Commentary Magazine

Disappearing Red Lines

Disappearing Red Lines
Last fall at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited ridicule by literally drawing a red line across a cartoon bomb to demonstrate the peril of allowing Iran to refine sufficient uranium and build a nuclear weapon. By contrast, no one laughed when President Obama said the United States would take action against the Bashar al-Assad regime if it used chemical weapons against civilians in Syria. But when, in the first days of May, evidence surfaced that the Syrian government had used such weapons, Obama treated his own promise as a technicality, one that should not commit the United States to action.

For Syria, the significance of America’s decision to punt on Assad’s atrocities is clear. But this inaction also exacerbates the much graver Iranian threat. There is little chance that diplomacy or U.S.-led sanctions will induce Iran to back away from its nuclear ambitions. And if Iran does not believe President Obama’s vow to stop it—by force if necessary—that chance is reduced to zero.

Freedom House Smears Israel
Freedom House is an organization that has long been trusted for its assessment of tyranny across the globe, but in May it violated that trust when it released its annual report on freedom of the press. Along with the appropriate condemnations of despotic regimes for their suppression of the press, the group took the puzzling step of downgrading the state of Israel’s status from “free” to “partly free.” The three reasons given for this decision made no sense. The first was the prosecution of a journalist for trafficking in stolen classified material from Israel’s ministry of defense. The second involved the difficulty a bankrupt Israeli TV station had in getting its broadcast license renewed. Neither controversy had anything to do with freedom.

The third reason was even more outrageous. Freedom House claimed that the success of Israel Hayom, a free daily newspaper owned by American Jewish casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and that is supportive of the Netanyahu government, threatens freedom of the press. The group asserted that the paper is to blame for the folding of another less popular daily, Maariv, and thinks there is something sinister about its capture of so many readers. But the paper’s popularity stems from the fact that, like Fox News in the U.S., it provides an alternative voice to an otherwise solidly leftist Israeli media. The opening of the country’s media to conservative views was actually a breakthrough for press freedom in a country where Labor Zionist control of the media was the norm. The willingness to incorporate a politically biased critique into what is supposedly an objective report on press freedom is a black mark on Freedom House.

Asian Scholars Embrace BDS
The Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement (BDS) scored another major victory in the United States in April. The Association for Asian American Studies unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing the boycott of Israeli institutions. That Asian-American scholars would join in a campaign that discriminates against Jews in this manner is as bizarre as it is offensive. But it does show the success of the insidious behind-the-scenes effort of anti-Zionists to control the agenda of academic studies. This marks the first major U.S. academic association to join the BDS war on Israel, but it may not be the last. The takeover of the academy by those resolved to deny Jewish rights has often been met with defeat, but each success will only encourage others to join the effort to stigmatize Israelis and Jews.

Scottish Church Denies Jewish Rights
Western Europe has seen what the U.S. State Department describes as a “rising tide of anti-Semitism.” The willingness of Britain’s elites to delegitimize Jewish rights is not confined to the usual suspects in academia or politics. It has spread now to the churches. The decision of the Church of Scotland to commission a report that questioned the right of Jews to any claim on the territory of Israel marks a watershed moment for those determined to destroy the Jewish state.

This declaration shows where the BDS movement is leading the religious and political left. This measure goes beyond economic warfare, since it will treat the nation as inherently unworthy of statehood or sovereignty. The move will harm interfaith relations not only in Scotland, where nearly half the population is affiliated with the Church, but also in Presbyterian congregations throughout the world. It serves as a reminder that the goal of those pushing for Israel’s isolation is not to end settlement building but to eliminate the sole Jewish state.

Anti-Semitism Goes Mainstream
The disturbing revival of open Jew-hatred throughout Europe is reaching a fever pitch in Hungary, where anti-Semitic public discourse and incidents of violence against Jews abound. The success of a virulently anti-Semitic political party called Jobbik has been frightening, but as recent stories indicate, the problems go deeper than the 17 percent of the vote Jobbik won in 2010. Many in the ruling Fidesz Party have joined with Jobbik members to embrace Iran. The writer Zsolt Bayer, a close friend of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s, has even described Jews as “stinking excrement.” Yet when Orbán spoke at a meeting of the World Jewish Congress in Budapest on May 5, he ignored all evidence of rising anti-Semitism in Hungary. If leaders cannot even talk about how bad this is, the situation will surely get much worse.

About the Author

Jonathan Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY.

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