The Miss Universe Pageant is a rather silly made-for-television event owned by entrepreneur and celebrity Donald Trump. But this piece of junk food for the mind has nevertheless provided the universe, or at least the portion of it that includes this planet, a tutorial in the realities of the Middle East that one cannot get from reading, say, the editorials of the New York Times or the statements about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that come out of the mouths of people like President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry. And all it took was one selfie from Miss Israel.
The controversy arises from an incident during a photo session before the Miss World festivities began during which the contestants were also talking photos of each other. Miss Israel, Doron Matalon, took a photo of herself and a few other participants, including Saly Greige, Miss Lebanon, in which the young ladies are all smiling while dressed in shirts with their country’s names. The photo was predictably circulated on social media but the reaction involved more than the usual appreciation for the sight of a few pretty girls. Lebanese who saw it were enraged at Greige, who was reviled for treason for being depicted as engaging in normal friendly relations with an Israeli.
This sort of thing had happened once before when the 1993 version of Miss Lebanon was pictured next to that year’s Miss Israel. She was subsequently stripped of her title and ostracized as a traitor.
So to save herself from such an ignominious end, Greige claimed that she had been photo-bombed by the Israeli and then posted a new version of the same picture with Matalon cropped out. Perhaps that lame story will be enough to keep her out of the soup in a country that is dominated by terrorist militias like Hezbollah and where hatred for Israel and Jews is endemic. In response, Matalon merely said she was “sad” that her Arab counterparts were not allowed to put aside official hostility for even the three weeks of the event.
But there’s more to this story than just an embarrassing and potentially dangerous moment of fraternization for one Lebanese woman.
The exchange encapsulated the essence of why peace in the Middle East has eluded generations of diplomats.
The problem between Israel and Lebanon, which is a more cosmopolitan place than many other Arab countries, isn’t a matter of borders or disputes over settlements. Many Lebanese may hold grudges about Israel’s intervention in their civil war and its occupation of a portion of that country that ended in 2000. But any umbrage about that must be tempered by the knowledge that the dispute was caused by the willingness of the Lebanese to let the southern portion of their country be used as a terrorist base of attack by the Palestinians, who operated a state within a state in the south, for many years. The same is true now of Hezbollah, which embroiled all of Lebanon in a pointless and bloody war against Israel in 2006 because of their cross-border terror raids.
Nor are the Lebanese particularly exercised about Israeli settlement policies or the plight of Palestinians in Hamas-run Gaza. Indeed, the Lebanese are, as a result of their own experiences with armed Palestinian militias and terror cadres during the civil war, even less sympathetic to the Palestinians than Israelis.
The problem is a spirit of intolerance and rejection for the idea of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. That is a hatred so deep that it can’t be bridged by creative diplomacy or gestures of goodwill, such as those that infuse international events like the Miss Universe contest.
It is a cliché for contestants at such competitions to say they wish for world peace when asked for their opinions about the issues of the day. But what happened to Miss Lebanon illustrates that the divisions of the Middle East run so deep and are so primal that no amount of global hooey like a beauty contest is enough to make the Arab and Muslim world forget about their antipathy for Israelis.
That one picture was worth a million words of nonsense about the Middle East conflict being a misunderstanding or a problem that could be solved with enough good will on the part of both sides. The State Department should consider it a free “Middle East for Dummies” tutorial. Until Lebanese beauty contestants are not afraid to have their pictures taken with Jews, the diplomats should not bother trying to pretend their efforts will be enough to solve the problem.
Beauty Pageant Selfie Provides a ‘Middle East for Dummies’ Tutorial
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A disturbing claim.
Melissa Landa was, until recently, a clinical professor of education in the University of Maryland’s College of Education. She had been there for ten years, winning awards for her teaching and research, for the latter this very year.
But as of June 8, she was out on her ear. Landa believes that she was fired because she fights anti-Israel activism in academia. She is president of the Oberlin College chapter of Alumni for Campus Fairness and a member of both Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, for whom she has written against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, and the Academic Engagement Network. I have discussed the important work of both organizations here.
We only have Landa’s word for it so far. But she tells the Algemeiner that the associate chair of her department, John O’Flahavan, began to sour on her when she became involved with the situation at Oberlin, including the anti-Semitic Facebook posts of Oberlin professor Joy Karega. According to Landa, O’Flahavan “discouraged my participation and defended Joy Karega’s freedom of speech, and was critical of my involvement in [the Oberlin chapter of the anti-BDS group Alums for Campus Fairness].” Department Chair Francine Hultgren also allegedly criticized Landa for being in Israel over Passover, a trip which required her to miss classes. The trip, Landa asserted, was approved by Hultgren “weeks in advance,” arrangements were made to cover the missed classes, and yet Hultgren accused Landa of “compromising [her] professional responsibilities by being away for such a long period of time.”
The Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s student newspaper, reported that Landa was sufficiently exercised over what she regards as the shabby treatment O’Flahavan and Hultgren subjected her to—she was removed from courses she had been teaching—that she filed a formal grievance against them. A faculty board found against Landa but also noted that “underlying interpersonal issues between [Landa] and [O’Flahavan] may have . . . factored into the staffing decision.” Moreover, the board wrote, “In the interest of the program [we hope] that a professional path for Dr. Landa can be found that harmonizes her teaching and scholarly interests with the needs of the Department.”
But three days after the board decision, in spite of a university policy against retaliation, Landa was told her contract would not be renewed. The University of Maryland’s Title IX office is now looking into whether the nonrenewal violated that policy or “was based on religious, political or national origin discrimination.”
The timing of Landa’s problems with her department, coinciding with her increasing visibility as an anti-BDS activist, is suspicious. So is the abrupt dismissal of an award-winning professor, who was scheduled to teach in the fall, just after that professor had filed a grievance against her department chair and associate chair. The main evidence that Landa was fired because of her stance on Israel in the academy so far remains Landa’s own testimony, and that isn’t enough. A thorough investigation is warranted. But thus far, Landa’s story has been covered by, apart from the student newspaper, only by Jewish or conservative outlets. It’s time people started paying attention.
The definition of sanity.
President Donald Trump’s address to the UN last week received considerable attention for what he actually said. No less interesting, however, is what he didn’t say. The speech contained zero mention of the Palestinians, zero mention of their conflict with Israel, and zero mention of the peace process Trump has been trying to revive.
This omission isn’t unprecedented, but it is unusual; most U.S. presidents have included the Israeli-Palestinian issue in their annual UN addresses. And it seems especially surprising for a president who has repeatedly declared Israeli-Palestinian peace to be one of his major foreign policy goals.
Yet the omission is perfectly consistent with Trump’s approach to the peace process to date, which has differed markedly from that of all his predecessors in one crucial regard: He appears to be trying to apply serious pressure to the Palestinians rather than only to Israel.
Take, for instance, his administration’s consistent refusal to say that the goal of the peace process is a two-state solution. Since efforts to achieve a two-state solution have repeatedly failed for almost 25 years now, it makes obvious sense for anyone who’s serious about trying to solve the conflict to at least consider whether this is really the most workable option. But even if, as seems likely, the administration actually does believe in the two-state solution, refusing to publicly commit to it serves an important purpose.
That’s because insisting that the end goal be a Palestinian state is a major concession to the Palestinians—something that has unfortunately been forgotten over the last quarter century. After all, throughout Israel’s first 45 years of existence, there was almost wall-to-wall consensus among Israelis that a Palestinian state would endanger their country. Even the 1993 Oslo Accord included no mention of Palestinian statehood, and the man who signed it, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, asserted in his final address to the Knesset in 1995 that he envisioned a “Palestinian entity . . . which is less than a state.”
Yet to date, this significant concession to the Palestinians has never been accompanied by a corresponding Palestinian concession to Israel. Though the Palestinians insist on a Palestinian nation-state, they still refuse to accept a Jewish nation-state alongside it. Instead, they demand that millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees be allowed to relocate to Israel, turning it into a binational state.
Nor has this major concession to the Palestinians been accompanied by a corresponding international concession to Israel. The European Union, for instance, repeatedly makes very specific demands of Israel, insisting that it accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines and Jerusalem as the capital of two states. But the EU has never demanded that the Palestinians accept a Jewish state or give up their idea of relocating millions of Palestinians to Israel. Instead, it merely calls for an unspecified “just, fair, agreed and realistic solution” to the Palestinian refugee problem, which the Palestinians–who view flooding Israel with millions of Palestinians as the only “just” solution–can easily interpret as support for their position.
In short, until Trump came along, the Palestinians won this major concession for free. Now, by refusing to declare a two-state solution as his goal, he has essentially told the Palestinians, for the first time in the history of the peace process, that every concession they previously pocketed is reversible unless and until they actually sign a deal. In other words, for the first time in the history of the peace process, he has told the Palestinians they have something to lose by intransigence. And if they want to reinstate America’s commitment to a Palestinian state, they will have to give something in exchange.
The same goes for Trump’s refusal even to mention the Palestinians in his UN speech. When former Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly insisted that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the world’s most important foreign policy problem (a message routinely echoed by European diplomats), that gave the Palestinians tremendous leverage. Since they have always been the more intransigent side, the easiest path for any broker to follow is to simply support more and more Palestinian demands without requiring any substantive Palestinian concessions in return and then try to pressure Israel into agreeing. Thus, if world leaders are desperate to resolve the conflict, they will naturally tend to take that easy path in the hope of producing quick “achievements,” which is, in fact, what has happened over the last two decades. The result is that the Palestinians have concluded they can keep getting more simply by continuing to say no.
In his UN speech, Trump sent the opposite message: There are a lot of important foreign policy issues, like North Korea and Iran, and the Palestinian issue is so trivial by comparison that it doesn’t even merit a mention. In other words, though Trump would like to broker a peace deal, it isn’t necessary for America’s own interests. And therefore, it’s only worth investing time and effort in it if Palestinians and Israelis are both actually ready to deal, which means the Palestinians will have to be ready to finally make some concessions.
There are ample grounds for skepticism about whether Trump’s approach will work; based on the accumulated evidence of the last quarter century, I consider it far more likely that the Palestinians simply aren’t interested in signing a deal on any terms. Nevertheless, there is a plausible alternative theory. Perhaps Palestinians keep saying no simply because doing so has proven effective in securing more concessions. And if that’s the case, then reversing this perverse set of incentives by telling them they stand to lose from intransigence rather than gain by it could actually be effective.
Whether he succeeds or fails, Trump deserves credit for trying something new. Given the failure of his predecessors to achieve peace, only State Department bureaucrats could imagine that doing the same thing one more time would somehow produce different results.
Podcast: Trump starts a fight, but will he win it?
The first COMMENTARY podcast of the week finds us (me, Abe Greenwald, and Noah Rothman) discussing the weekend of knee-taking and Trump-tweeting about patriotism and the NFL and blah blah blah while North Korea threatens hydrogen bomb-testing and Puerto Rico reverts to a state of nature. And we enjoy the decline and fall of Valerie Plame. Give a listen.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.
What is he winning exactly?
Conservative political analysts seem so wrapped up in the matter of whether or not Donald Trump can, no one has given much thought to whether he should.
The latest national scandal, which will surely be as fleeting as its myriad predecessors, was whipped up by the president on a whim while he fed off the adoration of his fans at an Alabama political rally over the weekend. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of the NFL owners when somebody disrespects the flag to say get that sonofabitch off the field?” the president boomed. The crowd roared, Trump absorbed the positive feedback, and the nation’s opinion makers on the right and the left responded to the president’s goading with Pavlovian predictability. Trump so enjoyed the quivering of the raw nerve he touched that he spent the following morning attacking a variety of African-American professional athletes and disinviting them to the White House on, ostensibly, patriotic grounds.
What urgent controversy was the president addressing? Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who became the subject of national scrutiny when he opted to protest police violence targeting African-Americans by kneeling for the national anthem, hasn’t played in the National Football League this year. He became a free agent when his contract elapsed in March, and another team did not sign him.
Isolated episodes of questionable police violence against African-Americans persist, like the tragic 2016 murder of Philando Castile—a case in which moral justice, as opposed to the purely procedural variety, has proven elusive. So, too, do contentions that some police departments are eager to cover that violence up, like the three Chicago officers indicated for conspiring to hide evidence related to the fatal 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald. But were there mass Black Lives Matter protests paralyzing American urban centers when the president made his remarks, as there had been in years past? No.
The president decided to ignite a controversy, and the nation’s culturally conservative commentators—even those sympathetic to claims that justice is routinely denied blacks in over-policed portions of the country—proceeded to deem Trump the winner of this manufactured kerfuffle. National Review’s Rich Lowry noted that Trump’s antipathy toward Kaepernick and those in professional sports who sympathize with his tactics called his agitation indicative of a “gut-level political savvy.” The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson agreed: “Donald Trump Did Not Start This. But He Will Finish It. And He Will Win.”
As a purely dispassionate political analysis, these assertions have undeniable merit. The majority of the country does not see the American flag or the national anthem of the United States as symbols of oppression, and a majority in 2016 did not sympathize with those who “take the knee.” They might think that African-Americans, in particular, have a legitimate claim to make against the state, but see the broad brush with which some protesters tar the country as unfair to a nation that has sacrificed much to secure freedom and egalitarianism for both its citizens and the whole of mankind. And perhaps white Americans who resent these protesters see Trump as a medium through which they can communicate this point of view to a cultural media establishment that rejects it in its entirety and with overwhelming, righteous passion.
But is Trump winning anything beyond a likely short-lived reprieve from a focus on the fact that he has yet to secure a legislative achievement that will outlast his presidency? No. He has, instead, expertly torn asunder existing fissures in the country, exploiting them for his own temporary political gain. Is Trump as the avatar of true patriotism, self-sacrifice, and national healing toward a racial consensus? Is he going to truly advance the goals of his so-called “silent majority?” Or is he going to increase tensions? Has he brought the nation together, or did he simply embitter white Americans and alienate their black counterparts? Is this leadership? Is it conservative? The right once knew the answers to these questions, but it took a Democrat to make them see it.
To call Trump’s crusade or the campaign of kneeling for the Star Spangled Banner a culture war annoys activists on both sides. For the kneelers, they are protesting state-sponsored bloodletting; their cause is existential. For those who stand, the very definition of their nation is at stake, and the security it provides them and their families with it. But no one so protested when it was Barack Obama serving on the front lines of what most agreed was a culture war.
In 2014, along with making a point of only calling on women during a press conference and executing a variety of legally dubious (and doomed) executive actions on immigration, Obama indulged his liberal critics by finally speaking out more boldly on the issue of race in popular media venues like Black Entertainment Television. Following the 2014 killing of Eric Garner by New York City police in a chokehold after he tried to sell loosie cigarettes, the president went out of his way to endorse the actions of professional athletes who were disgusted by the injustice.
“You know, I think LeBron [James] did the right thing,” Barack Obama told People Magazine regarding the NBA star’s decision to wear a t-shirt bearing Garner’s last reported words: “I can’t breathe.” Obama compared James to the icons of led the fight for civil rights. “We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, and Bill Russell played in raising consciousness,” he insisted. “I’d like to see more athletes do that—not just around this issue, but around a range of issues.”
Anti-Trump activists who are deservedly incensed by Trump’s behavior will claim that there is no comparison between these two assertions, but that’s how precedents work. Those who inherit them build upon them in ways that are not always optimal or prudent. That’s why presidents should be cautious about setting them. Barack Obama spoke more eloquently and with greater delicacy on the issue of race than Trump is capable of or interested in mimicking, but the 44th President did not heal divisions with these comments. There was no legislative remedy available to Obama to address the issue of excessive local policing targeting minorities. Because such behavior violates existing laws, it is a matter only of enforcement. That’s why Obama’s supporters demanded only that the president speak his mind on race and discrimination, and were largely satisfied when he did.
Culture wars beget a response because they almost never end—not totally. It’s too much to expect those who cheered on Obama’s decision to wade into contentious cultural matters to engage in any introspection, but conservatives should be expected to recall the admonitions they once issued not all that long ago. The president’s words matter a great deal, and he should be supremely careful about deploying them. They can and often do yield more harm than good.
Competition is a scary thing.
Soon after last summer’s U.K. vote to leave the European Union, London Mayor Sadiq Khan launched a publicity campaign to reassure investors that his city would remain a dynamic, global hub after Brexit. “London Is Open” was the slogan, and it was supposed to “show the world that London remains entrepreneurial, international and full of creativity and possibility.”
So much for that. Friday’s decision by the city’s transport regulator not to renew Uber’s license suggests that Khan’s London is closed to competition and in thrall to local special interests.
The regulator, Transport for London, said the decision was based on Uber’s alleged lack of corporate responsibility in a variety of areas, particularly public safety. Yet there is no Uber-driven safety crisis in London. If Uber has made missteps, as any company might, putting 40,000 drivers out of work and inconveniencing 3.5 million London riders is a terrible way to respond.
Public safety is a pretext. The Uber ban comes after years of lobbying–and strikes and bullying–by the city’s black-taxi cartel. Before Uber came along, the industry’s high barriers to entry shielded black taxis from competition. It takes tens of thousands of pounds to buy a black cab and years to acquire “the knowledge”–drivers’ vaunted ability to memorize and instantly recall the best way to any destination.
The advent of GPS and ride-sharing meant that having the knowledge wasn’t all that special. Rather than try to outcompete Uber by offering better prices and service, the black taxis continued to charge outrageously overpriced fares. And they sought to defeat ride-sharing politically. Now they have succeeded. The losers are riders who used ride-sharing for fast, reliable, and accountable service.
The first black taxi I ever took, in 2014, took me from Heathrow Airport to Euston, in central London. It cost nearly £100 (or $170 at the time). That taught me early on to rely on my Uber app, and since then I have taken hundreds of rides. Defenders of the ban point to pre-booked minicab services and the like that often cost less or about the same as Uber. Yet none of those services offer the speed, ease, and pickup accuracy that Uber does. Black taxis don’t routinely serve many low-income neighborhoods, moreover, whereas Uber works wherever people have smartphones.
If you leave a personal item in a black cab and pay cash, there is no way to recover it. With Uber and similar apps, you can immediately track down your driver, and he will usually return the item to you within hours. As for safety and sexual assault: Rachel Cunliffe pointed out in the Spectator that Uber is the far safer option for female riders, who don’t have to trawl the streets looking for taxis. Every ride and every driver is tracked.
The Uber ban is the triumph of protectionism over innovation and clientelism over consumer choice. London is not open.