and Sarkozy, they were greeted with the expected news of the collapse of the Dutch government.

This latest is the most significant for France, if only because the Netherlands was generally supportive of the austerity-first budget strategy promoted by Germany and backed by Sarkozy. But the political currents began pulling the French president as well, who was sufficiently spooked by the events of the past week, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

Following the weekend political developments in France and the Netherlands, the German-inspired fiscal pact, agreed by Eurozone leaders in Brussels in December, could also be delayed or thrown into question.

In a U-turn from his earlier stance, Mr. Sarkozy has used recent campaign rallies to call for changing the course of Eurozone policies to ensure they are also designed to stimulate growth.

The blame game has commenced, with predictable parameters. The Journal’s editorial notes that because Sarkozy’s chances for success in the runoff election hinge on his ability to woo right-wing voters who supported neither Hollande nor Sarkozy in the first round, his “appeal will probably include a combination of anti-immigration riffs and more attacks on the European Central Bank (which has become the modern French substitute for running against the Germans).” The feeling is mutual, writes Mathieu von Rohr for Der Spiegel:

This election is a referendum on Sarkozy’s presidency…. His first-round result is poor, as was expected — Sarkozy is the first incumbent in the Fifth Republic who didn’t win the first round. It is an expression of the almost physical revulsion that many people feel for him.

If there’s any immediate relevance for President Obama’s reelection campaign, it’s that he probably cannot afford a Eurozone collapse or another serious financial crisis in Europe. A big question will be how the markets react and how nervous they get. In February, global markets rose on just the expectations that a Greek deal was imminent. In the near-term, this week’s events won’t calm anyone’s nerves, and the markets today predictably signaled their discontent. Long-term, a French-German split would likely be a headache for everyone on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Is It 1848 in the Arab World?

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

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At the UN, NGOs Blame Israel for Plight of Palestinian Women

Today a UN committee looked into whether Israel was complying with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). And, of course, human rights groups came out in full force to blame discrimination against Palestinian women on Israel — including the poor quality of girls’ education, domestic violence, and early marriage.

According to an NGO Monitor press release this morning, left-wing human rights groups like Badil, Al Haq, and the Defense for Children International “submitted a statement to the Committee prior to the review, regarding women’s rights in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. In addition, Badil prepared a supplement to the original submission. Many of their claims reflect the de-legitimization campaigns involving NGOs.”

Any rational and honest observer can see that it’s absurd to hold Israel accountable for women’s rights violations that are rampant throughout the entire Muslim world — the same violations that can be seen in every country and territory surrounding Israel.

But in addition to faulting Israel for problems that it clearly has little control over, human rights groups ignored even more troubling examples of female mistreatment that are widespread in the Palestinian territories:

The submission omits crucial women’s rights abuses, failing to address domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or murders termed “honor killings,” which in 1999 comprised more than two-thirds of all murders in Gaza and the West Bank, according to UNICEF. NGO Monitor also notes that WCLAC has received funding from the European Union, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Spain, Belgium and Ireland, along with other individual European governments.  OxfamNOVIB (Netherlands), George Soros’s Open Society Institute, and DanChurchAid (budgeted by the Danish government) also have provided funding.

“We again see foreign European funding to NGOs contribute to the demonization of Israel in the international arena, instead of addressing real human rights abuses.” Steinberg adds. “In this text, these NGOs place their political agenda ahead of goals to protect women. The submission fails to address the repressive Hamas regime in Gaza, which conducts female genital mutilation, forbids women to walk on the beach alone or smoke in public, and forces female lawyers to wear a hijab in court.  This NGO submission also omits the issues of polygamy and sexual assaults on peace activists that occur in the PA. These critical issues are not addressed because they are outside the NGO narrative that obsessively focuses on demonizing Israel.”

This is just another illustration of how problematic these European-funded NGOs have become in Israel. Of course, the Knesset’s recent creation of an investigatory committee into NGO funding is probably not the best way to deal with the situation — but it’s easy to see why the government was pushed in that direction. Israel simply must do something to combat the false narratives of politicized human rights groups, which are growing more outlandish every the day. But as a democratic country that has an interest in protecting free speech, it really has to be very cautious about how it handles this.

Today a UN committee looked into whether Israel was complying with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). And, of course, human rights groups came out in full force to blame discrimination against Palestinian women on Israel — including the poor quality of girls’ education, domestic violence, and early marriage.

According to an NGO Monitor press release this morning, left-wing human rights groups like Badil, Al Haq, and the Defense for Children International “submitted a statement to the Committee prior to the review, regarding women’s rights in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. In addition, Badil prepared a supplement to the original submission. Many of their claims reflect the de-legitimization campaigns involving NGOs.”

Any rational and honest observer can see that it’s absurd to hold Israel accountable for women’s rights violations that are rampant throughout the entire Muslim world — the same violations that can be seen in every country and territory surrounding Israel.

But in addition to faulting Israel for problems that it clearly has little control over, human rights groups ignored even more troubling examples of female mistreatment that are widespread in the Palestinian territories:

The submission omits crucial women’s rights abuses, failing to address domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or murders termed “honor killings,” which in 1999 comprised more than two-thirds of all murders in Gaza and the West Bank, according to UNICEF. NGO Monitor also notes that WCLAC has received funding from the European Union, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Spain, Belgium and Ireland, along with other individual European governments.  OxfamNOVIB (Netherlands), George Soros’s Open Society Institute, and DanChurchAid (budgeted by the Danish government) also have provided funding.

“We again see foreign European funding to NGOs contribute to the demonization of Israel in the international arena, instead of addressing real human rights abuses.” Steinberg adds. “In this text, these NGOs place their political agenda ahead of goals to protect women. The submission fails to address the repressive Hamas regime in Gaza, which conducts female genital mutilation, forbids women to walk on the beach alone or smoke in public, and forces female lawyers to wear a hijab in court.  This NGO submission also omits the issues of polygamy and sexual assaults on peace activists that occur in the PA. These critical issues are not addressed because they are outside the NGO narrative that obsessively focuses on demonizing Israel.”

This is just another illustration of how problematic these European-funded NGOs have become in Israel. Of course, the Knesset’s recent creation of an investigatory committee into NGO funding is probably not the best way to deal with the situation — but it’s easy to see why the government was pushed in that direction. Israel simply must do something to combat the false narratives of politicized human rights groups, which are growing more outlandish every the day. But as a democratic country that has an interest in protecting free speech, it really has to be very cautious about how it handles this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Euro-Freedom Watch

With little fanfare, the EU adopted new legislation this week that makes “certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia” criminal offenses — and allows individual EU nations to prosecute the citizens of other nations for those offenses. And no, it’s not European anti-Americanism that’s being targeted by the xenophobia provisions. Advocates of free speech in Europe are quite clear that what the new law will criminalize is analytical, factual, or hortatory discussion of Islam and Sharia by non-Muslims.

Their conclusion is bolstered by recent events. Geert Wilders of the Netherlands is only the most famous of several Europeans who have faced criminal charges for speaking critically of Islam. Another is Austrian journalist and activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, whose trial for “hate speech” opened in Vienna on November 23. Take a moment to read publicized transcripts of the proceedings; it is worth understanding that Sabaditsch-Wolff is being tried, literally, for quoting both the Koran and an authoritative work on Sunni law, and expressing criticism of the social institutions condoned in those religious texts.

She is not a cartoonist lampooning Muhammad, something most Westerners would recognize as less than respectful even if they didn’t all agree that it was “offensive.” Sabaditsch-Wolff quotes the texts of Islam seriously and accurately; she objects to their implications, but she doesn’t poke fun at them. However, as Ned May observes at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace:

It has been well-established in a number of jurisdictions — including several in the West — that a non-Muslim who quotes the Koran accurately can still be convicted of “hate speech”. This aligns with the definition of Islamic slander (also to be found in [Sunni law document] Reliance) which considers anything that insults Islam, whether true or false, to be defamation.

The author at the pseudonymous Daphne Anson blog (top link) wonders what will happen if Turkey is finally admitted to the EU, given the newly approved framework allowing cross-border prosecutions in Europe. But I am inclined to wonder how the other nations will react to being in the same union with Austria and the Netherlands, which have already shown a willingness to prosecute free speech as a hate crime. The charges against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff are centered on questions like these, brought up one after another on the first day of her trial:

10:53: The judge inquires if we are talking about Islamic extremism, or of Islam as such?

Elisabeth explains that we are talking Islam as such, as defined by its scripture, and quotes Erdogan that there is no moderate Islam anyway.

The intellectual basis for her certainty (or the judge’s, for that matter) is not the issue here, nor should it be. The issue is that she is being prosecuted for forensic, critical investigation of Islam: for advancing opinions we hear argued nightly on American TV talk shows. The most basic of intellectual freedoms — attributing facts to sources and expressing opinions about them — is in the process of being criminalized in parts of the EU. Free-speech advocates fear that the new Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia will spread this trend toward criminalization across borders throughout Europe. They are justified in their concern.

With little fanfare, the EU adopted new legislation this week that makes “certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia” criminal offenses — and allows individual EU nations to prosecute the citizens of other nations for those offenses. And no, it’s not European anti-Americanism that’s being targeted by the xenophobia provisions. Advocates of free speech in Europe are quite clear that what the new law will criminalize is analytical, factual, or hortatory discussion of Islam and Sharia by non-Muslims.

Their conclusion is bolstered by recent events. Geert Wilders of the Netherlands is only the most famous of several Europeans who have faced criminal charges for speaking critically of Islam. Another is Austrian journalist and activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, whose trial for “hate speech” opened in Vienna on November 23. Take a moment to read publicized transcripts of the proceedings; it is worth understanding that Sabaditsch-Wolff is being tried, literally, for quoting both the Koran and an authoritative work on Sunni law, and expressing criticism of the social institutions condoned in those religious texts.

She is not a cartoonist lampooning Muhammad, something most Westerners would recognize as less than respectful even if they didn’t all agree that it was “offensive.” Sabaditsch-Wolff quotes the texts of Islam seriously and accurately; she objects to their implications, but she doesn’t poke fun at them. However, as Ned May observes at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace:

It has been well-established in a number of jurisdictions — including several in the West — that a non-Muslim who quotes the Koran accurately can still be convicted of “hate speech”. This aligns with the definition of Islamic slander (also to be found in [Sunni law document] Reliance) which considers anything that insults Islam, whether true or false, to be defamation.

The author at the pseudonymous Daphne Anson blog (top link) wonders what will happen if Turkey is finally admitted to the EU, given the newly approved framework allowing cross-border prosecutions in Europe. But I am inclined to wonder how the other nations will react to being in the same union with Austria and the Netherlands, which have already shown a willingness to prosecute free speech as a hate crime. The charges against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff are centered on questions like these, brought up one after another on the first day of her trial:

10:53: The judge inquires if we are talking about Islamic extremism, or of Islam as such?

Elisabeth explains that we are talking Islam as such, as defined by its scripture, and quotes Erdogan that there is no moderate Islam anyway.

The intellectual basis for her certainty (or the judge’s, for that matter) is not the issue here, nor should it be. The issue is that she is being prosecuted for forensic, critical investigation of Islam: for advancing opinions we hear argued nightly on American TV talk shows. The most basic of intellectual freedoms — attributing facts to sources and expressing opinions about them — is in the process of being criminalized in parts of the EU. Free-speech advocates fear that the new Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia will spread this trend toward criminalization across borders throughout Europe. They are justified in their concern.

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Anti-Israel Website Indirectly Funded by Dutch Government

The next time you come across an Electronic Intifada article alleging some devious Israeli plot to annex Palestinian olive groves, direct your eye-rolls toward The Hague. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Dutch government may have been unwittingly helping to finance the radical anti-Israel website for years.

The Post reported Friday that the Electronic Intifada is funded by the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, which is apparently being subsidized quite heavily by the Dutch government and the European Union:

The Dutch government has been funding the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, a Dutch aid organization that finances the Electronic Intifada website that, NGO Monitor told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, is anti-Semitic and frequently compares Israeli policies with those of the Nazi regime.

NGO Monitor’s exposure of Dutch government funding for the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) prompted Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal to say on Thursday, “I will look into the matter personally. If it appears that the government subsidized NGO ICCO does fund Electronic Intifada, it will have a serious problem with me.”

The Post reports that the Dutch government provided €124 million to the ICCO in 2008, which the NGO Monitor says makes up 90 percent of the group’s budget. The European Union reportedly contributed another 6 percent.

The Electronic Intifada is one of the most prominent peddlers of anti-Israel demagoguery on the English-speaking Web. Founded and run by Ali Abunimah, its articles promote a one-state solution, accuse Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” and regularly compare the Jewish state to Nazi Germany. Abunimah has also published the personal information of IDF soldiers, including home addresses.

Anti-Semitism is punishable by law in the Netherlands, and the Dutch foreign ministry said that the public prosecutor will look into whether the ICCO’s financing of the Electronic Intifada constitutes the promotion of anti-Semitism.

Random musing: If even the Dutch government thinks the Electronic Intifada is toxic, what does that say about the New York Times, which has published Abunimah’s columns and quoted him in news articles as an objective expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

The next time you come across an Electronic Intifada article alleging some devious Israeli plot to annex Palestinian olive groves, direct your eye-rolls toward The Hague. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Dutch government may have been unwittingly helping to finance the radical anti-Israel website for years.

The Post reported Friday that the Electronic Intifada is funded by the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, which is apparently being subsidized quite heavily by the Dutch government and the European Union:

The Dutch government has been funding the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, a Dutch aid organization that finances the Electronic Intifada website that, NGO Monitor told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, is anti-Semitic and frequently compares Israeli policies with those of the Nazi regime.

NGO Monitor’s exposure of Dutch government funding for the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) prompted Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal to say on Thursday, “I will look into the matter personally. If it appears that the government subsidized NGO ICCO does fund Electronic Intifada, it will have a serious problem with me.”

The Post reports that the Dutch government provided €124 million to the ICCO in 2008, which the NGO Monitor says makes up 90 percent of the group’s budget. The European Union reportedly contributed another 6 percent.

The Electronic Intifada is one of the most prominent peddlers of anti-Israel demagoguery on the English-speaking Web. Founded and run by Ali Abunimah, its articles promote a one-state solution, accuse Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” and regularly compare the Jewish state to Nazi Germany. Abunimah has also published the personal information of IDF soldiers, including home addresses.

Anti-Semitism is punishable by law in the Netherlands, and the Dutch foreign ministry said that the public prosecutor will look into whether the ICCO’s financing of the Electronic Intifada constitutes the promotion of anti-Semitism.

Random musing: If even the Dutch government thinks the Electronic Intifada is toxic, what does that say about the New York Times, which has published Abunimah’s columns and quoted him in news articles as an objective expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

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More Lies from the BDS Movement

Since its inception, practically every major success claimed by the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has turned out to be either an outright lie or a massive exaggeration. The AJC’s Ben Cohen fact-checks the campaign’s most recent “victory” — its announcement that the largest pension fund in the Netherlands recently divested from Israeli companies — and finds this to be yet another hoax.

While the Dutch pension fund PGGM has reportedly withdrawn its investment from many of the Israeli companies in its portfolio, Cohen discovered that this was due to Israel’s recent admission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — and has absolutely nothing to do with any type of anti-Israel political movement:

I contacted the fund’s managers, the Dutch company PGGM, and they confirmed my suspicions. Back in May, Israel’s economic vibrancy secured its admission into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD,) which gathers together the world’s developed countries. As a result, funds focused upon emerging markets were obliged to withdraw their investments from Israeli companies, who’d moved to the different benchmark for developed markets. Bottom line: this had absolutely nothing to do with politically-motivated divestment.

This is reminiscent of the now-debunked claim that Harvard had divested from Israel over the summer. As the administration pointed out at the time, Israel had merely been re-classified as a “developed” market due to its economic growth. “Our emerging markets holdings were rebalanced accordingly,” said the school.

Other BDS movement “successes” that have been disproved over the past few years include Hampshire College’s alleged divestment in 2009 (which the school administration quickly refuted) and assertions that Motorola had joined the divestment movement.

In fact, the BDS campaign’s only actual victories seem to be getting B-list musicians to cancel concerts in Israel (which, in some cases, have arguably been more of a win for Israel).

Since its inception, practically every major success claimed by the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has turned out to be either an outright lie or a massive exaggeration. The AJC’s Ben Cohen fact-checks the campaign’s most recent “victory” — its announcement that the largest pension fund in the Netherlands recently divested from Israeli companies — and finds this to be yet another hoax.

While the Dutch pension fund PGGM has reportedly withdrawn its investment from many of the Israeli companies in its portfolio, Cohen discovered that this was due to Israel’s recent admission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — and has absolutely nothing to do with any type of anti-Israel political movement:

I contacted the fund’s managers, the Dutch company PGGM, and they confirmed my suspicions. Back in May, Israel’s economic vibrancy secured its admission into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD,) which gathers together the world’s developed countries. As a result, funds focused upon emerging markets were obliged to withdraw their investments from Israeli companies, who’d moved to the different benchmark for developed markets. Bottom line: this had absolutely nothing to do with politically-motivated divestment.

This is reminiscent of the now-debunked claim that Harvard had divested from Israel over the summer. As the administration pointed out at the time, Israel had merely been re-classified as a “developed” market due to its economic growth. “Our emerging markets holdings were rebalanced accordingly,” said the school.

Other BDS movement “successes” that have been disproved over the past few years include Hampshire College’s alleged divestment in 2009 (which the school administration quickly refuted) and assertions that Motorola had joined the divestment movement.

In fact, the BDS campaign’s only actual victories seem to be getting B-list musicians to cancel concerts in Israel (which, in some cases, have arguably been more of a win for Israel).

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The UAE No Fan of the Blackberry — or Intellectual Freedom

The link between political freedom and economic prosperity is by now well-established. It is no coincidence that capitalism and democracy developed at roughly the same time and in the same place — 18th-century Great Britain and to a lesser extent the 17th-century Netherlands. It is hard for a country to prosper if it has a political system intolerant of the kind of intellectual freedom needed to generate good ideas and to attract freethinkers.

That news doesn’t seem to have reached the United Arab Emirates, which has announced plans to ban Blackberry e-mails and text messages because the state-security services find them hard to monitor. Perhaps as a Crackberry addict. I’m biased, but I have to say that this is one of the dumber decisions that the UAE could make given that Dubai — its principal city — has built its wealth on its reputation for being freer and more business-friendly than the surrounding Arab states.

If this decision stands, Dubai’s long-term future, already endangered by reckless real-estate speculation, could be further put at risk.

The link between political freedom and economic prosperity is by now well-established. It is no coincidence that capitalism and democracy developed at roughly the same time and in the same place — 18th-century Great Britain and to a lesser extent the 17th-century Netherlands. It is hard for a country to prosper if it has a political system intolerant of the kind of intellectual freedom needed to generate good ideas and to attract freethinkers.

That news doesn’t seem to have reached the United Arab Emirates, which has announced plans to ban Blackberry e-mails and text messages because the state-security services find them hard to monitor. Perhaps as a Crackberry addict. I’m biased, but I have to say that this is one of the dumber decisions that the UAE could make given that Dubai — its principal city — has built its wealth on its reputation for being freer and more business-friendly than the surrounding Arab states.

If this decision stands, Dubai’s long-term future, already endangered by reckless real-estate speculation, could be further put at risk.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Pay attention to how Obama behaves, not what he says.

Pay attention to the wailing on the left. “For many liberals, this is the summer of their discontent. Already disappointed with President Barack Obama’s ability to deliver on campaign promises, they now contemplate a slowing economic recovery and a good chance of Republican gains in November. Such developments would make enacting Obama’s agenda even more difficult.” It makes you wonder just how low Democratic turnout will be in November.

Pay attention to the circular firing squad — further evidence of the political damage Obama has wreaked on his party. “Democratic governors facing grim budget choices, lingering unemployment and angry voters are pointing a finger at their colleagues in Democratic-controlled Washington to explain this year’s toxic political climate. Few will directly fault President Barack Obama for their party’s plight heading into the fall midterm elections, but the state chief executives gathered here for the National Governors Association meeting believe Congress and the White House have made an already difficult year worse.”

Pay attention to how expectations have been lowered by the White House. Robert Gibbs on Meet the Press: “I think there’s no doubt that there are a lot of seats that will be up, a lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have a choice to make in the fall.  But I think there’s no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There’s no doubt about that. This will depend on strong campaigns by Democrats.” Notice how he shifts the onus to Democrats to save themselves from the negative impact of Obama.

Pay attention to the numbers. No matter how negative Obama’s rhetoric becomes, Mark McKinnon explains that: “It may not matter. The Democratic base is just not energized, unmoved by tired clichés and campaign retreads all about looking back. Blaming George W. Bush won’t help. About 132 million people voted in 2008. And if history repeats itself in the upcoming midterm elections, up to 40 million of them won’t show up again. Chances are many were one-time Obama voters.”

Pay attention to George Will on the “peace process”: “The Palestinians are holding out hoping that American pressure will be put on Israel to make concessions that they should be trying to get at the negotiating table, which makes me think that, once again, the peace process itself is the biggest impediment to peace. We’re constantly lecturing the Israelis, for whom getting up in the morning and getting on a bus can be a risk, that they ought to take a risk for peace. The Israelis say, we withdrew from Gaza. What did it get us? Hamas took over. We now have a terrorist state in Gaza armed with all kinds of rockets. We withdrew from southern Lebanon. Now we have Hezbollah dominating that with 65,000 short-range rockets and now scuds coming from Syria that can hit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”

Pay attention – always — to Paul. “The mystic mollusc confirmed his flawless accuracy after Spain lifted the trophy, beating Holland 1-0. Paul has become England’s only hero of the tournament after accurately foretelling the result of all six matches involving Germany.”

Pay attention, Republican office holders, to Chris Christie. He’s got the right idea — be bold. “New Jersey would close its centralized car inspection lanes and motorists would pay for their own emissions tests under a sweeping set of recommendations set to be released by the Christie administration today. State parks, psychiatric hospitals and even turnpike toll booths could also be run by private operators, according to the 57-page report on privatization obtained by The Star-Ledger. Preschool classrooms would no longer be built at public expense, state employees would pay for parking and private vendors would dish out food, deliver health care and run education programs behind prison walls. All told, the report says, New Jersey could save at least $210 million a year by delivering an array of services through private hands.”

Pay attention to how Obama behaves, not what he says.

Pay attention to the wailing on the left. “For many liberals, this is the summer of their discontent. Already disappointed with President Barack Obama’s ability to deliver on campaign promises, they now contemplate a slowing economic recovery and a good chance of Republican gains in November. Such developments would make enacting Obama’s agenda even more difficult.” It makes you wonder just how low Democratic turnout will be in November.

Pay attention to the circular firing squad — further evidence of the political damage Obama has wreaked on his party. “Democratic governors facing grim budget choices, lingering unemployment and angry voters are pointing a finger at their colleagues in Democratic-controlled Washington to explain this year’s toxic political climate. Few will directly fault President Barack Obama for their party’s plight heading into the fall midterm elections, but the state chief executives gathered here for the National Governors Association meeting believe Congress and the White House have made an already difficult year worse.”

Pay attention to how expectations have been lowered by the White House. Robert Gibbs on Meet the Press: “I think there’s no doubt that there are a lot of seats that will be up, a lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have a choice to make in the fall.  But I think there’s no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There’s no doubt about that. This will depend on strong campaigns by Democrats.” Notice how he shifts the onus to Democrats to save themselves from the negative impact of Obama.

Pay attention to the numbers. No matter how negative Obama’s rhetoric becomes, Mark McKinnon explains that: “It may not matter. The Democratic base is just not energized, unmoved by tired clichés and campaign retreads all about looking back. Blaming George W. Bush won’t help. About 132 million people voted in 2008. And if history repeats itself in the upcoming midterm elections, up to 40 million of them won’t show up again. Chances are many were one-time Obama voters.”

Pay attention to George Will on the “peace process”: “The Palestinians are holding out hoping that American pressure will be put on Israel to make concessions that they should be trying to get at the negotiating table, which makes me think that, once again, the peace process itself is the biggest impediment to peace. We’re constantly lecturing the Israelis, for whom getting up in the morning and getting on a bus can be a risk, that they ought to take a risk for peace. The Israelis say, we withdrew from Gaza. What did it get us? Hamas took over. We now have a terrorist state in Gaza armed with all kinds of rockets. We withdrew from southern Lebanon. Now we have Hezbollah dominating that with 65,000 short-range rockets and now scuds coming from Syria that can hit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”

Pay attention – always — to Paul. “The mystic mollusc confirmed his flawless accuracy after Spain lifted the trophy, beating Holland 1-0. Paul has become England’s only hero of the tournament after accurately foretelling the result of all six matches involving Germany.”

Pay attention, Republican office holders, to Chris Christie. He’s got the right idea — be bold. “New Jersey would close its centralized car inspection lanes and motorists would pay for their own emissions tests under a sweeping set of recommendations set to be released by the Christie administration today. State parks, psychiatric hospitals and even turnpike toll booths could also be run by private operators, according to the 57-page report on privatization obtained by The Star-Ledger. Preschool classrooms would no longer be built at public expense, state employees would pay for parking and private vendors would dish out food, deliver health care and run education programs behind prison walls. All told, the report says, New Jersey could save at least $210 million a year by delivering an array of services through private hands.”

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Still Spying After All These Years

One thing the emerging Russian spy scandal demonstrates is that America really is one heck of a melting pot. Where else would you find neighbors referring to a couple whose names are Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills as “the Russian parents” because of their Russian accents? Hey, it could happen. If a Russian ends up going by the name Patricia Mills for a legal or logical reason, America is where she’ll do it.

This is all to the good for social harmony, but it does make it easier for Russian agents to hide in plain sight. That’s one lesson from the spy incident. Another is the very basic lesson that the espionage is ongoing. It hasn’t stopped; it isn’t going to. Russia has never ceased being one of the two most espionage-invested nations in the world (the other is China). Significant infiltration by Russian spies has been reported over the past two years by Britain, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and the Netherlands. The NATO headquarters in Belgium had to remove Russian spies in 2008 and 2009. Japan and Australia have dealt with influxes of Russian spies in the last several years. Smaller-scale incidents have occurred in Canada and India.

But there are two other things we should pay attention to in the break-up of this spy ring. One is that the Russians considered it worthwhile to cultivate agents in interactive occupations that facilitate logistics, and from which access might be gained to individuals with primary knowledge of political and defense topics. People in real estate, travel planning, and opinion journalism fit this role. I see a lot of bloggers today poking fun at this method — and at the conduct of the ring in general — but this is classic, professional intelligence craft. Several of the 11 who have been arrested would more correctly be called agents than spies, but that is really the point: what we are seeing the outlines of is not a single, targeted campaign but a routine modus operandi.

The other aspect of interest is the alleged participation in the Russian ring of El Diario writer Vicky Pelaez and her husband Juan Lazaro. Latin American media are reporting that Pelaez is Peruvian and Lazaro is from Uruguay; Pelaez was reportedly a well-known TV reporter in Peru in the 1980s. She, at least, seems to be a person with a valid history, using the name she was born with. That makes her unusual in this group. It suggests her choice to act as an agent for Russia was prompted by political motivations.

Others have noted the very left-leaning tendency of her positions. She was quoted at length in a recent press release by Fidel Castro; in 2003, she penned an explanation of the putative  “Trotskyist roots of neoconservatism” that sparked furious debate among serious socialists over her invocation of Trotsky’s concept of “permanent revolution.” This is an ideological leftist who knows the theory and lingo.

And when she accepted a spying assignment, she accepted it from Russia. Her arrest certainly doesn’t implicate other left-wing journalists in espionage. But this echo from the Cold War ought to give us pause. Russia is no longer the global standard-bearer of Marxism, but it appears Marxists from elsewhere are still spying for Russia.

One thing the emerging Russian spy scandal demonstrates is that America really is one heck of a melting pot. Where else would you find neighbors referring to a couple whose names are Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills as “the Russian parents” because of their Russian accents? Hey, it could happen. If a Russian ends up going by the name Patricia Mills for a legal or logical reason, America is where she’ll do it.

This is all to the good for social harmony, but it does make it easier for Russian agents to hide in plain sight. That’s one lesson from the spy incident. Another is the very basic lesson that the espionage is ongoing. It hasn’t stopped; it isn’t going to. Russia has never ceased being one of the two most espionage-invested nations in the world (the other is China). Significant infiltration by Russian spies has been reported over the past two years by Britain, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and the Netherlands. The NATO headquarters in Belgium had to remove Russian spies in 2008 and 2009. Japan and Australia have dealt with influxes of Russian spies in the last several years. Smaller-scale incidents have occurred in Canada and India.

But there are two other things we should pay attention to in the break-up of this spy ring. One is that the Russians considered it worthwhile to cultivate agents in interactive occupations that facilitate logistics, and from which access might be gained to individuals with primary knowledge of political and defense topics. People in real estate, travel planning, and opinion journalism fit this role. I see a lot of bloggers today poking fun at this method — and at the conduct of the ring in general — but this is classic, professional intelligence craft. Several of the 11 who have been arrested would more correctly be called agents than spies, but that is really the point: what we are seeing the outlines of is not a single, targeted campaign but a routine modus operandi.

The other aspect of interest is the alleged participation in the Russian ring of El Diario writer Vicky Pelaez and her husband Juan Lazaro. Latin American media are reporting that Pelaez is Peruvian and Lazaro is from Uruguay; Pelaez was reportedly a well-known TV reporter in Peru in the 1980s. She, at least, seems to be a person with a valid history, using the name she was born with. That makes her unusual in this group. It suggests her choice to act as an agent for Russia was prompted by political motivations.

Others have noted the very left-leaning tendency of her positions. She was quoted at length in a recent press release by Fidel Castro; in 2003, she penned an explanation of the putative  “Trotskyist roots of neoconservatism” that sparked furious debate among serious socialists over her invocation of Trotsky’s concept of “permanent revolution.” This is an ideological leftist who knows the theory and lingo.

And when she accepted a spying assignment, she accepted it from Russia. Her arrest certainly doesn’t implicate other left-wing journalists in espionage. But this echo from the Cold War ought to give us pause. Russia is no longer the global standard-bearer of Marxism, but it appears Marxists from elsewhere are still spying for Russia.

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What’s More Important, the Environment or the Environmentalists?

To the Obama administration, it seems that it’s the latter. According to Canada’s Financial Post (h/t Instapundit), the administration turned down an offer from the Dutch to send skimmer boats that are far better and more capable than the ones we have because the water they discharge back into the ocean doesn’t meet the regulatory requirement that it be 99.9985 percent pure. Skimmer boats in a disastrous oil spill, in other words, are subject to a rule intended for bilge pumps.

Why does neither the U.S. government nor the U.S. energy companies have on hand the cleanup technology available in Europe? Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil, and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn’t good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million — if water isn’t at least 99.9985 percent pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

So thanks to a regulation that could have been waived in a second, rather than skim up most of the oil, the Obami chose to leave it all in the ocean. It gets worse:

The Americans, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of the BP spill, finally relented and took the Dutch up on their offer — but only partly. Because the U.S. didn’t want Dutch ships working the Gulf, the U.S. airlifted the Dutch equipment to the Gulf and then retrofitted it to U.S. vessels. And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions, the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained.

So rather than clean up the spilling oil, the Obami chose to put the interests of organized labor first.

The Dutch are the world’s foremost experts on protecting the margin between the sea and the land. It’s not hard to see why: one-third of the Netherlands is on that margin, below sea level. But the Obama administration preferred to play politics instead of getting all the help it could get as soon as it could get it.

The evidence is piling up that the Obama administration, through a combination of hubris, incompetence, and special-interest butt-kissing, has greatly worsened a very serious situation. I wonder when the American mainstream media is going to start reporting it.

To the Obama administration, it seems that it’s the latter. According to Canada’s Financial Post (h/t Instapundit), the administration turned down an offer from the Dutch to send skimmer boats that are far better and more capable than the ones we have because the water they discharge back into the ocean doesn’t meet the regulatory requirement that it be 99.9985 percent pure. Skimmer boats in a disastrous oil spill, in other words, are subject to a rule intended for bilge pumps.

Why does neither the U.S. government nor the U.S. energy companies have on hand the cleanup technology available in Europe? Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil, and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn’t good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million — if water isn’t at least 99.9985 percent pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

So thanks to a regulation that could have been waived in a second, rather than skim up most of the oil, the Obami chose to leave it all in the ocean. It gets worse:

The Americans, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of the BP spill, finally relented and took the Dutch up on their offer — but only partly. Because the U.S. didn’t want Dutch ships working the Gulf, the U.S. airlifted the Dutch equipment to the Gulf and then retrofitted it to U.S. vessels. And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions, the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained.

So rather than clean up the spilling oil, the Obami chose to put the interests of organized labor first.

The Dutch are the world’s foremost experts on protecting the margin between the sea and the land. It’s not hard to see why: one-third of the Netherlands is on that margin, below sea level. But the Obama administration preferred to play politics instead of getting all the help it could get as soon as it could get it.

The evidence is piling up that the Obama administration, through a combination of hubris, incompetence, and special-interest butt-kissing, has greatly worsened a very serious situation. I wonder when the American mainstream media is going to start reporting it.

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Sexual Orientation and the Military

Supporters of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy are finding it hard to make persuasive arguments in its favor. At least that’s the only conclusion I can draw from the bizarre suggestion put forward at a Senate hearing by John Sheehan, a retired four-star Marine general who once ran NATO’s Atlantic Command. He suggested that Dutch soldiers failed to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 because there were too many gays in the ranks! The Dutch reaction is on-target:

“It is astonishing that a man of his stature can utter such complete nonsense,” Dutch defense-ministry spokesman Roger van de Wetering said in response.

“The Srebrenica massacre and the involvement of UN soldiers was extensively investigated by the Netherlands, international organizations and the United Nations.

“Never was there in any way concluded that the sexual orientation of soldiers played a role.”

Next, perhaps, General Sheehan will suggest that Israel’s failure to more decisively defeat Hezbollah in 2006 was also due to the presence of openly gay service people. That might also explain Britain’s failure to pacify Basra. And the Spartans’ failure to defeat the Persians at Thermopylae. Or not.

Bizarre as this argument is, a rejoinder from British journalist Toby Young was just as weird. He writes, “Isn’t the General aware that some of the finest soldiers in the history of warfare have been ‘openly homosexual’?” Actually, while the sexuality of various generals such as Bernard Law Montgomery and Lord Kitchener has been much gossiped about, it is hard to think of any prominent commanders who were openly gay since the days of antiquity. The example Young cites is truly off-the-wall: Orde Wingate.

I happen to know a fair amount about Wingate, an unconventional British army officer who rose to fame commanding the Chindit special force in Japanese-held Burma in World War II. Previously he had served with distinction in Palestine and Abyssinia. He is still remembered in Israel for his strong Zionism. I’m writing about Wingate in my history of guerrilla warfare, and, having read pretty much everything that has been published about him, I have not found a single suggestion that he was homosexual. Until now.

Admittedly, Wingate was very odd; for instance, he received visitors to his quarters in the nude. But gay? If Young has any actual evidence to support this allegation, he doesn’t present it. Actually Wingate was devoted to his wife Lorna, an intelligent beauty whom he met in 1933 when she was just 16 years old and he was 31. He immediately dumped his fiancée and married her. His letters to her were full of longing and devotion. Young is making up history as he goes along by suggesting that there was something sexual about Wingate’s relationship with his aide Abraham Akavia, who worked with him in Palestine and Abyssinia.

The general point remains valid. There have undoubtedly been many brave, successful gay soldiers. But I object to the modern habit, especially common among trendy academics, of attributing homosexuality to random historical figures based on scant evidence — a trend that has even encompassed Abraham Lincoln. This is projecting our own obsession with sex into the past.

Supporters of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy are finding it hard to make persuasive arguments in its favor. At least that’s the only conclusion I can draw from the bizarre suggestion put forward at a Senate hearing by John Sheehan, a retired four-star Marine general who once ran NATO’s Atlantic Command. He suggested that Dutch soldiers failed to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 because there were too many gays in the ranks! The Dutch reaction is on-target:

“It is astonishing that a man of his stature can utter such complete nonsense,” Dutch defense-ministry spokesman Roger van de Wetering said in response.

“The Srebrenica massacre and the involvement of UN soldiers was extensively investigated by the Netherlands, international organizations and the United Nations.

“Never was there in any way concluded that the sexual orientation of soldiers played a role.”

Next, perhaps, General Sheehan will suggest that Israel’s failure to more decisively defeat Hezbollah in 2006 was also due to the presence of openly gay service people. That might also explain Britain’s failure to pacify Basra. And the Spartans’ failure to defeat the Persians at Thermopylae. Or not.

Bizarre as this argument is, a rejoinder from British journalist Toby Young was just as weird. He writes, “Isn’t the General aware that some of the finest soldiers in the history of warfare have been ‘openly homosexual’?” Actually, while the sexuality of various generals such as Bernard Law Montgomery and Lord Kitchener has been much gossiped about, it is hard to think of any prominent commanders who were openly gay since the days of antiquity. The example Young cites is truly off-the-wall: Orde Wingate.

I happen to know a fair amount about Wingate, an unconventional British army officer who rose to fame commanding the Chindit special force in Japanese-held Burma in World War II. Previously he had served with distinction in Palestine and Abyssinia. He is still remembered in Israel for his strong Zionism. I’m writing about Wingate in my history of guerrilla warfare, and, having read pretty much everything that has been published about him, I have not found a single suggestion that he was homosexual. Until now.

Admittedly, Wingate was very odd; for instance, he received visitors to his quarters in the nude. But gay? If Young has any actual evidence to support this allegation, he doesn’t present it. Actually Wingate was devoted to his wife Lorna, an intelligent beauty whom he met in 1933 when she was just 16 years old and he was 31. He immediately dumped his fiancée and married her. His letters to her were full of longing and devotion. Young is making up history as he goes along by suggesting that there was something sexual about Wingate’s relationship with his aide Abraham Akavia, who worked with him in Palestine and Abyssinia.

The general point remains valid. There have undoubtedly been many brave, successful gay soldiers. But I object to the modern habit, especially common among trendy academics, of attributing homosexuality to random historical figures based on scant evidence — a trend that has even encompassed Abraham Lincoln. This is projecting our own obsession with sex into the past.

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Personal Popularity ≠ Effectiveness

I would think that his first year in office has been a chastening one for Barack Obama, who has had to learn the limits of the politics of personality — specifically the limits of his personality to change the world.

Lesson No. 1,043 comes today courtesy of the Dutch government, which is pulling its forces out of Afghanistan despite Obama’s pleas that they stay. As the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, observed: “When President Bush asked us to extend our activities we said yes and when President Obama, who has a lot of support in the Netherlands, made such a request, we say no.”

I am sure that Obama still remains popular in the Netherlands — as he does in many other places around the world. But once again, his personal popularity is not translating into an ability to carry out his agenda.

I would think that his first year in office has been a chastening one for Barack Obama, who has had to learn the limits of the politics of personality — specifically the limits of his personality to change the world.

Lesson No. 1,043 comes today courtesy of the Dutch government, which is pulling its forces out of Afghanistan despite Obama’s pleas that they stay. As the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, observed: “When President Bush asked us to extend our activities we said yes and when President Obama, who has a lot of support in the Netherlands, made such a request, we say no.”

I am sure that Obama still remains popular in the Netherlands — as he does in many other places around the world. But once again, his personal popularity is not translating into an ability to carry out his agenda.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sometimes you get the sense that it won’t be the Democrats’ year: “Broadway Bank, the troubled Chicago lender owned by the family of Illinois Treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, has entered into a consent order with banking regulators requiring it to raise tens of millions in capital, stop paying dividends to the family without regulatory approval, and hire an outside party to evaluate the bank’s senior management.”

There’s no one to blame when you control both branches of government: “Twenty-nine percent (29%) of U.S. voters now say the country is heading in the right direction, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. This is the lowest level of voter confidence in the nation’s current course so far this year – and ties the findings for two weeks in December.”

I suspect he’ll be the first major adviser to go: “Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner came under fierce bipartisan criticism on Wednesday, with some House Republicans calling on him to resign. Democrats and Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform grilled Geithner about his role in the bailout of American International Group (AIG) and whether he was involved in decisions about the lack of public disclosure about complicated derivatives payments. Geithner faced repeated criticisms about his role in the government paying out $62 billion to AIG’s financial counterparties that represented the full value they were owed.” Remember, we had to have the tax cheat as treasury secretary because he was such a genius.

But in the list of awful appointees, Eric Holder is certainly near the top. “Top Senate Republicans want answers from the man they believe decided the FBI should read the suspected Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights: Attorney General Eric Holder. ‘It appears that the decision not to thoroughly interrogate Abdulmutallab was made by you or other senior officials in the Department of Justice,’ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) wrote in a letter to Holder Wednesday. ‘We remain deeply troubled that this paramount requirement of national security was ignored — or worse yet, not recognized — due to the administration’s preoccupation with reading the Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights.’” Sens. Kit Bond of Missouri, the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee; Susan Collins of  Maine, the ranking member on Homeland Security; Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee; and John McCain of Arizona, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, also signed.

Jeffrey Goldberg rips the Beagle Blogger for praising the “bravery” of Daniel Larison’s Israel-bashing. Says Goldberg: “How brave it is to stand athwart the Jews and yell ‘Stop!’ We are a dangerous group of people. Just look at what has happened to other critics who have gone where angels fear to tread and criticized Israel. Take, for example, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the authors of ‘The Israel Lobby.’  Walt, as many of you know, is in hiding in Holland, under round-the-clock protection of the Dutch police, after the chief rabbi of Wellesley, Mass., issued a fatwa calling for his assassination. Mearsheimer, of course, lost his job at the University of Chicago and was physically assaulted by a group of Hadassah ladies in what became known as the ‘Grapefruit Spoon Attack of 2009.’” Read the whole thing.

PETA wants an animatronic Punxsutawney Phil for Groundhog’s Day. The response from the Punxsutawney club president: “I mean, come on, this is just crazy. … Phil is probably treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania. … He’s got air conditioning in the summer, his pen is heated in winter. … He has everything but a TV in there. What more do you want?” Maybe the TV.

Mayor Bloomberg wakes up and finally opposes the KSM trial in New York. Robert Gibbs is noncommittal. Is this the beginning of a walk-back potentially more dramatic than not closing Guantanamo? Let’s hope.

Seems they’re now in the business of trying to win elections: “Members of a committee of state party chairmen voted unanimously today to oppose a so-called ‘purity test’ for GOP candidates, according to a source in the closed-press meeting.”

Chris Matthews is hooted down by the Left after putting his foot in his mouth once again. (“I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.”) Well, if the MSNBC gig doesn’t work out, he can write speeches for Harry Reid.

Sometimes you get the sense that it won’t be the Democrats’ year: “Broadway Bank, the troubled Chicago lender owned by the family of Illinois Treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, has entered into a consent order with banking regulators requiring it to raise tens of millions in capital, stop paying dividends to the family without regulatory approval, and hire an outside party to evaluate the bank’s senior management.”

There’s no one to blame when you control both branches of government: “Twenty-nine percent (29%) of U.S. voters now say the country is heading in the right direction, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. This is the lowest level of voter confidence in the nation’s current course so far this year – and ties the findings for two weeks in December.”

I suspect he’ll be the first major adviser to go: “Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner came under fierce bipartisan criticism on Wednesday, with some House Republicans calling on him to resign. Democrats and Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform grilled Geithner about his role in the bailout of American International Group (AIG) and whether he was involved in decisions about the lack of public disclosure about complicated derivatives payments. Geithner faced repeated criticisms about his role in the government paying out $62 billion to AIG’s financial counterparties that represented the full value they were owed.” Remember, we had to have the tax cheat as treasury secretary because he was such a genius.

But in the list of awful appointees, Eric Holder is certainly near the top. “Top Senate Republicans want answers from the man they believe decided the FBI should read the suspected Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights: Attorney General Eric Holder. ‘It appears that the decision not to thoroughly interrogate Abdulmutallab was made by you or other senior officials in the Department of Justice,’ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) wrote in a letter to Holder Wednesday. ‘We remain deeply troubled that this paramount requirement of national security was ignored — or worse yet, not recognized — due to the administration’s preoccupation with reading the Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights.’” Sens. Kit Bond of Missouri, the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee; Susan Collins of  Maine, the ranking member on Homeland Security; Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee; and John McCain of Arizona, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, also signed.

Jeffrey Goldberg rips the Beagle Blogger for praising the “bravery” of Daniel Larison’s Israel-bashing. Says Goldberg: “How brave it is to stand athwart the Jews and yell ‘Stop!’ We are a dangerous group of people. Just look at what has happened to other critics who have gone where angels fear to tread and criticized Israel. Take, for example, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the authors of ‘The Israel Lobby.’  Walt, as many of you know, is in hiding in Holland, under round-the-clock protection of the Dutch police, after the chief rabbi of Wellesley, Mass., issued a fatwa calling for his assassination. Mearsheimer, of course, lost his job at the University of Chicago and was physically assaulted by a group of Hadassah ladies in what became known as the ‘Grapefruit Spoon Attack of 2009.’” Read the whole thing.

PETA wants an animatronic Punxsutawney Phil for Groundhog’s Day. The response from the Punxsutawney club president: “I mean, come on, this is just crazy. … Phil is probably treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania. … He’s got air conditioning in the summer, his pen is heated in winter. … He has everything but a TV in there. What more do you want?” Maybe the TV.

Mayor Bloomberg wakes up and finally opposes the KSM trial in New York. Robert Gibbs is noncommittal. Is this the beginning of a walk-back potentially more dramatic than not closing Guantanamo? Let’s hope.

Seems they’re now in the business of trying to win elections: “Members of a committee of state party chairmen voted unanimously today to oppose a so-called ‘purity test’ for GOP candidates, according to a source in the closed-press meeting.”

Chris Matthews is hooted down by the Left after putting his foot in his mouth once again. (“I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.”) Well, if the MSNBC gig doesn’t work out, he can write speeches for Harry Reid.

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An All-Time-High Unfavorable Rating

Obama’s average unfavorable rating has reached an all-time high in RealClearPolitics, at 46.5 percent. Meanwhile, CNN reports:

Forty-eight percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday say Obama’s presidency has been a failure so far, with 47 percent saying Obama has been a success. The poll’s January 12 release comes just 8 days before Obama marks one year in the White House.

On individual issues, the public is recoiling from Obamaism:

“Only 44 percent approve of how Obama is handling the economy; just 4 in 10 give him a thumbs-up on health care and his approval rating on the federal deficit has plunged to 36 percent. Those are three of the four most important issues on the public’s mind today,” says [Polling Director Keating] Holland. “The president’s ratings also suffer from the growing perception that he is too liberal – 46 percent feel that way today, up 10 points from March.”

And they don’t much like his stance on Guantanamo. By a 55 to 32 percent margin, voters think the facility should be kept open.

It seems that having returned from holiday celebrations, hearing about ObamaCare for another couple of weeks, and taking a look at the awful unemployment situation, voters have been reminded how much they don’t agree with the president and how much they object to his leftward lurch. Those politicians who cling to his agenda will do so at their own risk. And those who were promised political cover from the White House were, frankly, had. Obama is struggling to stay afloat; he hardly has the political mojo to help his fellow Democrats — at least not those who come from states that aren’t in the bag. Like Massachusetts.

Obama’s average unfavorable rating has reached an all-time high in RealClearPolitics, at 46.5 percent. Meanwhile, CNN reports:

Forty-eight percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday say Obama’s presidency has been a failure so far, with 47 percent saying Obama has been a success. The poll’s January 12 release comes just 8 days before Obama marks one year in the White House.

On individual issues, the public is recoiling from Obamaism:

“Only 44 percent approve of how Obama is handling the economy; just 4 in 10 give him a thumbs-up on health care and his approval rating on the federal deficit has plunged to 36 percent. Those are three of the four most important issues on the public’s mind today,” says [Polling Director Keating] Holland. “The president’s ratings also suffer from the growing perception that he is too liberal – 46 percent feel that way today, up 10 points from March.”

And they don’t much like his stance on Guantanamo. By a 55 to 32 percent margin, voters think the facility should be kept open.

It seems that having returned from holiday celebrations, hearing about ObamaCare for another couple of weeks, and taking a look at the awful unemployment situation, voters have been reminded how much they don’t agree with the president and how much they object to his leftward lurch. Those politicians who cling to his agenda will do so at their own risk. And those who were promised political cover from the White House were, frankly, had. Obama is struggling to stay afloat; he hardly has the political mojo to help his fellow Democrats — at least not those who come from states that aren’t in the bag. Like Massachusetts.

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Does South Africa’s “Big Love” President Have a Lesson for Liberal America?

You have to hand it to the Republic of South Africa. That continent’s richest country may have a lot of problems, but there’s no obsessing about the sexual escapades of its political leaders in the way we prudish Americans obsess about ours. South Africans appear to believe in marriage and lots of it. In fact, in a story that didn’t make it into the pages of most American newspapers on Monday, Britain’s Guardian reports that South African President Jacob Zuma reaped the congratulations of his countrymen by marrying his third wife today in a traditional Zulu ceremony. The only hitch in the proceedings occurred when the 67-year-old president slipped and fell backward while performing a traditional solo dance throughout which he wore animal pelts and white tennis shoes. He is believed to be uninjured.

According to a different report about the event from the AP, South Africa’s new first (or should I say third) lady, 38-year-old Tobeka Madiba, has actually already been married to the president under civil law (he paid her family the bride price back in 2007) and has given birth to three of Zuma’s 19 children.

But three isn’t enough for the popular Zuma, who revels in his reputation as a representative of Zulu traditionalism. The Guardian says he is planning on marrying a fourth woman, Gloria Bongi Ngema, who has also already given birth to one of his children. His other wives are Sizakele Khumalo, whom he married in 1973, and Nompumelelo Ntuli, who became his wife in 2008. Another marriage ended in divorce (though that wife is now South Africa’s home-affairs minister). Yet another wife killed herself reportedly after describing her marriage as “24 years of hell.”

For those wondering how South African women feel toward a polygamist president, a better question would be to wonder how they feel toward a president who was tried for rape in 2006. Zuma was acquitted of raping the daughter of a family friend. His defense consisted of stating that he believed that the woman’s decision to see him alone was an invitation to consensual intercourse. The following year, the victim was granted asylum in the Netherlands.

While all this may seem either revolting or ridiculous to Western sensibilities, it does raise the question of whether or not polygamy is compatible with genuine democracy. Back in 2006, Stanley Kurtz penned a fascinating piece in the Weekly Standard, which insisted: “Polygamy in all its forms is a recipe for social structures that inhibit and ultimately undermine social freedom and democracy. A hard-won lesson of Western history is that genuine democratic self-rule begins at the hearth of the monogamous family.”

However, as Kurtz noted then, in the era we live in, a growing number of Americans, including the majority of some courts and legislatures, appear to believe that it is not only permissible but also mandatory to redefine our traditional concepts of marriage to allow gay unions. But it isn’t clear what legal — as opposed to religious — principle would mandate that same-sex marriage be labeled kosher while plural marriage still be treated as beyond the pale.

As HBO’s “Big Love” series about Mormon fundamentalists gears up for the premiere of its fourth season this week, Zuma’s shenanigans provide a version of reality TV that makes Bill Hendrickson, the show’s embattled home-improvement entrepreneur with three very different women to deal with at home, look pretty tame. But as Kurtz wrote in 2006, the impetus for the premise of the series may come from a liberal Hollywood mindset that seeks “to highlight the analogy between same-sex unions and polygamy.” The point is, if your libertarian instincts tell you that it’s none of your business if two men or two women marry each other, then why is it the state’s business if one man marries two, three, or four women, so long as they are all consenting adults? Kurtz’s answer, dictated in no small measure by his concern about the spread of polygamy in the West as a result of tolerance for the Muslim practice of plural marriage, was that “stable, monogamous, parenthood-focused marriage” is part of the foundation of a society in which freedom can thrive. There is little question that, as Zuma’s preeminence in South Africa proves, polygamy can lead to a society ruled by men, not laws. That’s a sobering thought that ought to worry even the most ardent libertarians on such issues.

You have to hand it to the Republic of South Africa. That continent’s richest country may have a lot of problems, but there’s no obsessing about the sexual escapades of its political leaders in the way we prudish Americans obsess about ours. South Africans appear to believe in marriage and lots of it. In fact, in a story that didn’t make it into the pages of most American newspapers on Monday, Britain’s Guardian reports that South African President Jacob Zuma reaped the congratulations of his countrymen by marrying his third wife today in a traditional Zulu ceremony. The only hitch in the proceedings occurred when the 67-year-old president slipped and fell backward while performing a traditional solo dance throughout which he wore animal pelts and white tennis shoes. He is believed to be uninjured.

According to a different report about the event from the AP, South Africa’s new first (or should I say third) lady, 38-year-old Tobeka Madiba, has actually already been married to the president under civil law (he paid her family the bride price back in 2007) and has given birth to three of Zuma’s 19 children.

But three isn’t enough for the popular Zuma, who revels in his reputation as a representative of Zulu traditionalism. The Guardian says he is planning on marrying a fourth woman, Gloria Bongi Ngema, who has also already given birth to one of his children. His other wives are Sizakele Khumalo, whom he married in 1973, and Nompumelelo Ntuli, who became his wife in 2008. Another marriage ended in divorce (though that wife is now South Africa’s home-affairs minister). Yet another wife killed herself reportedly after describing her marriage as “24 years of hell.”

For those wondering how South African women feel toward a polygamist president, a better question would be to wonder how they feel toward a president who was tried for rape in 2006. Zuma was acquitted of raping the daughter of a family friend. His defense consisted of stating that he believed that the woman’s decision to see him alone was an invitation to consensual intercourse. The following year, the victim was granted asylum in the Netherlands.

While all this may seem either revolting or ridiculous to Western sensibilities, it does raise the question of whether or not polygamy is compatible with genuine democracy. Back in 2006, Stanley Kurtz penned a fascinating piece in the Weekly Standard, which insisted: “Polygamy in all its forms is a recipe for social structures that inhibit and ultimately undermine social freedom and democracy. A hard-won lesson of Western history is that genuine democratic self-rule begins at the hearth of the monogamous family.”

However, as Kurtz noted then, in the era we live in, a growing number of Americans, including the majority of some courts and legislatures, appear to believe that it is not only permissible but also mandatory to redefine our traditional concepts of marriage to allow gay unions. But it isn’t clear what legal — as opposed to religious — principle would mandate that same-sex marriage be labeled kosher while plural marriage still be treated as beyond the pale.

As HBO’s “Big Love” series about Mormon fundamentalists gears up for the premiere of its fourth season this week, Zuma’s shenanigans provide a version of reality TV that makes Bill Hendrickson, the show’s embattled home-improvement entrepreneur with three very different women to deal with at home, look pretty tame. But as Kurtz wrote in 2006, the impetus for the premise of the series may come from a liberal Hollywood mindset that seeks “to highlight the analogy between same-sex unions and polygamy.” The point is, if your libertarian instincts tell you that it’s none of your business if two men or two women marry each other, then why is it the state’s business if one man marries two, three, or four women, so long as they are all consenting adults? Kurtz’s answer, dictated in no small measure by his concern about the spread of polygamy in the West as a result of tolerance for the Muslim practice of plural marriage, was that “stable, monogamous, parenthood-focused marriage” is part of the foundation of a society in which freedom can thrive. There is little question that, as Zuma’s preeminence in South Africa proves, polygamy can lead to a society ruled by men, not laws. That’s a sobering thought that ought to worry even the most ardent libertarians on such issues.

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In a Nutshell

Notice the language the president employs to describe an act of terrorism on the homeland:

On Christmas Day, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit. As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device on his body, setting off a fire.

Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and has been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft.

Allegedly. Suspect. Charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft. Would one ever guess this is anything but a routine criminal escapade? Of course not. We have Mirandized the “suspect” who is lawyered up. We can look forward to the civilian trial — if we can be so bold as to assume there is sufficient evidence to indict him — and if convicted (after a full trial  complete with the defendant’s explanation of his “justification” for his “crime”) he will be incarcerated in a U.S. prison where he can share his views on Islamic fundamentalism with its entire population, to which he will have full access after objecting (as did Richard Reid) to any unusual restrictions on contact with fellow prisoners or with his comrades on the outside. Feel safer yet?

Notice the language the president employs to describe an act of terrorism on the homeland:

On Christmas Day, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit. As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device on his body, setting off a fire.

Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and has been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft.

Allegedly. Suspect. Charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft. Would one ever guess this is anything but a routine criminal escapade? Of course not. We have Mirandized the “suspect” who is lawyered up. We can look forward to the civilian trial — if we can be so bold as to assume there is sufficient evidence to indict him — and if convicted (after a full trial  complete with the defendant’s explanation of his “justification” for his “crime”) he will be incarcerated in a U.S. prison where he can share his views on Islamic fundamentalism with its entire population, to which he will have full access after objecting (as did Richard Reid) to any unusual restrictions on contact with fellow prisoners or with his comrades on the outside. Feel safer yet?

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From Middle East Journal: A Dark Corner of Europe

cross-posted at Middle East Journal

“If Yugoslavia was the laboratory of Communism, then Communism would breathe its last dying breath here in Belgrade. And to judge by what [Slobodan] Milosevic was turning into by early 1989, Communism would exit the world stage revealed for what it truly was: fascism, without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time.” – Robert D. Kaplan

“You bombed my country.” These were the nearly first words I heard after clearing passport control on arrival in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, from a taxi driver who flagged me down inside the airport. “Fifteen countries bombed my country.”

I didn’t know what to say. Neither did my American friend and traveling companion Sean LaFreniere.

“Why are you here in Serbia?” the driver said.

“We’re tourists,” I lied. I didn’t want to say I was an American journalist on a trip through the former Yugoslavia with an end destination in Kosovo. Serbia’s last war of ethnic-cleansing was fought there, and it only ended when NATO, led by the United States, bombed Belgrade’s tyrant Slobodan Milosevic into submission. That was nine years ago, but just three months ago Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. A mob of Serbian nationalists answered by fire-bombing the American embassy. The U.S. responded by evacuating its non-essential employees.

“If people ask what two tourists are doing here,” the driver said, “where you are from, you say you’re from Holland.”

Read the rest of the post here.

cross-posted at Middle East Journal

“If Yugoslavia was the laboratory of Communism, then Communism would breathe its last dying breath here in Belgrade. And to judge by what [Slobodan] Milosevic was turning into by early 1989, Communism would exit the world stage revealed for what it truly was: fascism, without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time.” – Robert D. Kaplan

“You bombed my country.” These were the nearly first words I heard after clearing passport control on arrival in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, from a taxi driver who flagged me down inside the airport. “Fifteen countries bombed my country.”

I didn’t know what to say. Neither did my American friend and traveling companion Sean LaFreniere.

“Why are you here in Serbia?” the driver said.

“We’re tourists,” I lied. I didn’t want to say I was an American journalist on a trip through the former Yugoslavia with an end destination in Kosovo. Serbia’s last war of ethnic-cleansing was fought there, and it only ended when NATO, led by the United States, bombed Belgrade’s tyrant Slobodan Milosevic into submission. That was nine years ago, but just three months ago Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. A mob of Serbian nationalists answered by fire-bombing the American embassy. The U.S. responded by evacuating its non-essential employees.

“If people ask what two tourists are doing here,” the driver said, “where you are from, you say you’re from Holland.”

Read the rest of the post here.

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Great Britain to The Rescue

Back in March, I blogged about the case of Mehdi Kazemi’s efforts to obtain asylum in the UK. Kazemi, who came to Great Britain to study, is gay. Upon discovery that his boyfriend had been executed in Iran and that the authorities were after him, Kazemi applied for asylum, but with no luck. Thus begun a journey to Holland and back to England, in the hope of not being deported back to a certain death.

The good news is just in: The Home Office just granted asylum to Mr Kazemi. It is a small victor,y no doubt–thousands more remain oppressed in Iran for being gay or Baha’i, for daring to criticize the regime, for organizing independent workers’ unions, or for simply showing too much skin. Perhaps this is a reminder to Europeans–who have focused their diplomatic activities with Iran on the nuclear issue alone — that it would not be so bad if Europe started pressuring Iran on its human rights record as well. After all, Europe already has a legal basis for restricting trade with Iran on the ground of human rights violations. Why not use it?

Back in March, I blogged about the case of Mehdi Kazemi’s efforts to obtain asylum in the UK. Kazemi, who came to Great Britain to study, is gay. Upon discovery that his boyfriend had been executed in Iran and that the authorities were after him, Kazemi applied for asylum, but with no luck. Thus begun a journey to Holland and back to England, in the hope of not being deported back to a certain death.

The good news is just in: The Home Office just granted asylum to Mr Kazemi. It is a small victor,y no doubt–thousands more remain oppressed in Iran for being gay or Baha’i, for daring to criticize the regime, for organizing independent workers’ unions, or for simply showing too much skin. Perhaps this is a reminder to Europeans–who have focused their diplomatic activities with Iran on the nuclear issue alone — that it would not be so bad if Europe started pressuring Iran on its human rights record as well. After all, Europe already has a legal basis for restricting trade with Iran on the ground of human rights violations. Why not use it?

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Is Europe Heading Right?

Silvio Berlusconi is planning to appoint Roberto Calderoli, a far-Right critic of Islam, to his cabinet. Two years ago, during the first Danish cartoon firestorm, Calderoli went on television wearing a T-shirt bearing one of the offending images. A brave and admirable defense of freedom of expression in and of itself. But Calderoli didn’t stop at T-shirt activism. He threatened, cringe-inducingly, to walk a pig over the site of a proposed mosque in Padua. Then he made a headfirst dive into quasi-Fascism: After France lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup, Calderoli bragged that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding niggers, Muslims and communists.”

Berlusconi’s plan to appoint the former Reform Minister, along with other recent electoral shifts on the continent, raise a vital two-part question: Is Europe moving right? And, if so, how far?

Over the past six or so years, continental utopianism failed to produce the kind of unified EU we had been hearing so much about. Moreover, Europe’s hush-hush approach to Euro-Muslim relations failed to address the continued waves of unassimilated Muslim immigrants, witnessed everywhere from France to Italy to Spain to England to Holland. Europe talks a fabulous game of tolerance, but plays a ruthless game of tribal rugby. With some exceptions (Spain, for example) there’s increasing evidence that that most intemperate beast, the European Right, is awakening.

Witness the candidacy of Le Pen in France, or the career of Holland’s Pim Fortuyn, ended by assassination. Or take this week. In Italy, there’s the case of Berlusconi and his extreme potential appointee. Over the weekend, in England, staunch anti-Islamist Boris Johnson defeated Islamist apologist Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral race. Not troubling (perhaps even heartening) in itself. But on the heels of that victory, the extreme-Right British National Party’s Richard Barnbrook became the first BNP candidate ever to nab a seat in the London Assembly. To get the flavor of what Barnbrook is all about, consider this from the Daily Mail:

In public, Barnbrook has long favoured what one acquaintance calls a “Stormtrooper” brown suit and matching tie, which even his supporters feel is rather too suggestive of a Nuremberg rally for his electoral good.

Yikes. The problem with the European Right is that for every Berlusconi there’s a Calderoli, and for every Boris Johnson there’s a Barnbrook. Without a politically-defined national identity comparable to that of the United States, European nations are unable to mount a defense of ideals separate from a defense of (usually racialized) identity.

But one solution to the European conundrum may lie in the example of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He has said he wants to make France more like America. This means cutting back the extensive state benefits that keep the French from fully contributing to their country and attract hordes of equally unmotivated immigrants. It means saying no to Islamization without discarding religious plurality. It’s been slow going for “Sarko the American,” but moderation takes time. Extreme policies can be enacted instantly, without regard for side-effects. But that lack of caution is precisely what makes it–and politicians like Calderoli and Barnbrook– dangerous.

Silvio Berlusconi is planning to appoint Roberto Calderoli, a far-Right critic of Islam, to his cabinet. Two years ago, during the first Danish cartoon firestorm, Calderoli went on television wearing a T-shirt bearing one of the offending images. A brave and admirable defense of freedom of expression in and of itself. But Calderoli didn’t stop at T-shirt activism. He threatened, cringe-inducingly, to walk a pig over the site of a proposed mosque in Padua. Then he made a headfirst dive into quasi-Fascism: After France lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup, Calderoli bragged that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding niggers, Muslims and communists.”

Berlusconi’s plan to appoint the former Reform Minister, along with other recent electoral shifts on the continent, raise a vital two-part question: Is Europe moving right? And, if so, how far?

Over the past six or so years, continental utopianism failed to produce the kind of unified EU we had been hearing so much about. Moreover, Europe’s hush-hush approach to Euro-Muslim relations failed to address the continued waves of unassimilated Muslim immigrants, witnessed everywhere from France to Italy to Spain to England to Holland. Europe talks a fabulous game of tolerance, but plays a ruthless game of tribal rugby. With some exceptions (Spain, for example) there’s increasing evidence that that most intemperate beast, the European Right, is awakening.

Witness the candidacy of Le Pen in France, or the career of Holland’s Pim Fortuyn, ended by assassination. Or take this week. In Italy, there’s the case of Berlusconi and his extreme potential appointee. Over the weekend, in England, staunch anti-Islamist Boris Johnson defeated Islamist apologist Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral race. Not troubling (perhaps even heartening) in itself. But on the heels of that victory, the extreme-Right British National Party’s Richard Barnbrook became the first BNP candidate ever to nab a seat in the London Assembly. To get the flavor of what Barnbrook is all about, consider this from the Daily Mail:

In public, Barnbrook has long favoured what one acquaintance calls a “Stormtrooper” brown suit and matching tie, which even his supporters feel is rather too suggestive of a Nuremberg rally for his electoral good.

Yikes. The problem with the European Right is that for every Berlusconi there’s a Calderoli, and for every Boris Johnson there’s a Barnbrook. Without a politically-defined national identity comparable to that of the United States, European nations are unable to mount a defense of ideals separate from a defense of (usually racialized) identity.

But one solution to the European conundrum may lie in the example of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He has said he wants to make France more like America. This means cutting back the extensive state benefits that keep the French from fully contributing to their country and attract hordes of equally unmotivated immigrants. It means saying no to Islamization without discarding religious plurality. It’s been slow going for “Sarko the American,” but moderation takes time. Extreme policies can be enacted instantly, without regard for side-effects. But that lack of caution is precisely what makes it–and politicians like Calderoli and Barnbrook– dangerous.

Read Less




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