We can hope the deal with Iran will work as advertised, but we need to plan for the worst.
On November 24, 2013, a “Joint Plan of Action” was concluded in Geneva by Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China—as well as Germany. “We have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program,” President Obama exulted. This agreement, added Secretary of State John Kerry, will ensure that Iran “cannot build a nuclear weapon.”
Their confidence was not universally shared. “This deal appears to provide the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with billions of dollars in exchange for cosmetic concessions that neither fully freeze nor significantly roll back its nuclear infrastructure,” said Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois. “Furthermore, the deal ignores Iran’s continued sponsorship of terrorism, its testing of long-range ballistic missiles, and its abuse of human rights.”
“A fairer agreement,” said Senator Charles Schumer of New York, “would have coupled a reduction in sanctions with a proportionate reduction in Iranian nuclear capability.”
Key to the 1,500-word agreement is this pledge: “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons.” That seems reassuring: Tough economic sanctions, President Obama’s warnings that “all options remain on the table,” and the diplomatic initiative led by Secretary of State Kerry were intended to produce exactly that commitment.
But the word reaffirms may give the game away. Iran’s rulers have made similar statements about neither seeking nor developing nuclear weapons in the past. We know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that they were lying; they have been developing secret nuclear-weapons facilities and programs for a decade or more. The discovery of those facilities and programs led to six UN Security Council resolutions condemning them and imposing sanctions in response—all of which they have flouted. So what is it the Iranians are reaffirming? It would seem, given the context, that they are promising more of the same.
Putting that concern aside might be possible if the agreement spelled out strict measures to enforce Iranian compliance. It does not. The agreement is mostly about confidence-building measures—actions the West and Iran will take to make it possible to get down to the brass tacks in six months or a year.
During the Geneva talks, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was all smiles, fluent English, and bonhomie. The photos of him and Catherine Ashton, the former British Labor Party politician and now the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, sharing toothy laughs are striking. She seemed unaware that, back in Tehran, Iran’s dictator, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had not toned down his fire-and-brimstone sermons and speeches at all. Addressing members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps at the Grand Mosque the day the Geneva nuclear negotiations began, the supreme leader declared that in the “military, political, and economic wars, in every arena where there is a test of strength, you, the believer, must stand firm against the enemy [the United States], your will must overcome the determination of the enemy.” Khamenei added that there was a need for “heroic flexibility”—a concept, he made clear, that does not imply “abandoning the ideals and aims of the Islamic regime.” What it means instead: “clever, artful maneuvering that allows for the believer to achieve his goals.”
Ample evidence and years of experience lead to the conclusion that those goals include the development of a nuclear-weapons capability, if not weapons themselves, and that Iran’s rulers seek that capability in order to (1) establish hegemony in the Middle East, (2) protect the terrorists they sponsor abroad, (3) entrench their oppressive rule at home, (4) diminish American power globally, and (5) continue to incite and threaten genocide against Israel.
Asked about the supreme leader’s remarks, Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, defaulted to diplomatic understatement. “Comments like these are not helpful,” she said. She then added: “But we still believe that both sides are negotiating in good faith.”
More likely, Iran’s self-proclaimed Islamist revolutionaries see negotiations as did Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Communist leader, when he offered a revolutionary twist on Carl von Clausewitz’s famous dictum about politics: “All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means.” Or as Iranian parliamentarian Ali Motahari recently phrased it: “Negotiations do not require concessions. Negotiations are a tool for us to receive concessions.” About a day after the conclusion of the Geneva talks, the semi-official Fars News Agency published a cartoon showing Zarif in a tractor operating a huge microphone as a wrecking ball, smashing a castle, atop which is a black flag with the word sanctions in Farsi.
The Pentagon conducts “post-action reviews” to learn from its mistakes. The same is apparently not true of Foggy Bottom, which often spins battles lost as missions accomplished. Under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, American diplomats spent years attempting to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear ambitions of the despotic regime that rules North Korea. Concessions were made, aid was provided, agreements were signed, and steady progress was announced. And here is what all that time, money, and effort achieved: In 2006, the North Koreans tested a nuclear weapon for the first time. A second nuclear test was conducted three years later. The United States strongly objected, vowing that North Korea would “pay a price for its actions.” North Korea paid no price, and on February 12, 2013, it conducted a third nuclear test. Today, Pyongyang continues developing missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons to those regarded as enemies. In these and other matters, it cooperates closely with Tehran.
The late Christopher Hitchens, an intellectual of the left (also, untypically, a critic of the left) spoke of “the liberal softness on totalitarianism.” When it comes to Iranian totalitarianism, that softness takes the form of a delusion: The Islamic Republic is seen as a “normal” nation, seeking stability in its region and interested in nuclear technology only for peaceful purposes or, at most, because of security concerns. Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, recently wrote that while he does not “like the clerical dictators in Tehran one bit, I can understand how they might feel threatened by Israel and the West.”
Gelb’s dislike is well earned, for the “clerical dictators” ordered the suicide bombing that killed 299 American and French servicemen in Beirut in 1983; were involved in the slaughter of American military personnel at Khobar Towers in 1996; masterminded Hezbollah’s attacks in Argentina in the 1990s; assisted a failed plot to bomb JFK Airport in New York City in 2007; have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan; and recently flubbed an attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador by blowing up a Georgetown restaurant in which he was to be dining. Yet it is they, in Gelb’s analysis, who might feel “threatened by Israel and the West”—and, in his view, understandably so.
Many of Gelb’s cohort in the media, think tanks, and the Department of State (three institutions in which he has worked at high levels) choose not to believe that Iran’s rulers, “hardliners” and “moderates” alike, subscribe to a coherent and seriously bellicose ideology—a Shia version of the radical Sunni belief system that drives al-Qaeda and its many affiliates. Both systems center on the imperative of Islamic supremacy and, eventually, global domination, the conviction that Muslims have, quite literally, a God-given right to rule over “unbelievers.”
Now, it is important to note that the vast majority of Shia Muslims in Iran almost certainly do not embrace this doctrine. It should be remembered that, in 1979, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led a political revolution they wanted—which he then transformed into a religious revolution against which Iranians have been chafing for more than three decades. Khomeini and his acolytes replaced not just the shah but also the “quietist” Shia tradition that had maintained a respectable distance between mosque and state. In its place, Khomeini proclaimed the doctrine of velayat-e faqih—the “guardianship” of religious “jurists,” a dictatorship that melds religious and political power.
Similarly, most Sunni Muslims do not subscribe to Salafism—the emulation of Muhammad and his companions in all ways—or Salafi Jihadism, the even more extremist belief that waging war against infidels, as did early generations of Muslims, is the central pillar of the faith.
Militants among the Sunni and Shia are not enemies: They can and do cooperate against common foes. But there is a serious rivalry between them, most bloodily expressed right now in the Syrian civil war. And many if not most Sunnis, especially in the countries neighboring Iran, fear and dread the possibility that the Islamic Republic will, with American complicity, soon stride the Middle East like a colossus. “We have concerns about what sort of concessions the Americans will give,” Mustafa Alani, the Dubai-based director of security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Center, told a reporter. “Will they anoint Iran as a regional superpower? The idea of Iran having hegemonic power is an absolute red line for all the Arab states.”
We can and should hope that President Obama, his diplomats, and those applauding them, are right—that the plan of action leads, within the six-month time frame specified, to a comprehensive agreement that prevents Iran’s rulers from getting their fingers on nuclear triggers. Even better would be what Washington Post columnist David Ignatius claims to see on the horizon: “an American rapprochement” with Iran, which will then become a member-in-good-standing of the “international community.” Obama would go to Iran—much as Nixon went to China. A new day would dawn.
But it is prudent to consider and prepare for less rosy scenarios, in particular the possibility that the interim agreement—made when economic pressure was most intense and so, therefore, was U.S. leverage—will come to be seen as the pinnacle of the diplomatic process and not its promising beginning. If sanctions do lose their bite over the weeks and months ahead, the expectation must be that Iran’s rulers will concede less, exploit ambiguities in the Joint Plan of Action, and hide as much of their nuclear-weapons activity from international inspectors as possible.
If that’s the case, subsequent negotiations will not bring about what Obama and Kerry announced in November. Instead, as the sanctions unravel, Iran will continue its drive to become a nuclear-armed state or at least a threshold nuclear-weapons state. In other words, the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism will pause just a few months or even weeks from having the world’s worst weapons and, very possibly, the means to deliver them.
We should be able to imagine, anticipate, and plan for probable contingencies. For example, we can be sure that a strengthened Iran will continue efforts to exert influence over Iraq, from which American troops have been withdrawn. The same would be true for Afghanistan once most Americans depart from that troubled land. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s satrap, looks increasingly likely to survive, thanks in no small measure to the elite Iranian forces that have been on the ground fighting for him. Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist foreign legion, also has been winning battles for Assad in Syria. Victory in that theater can only help it consolidate its control of Lebanon. Hamas leaders, who had fallen out with Iran because they could not support an Alawite dictator brutally suppressing a rebellion by Syria’s Sunni majority, should be expected to reconcile with Tehran, especially now that there is no longer a friendly Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.
But those are not the most serious consequences likely to unfold if there is a nuclear Iran, no longer hobbled by sanctions. Other states in the region will come under enormous pressure to bend to the Islamic Republic and the supreme leader. Azerbaijan, sometimes described by Iranians as a lost province, could be particularly at risk. It has a coast on the Caspian Sea where there are trillions of dollars in oil resources. In the past, both Iran and Russia have regarded the Caspian as a lake whose riches are to be divided as they see fit.
Most significant, however, Iran’s rulers will attempt to exercise effective control over the Persian Gulf. Mark Langfan, a New York–based geo-spatial topographer, has mapped out a triangle over the Gulf and its shores: Its apex is in Iraqi Kurdistan. One leg extends south through Iraq and the Shia-inhabited “Eastern province” of Saudi Arabia. The second leg passes through western Iran. The third leg takes in the northern shores of the United Arab Emirates, as well as Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait. Fifty-six percent of the world’s known oil and gas reserves are found within this triangle. Control, even implicit control, of this area would give Iran tremendous leverage over the global price of petroleum.
Also within this “Persian Triangle” is the Strait of Hormuz, through which passes about 20 percent of the world’s petroleum, and more than a third of the petroleum traded by sea. In 2008, Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, threatened to seal off the strait if Iran were attacked by Israel or the U.S. On several occasions, U.S. ships in the strait have been harassed by Iranian vessels. All that was done while Iran was weak, both militarily and economically. A nuclear-armed or nuclear-threshold Iran asserting its “right” to what it might claim as “territorial waters” (much as China has been claiming airspace above disputed islands in the East China Sea) will pose tough choices.
Would the U.S. respond by saying, as in the past, that closing the strait would represent a red line that cannot be crossed without serious consequences? If the U.S did, would that still be credible? Or would the risk of a nuclear exchange be seen as too high a price to pay—an unacceptable tradeoff of “blood for oil”? If the latter, Iran’s economic clout, especially over Europe, would increase enormously over the years ahead.
Iranian ambitions might next focus on the Saudis, seen as usurpers with no legitimate claim to serve as custodians of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and enjoying enormous wealth only because they have deprived their Shia tribes of the black gold that lies beneath their territories. It is widely rumored that as soon as the Saudis see a nuclear Iran as inevitable, they will seek an equalizer. Others in the region may, too, perhaps setting off a nuclear-weapons “cascade” that will increase the odds of loose nukes, sooner or later, falling into the hands of terrorist groups.
And of course, Iran’s rulers may decide that their top priority is to challenge, defeat, and destroy Israel, which they have called a “cancer” that “should be cut off.” As for what Israel might do about that and when, those who know are not talking and those who are talking probably don’t know.
In the 20th century, dictators driven by utopian ideologies rooted in atheism caused enormous bloodshed. Decisions being made today by the White House and Congress may determine whether, in the 21st century, as much carnage will be caused by dictators driven by utopian ideologies proclaimed to be ordained by God.
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The Persian Triangle
Must-Reads from Magazine
With the demise of the filibuster for judicial nominations, the Senate has become a more partisan body. Members of the opposition party no longer have to take difficult votes to confirm presidential nominees, and so they no longer have to moderate their rhetoric to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy. Many expected, therefore, that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings would tempt Democrats to engage in theatrics and hyperbole. Few, however, foresaw just how recklessly the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic members would behave.
The sordid performance to which Americans were privy was not the harmless kind that can be chalked up to presidential ambitions. Right from the start, Democratic committee members took a sledgehammer to the foundations of the institution in which they are privileged to serve.
Sen. Cory Booker made national headlines by declaring himself “Spartacus,” but the actions he undertook deserved closer attention than did the scenery he chewed. Booker insisted that it was his deliberate intention to violate longstanding Senate confidentiality rules supposedly in service to transparency. It turns out, however, that the documents Booker tried to release to the public had already been exempted from confidentiality. Booker was adamant, however, that he had undermined the Senate’s integrity. You see, that, not transparency, was his true objective. It was what he believed his constituents wanted from him.
Booker wasn’t alone. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse appeared to share his colleague’s political instincts. “I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not accept the process,” he said of the committee’s vetting of Kavanaugh’s documents. “Because I do not accept its legitimacy or validity,” Whitehouse added, he did not have to abide by the rules and conventions that governed Senate conduct.
When the committee’s Democratic members were not trying to subvert the Senate’s credibility, they were attempting to impugn Judge Kavanaugh’s character via innuendo or outright fabrications.
Sen. Kamala Harris managed to secure a rare rebuke from the fact-checking institution PolitiFact, which is charitably inclined toward Democratic claims. “Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control,” read her comments on Twitter accompanying an 11-second clip in which Kavanaugh characterized certain forms of birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs.” “Make no mistake,” Harris wrote, “this is about punishing women.” But the senator had failed to include mitigating context in that clip, which would have made it clear that Kavanaugh was simply restating the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the case in question.
Later, Harris probed Kavanaugh as to whether he believed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which has never been explicitly ruled unconstitutional, was wrongly upheld by the Supreme Court. Despite calling the decisions of this period “discriminatory,” Kavanaugh declined to elaborate on a case that could theoretically come before the Supreme Court. This, the judge’s detractors insisted, was “alarming” and perhaps evidence of latent racial hostility. In fact, it was an unremarkable example of how Supreme Court nominees tend to avoid offering “forecasts” of how they will decide cases without having heard the arguments—a routine deemed “the Ginsburg Rule” after Ruth Bader, who perfected the practice.
Over a week later, Harris had still not explained what she was getting at. But she doesn’t have to. The vagueness of her claim was designed to allow Kavanaugh’s opponents’ imaginations to run wild, leading them to draw the worst possible conclusions about this likely Supreme Court justice and to conclude that the process by which he was confirmed was a sham.
Harris may not have been alone in appealing to this shameful tactic. On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein shocked observers when she released a cryptic statement revealing that she had “referred” to “federal investigative authorities” a letter involving Kavanaugh’s conduct. It’s human nature to arrive at the worst imaginable conclusion as to what these unstated claims might be, and that’s precisely what Kavanaugh’s opponents did. It turned out that the 35-year-old accusations involve an anonymous woman who was allegedly cornered in a bedroom by Kavanaugh and a friend during a high-school party. Kavanaugh, the letter alleged, put a hand over her mouth, but the woman removed herself from the situation before anything else occurred. All were minors at the time of this alleged episode, and Kavanaugh denies the allegations.
Some thought it was odd for Feinstein to refer these potentially serious allegations to the FBI this week and in such a public fashion when the allegations contained in a letter were known to Democrats for months. The letter was, after all, obtained by Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo in July. But it doesn’t seem confusing when considering the facts that the FBI all but dismissed the referral off-hand and reporting on the episode lacks any corroboration to substantiate the claims made by the alleged victim here. It is hard not to conclude that this is an attempt to affix an asterisk to Brett Kavanaugh’s name. Democrats will not only claim that this confirmation process was tainted but may now contend that Kavanaugh cannot be an impartial arbitrator—not with unresolved clouds of suspicion involving sexual assault hanging over his head.
Ultimately, as public polling suggests, the Democratic Party’s effort to tarnish Kavanaugh’s reputation through insinuation and theatrics has had the intended effect. Support for this nominee now falls squarely along party lines. But the collateral damage Senate Democrats have done to America’s governing institutions amid this scorched-earth campaign could have lasting and terrible consequences for the country.
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While the nation’s attention is focused on the Carolina coast, something very odd is happening across the country in Sunspot, New Mexico.
Sunspot is hardly a town at all–the nearest stores are 18 miles away. It’s actually a solar observatory 9,200 feet up in the Sacramento Mountains. It is open to the public and has a visitor’s center, but don’t visit it right now. On September 6th, the FBI moved in and evacuated all personnel using Black Hawk helicopters. Local police were told to stay away. The only explanation being given by the FBI is that an unresolved “security issue” is the cause of the evacuation.
The sun is the only astronomical body capable of doing major damage to planet earth without actually hitting us. A coronal mass ejection aimed at the earth could have a devastating impact on satellites, radio transmission, and the electrical grid, possibly causing massive power outages that could last for weeks, even months. (It would also produce spectacular auroras. During the Carrington Event of 1859, the northern lights were seen as far south as the Caribbean and people in New England could read newspapers by the light.)
So, there are very practical, not just intellectual reasons, to know what the sun is up to. But the National Solar Observatory right now is a ghost town, and no one will say why. Such a story should be catnip for journalists.
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It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you.
Americans awoke Thursday morning to a familiar noise: The president of the United States waxing conspiratorial and declaring himself the victim of a nefarious plot.
“3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Donald Trump declared on Twitter. He insisted that the loss of life in the immediate aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria topped out in the low double-digits and ballooned into the thousands well after the fact because of faulty accounting. The president did not claim that this misleading figure was attributable to flaws in the studies conducted in the aftermath of last year’s disaster by institutions like George Washington University or the New England Journal of Medicine but to a deliberate misinformation campaign orchestrated by his political opponents. “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible,” Trump insisted.
If, for some mysterious reason, Trump wanted to attack the validity of these studies, he might have questioned the assumptions and biases that even their authors admit had an unavoidable effect on their confidence intervals. But Trump’s interest is not in accuracy. His desire is to shield himself from blame and to project his administration’s failings—even those as debatable as the disaster that afflicted Puerto Rico for the better part of a year—onto others. The president’s self-consciousness is so transparent at this point that even his defenders in Congress have begun directly confronting the insecurities that fuel these tweets.
Donald Trump has rarely encountered a conspiracy theory he declined to legitimize, and this tendency did not abate when he won the presidency. From his repeated assertions that Moscow’s intervention in the 2016 election was a “hoax,” to the idea that the FBI shielded Hillary Clinton from due scrutiny, to the baseless notion that “millions and millions” of illegal-immigrant voters deprived him of a popular vote victory, all of this alleged sedition has a common theme: Trump is the injured party.
The oddest thing about all this is that these are the golden days. Trump-era Republicans will look back on this as the halcyon period in which all of Washington’s doors were open to them. The president’s ostensible allies control every chamber of government. The power his adversaries command is of the soft sort—cultural and moral authority—but not the kind of legal power that could prevent Trump and Republicans from realizing their agenda. That could be about to change.
The signs that a backlash to unified Republican rule in Washington was brewing have been obvious almost since the moment Trump took the oath of office. Democrats have consistently overperformed in special and off-year elections, their candidates have outraised the GOP, and a near-record number of Republicans opted to retire rather than face reelection in 2018. The Democratic Party’s performance in the generic ballot test has outpaced the GOP for well over a year, sometimes by double-digits, leading many to speculate that Democrats are well positioned to retake control of the House of Representatives. Now, despite the opposition party’s structural disadvantages, some are even beginning to entertain the prospect of a Democratic takeover in the Senate.
Until this point, the Trump administration has faced no real adversity. Sure, the administration’s executive overreach has been rejected in the courts and occasionally public outcry has forced the White House to abandon ill-considered initiatives, but it’s always been able to rely on the GOP majorities in Congress to shield it from the worst consequences of its actions. That phase of the Trump presidency could be over by January. For the first time, this president could have to contend with at least one truly adversarial chamber of the legislature, and opposition will manifest first in the form of investigations.
How will the White House respond when House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings is tasked with investigating the president’s response to a natural disaster or when he subpoenas the president’s personal records? How will Trump respond when Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler is overseeing the investigation into the FBI’s response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, not Bob Goodlatte? Will the Department of Homeland Security’s border policies withstand public scrutiny when it’s Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson, not Texas’s Michael McCaul, doing the scrutinizing? How will Wall Street react to a Washington where financial-services oversight is no longer led by Jeb Hensarling but Maxine Waters? If the Democrats take the House, the legislative phase of the Trump era be over, but the investigative phase will have only just begun.
In many ways, this presidency behaved as though it were operating in a bunker from day one, and not without reason. Trump had every reason to fear that the culture of Washington and even many of the members of his own party were secretly aligned against him, but the key word there is “secret.” The secret is about to be out. The Trump White House hasn’t yet faced a truly adversarial Washington institution with teeth, but it is about to. If you think you’ve seen a bunker mentality in this White House, you haven’t seen anything yet.
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Podcast: Google and Kavanaugh.
Will Google survive the revelations of its political bias, or are those revelations nothing new? We delve into the complexities of the world in which important tech companies think they are above politics until they decide they’re not. Also some stuff on the Supreme Court and on polls. Give a listen.
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Smeared for doing the job.
When then-presidential candidate Donald Trump famously declared his intention to be a “neutral” arbiter of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian territories and put the onus for resolving the conflict on Jerusalem, few observers could have predicted that Trump would run one of the most pro-Israel administrations in American history.
This year, the Trump administration began relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to the nation’s capital city, fulfilling a promise that began in 1995 with the passage of a law mandating this precise course of action. The administration also declined to blame Israel for defending its Gaza border against a Hamas-led attack. Last week, the administration shuttered the PLO’s offices in Washington.
The Trump administration’s commitment to shedding the contradictions and moral equivalencies that have plagued past administrations has exposed anti-Zionism for what its critics so often alleged it to be.
This week, Department of Education Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus announced his intention to vacate an Obama-era decision that dismissed an alleged act of anti-Semitism at Rutgers University. Marcus’s decision to reopen that particularly deserving case has led the New York Times to publish an article by Erica L. Green full of misconceptions, myths, and dissimulations about the nature of the anti-Israel groups in question and the essential characteristics of anti-Semitism itself.
In reporting on Marcus’s move, Green declared the education activist and opponent of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement a “longtime opponent of Palestinian rights causes,” a designation the paper’s editor felt fine printing without any substantiating evidence. You could be forgiven for thinking that BDS itself constituted a cause of “Palestinian rights” and not an international effort to stigmatize and harm both Israel and its supporters. If you kept reading beyond that second paragraph, your suspicions were confirmed.
Green contended that Marcus’s decision has paved the way for the Education Department to adopt a “hotly contested definition of anti-Semitism” that includes: denying Jews “the right to self-determination,” claiming that the state of Israel is a “racist endeavor,” and applying a double standard to Israel not “expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” As Jerusalem Post reporter and COMMENTARY contributor Lahav Harkov observed, this allegedly “hotly contested definition” is precisely the same definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In 2010, the IHRA’s working definition was adopted almost in total by Barack Obama’s State Department.
Green went so far as to say that this not-so-new definition for anti-Semitism has, according to Arab-American activists, declared “the Palestinian cause anti-Semitic.” So that is the Palestinian cause? Denying Jews the right to self-determination, calling the state of Israel itself a racist enterprise, and holding it to nakedly biased double standards? So much for the two-state solution.
Perhaps the biggest tell in the Times piece was its reporters’ inability to distinguish between pro-Palestinian activism and anti-Israeli agitation. The complaint the Education Department is preparing to reinvestigate involves a 2011 incident in which an event hosted by the group Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action (BAKA) allegedly imposed an admissions fee on Jewish and pro-Israel activists after unexpected numbers arrived to protest the event. An internal email confirmed that the group only charged this fee because “150 Zionists” “just showed up,” but the Obama administration dismissed the claim, saying that the organization’s excuse—that it expected heftier university fees following greater-than-expected attendance—was innocuous enough.
Green did not dwell on the group, which allegedly discriminated against Jews and pro-Israeli activists. If she had, she’d have reported that, just a few weeks before this incident, BAKA staged another event on Rutgers’s campus—a fundraiser for the organization USTOGAZA, which provided aid to the campaign of “flotillas” challenging an Israeli blockade of Gaza. USTOGAZA’s links to the Turkey-based organization Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), which has long been associated with support for Hamas-led terrorist activities, rendered the money raised in this event legally suspect. Eventually, as Brooke Goldstein wrote for COMMENTARY, even BAKA conceded the point:
After community members demanded that Rutgers, a state-funded university, hold an investigation before handing over any money to USTOGAZA, the school responded by offering to keep the money raised in an escrow account until a suitable recipient could be found. In June 2011, BAKA sent out an e-mail admitting the University had, after “much deliberation” and despite their initial approval, “decided that they are not willing to release the funds to the US to Gaza effort” due to concerns of being found liable for violating the material-support statutes.
Rutgers prudently limited BAKA’s ability to participate in on-campus events after these incidents, but the organization that took their place—Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)—is no better. The Times quoted officials with the Center for Law and Justice who praised Marcus’s move and cited SJP as a source of particular consternation, but the reporters did not delve into the group’s activities. If they had, they’d find that the organization’s activities—among them declaring that “Zionists are racists,” supporting anti-Zionist individuals despite credible accusations of child abuse, and endorsing Hamas’s governing platform, which labels the entire state of Israel “occupied territory”—fits any cogent definition of anti-Semitism. This is to say nothing of the abuse and harassment that American Jews experience on college campuses that play host to SJP’s regular “Israel apartheid weeks.”
Some might attribute the Times’ neutral portrayal of groups that tacitly support violence and people like Omar Barghouti—an activist who “will never accept a Jewish state in Palestine” and has explicitly endorsed “armed resistance” against Jews, who he insists are “not a people”—to ignorance, as though that would neutralize the harm this dispatch might cause. But the Times piece has emboldened those who see Israel’s Jewish character as a threat both to its political culture and our own. That worrying sentiment was succinctly expressed by New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz: “You don’t have to be a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause to question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
The benefit of the doubt only extends so far. Even the charitably inclined should have discovered its limits by now.