Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is often accused of diplomatic incompetence. And if you think the goal of diplomacy is to be loved, it’s hard to dispute this: Netanyahu is loathed by leaders worldwide.
But if you think the goal of diplomacy is to get other countries to adopt your country’s positions, then Netanyahu has had some surprising successes recently.
In July, France became the first European country to publicly adopt a position every Israeli government has deemed essential for Israeli-Palestinian peace, but which Europe consistently refused to endorse: that any agreement must result in “two nation-states,” including “the nation-state of Israel for the Jewish people.”
And last week, one of the most pro-Palestinian countries in Europe not only followed suit, but broke new ground. Addressing the UN General Assembly on Saturday, Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez first declared Spain’s “commitment” to Israel as “a homeland of the Jewish people” – a position Madrid opposed as recently as July. Then she added something that, again, all Israeli governments have deemed essential for peace, but Europe has never been willing to state openly: Any solution to the Palestinian refugee problem must “be just and agreed,” while also “allowing the preservation of Israel’s current character.” In other words, the Palestinian goal of relocating the refugees to Israel is out.
It’s hard to overstate the significance of this shift. For years, the EU has demanded a host of specific Israeli concessions on final-status issues (borders, Jerusalem, etc.) while adamantly refusing to demand any Palestinian concessions. Hence, every statement it issued reiterated a formula carefully crafted to avoid offending Palestinian sensibilities. It called for two states, Israel and Palestine, with no elaboration on the nature of the former, thus leaving open the possibility of an “Israel” transformed into a binational or Palestinian-majority state by an influx of millions of refugee descendants, as Palestinians want. And it urged “an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution” to the refugee issue, without specifying that the Palestinians’ preferred solution of resettling them all in Israel doesn’t qualify.
This enabled Palestinians to continue fantasizing that the world would keep demanding ever more concessions from Israel without ever demanding anything of them. After all, the West is more supportive of Israel than the rest of the world, so what Europe won’t demand, non-Western countries certainly won’t. Moreover, Europe is the Palestinian Authority’s main financial backer, which gives its positions special importance.
But now that one of Europe’s most pro-Palestinian countries has broken ranks, other EU states could well follow suit. That in turn could change the dynamics of the international Quartet, where the EU has traditionally sided with Russia and the UN against the U.S.
It’s no accident this U-turn happened under the “intransigent” Netanyahu rather than his more conciliatory predecessors: His “intransigence” is precisely what convinced France and Spain that progress will require accommodating Israel’s demands as well, and not only those of the Palestinians. The upshot is that two key European states have now adopted a vital Israeli position.
Not bad for an incompetent diplomat.
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Netanyahu’s “Incompetent” Diplomacy Scores a Diplomatic Coup
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When the silly get serious.
Maybe geographic “sorting,” in which like-minded people tend to herd themselves into politically homogeneous communities, is to blame. Maybe social media and the caustic, stubborn posturing it rewards is at fault. Maybe it’s always been this way. Whatever the cause, it has become an undeniable fact that getting ahead in public life demands some deference to unmitigated stupidity.
Take, for example, a couple of recent pronouncements by the Democratic Party’s newest celebrity: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her victory over her county’s Democratic Party chairman and the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives in last month’s primary was no small feat, but that accomplishment has led some political observers to assign to her a level of political competence that she has not yet earned.
The 28-year-old who in all likelihood will soon serve as the representative from New York’s 14th Congressional district was recently asked by “Firing Line” host Margaret Hoover to discuss her frustrations with the state of Israel. Ocasio-Cortez described Israel’s response to violent provocations on its border with Gaza as a “massacre,” and explained that the “occupation” of Palestinian lands represents an “increasing crisis of humanitarian condition.” But where other members of the media might have moved on or finished Ocasio-Cortez’s half-baked thought for her, Hoover admirably asked the future congresswoman to elaborate.
“I think what I meant is, like, the settlements that are increasing in these areas, where Palestinians are experiencing difficulty in access to their housing and homes,”Ocasio-Cortez said. Hoover asked again for more elaboration, at which point Ocasio-Cortez gave up the game. “I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue,” she said with a chuckle. These are only talking points, you see. She didn’t really know what she was talking about.
Gaza is, of course, not occupied. Indeed, the land was ethnically cleansed of Jews over a decade ago. Most of the West Bank’s civilian settlements, a footprint that takes up approximately 2 percent of the land in the region, will be apportioned to Israel in any viable peace deal (as had been the case in past deals). To think critically on the matter for a few minutes would leave any rational observer to wonder why the violence in unoccupied Gaza erupted with a ferocity that was not reproduced in the supposedly occupied West Bank. But no one is doing much thinking here. These were statements of fealty to a cause, not a principle.
This isn’t the first time Ocasio-Cortez should have disappointed her indefatigable boosters. Shortly after her election victory, she appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” where she was asked if tax increases could pay for her preferred agenda items: Medicare-for-all, free post-graduate education at state institutions, expanded Social Security, and a federal employment guarantee. “Not only that,” she replied, “but also to understand that the federal government does have the ability in the similar way that we had in the New Deal to spearhead this agenda and some of that financing as well.” Pardon?
To a certain segment of the left, this non-answer is a perfectly justified dodge because the honest response to this question is politically untenable. You see, to some on the new left, we don’t have to pay for anything. The United States mints its own currency, sets its value, and can finance through loans whatever it wants—even including what experts estimate could be the $32 trillion price tag on a single-payer healthcare program. Ocasio-Cortez’s incomprehensible dissimulation was an evasive maneuver, but a necessary one. After all, according to Senator Bernie Sanders, such a program would require the country to spend “such an astronomical sum of money that, you know, we would bankrupt the nation.” But the self-described socialist from Vermont said that in 1987, back when moving up in Democratic politics meant paying obeisance to other stupid ideas.
Medicare-for-all is one of many politically and arithmetically untenable ideas so obviously unfeasible that only intelligent people could erect logical constructs elaborate enough to convince themselves of their viability. For political superstars like Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez, a little tactical stupidity is a valuable asset. After all, there is a big marketplace available to those who are willing to tell you what you already believe.
If conservatives are inclined to take heart in the fact that these liberal slogans are unlikely to manifest in policy when Democrats regain political power, a brief survey of the GOP’s attempts to realize its own stupid ideas should disabuse them of that hope. Foremost among those has to be the Trumpified Republican Party’s hostility toward the kind of global free-trade regimes the party had spent the better part of the prior twenty years establishing.
On balance, barrier-free trade creates more winners than losers, raises standards of living, reduces poverty across the board, and limits the potential for armed conflict between nations. Republicans know this implicitly, if only because they have spent so much energy in the Trump era lamenting the death of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in all but name. The Trump administration’s rapidly expanding trade war with China, a project that is cheered on by even his erstwhile GOP critics, would have been advanced by that 11-nation agreement that excluded the People’s Republic. Hardly a week goes by that the Trump administration doesn’t lament unfair barriers to accessing Southeast Asian markets, Japanese protectionism, Australian competition, or Canadian dairy subsidization. All of this and more would have been resolved in America’s favor in a post-TPP world.
The president’s heedless antagonism toward both America’s allies and its strategic competitors are not without cost. If fully implemented, the increased prices of consumer goods and reduced access to foreign markets could shave as much as .3 to .4 percent off quarterly GDP growth. The economy can absorb these unnecessary blows, but there is otherwise no logic buttressing this policy. Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail to deliver a policy that would disproportionately harm all American consumers to preserve only a few thousand inefficient jobs, and he delivered. There’s a lesson there. No one should put their faith in arithmetic to save them from the socialist utopia Democrats promise today.
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Podcast: Russia, Congress, and Mueller.
We try to figure out what on earth the president wants from or wants to give to Russia on this podcast. And what Congress is doing. And what Peter Strzok was doing. And we let you know how you can attend our first live podcast on July 30! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets and information.
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The news that Hungary’s prime minister will visit Israel next week has sparked outrage from liberal Jews both in Israel and abroad. Opponents raise two main objections. One would be serious if true, but it doesn’t seem to be. The other is sheer hypocrisy–and it’s an excellent example of the way liberal Jews routinely hold Israel to standards they apply to no other country on earth.
The hypocritical objection is that Viktor Orban is an authoritarian. “Sad company to keep,” tweeted Brookings Institute fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes after hearing that Orban was definitely coming and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (who is admittedly more problematic) might be. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro also questioned the wisdom of welcoming Orban and other authoritarians. “While Israel’s unique security and other requirements understandably impel it to develop as wide a network of relationships as it can,” he said, “I think it will want to avoid finding its own democratic identity tarnished by, of its own choosing, aligning less with the club of democracies and more with this very different coalition.”
This is simply ridiculous. Aside from the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also regularly hosted liberal leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel (several times) and Barack Obama, with French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly planning to visit later this year, the reality is that most countries in the world today are authoritarian, and even a growing number of Western democracies have authoritarian leaders. Thus, any country which wants to maintain relationships with more than a handful of other countries will end up hosting a lot of authoritarian leaders, which is why every other Western democracy also does so.
In fact, other Western democracies often host leaders considerably more objectionable than Orban, and with less justification. I can understand hosting Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping despite their aggressive foreign policies; Russia and China are too important to be ignored. But just this month, Switzerland and Austria welcomed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, as did France and Italy in 2016, even though Rouhani’s government is actively abetting the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and Yemen and brutally crushing dissent at home. That’s far worse than hosting Orban, whose government isn’t killing anyone.
Moreover, Hungary is genuinely important to Israel’s core foreign policy interests, since it has repeatedly helped quash anti-Israel decisions by Israel’s largest trading partner, the European Union. What vital contributions does Iran make to Europe’s core interests that justify overlooking its complicity in mass murder?
In short, liberal Jews are criticizing Israel for doing exactly what every other Western democracy does—except that other Western countries are even more egregious, and with fewer excuses.
Now let’s consider the serious objection, which is that Orban foments anti-Semitism in Hungary. Most Israelis would agree that their government shouldn’t whitewash anti-Semitism; that’s why Netanyahu’s recent statement downplaying Poland’s role in the Holocaust sparked outrage far beyond the ranks of his usual opponents. If true, this charge would be a valid reason to oppose Orban’s visit.
The problem is that the evidence doesn’t support it. That isn’t because Hungary has no anti-Semitism problem; indeed, a major study published last month showed that almost two-thirds of Hungarian Jews think it does. Moreover, Orban has undeniably made some problematic statements.
Nevertheless, the study found an objective and significant improvement over the past 18 years, almost half of which were under Orban’s rule. For instance, the number of Jews who reported hearing anti-Semitic remarks in the street dropped from an astronomical 75 percent in 1999 to 48 percent (still outrageously high) last year, while the number who reported experiencing three or more anti-Semitic incidents fell from 16 to 6 percent.
This jibes with JTA’s in-depth report on Hungarian anti-Semitism earlier last month. In light of the data cited above, the fact that the Hungarian Jewish community’s anti-Semitism watchdog, TEV, recorded just 37 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 (down from 48 in 2016) only shows that anti-Semitic comments are massively underreported. What was noteworthy, however, is that not a single reported incident involved violence.
By comparison, reporter Cnaan Liphshiz noted, the United Kingdom, with a Jewish population only about 2.5 times that of Hungary, recorded 145 physical assaults in its total of 1,382 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017. Austria, with a Jewish population less than a tenth of Hungary’s, recorded five cases of physical violence among its 503 anti-Semitic incidents last year—and, incidentally, that was under a left-wing government led by the Social Democrats. Conservative Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz took power only in December 2017.
Thus, Jews in Britain or Austria were far more likely to suffer anti-Semitic violence than their Hungarian brethren. Indeed, unlike their counterparts in, say, France or Belgium, Jews with beards and kippahs told Liphshiz they feel safe walking Hungary’s streets.
Hungarian Jewish community leaders also said a 2014 revision of the legal code enacted by Orban’s government significantly increased prosecution and punishment of anti-Semitic offenses. “It was a big step forward,” said TEV’s secretary-general, Kalman Szalai. Nor, incidentally, did the Jewish leaders Liphshiz interviewed think Orban’s attacks on George Soros—Exhibit A in most liberal Jewish indictments of Orban—were anti-Semitic (a point I made last year).
In other words, as Szalai said, “It’s not that Hungary doesn’t have anti-Semitism . . . But it also has little to no anti-Semitic violence, and responsive authorities in the judiciary, the police force and also in government.” All of which makes it hard to argue that Orban should be shunned as a dangerous anti-Semite. That is, unless you think, as liberal Jews increasingly seem to do, that right-wing authoritarians are by definition dangerous anti-Semites.
And once you remove the straw man of anti-Semitism, you’re left with the double standard in all its glory: Israel alone has no right to host authoritarian leaders important to its interests, even as other Western democracies routinely host worse leaders with less justification. By insisting that Israel shouldn’t host Orban, liberal Jews are effectively saying that Israel, alone of all the countries of the world, has no right to conduct a normal foreign policy.
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The Iran deal haunts its sponsors.
In a rare lucid moment in January 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that the Tehran regime would use some of the funds from the Iranian nuclear deal to fund terrorism.
“I think that some of [the money] will end up in the hands of the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] or other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists,” he said in the interview with CNBC in Davos. “You know, to some degree, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that can be prevented.” It’s worth watching footage of the interview to observe Kerry’s nonchalance as if the possibility of transferring money to some of the world’s most lethal terrorist groups bothered him not in the least.
Flash forward more than two years later, and Reuters reports:
Germany’s federal prosecutor on Wednesday remanded in custody an Iranian diplomat suspected of having been involved in a plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in France but said the suspect could still be extradited to Belgium.
Belgium is already investigating two Belgians of Iranian origin arrested earlier this month for plotting an explosive attack on the annual “Great Assembly” of Iranian opposition exiles last month on the outskirts of Paris.
In a statement, the German federal prosecutor said the Austria-based Iranian diplomat is suspected of commissioning a couple living in Antwerp to carry out the attack and providing them with a detonation device and homemade explosive TATP.
Mercifully, European security forces unraveled the plot before the attack took place. But imagine if they had failed. Imagine the blood spilled and body parts scattered outside a rubbled convention center in Paris; the smoke rising high above the densely populated urban core of the French capital. Now think back to Kerry’s arrogance and indifference to what it would mean for the U.S. and its allies to grease the wheels of Iran’s terror machine.
Say what you will about President Trump’s penchant for hyperbole, but his characterization of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action–“the worst deal ever”–was spot on.
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Hypocrisy is no obstacle.
In the early days of “The Resistance,” back when the movement was purportedly focused on forming broad coalitions that spanned ideological divides, it was common to hear its members lament Donald Trump’s assault on treasured American norms and conventions. The patina of legitimacy this organizing principle lent to the anti-Trump left’s more unsavory members and tactics is no longer operative. For the power-starved left, it seems that those norms and conventions are part of the problem.
Among the norms not codified in law that nevertheless buttress the power-sharing relationships that have preserved the republic’s stability for decades is the Supreme Court’s balanced number of justices, which has stood at nine for nearly 150 years. The panic that tore through liberal ranks following Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement led the left to exhume one of the Democratic Party’s worst ideas: court packing.
It’s not entirely clear what kind of strategy liberals have devised to ensure that Democrats and only Democrats would get to dilute the conservative majority’s influence, but they sure are passionate about it. And this is not a fringe movement. From far-left websites like The Outline, Paste, and Jacobin to mainstream liberal venues like the Huffington Post and the Washington Post opinion page, resurrecting the idea that contributed to the GOP’s astounding victories in the 1938 midterm elections is just what the doctor ordered.
The Court is one of three branches now dedicated to advancing the “ideology and agenda of international fascism,” Huffington Post political reporter Zach Carter insisted. Roosevelt University political science professor David Faris penned an elaborate fantasy in which Democrats regain the presidency and Congress, the “illegitimate” Justice Neil Gorsuch resigns, and both parties agree to support a constitutional amendment to end lifetime appointments to the bench. To claim that boosting the number of justices on the nation’s high court was not a controversial proposal, Vox.com’s Dylan Matthews cited precedent established in Mussolini’s Italy. Seriously. “Court-packing is a tool,” he wrote, “it can be used for authoritarian ends, or for democratic ones.” Presumably, you are supposed to trust that the people advocating court packing to achieve that which they cannot through the political process are not the authoritarians here.
It isn’t just the Supreme Court’s organization but the U.S. Constitution itself that becomes a source of liberal consternation whenever Democrats are out of power. Specifically, the U.S. Senate, which is resistant to proportionality by the Founders’ design, has also supposedly become a tool of despotism.
“I want to repeat a statistic I use in every talk,” American Enterprise Institute scholar and Atlantic editor Norm Ornstein began. “[B]y 2040 or so, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30 [percent] will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent.” He concluded that this was, “unsettling, to say the least,” though it is telling that he felt comfortable describing the collective habits of a group that is defined by a common gender and race in negative terms without any fear of blowback. As for Ornstein’s condemnation of the Senate’s lack of proportionality, the AEI scholar is practically coy in comparison to those on the left.
Take, for example, Ian Millhiser, who recently penned a hysterical screed on the subject. Originally headlined “In U.S. Senate elections, people of color count as 3/4s of a person,” the Center for American Progress’s blog wisely ditched the racial agitation and settled on claiming that the upper chamber of Congress is “facing a legitimacy crisis.” Why? Because of the way it has been structured since the Constitution was ratified. Indeed, without making the Senate unresponsive to population shifts, it’s unlikely that the Constitution would have been ratified in the first place. The compromise that produced the nation’s bicameral legislature was a stroke of American brilliance that yielded not only the nation’s founding charter but the Bill of Rights, the subsequent amendments, and the flourishing of human rights they enabled. To Millhiser, though, the Senate is racist because minorities tend to sort into shared communities and, therefore, receive less representation in the upper chamber.
Reforming or abolishing the Senate altogether isn’t a new idea for the left, but it tends only to rise to the fore when Democrats are in the minority. They do not dwell on Article V of the Constitution, which declares “that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” Since no state is likely to consent to its disenfranchisement, this isn’t going to happen anytime soon. But of course, not all of the left’s coup fantasies are unfeasible or even unpopular.
The move to abolish the Electoral College received new momentum following Donald Trump’s unlikely presidential victory, but the campaign to transform the presidency into the product of pure democracy is an old one. As of May, 11 states and the District of Columbia have signed onto the nonbinding National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would effectively eliminate the Electoral College by compelling a state to apportion its votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote. It’s no coincidence that the only states that have adopted this anti-republican measure vote reliably Democratic on the presidential level. This legally dubious campaign has the support of liberals ranging from Robert Reich to Al Gore to the New York Times editorial board (you guessed it: the Electoral College is racist). Even Hillary Clinton has managed to overcome the shame associated with advocating the abolition of the institution that cost her the presidency in order to support this proposal.
Any fair-minded observer must conclude that the left’s appeal to the sacred inviolability of America’s cherished norms was only another convenient avenue for regaining power. There is no convention or settled principle so sacred that it cannot be attacked in the name of “progress.”