Commentary Magazine


Topic: University of California

Protect Free Speech on Campus–For Jewish Students Too

Back in 2010, pro-Palestinian groups at the University of California-Berkeley staged a protest of Israel during which they set up checkpoints around certain parts of campus asking people if they were Jewish before deciding to let them through, and then watched as Jessica Felber, a Jewish pro-Israel student, was allegedly assaulted trying to participate in a counter-protest. To many, the incident typified an uncomfortable reality about pro-Israel students on campuses around the country, though it has been particularly hostile at UC schools.

The harassment—which, as in Felber’s case, can sometimes turn violent—has been all-too-common at universities, even (sometimes especially) at schools with a vibrant Jewish community. Anti-Israel activity doesn’t always take the form of physical intimidation; as Brooke Goldstein and Gabriel Latner revealed in COMMENTARY last year, it can take the form of university-funded events that raise money for groups that aid terrorists. But though the latter example presents a clear solution—don’t enable such fundraising—the question of what to do about harassment, especially nonviolent harassment, has been more difficult for universities, which often try to err on the side of free speech, to answer.

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Back in 2010, pro-Palestinian groups at the University of California-Berkeley staged a protest of Israel during which they set up checkpoints around certain parts of campus asking people if they were Jewish before deciding to let them through, and then watched as Jessica Felber, a Jewish pro-Israel student, was allegedly assaulted trying to participate in a counter-protest. To many, the incident typified an uncomfortable reality about pro-Israel students on campuses around the country, though it has been particularly hostile at UC schools.

The harassment—which, as in Felber’s case, can sometimes turn violent—has been all-too-common at universities, even (sometimes especially) at schools with a vibrant Jewish community. Anti-Israel activity doesn’t always take the form of physical intimidation; as Brooke Goldstein and Gabriel Latner revealed in COMMENTARY last year, it can take the form of university-funded events that raise money for groups that aid terrorists. But though the latter example presents a clear solution—don’t enable such fundraising—the question of what to do about harassment, especially nonviolent harassment, has been more difficult for universities, which often try to err on the side of free speech, to answer.

So the University of California school system dispatched a task force to its campuses to interview students and try to get a sense of how bad things truly are for Jewish students. They found that things were just fine for liberal Jewish students who openly criticized Israel, but far less comfortable for Jewish students who supported Israel openly and even for those who refused to join in the routine condemnation of Israel found around campus and in classrooms. (More on this task force in a moment.)

But the issue is now somewhat out of the university’s hands, as the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office announced this month that it has opened an investigation into whether the school is fostering a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students by permitting anti-Semitism to thrive on campus. This has led to some well-founded concerns about whether free speech is in jeopardy at institutions of higher learning. Wendy Kaminer offers a welcome defense of free speech and incivility, but completely misrepresents the students’ complaints to the task force and displays her own snide hostility to the Jewish groups bringing the complaint. Kaminer writes:

But combine popular support for restricting hate speech with ardent Zionism, and you have a recipe for categorically equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and restricting anti-Zionist protests in order to protect Jewish students from “harassment” and “intimidation.”

But the story isn’t about “ardent” Zionists on the march. The issue is about Jewish students who are the targets of repeated displays of anti-Semitism. That may be protected speech, but to paint the young Jews here as the true threat turns the case upside-down. And since violence was deployed against a Jewish counter-protester, isn’t Kaminer at all concerned that the Jewish groups’ free speech rights are at risk? Also, Kaminer never explains why “ardent” Zionism is a potent ingredient in the threat to free speech. And what makes Zionism “ardent”–bringing a law suit after being physically assaulted for being Jewish? Kaminer continues:

Still the U.C. fact finders’ recommendations are worth noting: They recommend vigorous regulations of political speech, partly to deter “bigoted harassment,” yet their fact finding mission apparently uncovered no instances of serious harassment or intimidation: “No students indicated feeling physically unsafe on U.C. campuses,” they report. I guess they didn’t interview the students whose complaint sparked the current Department of Education investigation, for whom vitriolic anti-Zionist protests were the equivalent of Nazi propaganda, threatening incitement of violence against Jews, if not another Holocaust.

Put aside the absurdity of regarding Jews in post 9/11 America, who’ve been embraced by right wing Christian Zionists, as more at risk than Muslims.

First of all, Kaminer must be kidding about the supposed invulnerability of Jews compared to Muslims. As the FBI has made clear, Jews are far more often the targets of hate crimes than Muslims are. That doesn’t mean Muslims aren’t also at risk, but they are, statistically, at far less risk than Jews.

More importantly, Kaminer is misleading her audience about that fact-finding task force and the complaints of the students. UC’s Jewish students claim a double standard: they believe that free speech rights have been granted to only some groups, or some criticisms. The students also said that the university has been less than accommodating when it comes to the religious needs and observance of its Orthodox students. Thus, there is an issue of religious freedom here as well.

Additionally, the Jewish students raised an objection to what they see as a consistent use of university resources and university-sponsored offices or activities that promote bigotry against Jews. That’s not about nasty students, but an institutional bias against Jews. And finally, Jewish UC students feel they’ve been excluded from working for campus groups specifically because of their views on Israel or religious affiliation.

Kaminer is right to defend free speech, but she should do so without distorting the facts of the case and railing against “ardent” Zionists and “right wing” Christians.

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Group that Recruits Pro-Palestinian ‘Martyrs’ Gets Okay from Bard

Compiling a list of the most egregious uses of the shootings in Arizona this month to stifle legitimate debate would be a herculean task. But surely among the worst is a statement issued by Bard College president Leon Botstein, who invoked the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in an attempt to shut up those who are asking questions about his institution’s decision to give the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) the status of an authorized student club with full access to campus facilities.

ISM is, of course, more than just another left-wing group that agitates against Israel. It is an avowedly anti-Zionist organization that has as its mission the task of sending activists into the Arab-Israeli conflict as non-combatant auxiliaries for Palestinian terror groups and their political fronts. The ISM gained fame a few years ago as the group that sent Rachel Corrie, an American college student from Washington State, into Gaza to act as a human shield for the Hamas terrorist organization. Corrie became an anti-Zionist martyr when an Israeli bulldozer that was demolishing a home that housed a Hamas arms-smuggling tunnel crushed her while she was defending it with her body.

Bard, a liberal arts school in New York’s Hudson Valley, is well known for its summer music festival, but it has now also apparently earned the distinction of being the only American college campus with an active ISM chapter. Given the extremism of this organization and its penchant for placing its volunteers in harm’s way, there are, understandably, some who question the decision to treat it as the moral equivalent of a chess club. A good argument can be made that it is not the college’s job to decide which political groups students can or cannot join. But it is slightly disingenuous to claim, as Botstein does, that the issue here is whether students should be allow to debate or express their opinions about the Middle East. Bard students certainly have the right to denounce the existence of a Jewish state, oppose its right to self-defense, and defend those who advocate and carry out terrorism in order to further that cause. But it is not unreasonable to assert that groups that exist in order to literally facilitate such actions might be considered as falling outside the bounds of even the most freewheeling campus debates.

Botstein urges critics of the ISM to keep the Arizona shooting in mind and thus lower their voices. But rather than acting as if the group’s critics are conducting some kind of a witch hunt, he would do better to worry about the consequences of allowing a group that is prepared to sacrifice the lives of students to further the cause of anti-Zionism. And instead of worrying that Bard’s Israel-haters will get their feelings hurt by those who question the propriety of their presence on campus, he might also spare a thought for the question of whether facilitating ISM’s rabid bias against Israel and its supporters might be creating a hostile environment for Jewish students there, as turned out to be the case when anti-Israel activism ran amok at the University of California’s Irvine campus a few years ago.

Compiling a list of the most egregious uses of the shootings in Arizona this month to stifle legitimate debate would be a herculean task. But surely among the worst is a statement issued by Bard College president Leon Botstein, who invoked the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in an attempt to shut up those who are asking questions about his institution’s decision to give the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) the status of an authorized student club with full access to campus facilities.

ISM is, of course, more than just another left-wing group that agitates against Israel. It is an avowedly anti-Zionist organization that has as its mission the task of sending activists into the Arab-Israeli conflict as non-combatant auxiliaries for Palestinian terror groups and their political fronts. The ISM gained fame a few years ago as the group that sent Rachel Corrie, an American college student from Washington State, into Gaza to act as a human shield for the Hamas terrorist organization. Corrie became an anti-Zionist martyr when an Israeli bulldozer that was demolishing a home that housed a Hamas arms-smuggling tunnel crushed her while she was defending it with her body.

Bard, a liberal arts school in New York’s Hudson Valley, is well known for its summer music festival, but it has now also apparently earned the distinction of being the only American college campus with an active ISM chapter. Given the extremism of this organization and its penchant for placing its volunteers in harm’s way, there are, understandably, some who question the decision to treat it as the moral equivalent of a chess club. A good argument can be made that it is not the college’s job to decide which political groups students can or cannot join. But it is slightly disingenuous to claim, as Botstein does, that the issue here is whether students should be allow to debate or express their opinions about the Middle East. Bard students certainly have the right to denounce the existence of a Jewish state, oppose its right to self-defense, and defend those who advocate and carry out terrorism in order to further that cause. But it is not unreasonable to assert that groups that exist in order to literally facilitate such actions might be considered as falling outside the bounds of even the most freewheeling campus debates.

Botstein urges critics of the ISM to keep the Arizona shooting in mind and thus lower their voices. But rather than acting as if the group’s critics are conducting some kind of a witch hunt, he would do better to worry about the consequences of allowing a group that is prepared to sacrifice the lives of students to further the cause of anti-Zionism. And instead of worrying that Bard’s Israel-haters will get their feelings hurt by those who question the propriety of their presence on campus, he might also spare a thought for the question of whether facilitating ISM’s rabid bias against Israel and its supporters might be creating a hostile environment for Jewish students there, as turned out to be the case when anti-Israel activism ran amok at the University of California’s Irvine campus a few years ago.

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How About a Competent Replacement for Summers?

Larry Summers is heading back to Harvard. His tenure as head of the National Economic Council was marked by escalating unemployment, a flood of red ink, and an assault on employers. The Obama team, we are told, is out looking for a “female CEO.” Aside from the irony (Summers got in hot water for suggesting that the relative paucity of women in the sciences isn’t due to discrimination but to some innate inability and lifestyle preferences), this is yet another instance in which the Obama team seems obsessed with the wrong things.

What about someone — woman or man — who knows what the heck she/he is doing and doesn’t view American business as the enemy? How about someone who thinks raising taxes in a recession is a horrid idea? The short list includes such non-CEO types as “Rebecca Blank, a Commerce Department official who oversees the Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis” and Laura Tyson, who has split her time between government and the University of California at Berkeley (not kidding). In other words, the CEO part is optional; the female part is not. There are also some real CEOs on the “only gals need apply” list.

This females-only-for-the-economic-team-captain gambit is ludicrous — the type of overt discrimination that, if evidenced in the private sector, would be illegal. It once again reveals that politics and groveling to special interests are much more important to the Obami than is sound governance.

Larry Summers is heading back to Harvard. His tenure as head of the National Economic Council was marked by escalating unemployment, a flood of red ink, and an assault on employers. The Obama team, we are told, is out looking for a “female CEO.” Aside from the irony (Summers got in hot water for suggesting that the relative paucity of women in the sciences isn’t due to discrimination but to some innate inability and lifestyle preferences), this is yet another instance in which the Obama team seems obsessed with the wrong things.

What about someone — woman or man — who knows what the heck she/he is doing and doesn’t view American business as the enemy? How about someone who thinks raising taxes in a recession is a horrid idea? The short list includes such non-CEO types as “Rebecca Blank, a Commerce Department official who oversees the Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis” and Laura Tyson, who has split her time between government and the University of California at Berkeley (not kidding). In other words, the CEO part is optional; the female part is not. There are also some real CEOs on the “only gals need apply” list.

This females-only-for-the-economic-team-captain gambit is ludicrous — the type of overt discrimination that, if evidenced in the private sector, would be illegal. It once again reveals that politics and groveling to special interests are much more important to the Obami than is sound governance.

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Now Liberal Women Are Mad at Him Too

Young people, old people, Hispanics, and independents have all grown weary of Obama. His base is grouchy, sensing that a deluge is coming. And now the self-appointed feminist bean counters are in a snit:

President Obama is facing new criticism from women’s rights groups for failing to nominate a woman to his core group of economic advisers.

Obama on Friday named longtime adviser Austan Goolsbee to head the Council of Economic Advisers after Christina Romer left to return to the University of California at Berkeley.

Women’s rights groups — including the National Organization for Women (NOW) and The New Agenda — have sharply criticized the White House for not including more women in prominent positions overseeing the economy and financial policy.

Not enough for them to have the secretary of state, the secretary of health and human services, the labor secretary, two new Supreme Court justices, and a potential chief of staff (Valerie Jarrett). You can almost sympathize with the White House. Almost – because it, along with every other Democratic administration in recent history, has played the diversity game, proudly showing off its women and minorities as evidence of its anti-bias credentials. Apparently, one of the rules now in this tiresome game is that a woman has to substitute for a woman, or a woman has to be named in the same policy area.

Good golly. If anything, women’s groups should be pleased that their sisters haven’t been sullied by association with possibly the worst economic team since Herbert Hoover. All those men will have a blot on their records, but not the liberal sisterhood.

This sure does seem badly out of date, a creaky remnant of the 1970s: “‘The problem with the president insulating himself with the old boys around him is that he is really not getting information about how people are struggling, how women are struggling,’ Terry O’Neill, head of NOW, said earlier last week.” Do people believe this claptrap anymore?

The real motive, however, may be to pressure the Obami into appointing a left-wing zealot (Elizabeth Warren) to head up the new consumer financial protection office. Maybe if they guilt-trip him, they’ll get their gal in the spot. Well, if Obama is willing to use yet another recess appointment, it’s possible, but there’s little chance she’ll get through the Senate. The current Senate (not to mention the next one) will be reluctant to rubber-stamp another extremist.

You wonder how much longer NOW will be in business. Perhaps NOW and the NAACP should get together for a going-out-of-business sale. Really, the rest of us have moved on. Isn’t it time they did too?

Young people, old people, Hispanics, and independents have all grown weary of Obama. His base is grouchy, sensing that a deluge is coming. And now the self-appointed feminist bean counters are in a snit:

President Obama is facing new criticism from women’s rights groups for failing to nominate a woman to his core group of economic advisers.

Obama on Friday named longtime adviser Austan Goolsbee to head the Council of Economic Advisers after Christina Romer left to return to the University of California at Berkeley.

Women’s rights groups — including the National Organization for Women (NOW) and The New Agenda — have sharply criticized the White House for not including more women in prominent positions overseeing the economy and financial policy.

Not enough for them to have the secretary of state, the secretary of health and human services, the labor secretary, two new Supreme Court justices, and a potential chief of staff (Valerie Jarrett). You can almost sympathize with the White House. Almost – because it, along with every other Democratic administration in recent history, has played the diversity game, proudly showing off its women and minorities as evidence of its anti-bias credentials. Apparently, one of the rules now in this tiresome game is that a woman has to substitute for a woman, or a woman has to be named in the same policy area.

Good golly. If anything, women’s groups should be pleased that their sisters haven’t been sullied by association with possibly the worst economic team since Herbert Hoover. All those men will have a blot on their records, but not the liberal sisterhood.

This sure does seem badly out of date, a creaky remnant of the 1970s: “‘The problem with the president insulating himself with the old boys around him is that he is really not getting information about how people are struggling, how women are struggling,’ Terry O’Neill, head of NOW, said earlier last week.” Do people believe this claptrap anymore?

The real motive, however, may be to pressure the Obami into appointing a left-wing zealot (Elizabeth Warren) to head up the new consumer financial protection office. Maybe if they guilt-trip him, they’ll get their gal in the spot. Well, if Obama is willing to use yet another recess appointment, it’s possible, but there’s little chance she’ll get through the Senate. The current Senate (not to mention the next one) will be reluctant to rubber-stamp another extremist.

You wonder how much longer NOW will be in business. Perhaps NOW and the NAACP should get together for a going-out-of-business sale. Really, the rest of us have moved on. Isn’t it time they did too?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sigh: “The heads of the Democratic and Republican parties on Sunday criticized controversial comments made by two Senate hopefuls in their own parties, but each stood behind their candidacies [Rand Paul and Richard Blumenthal].” Well, party chairmen are paid to defend the indefensible, I suppose. And really, does any ordinary voter care what Michael Steele and Tim Kaine say?

Aaargh! “‘I was offered a job, and I answered that,’ [Joe] Sestak said. ‘Anything that goes beyond that is for others to talk about.’” He was bribed by the White House to get out of the Senate primary race and isn’t going to talk about it? I think an ethics probe and a special prosecutor are in order. It is a crime, after all, to bribe a candidate.

What??! Marc Ambinder, who, as Mickey Kaus once put it, spins more furiously for Obama than a dreidel, has this to say about the alleged White House offer to Sestak: “In essence, if this White House ascribes to a higher ethical standard, then it might want to agree to some investigation even if it believes there is no legal merit.” Because after all, the administration’s own conclusion about its wrongdoing is basically conclusive, right?

Whoopee! (for Republicans): “Republican Charles Djou won a special congressional election in Hawaii Saturday night, giving the GOP a boost as it attempts to retake the U.S. House in the November elections. … Mr. Djou will become the first Republican to represent Hawaii in 20 years. Hawaii is a traditionally Democratic stronghold that is President Barack Obama’s native state.” Democrats say this doesn’t really matter because the votes were divided by two feuding Democratic candidates. Besides, only special elections that Democrats win are bellwethers.

Yikes! John Kerry is back in Syria sucking up to Bashar al-Assad. And this is no comfort: “Senator Kerry has emerged as one of the primary American interlocutors with the Syrian government.” Yes, that’s part of the problem.

Oooh: “Iran’s parliament speaker earlier Sunday repeated threats that Iran would abandon a nuclear fuel swap plan brokered by Brazil and Turkey if the United States imposes new sanctions on the Islamic state.” So don’t be passing any useless sanctions or the mullahs will reject the meaningless Brazil-Turkey deal. The only thing more absurd (and more dangerous) is Obama’s Iran policy. (Come to think of it, it’s not clear he has one.)

Ouch: “‘The oil is gushing and we’re being lied to by how much oil is gushing … and the administration has now named a commission,’ Cokie Roberts said derisively. ‘Now this is what you do when you really don’t have anything else to do: you name a commission,’ she said. ‘That’s not going to stop the oil.’” Donna Brazile had harsh criticism as well, and when Obama loses Donna Brazile, you know he’s hitting rock bottom.

Awww (subscription required): “The muted conservative response is in marked contrast to the unease among some liberal activists toward [the nomination of Elena] Kagan. Obama, they say, made a ‘safe choice’ that was more appropriate for a Senate with a 52-seat Democratic majority rather than the 59-seat advantage (counting independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont) that the party holds. These disappointed liberals say that Obama, once again, has turned his back on them.”

Thunk! Maureen Dowd writes a column on Richard Blumenthal that’s daft even for her: “‘I think that lies are like wishes,’ said Bella DePaulo, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. … But chronic puffer-uppers can have impressive public service careers.” I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I think lies are like lies.

Sigh: “The heads of the Democratic and Republican parties on Sunday criticized controversial comments made by two Senate hopefuls in their own parties, but each stood behind their candidacies [Rand Paul and Richard Blumenthal].” Well, party chairmen are paid to defend the indefensible, I suppose. And really, does any ordinary voter care what Michael Steele and Tim Kaine say?

Aaargh! “‘I was offered a job, and I answered that,’ [Joe] Sestak said. ‘Anything that goes beyond that is for others to talk about.’” He was bribed by the White House to get out of the Senate primary race and isn’t going to talk about it? I think an ethics probe and a special prosecutor are in order. It is a crime, after all, to bribe a candidate.

What??! Marc Ambinder, who, as Mickey Kaus once put it, spins more furiously for Obama than a dreidel, has this to say about the alleged White House offer to Sestak: “In essence, if this White House ascribes to a higher ethical standard, then it might want to agree to some investigation even if it believes there is no legal merit.” Because after all, the administration’s own conclusion about its wrongdoing is basically conclusive, right?

Whoopee! (for Republicans): “Republican Charles Djou won a special congressional election in Hawaii Saturday night, giving the GOP a boost as it attempts to retake the U.S. House in the November elections. … Mr. Djou will become the first Republican to represent Hawaii in 20 years. Hawaii is a traditionally Democratic stronghold that is President Barack Obama’s native state.” Democrats say this doesn’t really matter because the votes were divided by two feuding Democratic candidates. Besides, only special elections that Democrats win are bellwethers.

Yikes! John Kerry is back in Syria sucking up to Bashar al-Assad. And this is no comfort: “Senator Kerry has emerged as one of the primary American interlocutors with the Syrian government.” Yes, that’s part of the problem.

Oooh: “Iran’s parliament speaker earlier Sunday repeated threats that Iran would abandon a nuclear fuel swap plan brokered by Brazil and Turkey if the United States imposes new sanctions on the Islamic state.” So don’t be passing any useless sanctions or the mullahs will reject the meaningless Brazil-Turkey deal. The only thing more absurd (and more dangerous) is Obama’s Iran policy. (Come to think of it, it’s not clear he has one.)

Ouch: “‘The oil is gushing and we’re being lied to by how much oil is gushing … and the administration has now named a commission,’ Cokie Roberts said derisively. ‘Now this is what you do when you really don’t have anything else to do: you name a commission,’ she said. ‘That’s not going to stop the oil.’” Donna Brazile had harsh criticism as well, and when Obama loses Donna Brazile, you know he’s hitting rock bottom.

Awww (subscription required): “The muted conservative response is in marked contrast to the unease among some liberal activists toward [the nomination of Elena] Kagan. Obama, they say, made a ‘safe choice’ that was more appropriate for a Senate with a 52-seat Democratic majority rather than the 59-seat advantage (counting independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont) that the party holds. These disappointed liberals say that Obama, once again, has turned his back on them.”

Thunk! Maureen Dowd writes a column on Richard Blumenthal that’s daft even for her: “‘I think that lies are like wishes,’ said Bella DePaulo, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. … But chronic puffer-uppers can have impressive public service careers.” I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I think lies are like lies.

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A Most Disturbing Moment of Clarity

Following David Horowitz’s talk earlier this month at the University of California, San Diego, was one of the most chilling brief conversations I’ve heard in a while.

A semi-polite yet coldly hostile student in the audience introduced herself during the question period as Jumanah Imad Albahri of the Muslim Students’ Association, and she refused to condemn either Hamas or Hezbollah when Horowitz asked her to clarify her position. He has faced a number of students just like her before, and he’s well-practiced in the art of drawing them out, so he asked her a point-blank question that couldn’t be easily dodged.

“I am a Jew,” he said. “The head of Hezbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. For or against it?”

“For it,” she said.

No sooner was the video of this exchange posted when one of the student’s teachers rushed to defend her.

“This girl is actually my student,” A. Casavantes wrote in the comments’ section of Horowitz’s NewsReal blog. “I know her to be an intelligent, moral young woman who believes in peace. I do not support any organization that advocates violence against any specific group, nor do I believe that my student would do so. As a peace loving, Catholic teacher, I’m saddened that this speaker — her elder — manipulated the conversation in this fashion to make her look like someone she isn’t, out of an egotistical desire to prove his own point, rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue.”

This teacher of hers is a character straight out of Paul Berman’s important new book The Flight of the Intellectuals, who, when confronted by a person with a clearly and explicitly stated genocidal ideology, prefers to lambaste that person’s rational critics.

It’s a phenomenon as peculiar as it is disturbing, motivated in large part — Berman and I both suspect — by fear. “Too many very intelligent people are running away from looking at some very influential and pernicious doctrines of our own time,” he said to me in an interview I published earlier this week. “They don’t want to look. They prefer to shut their eyes and hope for the best.”

Following David Horowitz’s talk earlier this month at the University of California, San Diego, was one of the most chilling brief conversations I’ve heard in a while.

A semi-polite yet coldly hostile student in the audience introduced herself during the question period as Jumanah Imad Albahri of the Muslim Students’ Association, and she refused to condemn either Hamas or Hezbollah when Horowitz asked her to clarify her position. He has faced a number of students just like her before, and he’s well-practiced in the art of drawing them out, so he asked her a point-blank question that couldn’t be easily dodged.

“I am a Jew,” he said. “The head of Hezbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. For or against it?”

“For it,” she said.

No sooner was the video of this exchange posted when one of the student’s teachers rushed to defend her.

“This girl is actually my student,” A. Casavantes wrote in the comments’ section of Horowitz’s NewsReal blog. “I know her to be an intelligent, moral young woman who believes in peace. I do not support any organization that advocates violence against any specific group, nor do I believe that my student would do so. As a peace loving, Catholic teacher, I’m saddened that this speaker — her elder — manipulated the conversation in this fashion to make her look like someone she isn’t, out of an egotistical desire to prove his own point, rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue.”

This teacher of hers is a character straight out of Paul Berman’s important new book The Flight of the Intellectuals, who, when confronted by a person with a clearly and explicitly stated genocidal ideology, prefers to lambaste that person’s rational critics.

It’s a phenomenon as peculiar as it is disturbing, motivated in large part — Berman and I both suspect — by fear. “Too many very intelligent people are running away from looking at some very influential and pernicious doctrines of our own time,” he said to me in an interview I published earlier this week. “They don’t want to look. They prefer to shut their eyes and hope for the best.”

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The Elite Education Sidestep

As a Cal graduate (that would be the University of California, Berkeley, to all of you non-Californians), I don’t usually have kind words for our archrival from across the Bay, Stanford. But I am cheered to see Stanford reconsidering its ban on the ROTC on campus, a change being pushed by two liberals — history professor David Kennedy and former Defense Secretary William Perry. It’s truly shameful that the officer-education program has been barred from some of America’s most elite campuses — not only Stanford but also five out of eight Ivies including Harvard and Yale. Cornell, Penn, and Princeton allow ROTC classes on campus; at other Ivy League schools, students have to travel to nearby colleges. At Stanford (not an Ivy but similar in status), students go to San Jose State, Santa Clara University, or Cal, which has a flourishing ROTC program. (Being a state school, it could not bar the military.)

During the 2008 presidential campaign, both John McCain and Barack Obama called for the re-admittance of ROTC, but so far, dismayingly little has happened. The universities hide their 1960s-era anti-military animus behind opposition to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Perhaps if that policy is finally lifted, in whole or in part, these colleges will lose their last excuse to keep ROTC off campus — a policy that only further expands the needless divide between the armed forces and the leaders of the society they protect.

As a Cal graduate (that would be the University of California, Berkeley, to all of you non-Californians), I don’t usually have kind words for our archrival from across the Bay, Stanford. But I am cheered to see Stanford reconsidering its ban on the ROTC on campus, a change being pushed by two liberals — history professor David Kennedy and former Defense Secretary William Perry. It’s truly shameful that the officer-education program has been barred from some of America’s most elite campuses — not only Stanford but also five out of eight Ivies including Harvard and Yale. Cornell, Penn, and Princeton allow ROTC classes on campus; at other Ivy League schools, students have to travel to nearby colleges. At Stanford (not an Ivy but similar in status), students go to San Jose State, Santa Clara University, or Cal, which has a flourishing ROTC program. (Being a state school, it could not bar the military.)

During the 2008 presidential campaign, both John McCain and Barack Obama called for the re-admittance of ROTC, but so far, dismayingly little has happened. The universities hide their 1960s-era anti-military animus behind opposition to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Perhaps if that policy is finally lifted, in whole or in part, these colleges will lose their last excuse to keep ROTC off campus — a policy that only further expands the needless divide between the armed forces and the leaders of the society they protect.

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More on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

My article taking retired Gen. Merrill McPeak to task for the weakness of his arguments against lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military has generated some heated responses on the Web (e.g., this post on David Horowitz’s website and this post by a retired Air Force NCO). A few points of rebuttal and clarification are in order.

First, I suggested that studies of other armed services that have lifted the gay ban have found no deleterious impact on unit cohesion or performance. This has supporters of the ban fulminating that one of the key studies was conducted by the Palm Center, a research center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which is openly committed to gay rights. That’s true, but the motives behind the study shouldn’t matter; what counts is whether the study is accurate, and I haven’t seen anyone suggest any actual distortion of the results. Besides, the Palm Center is not alone in its finding; see this article written by an Air Force colonel and published in Joint Forces Quarterly, an official publication of the National Defense University:

In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops.

Critics can also argue that “other countries’ militaries aren’t comparable to the U.S. military. No other military on the planet, after all, can or will do what our military does.” That’s true, but while the Israeli, Australian, or British militaries don’t have the global power projection capabilities of the U.S., the general consensus is that on a unit-for-unit basis, they are just as effective as our own military. If having gays serve openly in their ranks hasn’t hurt their combat performance — and I have seen no indication that it has — I find it hard to believe it would have a major impact on our own forces.

Second, I suggested that allowing openly gay service members would have even less impact on unit cohesion than having women serve in the ranks. This has brought forth arguments that women have in fact contributed to a degradation of combat effectiveness, which has been covered up for “politically correct reasons.” I don’t doubt that pregnancy, sexual harassment, and fraternization have been real problems, but these would have existed even if women had been barred from service altogether, because of the presence of female contractors on all major American bases, even in combat zones. But there are also benefits to having women serve — see this article about how valuable female Marines are in interacting with Afghanistan’s women, something their male counterparts cannot do for reasons of cultural sensitivity.

The larger issue is that tapping into the female half of the population has allowed the military to draw on some great talent, which it would otherwise be denied. The same argument applies to gays (who are admittedly a much smaller percentage of the population). Women still aren’t allowed into some ground-combat jobs, and it may make sense, as I have previously argued, to extend that ban at least for some time to gays. But women are allowed to fill most jobs, and they bring intelligence, dedication, and hard work that the military — which has a hard time filling its all-volunteer ranks in wartime — badly needs. Same with homosexuals. The Joint Forces article notes: “Since 1994, the Services have discharged nearly 12,500 Service members under the law.” That’s a small number in the overall scheme of things, but a number of those had skills, such as Arab-language knowledge, that are very hard to replace. In recent years, the Army in particular has been forced to lower its standards to attract enough recruits. That suggests that we can hardly afford to discharge soldiers for their sexual preference — unless they act in undisciplined ways (e.g., committing sexual harassment), but those prohibitions should be enforced evenhandedly against both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Despite the criticisms against my article, my sense is that most active-duty personnel are in fact comfortable with lifting the gay ban. That’s confirmed by this study, cited in an article by Owen West (himself a combat vet of Iraq): “A 2006 poll of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans showed that 72 percent were personally comfortable interacting with gays.” Given that 80 percent of the overall public favors lifting the ban, those  like Gen. McPeak favor keeping it in place are fighting a losing — and needless — battle.

My article taking retired Gen. Merrill McPeak to task for the weakness of his arguments against lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military has generated some heated responses on the Web (e.g., this post on David Horowitz’s website and this post by a retired Air Force NCO). A few points of rebuttal and clarification are in order.

First, I suggested that studies of other armed services that have lifted the gay ban have found no deleterious impact on unit cohesion or performance. This has supporters of the ban fulminating that one of the key studies was conducted by the Palm Center, a research center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which is openly committed to gay rights. That’s true, but the motives behind the study shouldn’t matter; what counts is whether the study is accurate, and I haven’t seen anyone suggest any actual distortion of the results. Besides, the Palm Center is not alone in its finding; see this article written by an Air Force colonel and published in Joint Forces Quarterly, an official publication of the National Defense University:

In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops.

Critics can also argue that “other countries’ militaries aren’t comparable to the U.S. military. No other military on the planet, after all, can or will do what our military does.” That’s true, but while the Israeli, Australian, or British militaries don’t have the global power projection capabilities of the U.S., the general consensus is that on a unit-for-unit basis, they are just as effective as our own military. If having gays serve openly in their ranks hasn’t hurt their combat performance — and I have seen no indication that it has — I find it hard to believe it would have a major impact on our own forces.

Second, I suggested that allowing openly gay service members would have even less impact on unit cohesion than having women serve in the ranks. This has brought forth arguments that women have in fact contributed to a degradation of combat effectiveness, which has been covered up for “politically correct reasons.” I don’t doubt that pregnancy, sexual harassment, and fraternization have been real problems, but these would have existed even if women had been barred from service altogether, because of the presence of female contractors on all major American bases, even in combat zones. But there are also benefits to having women serve — see this article about how valuable female Marines are in interacting with Afghanistan’s women, something their male counterparts cannot do for reasons of cultural sensitivity.

The larger issue is that tapping into the female half of the population has allowed the military to draw on some great talent, which it would otherwise be denied. The same argument applies to gays (who are admittedly a much smaller percentage of the population). Women still aren’t allowed into some ground-combat jobs, and it may make sense, as I have previously argued, to extend that ban at least for some time to gays. But women are allowed to fill most jobs, and they bring intelligence, dedication, and hard work that the military — which has a hard time filling its all-volunteer ranks in wartime — badly needs. Same with homosexuals. The Joint Forces article notes: “Since 1994, the Services have discharged nearly 12,500 Service members under the law.” That’s a small number in the overall scheme of things, but a number of those had skills, such as Arab-language knowledge, that are very hard to replace. In recent years, the Army in particular has been forced to lower its standards to attract enough recruits. That suggests that we can hardly afford to discharge soldiers for their sexual preference — unless they act in undisciplined ways (e.g., committing sexual harassment), but those prohibitions should be enforced evenhandedly against both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Despite the criticisms against my article, my sense is that most active-duty personnel are in fact comfortable with lifting the gay ban. That’s confirmed by this study, cited in an article by Owen West (himself a combat vet of Iraq): “A 2006 poll of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans showed that 72 percent were personally comfortable interacting with gays.” Given that 80 percent of the overall public favors lifting the ban, those  like Gen. McPeak favor keeping it in place are fighting a losing — and needless — battle.

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The ADL Is Wrong: Boycotts Can Be Kosher

A long simmering dispute about the level of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement going on at the University of California at Irvine has prompted a debate between Jewish groups about the propriety of academic boycotts. After the latest incident in which heckler disrupted a speech being given by Michael Oren — Israel’s ambassador to the United States — at the school’s campus, the Zionist Organization of America has called for donors to cease making contributions to the institution and for students to stop applying to the school. But the Anti-Defamation League says this is a mistake, since such boycotts are a “double-edged sword that legitimizes a tactic so often used against Jews and Israel.”

The problem with UC Irvine goes deeper than just the bunch of loudmouths who interrupted Oren. For a number of years, the Irvine campus’s Muslim Student Union and its leftist allies have made the school a haven of Israel-and-Jew bashing without the university’s administration doing much or anything about it. The result has apparently been the creation of a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students. Repeated attempts to get the university to address the grievances of the Jewish community have failed. After years of talking about the problem, the ZOA has apparently concluded that the only thing the school will understand is a boycott that will bring home to them that their indulgence of radical anti-Israel and anti-Jewish elements has consequences. The ADL prefers to keep the lines of communications open with the university and, in its usual manner, spends as much time complimenting the administration for the little it has done as it does criticizing them for their obvious failures.

The conflict on campus is sometimes construed as one between free speech and civility. On the one hand, friends of Israel have a right to expect that a campus mafia of Muslim Jew-haters does not disrupt pro-Israel speakers and events, thus protecting the right of the Jews to free speech. That means that anti-Israel events must have the same protection. Yet if the latter descend as they often do, into hate speech against Israelis and Jews, a university that claims to be trying to create a haven of free inquiry must at some point step in and say enough is enough. The dispute here is not between Jews and Arabs who both want to be heard but rather between a democratic Zionist movement on campus that is under siege and a Muslim anti-Zionist movement that holds fundraisers for Hamas terrorists.

The question here is whether, after repeated attempts to get satisfaction, the Jewish community is justified in throwing up its hands and saying that it serves no further purpose to go on supporting a place that allows such a situation to persist — or whether, by contrast, it should continue its quiet diplomacy aimed at flattering or shaming the university into doing the right thing. The ZOA and the ADL, with their very different organizational cultures — the former being rabble-rousing activists at heart and the latter, the quintessential establishment group — are bound to disagree about that.

But no matter whether you think further efforts to improve the situation at UC Irvine are warranted or not, the ADL’s belief that boycotts are inherently wrong cannot be sustained. It is true that in our own time anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements have attempted to create boycotts of Israeli academics and produce and that the Jewish community has rightly decried such despicable campaigns. But these boycotts are wrong not because a desire to isolate any movement or country is inherently evil but rather because it is unjust to apply such measures to a democratic state besieged by terrorists who wish to destroy. In the past, Jews have readily embraced boycotts. Jewish activists once boycotted the Soviet Union and protested any commerce or diplomatic niceties conducted with an anti-Semitic Communist government, which had refused to let Russian Jews immigrate to freedom in Israel or the United States. Jews also boycotted Germany during the 1930s as the Nazis set the stage for the Holocaust. There is also the fact that the vast majority of American Jews were profoundly sympathetic to boycotts of grapes picked by non-union labor as well as those aimed at isolating apartheid-era South Africa. The idea that one cannot boycott evildoers just because leftist extremists wish to wrongly use the same tactic on Israel makes no sense.

Thus, one can argue that the ZOA’s boycott of UC Irvine is unjustified, not helpful, or even premature. But you cannot, as the ADL does, argue that there is something inherently wrong with any boycott. The principle of free speech must protect pro-Israel speakers as well as forums for those who take the other side. But no principle obligates any Jew to attend or contribute to a school where Jews are made to feel uncomfortable or where fundraisers are held for groups that kill Jews.

A long simmering dispute about the level of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement going on at the University of California at Irvine has prompted a debate between Jewish groups about the propriety of academic boycotts. After the latest incident in which heckler disrupted a speech being given by Michael Oren — Israel’s ambassador to the United States — at the school’s campus, the Zionist Organization of America has called for donors to cease making contributions to the institution and for students to stop applying to the school. But the Anti-Defamation League says this is a mistake, since such boycotts are a “double-edged sword that legitimizes a tactic so often used against Jews and Israel.”

The problem with UC Irvine goes deeper than just the bunch of loudmouths who interrupted Oren. For a number of years, the Irvine campus’s Muslim Student Union and its leftist allies have made the school a haven of Israel-and-Jew bashing without the university’s administration doing much or anything about it. The result has apparently been the creation of a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students. Repeated attempts to get the university to address the grievances of the Jewish community have failed. After years of talking about the problem, the ZOA has apparently concluded that the only thing the school will understand is a boycott that will bring home to them that their indulgence of radical anti-Israel and anti-Jewish elements has consequences. The ADL prefers to keep the lines of communications open with the university and, in its usual manner, spends as much time complimenting the administration for the little it has done as it does criticizing them for their obvious failures.

The conflict on campus is sometimes construed as one between free speech and civility. On the one hand, friends of Israel have a right to expect that a campus mafia of Muslim Jew-haters does not disrupt pro-Israel speakers and events, thus protecting the right of the Jews to free speech. That means that anti-Israel events must have the same protection. Yet if the latter descend as they often do, into hate speech against Israelis and Jews, a university that claims to be trying to create a haven of free inquiry must at some point step in and say enough is enough. The dispute here is not between Jews and Arabs who both want to be heard but rather between a democratic Zionist movement on campus that is under siege and a Muslim anti-Zionist movement that holds fundraisers for Hamas terrorists.

The question here is whether, after repeated attempts to get satisfaction, the Jewish community is justified in throwing up its hands and saying that it serves no further purpose to go on supporting a place that allows such a situation to persist — or whether, by contrast, it should continue its quiet diplomacy aimed at flattering or shaming the university into doing the right thing. The ZOA and the ADL, with their very different organizational cultures — the former being rabble-rousing activists at heart and the latter, the quintessential establishment group — are bound to disagree about that.

But no matter whether you think further efforts to improve the situation at UC Irvine are warranted or not, the ADL’s belief that boycotts are inherently wrong cannot be sustained. It is true that in our own time anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements have attempted to create boycotts of Israeli academics and produce and that the Jewish community has rightly decried such despicable campaigns. But these boycotts are wrong not because a desire to isolate any movement or country is inherently evil but rather because it is unjust to apply such measures to a democratic state besieged by terrorists who wish to destroy. In the past, Jews have readily embraced boycotts. Jewish activists once boycotted the Soviet Union and protested any commerce or diplomatic niceties conducted with an anti-Semitic Communist government, which had refused to let Russian Jews immigrate to freedom in Israel or the United States. Jews also boycotted Germany during the 1930s as the Nazis set the stage for the Holocaust. There is also the fact that the vast majority of American Jews were profoundly sympathetic to boycotts of grapes picked by non-union labor as well as those aimed at isolating apartheid-era South Africa. The idea that one cannot boycott evildoers just because leftist extremists wish to wrongly use the same tactic on Israel makes no sense.

Thus, one can argue that the ZOA’s boycott of UC Irvine is unjustified, not helpful, or even premature. But you cannot, as the ADL does, argue that there is something inherently wrong with any boycott. The principle of free speech must protect pro-Israel speakers as well as forums for those who take the other side. But no principle obligates any Jew to attend or contribute to a school where Jews are made to feel uncomfortable or where fundraisers are held for groups that kill Jews.

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Hooligans, an Ambassador, and a General

As a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (class of ’91), a.k.a Berzerkely, I am by now fairly inured to displays of political correctness — the totalitarian impulse in action — on campus. I saw enough demonstrations — including one that turned into an actual riot with the burning of cars and the looting of stores on Telegraph Avenue — not to be shocked by most of what goes on in our citadels of higher learning. But I admit I am still deeply dismayed to see the treatment accorded in recent weeks to two of the people I most admire in this world — Michael Oren, the noted historian and Israeli combat veteran who is now Israel’s ambassador to Washington, and General David Petraeus, head of Central Command.

Oren spoke at the University of California, Irvine; Petraeus, at Georgetown. Both are unusually thoughtful individuals who are happy to engage in a civilized debate with just about anyone. But what greeted them was hardly civilized. Both speeches were thoroughly disrupted by hecklers — in the former instance, by members of the Muslim Student Union who are presumably opposed to Israel’s very existence (at least, judging by the rally they held afterward, chanting “anti-Israel, anti-Israel”), in the latter instance, by opponents of the war in Iraq, who loudly tried to read the names of Iraq War dead. You can see the videos here — for Georgetown and Irvine.

The demonstration at Georgetown was particularly disturbing in light of the common trope heard among the anti-war movement that they “oppose the war but support the soldiers waging the war.” In this case, their disrespect for our greatest general — a man who has repeatedly risked his life in the country’s service and whose son is now putting his own life on the line as a young officer — gives the lie to the slogan.

I can only hope that the universities in question take appropriate steps to deal with these campus hooligans. Anything short of expulsion, or at least suspension, would seem to be a wrist-slap that will only encourage more such misconduct in the future and make a mockery of the free speech that universities are supposed to champion.

As a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (class of ’91), a.k.a Berzerkely, I am by now fairly inured to displays of political correctness — the totalitarian impulse in action — on campus. I saw enough demonstrations — including one that turned into an actual riot with the burning of cars and the looting of stores on Telegraph Avenue — not to be shocked by most of what goes on in our citadels of higher learning. But I admit I am still deeply dismayed to see the treatment accorded in recent weeks to two of the people I most admire in this world — Michael Oren, the noted historian and Israeli combat veteran who is now Israel’s ambassador to Washington, and General David Petraeus, head of Central Command.

Oren spoke at the University of California, Irvine; Petraeus, at Georgetown. Both are unusually thoughtful individuals who are happy to engage in a civilized debate with just about anyone. But what greeted them was hardly civilized. Both speeches were thoroughly disrupted by hecklers — in the former instance, by members of the Muslim Student Union who are presumably opposed to Israel’s very existence (at least, judging by the rally they held afterward, chanting “anti-Israel, anti-Israel”), in the latter instance, by opponents of the war in Iraq, who loudly tried to read the names of Iraq War dead. You can see the videos here — for Georgetown and Irvine.

The demonstration at Georgetown was particularly disturbing in light of the common trope heard among the anti-war movement that they “oppose the war but support the soldiers waging the war.” In this case, their disrespect for our greatest general — a man who has repeatedly risked his life in the country’s service and whose son is now putting his own life on the line as a young officer — gives the lie to the slogan.

I can only hope that the universities in question take appropriate steps to deal with these campus hooligans. Anything short of expulsion, or at least suspension, would seem to be a wrist-slap that will only encourage more such misconduct in the future and make a mockery of the free speech that universities are supposed to champion.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Seen the latest ad for Hugo Chavez’s oil company? Lots of happy old people given free oil by the dictator, and then: “In swoops Joe Kennedy II with Citizens Energy and the kind people of Venezuela to lend a hand (or two?) and heating oil enough for everyone. Kennedy’s all smiles but they forgot the part where Hugo Chavez shuts down the media and arrests his political opponents. I guess that would have made the ad too long.” Good thing he didn’t talk about how great families and babies are.

Oh, puhleez. Michael Steele plays the race card: “I don’t see stories about the internal operations of the DNC that I see about this operation. Why? Is it because Michael Steele is the chairman, or is it because a black man is chairman?”

Just a year ago Republicans were declared dead in New England. Now New Hampshire looks awfully Red. Actually, it looks Red all over. Rasmussen shows the GOP with an eight-point lead in the generic congressional poll. And John Kasich has a solid lead in the Ohio gubernatorial race.

The boys sure are obsessed with her: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs poked fun at Sarah Palin today, pretending to look to notes on his hand for a reminder during his daily briefing. The gesture was a not-so-subtle shot at Palin, whom reporters spotted using a crib sheet on her hand during a speech this weekend at the National Tea Party convention.” At least Gibbs didn’t talk about her breasts.

Rep. Peter King blasts away at “egomaniac” John Brennan for claiming that Obama’s critics are serving the “goals of al-Qaeda”: “It is ‘the most mindless, self-serving, and irresponsible statement that a homeland-security adviser can make,’ King says. … ‘Brennan is trying to be cute by saying that on Christmas Day he briefed Republicans and Democrats. Leave aside the fact that he didn’t brief me, but he didn’t tell anybody anything that day other than the bare facts that were pretty much known to the public. He said that [Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] was in FBI custody. Now he’s claiming that that means he told people that [Abdulmutallab] was receiving Miranda rights and no one objected. If that’s what Brennan considers being honest and forthright, then we know that John Brennan is not being honest and forthright.’”

The billboard says “Miss Me Yet?” Why, yes, Mr. President.

Paul Begala or Karl Rove? “Incrementalists, stunned by what they see as overly broad and rapid change, are looking for the brakes. Radicals, depressed about the snail’s pace of progress, are looking for the exits.”

Jeffrey Goldberg spots the Muslim Student Union of the University of California at Irvine condemning the appearance of Israel Ambassador Michael Oren because — but of course! — Israel has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Council. “To the Muslim Student Union, the fact that the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel more than all the other countries of the world combined means that Israel is worse than all the other countries of the world combined. To more rational, less prejudiced people, this fact means that the UN Human Rights Council is not a serious organization, but one under the control of dictators and despots.” Remind me why the Obami thought it necessary to rejoin that body?

Oren was heckled, which is no surprise. But it is nice to find a college political-science professor willing to call out the thuggery: “Prof. Mark P. Petracca, chairman of the university’s Political Science department, chastised the protesters, telling them, ‘This is beyond embarrassing. … This is no way for our undergraduate students to behave. We have an opportunity to hear from a policy-maker relevant to one of the most important issues facing this planet and you are preventing not only yourself from hearing him but hundreds of other people in this room and hundreds of other people in an overflow room. Shame on you! This is not an example of free speech.’”

Seen the latest ad for Hugo Chavez’s oil company? Lots of happy old people given free oil by the dictator, and then: “In swoops Joe Kennedy II with Citizens Energy and the kind people of Venezuela to lend a hand (or two?) and heating oil enough for everyone. Kennedy’s all smiles but they forgot the part where Hugo Chavez shuts down the media and arrests his political opponents. I guess that would have made the ad too long.” Good thing he didn’t talk about how great families and babies are.

Oh, puhleez. Michael Steele plays the race card: “I don’t see stories about the internal operations of the DNC that I see about this operation. Why? Is it because Michael Steele is the chairman, or is it because a black man is chairman?”

Just a year ago Republicans were declared dead in New England. Now New Hampshire looks awfully Red. Actually, it looks Red all over. Rasmussen shows the GOP with an eight-point lead in the generic congressional poll. And John Kasich has a solid lead in the Ohio gubernatorial race.

The boys sure are obsessed with her: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs poked fun at Sarah Palin today, pretending to look to notes on his hand for a reminder during his daily briefing. The gesture was a not-so-subtle shot at Palin, whom reporters spotted using a crib sheet on her hand during a speech this weekend at the National Tea Party convention.” At least Gibbs didn’t talk about her breasts.

Rep. Peter King blasts away at “egomaniac” John Brennan for claiming that Obama’s critics are serving the “goals of al-Qaeda”: “It is ‘the most mindless, self-serving, and irresponsible statement that a homeland-security adviser can make,’ King says. … ‘Brennan is trying to be cute by saying that on Christmas Day he briefed Republicans and Democrats. Leave aside the fact that he didn’t brief me, but he didn’t tell anybody anything that day other than the bare facts that were pretty much known to the public. He said that [Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] was in FBI custody. Now he’s claiming that that means he told people that [Abdulmutallab] was receiving Miranda rights and no one objected. If that’s what Brennan considers being honest and forthright, then we know that John Brennan is not being honest and forthright.’”

The billboard says “Miss Me Yet?” Why, yes, Mr. President.

Paul Begala or Karl Rove? “Incrementalists, stunned by what they see as overly broad and rapid change, are looking for the brakes. Radicals, depressed about the snail’s pace of progress, are looking for the exits.”

Jeffrey Goldberg spots the Muslim Student Union of the University of California at Irvine condemning the appearance of Israel Ambassador Michael Oren because — but of course! — Israel has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Council. “To the Muslim Student Union, the fact that the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel more than all the other countries of the world combined means that Israel is worse than all the other countries of the world combined. To more rational, less prejudiced people, this fact means that the UN Human Rights Council is not a serious organization, but one under the control of dictators and despots.” Remind me why the Obami thought it necessary to rejoin that body?

Oren was heckled, which is no surprise. But it is nice to find a college political-science professor willing to call out the thuggery: “Prof. Mark P. Petracca, chairman of the university’s Political Science department, chastised the protesters, telling them, ‘This is beyond embarrassing. … This is no way for our undergraduate students to behave. We have an opportunity to hear from a policy-maker relevant to one of the most important issues facing this planet and you are preventing not only yourself from hearing him but hundreds of other people in this room and hundreds of other people in an overflow room. Shame on you! This is not an example of free speech.’”

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They Figured It Out. So Why Didn’t He?

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have discovered the resentment toward Barack Obama and the media brewing among Hillary Clinton’s female supporters. The New York Times reporters seem to own up that their brethren in the mainstream media may have played a role in the Clinton dissing, declaring:

Mrs. Clinton’s supporters point to a nagging series of slights: the fixation on her clothes, even her cleavage; chronic criticism that her voice is shrill; calls for her to exit the race; and most of all, the male commentators in the news media who, they argue, were consistently tougher on her than on Mr. Obama. Some even accuse Mr. Obama of chauvinism, pointing to the time he called Mrs. Clinton “likeable enough” as evidence of dismissiveness. Nancy Wait, 55, a social worker in Columbia City, Ind., said Mr. Obama was far less qualified than Mrs. Clinton and described as condescending his recent assurances that Mrs. Clinton should stay in the race as long as she liked. Ms. Wait said she would “absolutely, positively not” vote for him come fall.

Meanwhile, the Post picks up on the generational element:

To Veronica Tonay, 48, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz and a Clinton supporter, Obama has become a pop star, the contestant on “American Idol” who wins votes because he’s cute, while the best singer is eliminated. “We are electing the leader of the free world, and that person has a finger on the nuclear launch code,” she said. “It’s not about likability.” Her stance was cemented when a young woman in one of her classes declared that she wouldn’t vote for Clinton because “she is not a beautiful woman.”

So what’s missing in all this? Perhaps a wee bit of analysis might be in order. How can a post-partisan, high-minded 21st century fellow like the Agent of Change participate in, even passively, in the conduct which brought this all about. As Abe has observed in other contexts, Obama is often delinquent in recognizing issues and has shown an unwillingness to take charge, guide the dialogue, and set an example. On an issue of personal dignity and equality, you’d think that he, of all people, would have been more on top of things.

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have discovered the resentment toward Barack Obama and the media brewing among Hillary Clinton’s female supporters. The New York Times reporters seem to own up that their brethren in the mainstream media may have played a role in the Clinton dissing, declaring:

Mrs. Clinton’s supporters point to a nagging series of slights: the fixation on her clothes, even her cleavage; chronic criticism that her voice is shrill; calls for her to exit the race; and most of all, the male commentators in the news media who, they argue, were consistently tougher on her than on Mr. Obama. Some even accuse Mr. Obama of chauvinism, pointing to the time he called Mrs. Clinton “likeable enough” as evidence of dismissiveness. Nancy Wait, 55, a social worker in Columbia City, Ind., said Mr. Obama was far less qualified than Mrs. Clinton and described as condescending his recent assurances that Mrs. Clinton should stay in the race as long as she liked. Ms. Wait said she would “absolutely, positively not” vote for him come fall.

Meanwhile, the Post picks up on the generational element:

To Veronica Tonay, 48, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz and a Clinton supporter, Obama has become a pop star, the contestant on “American Idol” who wins votes because he’s cute, while the best singer is eliminated. “We are electing the leader of the free world, and that person has a finger on the nuclear launch code,” she said. “It’s not about likability.” Her stance was cemented when a young woman in one of her classes declared that she wouldn’t vote for Clinton because “she is not a beautiful woman.”

So what’s missing in all this? Perhaps a wee bit of analysis might be in order. How can a post-partisan, high-minded 21st century fellow like the Agent of Change participate in, even passively, in the conduct which brought this all about. As Abe has observed in other contexts, Obama is often delinquent in recognizing issues and has shown an unwillingness to take charge, guide the dialogue, and set an example. On an issue of personal dignity and equality, you’d think that he, of all people, would have been more on top of things.

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Do Radicals Dominate Islam?

I am seldom accused of being wishy-washy or noncommittal when it comes to major issues of foreign policy. But I was decidedly undecided when I showed up last night for the Intelligence Squared debate in Manhattan on the resolution “Islam is dominated by radicals.”

The pro side was argued by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a former Islamic fundamentalist turned Christian evangelical who is now at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Paul Marshall, formerly of Freedom House, now at the Hudson Institute; and Asra Normani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter (and good friend of the late Daniel Pearl) who has chronicled her own battles against Muslim hardliners at her hometown mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia.

On the con side were Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside; Richard Bulliet, a professor of history at Columbia; and Edina Lekovic, a Muslim of Bosnian descent who is director of communications at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (and who was wearing a head scarf).

Both sides threw out a lot of good arguments. Gartenstein-Ross and Aslan, in particular, engaged in some heated exchanges that entertained the audience. The problem is that neither side could really define the crucial terms in the debate—“dominated” and “radicals.”

Both agreed that radicals were certainly a big problem within Islam. The pro side pointed repeatedly to the Saudi and Iranian regimes as emblematic of the problem, and said that the Saudis are spreading their hateful Wahhabi doctrines. All true. But does Wahhabism dominate global Islam? The con side could point to convincing Pew opinion surveys showing that most Muslims reject Al Qaeda and its ideology of violence. They could also point to surveys (and election results in countries like Pakistan) that show most Muslims don’t want to be governed by hard-line Islamic parties.

The pro side replied that the views of the majority were irrelevant: the radicals were able to dominate the institutions of Islam and intimidate the moderate majority into acquiescence. There seemed to be some truth to this. But the pro debaters were, I thought, confused: were they complaining about the dominance of theological conservatism or of violent radicalism?

Normani, in particular, complained that a “patriarchy” dominated Islam: she cannot become an imam preaching to men; in more and more mosques women and men have to sit separately. That may be true, but that’s very different—and much less alarming from my infidel perspective—than saying that more and more Muslims are lining up to practice terrorism in the name of jihad. In fact, most conservative Muslims (e.g., Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq) oppose radical calls for a religious war even while preaching a version of sharia that would be intolerable to Western liberals.

In the end, I concluded that the pro side had not proven their case. They had certainly demonstrated that radicalism is a large and growing problem. But dominant? Not on the evidence presented last night. So I voted with the con side, notwithstanding my occasional annoyance at their leftist rhetorical tics. But I was in the decided minority. 46% of the audience voted “pro” before the debate, a figure that swelled to 73% after the debate.

While the debate was fascinating, the issue is not one that we should lose too much sleep over. Whether radicals actually dominate Islam or are simply trying to dominate it doesn’t really matter from a practical perspective. Either way, we need to do what we can do aid the forces of moderation if we are to prevail in the Long War.

I am seldom accused of being wishy-washy or noncommittal when it comes to major issues of foreign policy. But I was decidedly undecided when I showed up last night for the Intelligence Squared debate in Manhattan on the resolution “Islam is dominated by radicals.”

The pro side was argued by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a former Islamic fundamentalist turned Christian evangelical who is now at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Paul Marshall, formerly of Freedom House, now at the Hudson Institute; and Asra Normani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter (and good friend of the late Daniel Pearl) who has chronicled her own battles against Muslim hardliners at her hometown mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia.

On the con side were Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside; Richard Bulliet, a professor of history at Columbia; and Edina Lekovic, a Muslim of Bosnian descent who is director of communications at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (and who was wearing a head scarf).

Both sides threw out a lot of good arguments. Gartenstein-Ross and Aslan, in particular, engaged in some heated exchanges that entertained the audience. The problem is that neither side could really define the crucial terms in the debate—“dominated” and “radicals.”

Both agreed that radicals were certainly a big problem within Islam. The pro side pointed repeatedly to the Saudi and Iranian regimes as emblematic of the problem, and said that the Saudis are spreading their hateful Wahhabi doctrines. All true. But does Wahhabism dominate global Islam? The con side could point to convincing Pew opinion surveys showing that most Muslims reject Al Qaeda and its ideology of violence. They could also point to surveys (and election results in countries like Pakistan) that show most Muslims don’t want to be governed by hard-line Islamic parties.

The pro side replied that the views of the majority were irrelevant: the radicals were able to dominate the institutions of Islam and intimidate the moderate majority into acquiescence. There seemed to be some truth to this. But the pro debaters were, I thought, confused: were they complaining about the dominance of theological conservatism or of violent radicalism?

Normani, in particular, complained that a “patriarchy” dominated Islam: she cannot become an imam preaching to men; in more and more mosques women and men have to sit separately. That may be true, but that’s very different—and much less alarming from my infidel perspective—than saying that more and more Muslims are lining up to practice terrorism in the name of jihad. In fact, most conservative Muslims (e.g., Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq) oppose radical calls for a religious war even while preaching a version of sharia that would be intolerable to Western liberals.

In the end, I concluded that the pro side had not proven their case. They had certainly demonstrated that radicalism is a large and growing problem. But dominant? Not on the evidence presented last night. So I voted with the con side, notwithstanding my occasional annoyance at their leftist rhetorical tics. But I was in the decided minority. 46% of the audience voted “pro” before the debate, a figure that swelled to 73% after the debate.

While the debate was fascinating, the issue is not one that we should lose too much sleep over. Whether radicals actually dominate Islam or are simply trying to dominate it doesn’t really matter from a practical perspective. Either way, we need to do what we can do aid the forces of moderation if we are to prevail in the Long War.

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The Reluctant Communist

Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist. This extraordinary book is now available for sale on Amazon and elsewhere. It is one of the most important documents to come out of North Korea ever. I review it in today’s Wall Street Journal.  The review can be found on their site, or you can click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below to read it here.

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Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist. This extraordinary book is now available for sale on Amazon and elsewhere. It is one of the most important documents to come out of North Korea ever. I review it in today’s Wall Street Journal.  The review can be found on their site, or you can click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below to read it here.

The Reluctant Communist

By Charles Robert Jenkins, with Jim Frederick

University of California, 192 pages, $24.95

Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist.

Uneducated, dirt poor, from rural North Carolina, Mr. Jenkins joined the U.S. Army in 1958 and rose to the rank of sergeant within three years. He was soon sent to South Korea, where he was assigned to patrols along the demilitarized zone and regularly came under hostile fire. Depressed and drinking heavily, he started searching for a way home. The scheme he cooked up: Cross into North Korea, get handed over to the Russians and then repatriated to the U.S. At most he would face the sanction of a court-martial.

But there was a hitch. “I did not understand,” Mr. Jenkins writes, “that the country I was seeking temporary refuge in was literally a giant, demented prison; once someone goes there, they almost never get out.” Mr. Jenkins was to spend the next four decades in North Korea. His memoir, written with the help of Jim Frederick, a Time magazine senior editor, is the story of his life in that bizarre and barbaric land.

After his capture, Mr. Jenkins recounts, he was subjected to a none-too-gentle period of interrogation and then brought together with three other Americans who had done the same thing, “all young dumb soldiers from poor backgrounds” like himself whose misbegotten actions turned them into North Korea’s “cold-war trophies.” Their lives were privileged compared with those of ordinary North Koreans, but the physical hardship was extreme: scarce, rotten food, lack of heat and indoor plumbing (not to mention privacy), insect and rat infestation.

But the mental strain was far worse. Complete isolation from the familiar world was a mere backdrop to the ordeal inflicted by an endless procession of Communist Party minders, who monitored Mr. Jenkins’s every move and who strove, by means of compulsory self-criticism sessions and beatings, to inculcate in him the “correct ideology.”

Under threat of transfer to a prison colony and almost certain death, Mr. Jenkins was routinely assigned to socialist toil. Sometimes it was weaving fishing nets, sometimes teaching English to North Korean military personnel. Sometimes it was acting in North Korean films, including one celebrating the North Korean capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968. (Mr. Jenkins played the captain of a U.S. aircraft carrier.) With characteristic inefficiency, the North Koreans shot the scenes in the order in which they would appear in the film, breaking down the sets each time and then rebuilding them when needed.

Thanks to Kim Il Sung’s “glorious benevolence,” as the North Koreans called it, Mr. Jenkins and his American comrades were eventually provided with female personal “cooks.” They were expected to serve the state as another set of watching eyes and, as it happened, as “unofficial wives” — potential consorts. The first words that Mr. Jenkins’s own cook said to him were: “I am not cooking for an American dog.” Relations between them, he observes, “went down from there.”

One of North Korea’s cruelest policies was to intersect bittersweetly with Mr. Jenkins’s life. Beginning sometime in the mid-1970s, the regime began kidnapping young Japanese women, some as young as 13, snatching them off streets near beaches in Japan and conveying them to North Korea to fulfill various tasks for its intelligence service. One such young woman was Hitomi Soga, seized along with her mother, stuffed into a black sack, taken by submarine to North Korea and, after a suitable “adjustment period,” delivered to Mr. Jenkins’s home and made to live with him, presumably to bolster the morale of a cold-war trophy.

Mr. Jenkins’s minders, he says, encouraged him to rape her. Instead he treated her with kindness and respect. Before long, the two fell in love, a bond apparently made all the stronger by the suffering both had endured at the hands of their common tormentors. Marriage followed, along with three children, one of whom died at birth. The whereabouts of Hitomi’s mother remain unknown to this day.

In 2002, North Korea unexpectedly acknowledged its kidnapping program and Hitomi was repatriated to Japan. Mr. Jenkins and the couple’s two daughters followed 18 months later. At that point, he turned himself in to American authorities in Tokyo, becoming the longest-missing U.S. deserter ever to report again for duty. The U.S. Army sentenced him, humanely, to 30 days in the brig. “Going AWOL to avoid combat is a serious crime,” Mr. Jenkins writes, “and abandoning troops under your command is one of the worst things a military man can do. . . . I am sorry for that, and I have spent my life having to live with my conscience and the consequence of my actions on that day.”

However we judge Mr. Jenkins’s actions so many years ago, “The Reluctant Communist” is itself an act of redemption. This extraordinary book opens a window on a world of fathomless evil, and it tells a heartbreaking story — of a life lived in adversity and conducted with a mixture of fortitude, resignation, tenderness and regret. Clearly Charles Robert Jenkins emerged from his years of ordeal with his Americanness intact. True patriotism can come in many forms.

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The Price of One Leak

Leaks of vital U.S. intelligence secrets can get Americans killed. They can also place Americans in a great deal of danger.

As of yesterday, Iran has seized four Iranian-Americans and charged them with spying. They are Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban-planning consultant associated with George Soros’s Open Society Institute; Parnaz Azima, a journalist who works for the American-financed Radio Farda; and Ali Shakeri, a “peace activist” from the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine. In addition, Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who is reported to have traveled to Iran on private business, has been missing since March.

Do these developments have anything to do with a 2002 leak about a highly classified U.S. intelligence program?

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Leaks of vital U.S. intelligence secrets can get Americans killed. They can also place Americans in a great deal of danger.

As of yesterday, Iran has seized four Iranian-Americans and charged them with spying. They are Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban-planning consultant associated with George Soros’s Open Society Institute; Parnaz Azima, a journalist who works for the American-financed Radio Farda; and Ali Shakeri, a “peace activist” from the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine. In addition, Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who is reported to have traveled to Iran on private business, has been missing since March.

Do these developments have anything to do with a 2002 leak about a highly classified U.S. intelligence program?

On January 15, 2002, under the headline “CIA Looks to Los Angeles for Would-Be Iranian Spies,” the Los Angeles Times disclosed on its front page that the CIA was recruiting Iranian-Americans in southern California, home to the largest concentration of Iranian émigrés in the United States. According to the paper, the agency was “offering cash for useful information” to Iranian-Americans who “have business connections [in Iran] or relatives in [a] position to provide valuable information from inside the largely impenetrable republic.” The article went on to give more details:

Former CIA officers said the agency is combing this community for “access agents,” those who may not have direct knowledge of events in Iran but can get information through connections. . . .

“What you really want is these people to get to family members still in Iran,” said a former officer familiar with the Los Angeles effort. “If family members trust each other, they’ll tell you things you can’t know otherwise, can’t get [from satellites]. If you’re really lucky, you might recruit somebody involved in the nuclear-weapons program.”

CIA officers have to disclose their identities when approaching U.S. citizens or permanent residents for information. But foreign travelers and those on temporary visas can be approached undercover.

“You can say, ‘I run a consulting firm in Los Angeles that wants to bring energy companies into Iran when it opens up,’” a former officer said. Eventually, he added, “you might get to the point where you think you can break cover,” meaning reveal CIA affiliation and simply ask the contact to spy.

A new informant might be put on the CIA payroll at $5,000 a month, the officer said. “If the spy were really good, the sky’s the limit”. . . .

The risks for informants are considerable. Foreign travelers in Iran, particularly those from the United States, are followed closely by [Iran’s] intelligence service, MOIS, former CIA officials said. Spies caught by the [Islamic] Republic face severe punishment, including execution.

What public interest was served by the publication of such a sensitive story in the Los Angeles Times, and whatever that interest was conceived to be, was it weighed against the damage that would be done, including to particular individuals? At the time, the CIA would not comment, other than to note that “disclosure of such a program ‘is not helpful to U.S. national security.’” And the revelation was promptly—and conveniently—forgotten by the rest of American press, and today it is not discussed at all.

But the leak is sure to have resonated resoundingly in the minds of the ayatollahs, who have long been obsessed with the supposedly ubiquitous threat posed by the CIA to their regime. Are four, maybe five, Americans now paying the price for our media’s reckless disregard for the imperative of secrecy in the critical realm of intelligence?

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Bookshelf

• Sometimes I wish I had a rubber stamp made especially for use when reviewing biographies: TOO MANY FACTS, NOT ENOUGH STYLE. Howard Pollack’s George Gershwin: His Life and Work (University of California, 884 pp., $39.95) fits that dreary bill perfectly. I read the galleys of Pollack’s book at the same time that I was working on the essay about Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney biography that ran in the January issue of COMMENTARY, and at times I found it hard to tell the two books apart. Pollack wrote a big fat biography of Aaron Copland in 2001, and this book, like that one, is too long, too earnest, and pedestrian in the extreme. It’s also organized thematically rather than chronologically, making it even less pleasing to read.

Alas, Pollack has done his homework with a vengeance, and George Gershwin contains everything you could possibly want to know about the composer of Porgy and Bess, much of it newly discovered. As a result, it’s unlikely that anyone will write another Gershwin biography for at least another decade, so if you’re interested in Gershwin—and you should be—you’ll have to slog through this one, grumbling all the way.

Incidentally, Pollack is a professor of music at the University of Houston. No surprise there, needless to say. Does writing well threaten your chances of getting tenure? I’m starting to wonder…

• I rarely write blurbs, but I made an exception for Amanda Vaill’s Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins (Broadway Books, 675 pp., $40) because I know the author and read the book in manuscript, meaning that I can’t review it. I can, however, tell you what the blurb said: “I can’t think of a better full-length portrait of an American choreographer or director, and I can’t imagine a better book about Robbins ever being written.” I know whereof I speak. I wrote a lot about Robbins while he was alive (including two essays for COMMENTARY, one of which is reprinted in A Terry Teachout Reader) and at one time gave serious thought to writing a biography of my own, but I decided to pick another subject when I heard that Vaill was working on this book, because I knew she’d do a first-rate job, which she did.

Stylistically speaking, Somewhere is everything that George Gershwin isn’t, and it’s thorough and intelligent to boot. Yes, it’s long, but not absurdly so, and it’s so well written that you don’t care. Gabriel Fauré was once asked about the correct tempo for “Aprés un rêve,” his most popular song. He’s supposed to have replied, “If the singer is bad—very fast!” That’s how I feel about Somewhere. Me, I would have written it shorter, but when a book is as good as this one, I’m happy to keep on reading.

• Sometimes I wish I had a rubber stamp made especially for use when reviewing biographies: TOO MANY FACTS, NOT ENOUGH STYLE. Howard Pollack’s George Gershwin: His Life and Work (University of California, 884 pp., $39.95) fits that dreary bill perfectly. I read the galleys of Pollack’s book at the same time that I was working on the essay about Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney biography that ran in the January issue of COMMENTARY, and at times I found it hard to tell the two books apart. Pollack wrote a big fat biography of Aaron Copland in 2001, and this book, like that one, is too long, too earnest, and pedestrian in the extreme. It’s also organized thematically rather than chronologically, making it even less pleasing to read.

Alas, Pollack has done his homework with a vengeance, and George Gershwin contains everything you could possibly want to know about the composer of Porgy and Bess, much of it newly discovered. As a result, it’s unlikely that anyone will write another Gershwin biography for at least another decade, so if you’re interested in Gershwin—and you should be—you’ll have to slog through this one, grumbling all the way.

Incidentally, Pollack is a professor of music at the University of Houston. No surprise there, needless to say. Does writing well threaten your chances of getting tenure? I’m starting to wonder…

• I rarely write blurbs, but I made an exception for Amanda Vaill’s Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins (Broadway Books, 675 pp., $40) because I know the author and read the book in manuscript, meaning that I can’t review it. I can, however, tell you what the blurb said: “I can’t think of a better full-length portrait of an American choreographer or director, and I can’t imagine a better book about Robbins ever being written.” I know whereof I speak. I wrote a lot about Robbins while he was alive (including two essays for COMMENTARY, one of which is reprinted in A Terry Teachout Reader) and at one time gave serious thought to writing a biography of my own, but I decided to pick another subject when I heard that Vaill was working on this book, because I knew she’d do a first-rate job, which she did.

Stylistically speaking, Somewhere is everything that George Gershwin isn’t, and it’s thorough and intelligent to boot. Yes, it’s long, but not absurdly so, and it’s so well written that you don’t care. Gabriel Fauré was once asked about the correct tempo for “Aprés un rêve,” his most popular song. He’s supposed to have replied, “If the singer is bad—very fast!” That’s how I feel about Somewhere. Me, I would have written it shorter, but when a book is as good as this one, I’m happy to keep on reading.

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