Commentary Magazine


Pledge-Drive

The Iran Deal and the Looming Showdown with Israel at the UN

Those waiting for the Obama administration’s much-hyped decision on whether to abandon Israel at the United Nations will have to keep waiting. Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch is reporting that the Obama administration has been pushing its European allies to postpone a vote at the UN, designed to pressure Israel over the contours of a two-state solution, until after President Obama concludes a nuclear deal with Iran. There are competing explanations for how this is to be interpreted, but it is, at the very least, an unambiguous case for more congressional oversight.

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Those waiting for the Obama administration’s much-hyped decision on whether to abandon Israel at the United Nations will have to keep waiting. Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch is reporting that the Obama administration has been pushing its European allies to postpone a vote at the UN, designed to pressure Israel over the contours of a two-state solution, until after President Obama concludes a nuclear deal with Iran. There are competing explanations for how this is to be interpreted, but it is, at the very least, an unambiguous case for more congressional oversight.

As Lynch writes, Obama doesn’t want to pick an additional fight with Congress while he still needs them to rubber-stamp his nuclear diplomacy with Iran. In that sense, Congress’s attempts to reclaim some of its turf back from a power-hungry president are bearing fruit on more than just the Iran deal. It also limits what Obama can do in areas where he doesn’t need Congress, because he wants to avoid burning more legislative bridges for the time being.

But that’s not wholly positive news. After all, if Obama wants to postpone UN action on Israel because he doesn’t want to fight with the pro-Israel U.S. Congress, that suggests that the action he wants to take at the UN would anger the pro-Israel Congress. Here the prediction takes a distinctly negative turn. Were Obama planning to unequivocally support Israel at the UN, he surely needn’t worry about congressional opposition.

You could argue further that if Obama intended to bolster Israel at the UN, it might make sense for him to do so before the Iran deal is finalized because it could earn him some goodwill from Congress. Part of the concern about Obama’s foreign policy, and specifically his pending deal with Iran, is that the president seeks a full reordering of American strategy in the Middle East, by leaving a security vacuum and then encouraging and enabling Iran to step into that role.

Allowing Iran a much freer hand in the region–which, it must be conceded, Obama is already doing–would harm America’s traditional allies, especially Israel. So Obama might consider protecting Israel at the UN before the Iran deal is finalized as a way to reassure the Israelis that there are limits to how far Obama will go in elevating Iran in the Middle East. It would also be a good-faith gesture to Congress, by signaling that although Congress might disagree on the path Obama’s taking with Iran, some Middle East issues will remain bipartisan. (This would be especially appreciated by congressional Democrats, whose party is increasingly becoming identified with its growing hostility to Israel.)

So it’s a bad sign, from the perspective of the free world, that Obama wants to wait. Yet it should be noted that there is a way to interpret the scheduling as indicative of Obama protecting Israel at the UN when the vote eventually takes place. Obama could, for example, want to postpone anything that might upset Iran before he gets a deal signed. Also, he might want to use American UN action as a way to blunt criticism of the Iran deal after it’s signed (if it’s signed).

Regarding the latter, Obama could pitch supporting Israel at the UN to send the message that the Iran deal changes nothing about America’s special relationship to Israel. Additionally, the president knows that if he signs a deal legitimizing Iran as a nuclear power he will yet again be criticized for the various ways such a move would harm Israel’s security. He might want to hold off on the UN so that he can let defending Israel at the UN provide him with a positive news cycle in the aftermath of the deal.

There is another possibility, however, this one raised by Lynch: that the president who always loved voting “present” doesn’t want to have to make a decision at the UN either way–and doesn’t plan to. Lynch writes:

The U.S. outreach reflects concern over the potential political perils of pursuing dual initiatives that are deeply unpopular with Israel and its supporters in the U.S. Congress. But it has also raised suspicions among key observers and diplomats that the United States may be backing away from its plans to pursue action on the Middle East at the United Nations. …

Goldenberg said he believes the Obama administration is genuinely committed to pursuing some form of action at the council to promote a two-state solution. But he doubts the United States will ever find the right time to push ahead. When the administration “weighs the costs and benefits” of U.N. action, he said, it tends to either “hesitate” or “back off.”

I find the wording there quite revealing. It suggests that the cost-benefit analysis performed by the administration shows it to be a net-negative to abandon Israel at the UN. Hence, the president would “back off.” But the “hesitate” part is interesting too. The president seems to want to side against Israel on this issue, but believes he just doesn’t have the political capital to take such a drastic step.

Yet he also doesn’t want to side with Israel on the issue because he doesn’t want to go on record against a peace plan that he really supports. So he doesn’t want the vote to ever actually take place.

Perhaps he just wants the vote to be a looming threat to quiet Israel’s opposition to the Iran deal. Whatever the case, he won’t be able to put off the UN vote forever. And that’s when we’ll see if the president who took the extraordinary step of downgrading the U.S.-Israel military alliance while Israel was at war is also ready to downgrade the U.S.-Israel diplomatic alliance and unleash the full prejudice of the United Nations on the Jewish state.

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Gaza Casualties? Fault Hamas and UNRWA

On Monday the United Nations issued a report about attacks on their facilities in Gaza during last summer’s fighting between Hamas and Israel. The report’s conclusion was widely reported as finding that the deaths of 44 civilians were the fault of the Israeli military. Strictly speaking that’s true, as there’s little doubt that the casualties at some of their facilities were killed or wounded by Israeli fire. But before the anti-Israel propaganda machine starts cranking up to denounce the Israelis as war criminals—as the Palestinians are preparing to do at the International Criminal Court—a close reading of a document that was prepared by a hostile UN reveals a far more nuanced picture of what happened in Gaza. While some of the shelters in question might have been struck in error in the heat of battle in a confusing environment, even the UN was prepared to admit that many of their institutions in Gaza were being used as arms depots by Hamas and that armed fighters were shooting at Israel in the vicinity of many of the places that were attacked. While Israel’s military can’t be said to be perfect, the real fault for what happened belongs to both the Hamas terrorist overlords of Gaza and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that operated the facilities.

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On Monday the United Nations issued a report about attacks on their facilities in Gaza during last summer’s fighting between Hamas and Israel. The report’s conclusion was widely reported as finding that the deaths of 44 civilians were the fault of the Israeli military. Strictly speaking that’s true, as there’s little doubt that the casualties at some of their facilities were killed or wounded by Israeli fire. But before the anti-Israel propaganda machine starts cranking up to denounce the Israelis as war criminals—as the Palestinians are preparing to do at the International Criminal Court—a close reading of a document that was prepared by a hostile UN reveals a far more nuanced picture of what happened in Gaza. While some of the shelters in question might have been struck in error in the heat of battle in a confusing environment, even the UN was prepared to admit that many of their institutions in Gaza were being used as arms depots by Hamas and that armed fighters were shooting at Israel in the vicinity of many of the places that were attacked. While Israel’s military can’t be said to be perfect, the real fault for what happened belongs to both the Hamas terrorist overlords of Gaza and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that operated the facilities.

Using their new perch as a member of UN agencies, it’s likely that the Palestinian Authority will seek to get the International Criminal Court to investigate and indict Israel for war crimes in Gaza. This is a dangerous gambit for the PA because even though the UN body is biased against the Jewish state, the evidence of criminal intent or behavior is lacking. Moreover, there is ample proof of Palestinian war crimes. Indeed, every one of the thousands of Hamas missiles fired at Israeli cities and towns was a crime. As were the attempts by the Islamist group to use tunnels dug underneath the international border between Gaza and Israel to commit acts of murder and kidnapping.

The story told in the UN report is not one of callous Israeli behavior. Rather, even this indictment shows that the Israel Defense Forces sought to avoid civilian casualties wherever possible and didn’t fire indiscriminately.

The problem for those wanting to use this document to bash Israel is that it confirms much of what the Israelis said about the use of UNRWA facilities, and specifically the schools designated as shelters. The report admits that several such schools were used for storing Hamas weaponry. Others were, as Israel insists, used as observation posts for Hamas military action. Many were the sites of firing of rockets at Israel and Israeli forces. While UNRWA sought to deflect blame for the use of their buildings for terrorism, even the UN report notes that their security measures to avoid this were inadequate and the agency needs to take the problem more seriously.

Moreover, the UN also admitted that some instances where firing took place that was not in accord with the strict rules of engagement (that compare favorably with those employed by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan) were being subjected to criminal investigation. That is not the act of an army that doesn’t care about killing civilians.

There’s little doubt that a breakdown of each individual incident would be portrayed in a far less negative light in a document prepared by a more neutral party. After all, the UN was largely dependent on UNRWA for the report. But if we were to accept these findings as definitive, what can’t be forgotten is that the only reason there was any firing anywhere near UN facilities is that Hamas routinely used them and other buildings such as schools and hospitals to shield their efforts to shoot at Israelis. The people of Gaza as a whole, and not just those at UN buildings, were used as human shields by the terrorist movement that governs the strip, itself a war crime.

Moreover, UNRWA has a long record of allowing itself to be used by Hamas as it employed their members and showed little interest in preventing its buildings from being used the same way all other schools and humanitarian institutions were employed—as cover for Hamas fighters.

Even more to the point, the reason why Israelis were in Gaza—from which they removed every single soldier and settler in 2005 in a vain attempt to trade land for peace—was because the area has become a terrorist fortress. Gaza is an independent Palestinian state in all but name and a terrible precedent for those who want Israel to withdraw from the West Bank in the same manner.

Hamas continues to view all of Israel within the 1967 lines as “occupied territory” that must be liberated from the Jews. As long as it rules in Gaza and UNRWA is its willing accomplice, there will never be any “place of safety” in the strip or in Israel. That is the nub of the problem, not specific Israeli decisions to fire on areas where terrorists are shooting.

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It’s Still Too Late to Save Syria

It’s pretty clear at this point that Bashar al-Assad’s forces are in a state of alarm. A string of setbacks at the hands of rebel armies as well as from its own internal chaos has put the murderous Assad regime on the defensive. This is raising not just hope that Assad is in trouble but that the West might sense Assad’s weakness and be tempted to intervene to push him out. It is indeed a shame that we ended up here. But further intervention in the Syrian civil war would be a mistake. It’s still too late to save Syria.

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It’s pretty clear at this point that Bashar al-Assad’s forces are in a state of alarm. A string of setbacks at the hands of rebel armies as well as from its own internal chaos has put the murderous Assad regime on the defensive. This is raising not just hope that Assad is in trouble but that the West might sense Assad’s weakness and be tempted to intervene to push him out. It is indeed a shame that we ended up here. But further intervention in the Syrian civil war would be a mistake. It’s still too late to save Syria.

The deterioration of the Syrian government’s command was fully apparent earlier this week, when General Rustom Ghazali, a powerful intelligence official, died of wounds reportedly sustained at the hands of the guards of a rival general. Both men, according to the New York Times, were then fired. (It wouldn’t matter for Ghazali, who eventually succumbed to his injuries.) The Syrian command appeared to be splintering.

Then rebels took a strategic town and a military base in Idlib province, near Turkey. “The rebel gains in Idlib have put the opposition on a path to advance into the neighboring provinces of Hama and Latakia, bastions of support for Mr. Assad and key to his grip on power,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “Most of Idlib province is now under opposition control, giving rebels a firm foothold to advance on regime forces elsewhere in the country.” And as Max noted yesterday, some observers are starting to talk again about a Syria after Assad.

In light of all this, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Jeffrey White and Oula Abdulhamid Alrifai offer some reason to temper the rebels’ confidence: “Yet if the regime is able to hold on, prevent further serious losses, and retake more lost positions, the final outcome would represent something of a setback for the rebels. It would be an opportunity lost, and it would make the regime’s position in Idlib secure for the time being, albeit reduced — at least until the rebels could mount another major effort.”

But, they add, the Idlib campaign could turn out to change the entire trajectory of the war. And they suggest helping nudge that outcome along:

As of this writing, the Idlib campaign looks to be one of the more important developments of the war, possibly even the elusive turning point that signals a clear shift in momentum against the regime after four years of inconclusive fighting. For those seeking a positive outcome in Syria, now is a good time to apply maximum pressure on the regime, either forcing it to genuinely negotiate a transition or causing its military failure.

It must be tempting to see the possibility that Assad could fall as an opportunity for the West. But in fact some of the appearance of weakness on the part of Assad’s government is actually evidence of its strength–or at least durability and resilience–in the military realm.

To understand why, it’s instructive to go back to a quote from a Washington Post report on Ghazali that Max quoted in his post: “Western diplomats monitoring events in Syria from Beirut say the two men appear to have clashed with the Assad family over the growing battlefield role played by Iran.”

That, in a nutshell, is why Assad is not just a nudge away from falling. It’s no wonder Assad’s high command are bickering: they’re increasingly irrelevant, and have been for some time. Not entirely irrelevant, to be sure. But the fact of the matter is that the Syrian civil war has completed Assad’s turn to becoming a traditional Iranian proxy. And Iran is not going to let its proxy fall in Syria, Lebanon, or elsewhere.

Assad created a monster, not only in unleashing his family’s characteristic oppression and bloodlust on the opposition but also in deliberately allowing ISIS and other extreme Islamist groups to thrive at the expense of more moderate rebel groups. This not only ensured that the more moderate rebels, which had the West’s backing as an alternative government to Assad, would never get strong enough on their own to take power. It also meant that the only groups who could possibly finish Assad off were the ones the West was invested in defeating.

Those groups, like ISIS, were destabilizing Iraq next door. This drew the U.S. into a de facto alliance with Assad because it brought them into an alliance with Iran. The rise of ISIS–which, again, Assad facilitated–also ensured Iran would do whatever it took to keep Assad in power.

The internal turf wars in the Syrian command are not evidence that Assad is on his way out. They’re evidence that what remains of the Assad power base has become almost a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran.

Not only is the West fooling itself if it thinks it can push Assad out at this point with minimal military involvement, but it’s still in partnership with Assad through the Iranians.

From a military perspective, there is no “Syria.” There are three “Syrias,” which amount essentially to competing factions fighting for territory. We are currently aligned with the strongest of these, Iran, against the second-most powerful group. What we are not going to do is somehow throw in our lot now with the weakest of the factions, especially since we’ve constructed our management of Iraq by allowing Iran a significant role.

Syria can’t be saved. It’s a terrible tragedy, and there’s an argument to be made that it didn’t have to be this way. And certainly, the world should not ignore it. But those who dream of a Western military effort against Assad will keep dreaming.

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The Consequences of “Space to Destroy”

When President Obama finally spoke today about the riots in Baltimore, he attempted to strike a balance between condemnation of those committing violence in the streets and criticism of the police who are also sometimes guilty of misconduct. He was also right when he noted that the problems in our inner cities are bigger than the discussion about police misconduct or racial prejudice. But these exemplary statements must be placed in the context of an event in which the nation witnessed portions of a major American city in the hands of a mob while police cowered or retreated. What stands out most as the citizens and police of Baltimore try desperately to take back control of their city from looters and thugs is the failure of those in authority to protect them. And responsibility for that failure extends from a mayor who wished to give the rioters the “space to destroy” as well as a president and attorney general that have at times sent a message to the nation that a war on police was understandable and even justified.

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When President Obama finally spoke today about the riots in Baltimore, he attempted to strike a balance between condemnation of those committing violence in the streets and criticism of the police who are also sometimes guilty of misconduct. He was also right when he noted that the problems in our inner cities are bigger than the discussion about police misconduct or racial prejudice. But these exemplary statements must be placed in the context of an event in which the nation witnessed portions of a major American city in the hands of a mob while police cowered or retreated. What stands out most as the citizens and police of Baltimore try desperately to take back control of their city from looters and thugs is the failure of those in authority to protect them. And responsibility for that failure extends from a mayor who wished to give the rioters the “space to destroy” as well as a president and attorney general that have at times sent a message to the nation that a war on police was understandable and even justified.

Let’s start by saying that protests about the death of Freddie Gray while in the hands of the police were justified. Every time a person suffers an injury, let alone, a death as a result of police action, it should prompt a serious investigation. But, like the reactions to the death of another young black man in Ferguson, Missouri or the man who died as a result of a choke hold from a policeman in Staten Island, New York, the effort to spin a narrative of police oppression seems more of an attempt to contrive a false narrative of oppression than it is a genuine response to what may well have been a criminal act by a cop.

But just as police need to know they will be held accountable if they misbehave, so, too, must those who enable or foment violence against the police and the communities they serve be judged by their actions.

What appears to have happened in Baltimore is a complete breakdown of authority that may well have stemmed from a statement made by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in which she said that, “we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that.”

While Rawlings-Blake claimed her words were distorted or taken out of context, that is nonsense. The inability of the mayor to control the situation only encouraged the violence to persist and spread. If the police lost control of parts of West Baltimore, the responsibility for this disgrace starts with the mayor. Once police allow lawbreakers to get away with minor violations or to flout the authority of the government, the breakdown of all law and order is not far behind.

It is true that peaceful protesters outraged about the fate of Gray don’t deserve to be lumped in with the thugs and criminals who rioted. But as much as those protesters deserve to be heard, it can’t be forgotten that in this incident as in the previous ones involving allegations of unjustified police violence, the voices of authority who assumed without any proof that these incidents were evidence of racism played a not-insignificant role in setting the tone that led to attacks on police and even looting.

The point is, it is appropriate for politicians to denounce racism and to demand investigations into questionable incidents. But, as we learned in Ferguson, it is possible that some of these alleged instances of police misconduct might turn out to be not what they appeared to be when they were first reported.

That is why it is so important that the response of public officials to anti-cop protests should not be so equivocal as to encourage rioters to think they will be given “space to destroy.”

The consequences of the effort to indict police even before we know the facts about specific cases can be seen this week in the streets of Baltimore just as we saw it in Ferguson last year. Gray’s death deserves a rigorous investigation and if police are judged responsible, they should be severely punished. But what we should also remember is that it is a short leap from some of the specious rhetoric about racism lying beneath every act of the police emanating from civil-rights groups and politicians to rationalizing or minimizing violence against police and innocent citizens by rioters.

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Can Iran Do Whatever It Wants?

Every day, everywhere around the world, a silent referendum is going on about the state of American power. President Obama has consistently failed that test. By demanding that Bashar Assad leave power and then letting him stay; by letting Assad cross a “red line” on chemical weapons with impunity; by talking big about ISIS (“degrade and destroy”) and doing little; by standing by as Iran expanded its power into Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, as Russia seized chunks of Ukrainian territory, and as China intimidated its neighbors to claim sovereignty over disputed island, the president has dissipated the most precious commodity in the world—American credibility.

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Every day, everywhere around the world, a silent referendum is going on about the state of American power. President Obama has consistently failed that test. By demanding that Bashar Assad leave power and then letting him stay; by letting Assad cross a “red line” on chemical weapons with impunity; by talking big about ISIS (“degrade and destroy”) and doing little; by standing by as Iran expanded its power into Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, as Russia seized chunks of Ukrainian territory, and as China intimidated its neighbors to claim sovereignty over disputed island, the president has dissipated the most precious commodity in the world—American credibility.

Today comes yet another test of American resolve. Details remain in dispute, but it appears that Iranian Revolutionary Guard gunboats seized the Maersk Tigris, a container ship traversing the Persian Gulf either through international waters or through a small section of Iranian waters that it would be allowed to traverse under the international legal doctrine of “innocent passage.” Instead of allowing the ship to go on its way, the IRGC fired a shot across its bow and detained the ship along with its crew. This is a vessel flagged in the Marshall Islands, a U.S. protectorate, owned by the Maersk line (a company with substantial American operations that is headquartered in Denmark, a NATO ally), and chartered by Rickers Ship Management, the Singapore-based subsidiary of a German company (two more U.S. allies).

The Iranian action may well be an indirect response to the U.S. decision to deploy an aircraft carrier strike group in order to intimidate Iran into turning back a cargo of supply ships reportedly bringing weapons to Iranian-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen. But whatever caused the Iranian action, it is a direct threat to freedom of navigation, which the U.S. Navy has defended around the world for centuries.

In the Persian Gulf, the U.S. commitment to that doctrine led President Reagan to order U.S. Navy ships to escort tankers and protect them from Iranian attacks, precipitating a short and sharp conflict (the Tanker War of 1987-88) between the U.S. and Iran. This was the last time, incidentally, that the U.S. used force to respond to Iranian attacks and it was an unqualified success—the Iranians lost some oil platforms and boats that they had been using to harass shipping. Finally the accidental shootdown of an Iranian airliner in 1988 by the USS Vincennes (an unintended and unfortunate consequence of these operations) helped convince the Iranian leadership to end their war with Iraq.

Today the U.S. still remains committed, at least on paper, to protecting freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf. In 2011, a 5th Fleet spokesman put it well: “The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormuz is vital to regional and global prosperity. Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated.”

Thus if the Obama administration were, in fact, to “tolerate” this disruption of the free flow of shipping it would send a dangerous signal, or to be more accurate, to reinforce a signal already sent: The U.S. lacks the will to stand up to predators in the international system, and in particular to Iran. Put another way, it would signal to the entire region that the president is so invested in reaching a deal with Iran that no Iranian misconduct—not the dropping of barrel bombs on Syrian civilians, not the takeover of Yemen, not the ethnic cleansing of Sunni communities in Iraq, and now not the seizure of a Western cargo ship—will be allowed to interfere with his objective.

The fate of the Maersk Tigris does not matter much in and of itself, but it will say much about this administration’s commitment to maintaining America’s traditional security responsibilities.

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Dark Days Ahead for the Jews of Russia?

The ultimate goal of state censorship is self-censorship among the citizenry. If you can get the people to police themselves, and each other, it takes part of the burden off the state and also makes people complicit in their own oppression. And so it’s disturbing to see things take this turn in Putin’s Russia. As the New York Times reports, Moscow bookstores removed from their shelves–voluntarily (sort of)–their copies of Maus, the pathbreaking graphic novel of Nazi crimes against the Jews. It’s the “voluntarily” part of this that stands out, and makes it clear that Putinism has not been, and will not be, good for the Jews of Russia.

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The ultimate goal of state censorship is self-censorship among the citizenry. If you can get the people to police themselves, and each other, it takes part of the burden off the state and also makes people complicit in their own oppression. And so it’s disturbing to see things take this turn in Putin’s Russia. As the New York Times reports, Moscow bookstores removed from their shelves–voluntarily (sort of)–their copies of Maus, the pathbreaking graphic novel of Nazi crimes against the Jews. It’s the “voluntarily” part of this that stands out, and makes it clear that Putinism has not been, and will not be, good for the Jews of Russia.

The story of Maus’s banishment from booksellers is the classic result of the mixture of fear and confusion. According to the Times:

The government’s plan was simple enough: Rid Moscow of swastikas or any other symbol of Nazism before Victory Day, the celebration of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Germany and the most important political holiday in Russia.

But in the frenzy to comply, bookstores aiming to please the censor found an unlikely victim: “Maus,” the Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel about a Jewish family during the Holocaust. Muscovites discovered this week that the book, which bears a swastika on its cover, had been quietly stripped from the shelves of the largest bookstores across the Russian capital.

The work of the cartoonist Art Spiegelman, the novel portrays Jews as mice and Germans as cats in an anti-fascist narrative about the horrors of Nazism and the concentration camps. But with concern over the dangers of fascism in Russia on the rise, the booksellers appeared to decide it was better to be safe than sorry.

Russians unfortunately know the value of “better safe than sorry.” And no matter how many times we point out–correctly–that Putin is not Stalin, I imagine that continues to be cold comfort to Russians who are trying to avoid running afoul of “anti-fascism” laws and the criminal offenses of, as the Times explains, posting symbols that “offend people’s religious feeling or question the national dignity of peoples.”

The murky quality of such laws and the actions they proscribe is a feature, not a bug, of authoritarian rule. It feeds the illusion that people have control over their own decisions. And any infractions are used as justifications for expanding such restrictions on liberty going forward, which are painted as logical reactions to a citizenry obviously unable to govern itself thus necessitating state action. Stalinism without Stalin is much like being a whiter shade of pale, and it was always the aim of Stalinism in the first place. It’s the dictatorial version of sustainability.

The Chinese writer Yu Hua remembers coming up with a laudatory phrase to honor Chairman Mao during his youth: “the people are Chairman Mao, and Chairman Mao is the people,” he’d say. Except it made everyone nervous, because they hadn’t heard that formulation before and therefore didn’t know if it was a specifically approved way of praising Mao. His parents “eyed me warily and told me in a roundabout way that they couldn’t see anything wrong with what I’d said but I still had better not say it again.”

This is the fear that such societies were supposed to have thrown off. Yet now in Moscow an anti-Nazi book is taken off the shelf lest someone get the wrong idea. And here’s Putin’s spokesman on the matter: “I have no exact position on this, but it’s clear that everything needs to be within measure.” Feel better?

Books on the Jewish suffering in the Holocaust being removed from the shelves is only one of the various ways Putinism portends bad days ahead for Russia’s Jews. Putin’s re-marriage of the state and the Orthodox Church, combined with laws outlawing giving religious offense, is another. And so is Putin’s alignment with Israel’s enemies, especially Iran.

Putin’s war on Ukraine scattered the remaining Jewish community in the war zone. His explicitly militaristic nationalism feeds a state-sponsored xenophobia that always has and always will mark Jews as outsiders and a “nation apart.” And of course, “fascist” is in the eye of the beholder; as Paul Goble reported in late March:

Even as Moscow denounces anything it views as a manifestation of fascism abroad and prepares to mark the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, the Russian authorities are hosting tomorrow a meeting of Europe’s neo-Nazis, extreme nationalists, and anti-Semites who share one thing in common – their unqualified support for Vladimir Putin.

Such cultivation and tolerance of hateful anti-Semitic ideologues is par for the course in Putin’s Russia. He isn’t an anti-fascist; he’s merely against the wrong kind of “fascists”–who are often not fascists at all. It’s a catchall term for Putin’s enemies.

And it fools too many people, especially those who want to be fooled. But the Jews of Russia and its near-abroad cannot afford to let themselves be fooled. They probably don’t need to be reminded that the trajectory of Putinist nationalism has an all-too-familiar feel to it. And Putin shows no indication of changing direction.

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Clinton Cash Nation

The Clinton Cash scandal has spurred much discussion of the serial misconduct of Bill and Hillary Clinton. But the affair speaks to realities larger and more destructive than the political pathologies of one family. The Clinton Foundation saga marries liberalism’s core grandiosity to the impunity of the new high-flying elite and lays bare a class of global VIP forever celebrating its progressive good works while holding the common citizen in contempt.

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The Clinton Cash scandal has spurred much discussion of the serial misconduct of Bill and Hillary Clinton. But the affair speaks to realities larger and more destructive than the political pathologies of one family. The Clinton Foundation saga marries liberalism’s core grandiosity to the impunity of the new high-flying elite and lays bare a class of global VIP forever celebrating its progressive good works while holding the common citizen in contempt.

Progressive grandiosity was born long ago with the socialist impulse to remake the world. It lives on in the liberal expectation of a savior who will set things right. Such political messianism makes it hard for many liberals to find fault with liberal leaders. While conservatives reject perfection and take human defects as given, many liberals see the shortcomings of a Barack Obama or a Hillary Clinton as a threat to their faith.

It’s easier, then, for liberals to downplay a progressive politician’s record and focus instead on their “meaning.” This goes a long way in explaining both the reelection of Obama and the continued support for Hillary, two liberal politicians stuffed to the gills with meaning and shot through with teleological purpose. They’re not admired for what they’ve done but for simply being objects of admiration—and inevitability.

It follows that liberal and conservative candidates respond to very different incentive structures. Jeb Bush must declare, “I don’t see any coronation coming my way,” lest he seem entitled. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, asks, “Don’t you someday want to see a woman president?” lest we forget her date with destiny. Not only is she already among the elect; it’s her selling point.

Today we recognize the elect by a particular set of associations. The Davostocracy that’s come to include rock stars, politicians, athletes, tech gurus, and CEOs puts out glossy books about charity, inclusiveness, and cooperation. On panels and talk shows they serve up their lives as inspirational tales in which outsize success is always tempered by gratitude and generosity. They build foundations to anchor their personal brands in popular concepts such as globalization and sustainability. The hope—and it seems usually to be fulfilled—is that ordinary folks outsource some degree of their own good sense and moral inclination to these pervasive media superstars. To be a fan of one of the elect is to indicate one’s own probity and sound judgment. Buy into a feel-good brand and you don’t have to worry about all the sticky details.

While pundits fret over the Bush or Clinton Dynasty, the more insidious threat to democracy is a beatified jet-set nobility to whom the rest of us hand over our stake in the culture and the country.

Among this nobility, the Clintons are the perpetual first family. In 1996 Hillary Clinton wrote a book titled It Takes a Village. Disguised as a how-to guide for helping the children of the future, the bestseller was a book-length advertisement for the Clinton brand. In 2007, during Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign, Bill Clinton put out a bestseller titled, hysterically, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World. Disguised as an account of selflessness, it was an advertisement for the now infamous Clinton Foundation.

Even before the Clinton Foundation appeared to be an international clearinghouse for high-stakes influence peddling, it was an opaque and self-serving project of the Davostocracy. According to some accounts, the foundation spent as little as 10 percent of its budget on charity in 2013. The opacity explains how the Clintons could go a decade and a half pulling money from scoundrels, not claiming donations, and misfiling taxes while earning only praise for their efforts.

Liberal messianism and elite-worship enjoy a wholly complementary relationship. Progressives expect to cede large realms of their lives to capable leaders who will deliver a fairer world. The Clintons have traded on both their meaning and their unquestioned elite status to earn pardons for a multitude of sins. While the world looked the other way Clinton Cash happened. Both ideas are there in Hillary’s campaign message: “Everyday Americans need a champion. I want to be that champion.” The Clintons have long thrived in the convergence of these trends. It remains to be seen if they will also be undone by them.

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Bush’s Mistakes Don’t Excuse Obama’s

As reports of former president George W. Bush’s criticism of his successor’s Middle East policies at a supposedly off-the-record Republican Jewish Coalition event this past weekend spread from Las Vegas, the reaction from many in the mainstream media and Obama administration supporters (but, of course, I repeat myself) was to demand where the 43rd president got off bashing the 44th? In the view of a lot of Americans, including a great many who are not on the left, Bush should have not have broken the general silence he’s observed about President Obama’s policies since leaving office. To them, Bush’s decision to go into Iraq was a colossal blunder even if they don’t buy into the canard about him lying to the American people about the justification for that move. If Obama has made mistakes in the Middle East, they claim they were built upon the foundation of error that Bush created. But the problem with the reaction to this story is that it is more of a reflection of the free pass Obama has gotten on the foreign-policy disasters that he has presided over than a reasonable judgment about Bush.

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As reports of former president George W. Bush’s criticism of his successor’s Middle East policies at a supposedly off-the-record Republican Jewish Coalition event this past weekend spread from Las Vegas, the reaction from many in the mainstream media and Obama administration supporters (but, of course, I repeat myself) was to demand where the 43rd president got off bashing the 44th? In the view of a lot of Americans, including a great many who are not on the left, Bush should have not have broken the general silence he’s observed about President Obama’s policies since leaving office. To them, Bush’s decision to go into Iraq was a colossal blunder even if they don’t buy into the canard about him lying to the American people about the justification for that move. If Obama has made mistakes in the Middle East, they claim they were built upon the foundation of error that Bush created. But the problem with the reaction to this story is that it is more of a reflection of the free pass Obama has gotten on the foreign-policy disasters that he has presided over than a reasonable judgment about Bush.

Ari Fleischer, who served as Bush’s spokesman in the White House and conducted the interview of the former president at the RJC event, later claimed that the 43rd president was not directly criticizing his successor. But that is as unconvincing as the group’s expectations that no one in the closed door event would blab to the press about what Bush said. Though the remarks were quite mild when compared to some of the things former Vice President Dick Cheney has said about Obama, there’s no evading the fact that what Bush reportedly said was a pointed attack on the 44th president’s policy decisions on Iran as well as his failure to defeat ISIS.

The question is, does Bush have standing to take potshots at Obama?

The argument against him speaking out rests on one crucial decision: Iraq. Even if President Obama’s defenders were willing to admit that he made mistakes in Iraq that allowed ISIS to rise, they can claim with some justice that none of it would have happened if Bush hadn’t invaded.

On Iran, Bush’s critics also have a point. The Bush administration never prioritized the Iranian nuclear threat. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan appeared to have occupied most of his attention in the region. Bush outsourced diplomatic efforts to deal with Iran to America’s European allies with predictably dismal results. He also discouraged Israel from taking any action on its own. Though Bush is right about Obama’s naïveté in dealing with the Iranians, there’s no doubt that the issue has always been a top priority for this administration.

But even if we concede these points, none of this excuses the blunders that Obama has made on his own. Nor do they give us a reason to silence Bush.

On Iraq, there’s no question that most Americans believe the war was a mistake. The failure to find the weapons of mass destruction that virtually everyone was sure were there (because we knew and now had evidence of the existence of these programs) still rankles. The loss of life was devastating and what followed in Iraq is nothing for Americans to brag about. Moreover, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein did empower Iran just as most Israeli experts warned Bush it would.

But if we are discussing what brought about the current chaos in Iraq and the fact that ISIS now controls much of its territory as well as a lot of Syria, the blame belongs to Obama, not Bush.

What the current president’s defenders keep forgetting is that the Iraq he inherited from Bush was not the chaos and horror that characterized the early years of the war. By January 2009, the surge Bush ordered in 2007 had decisively defeated the terrorists. When Obama bragged that he had ended the war and that America could safely withdraw its forces, it was because Bush had finally won it after some early and costly missteps. The Iraq that we see today with ISIS running riot and Iran dominating what’s left is solely the fault of Obama. It was his foolish decision to completely withdraw all U.S. troops that created the vacuum that ISIS and Iran filled.

In the war against Islamist terror, it was Obama who wrongly boasted that al-Qaeda was defeated because of Osama bin Laden’s death. Neither he nor his defenders can blame the spread of terror throughout the region on Bush when they were the ones telling us in 2012 that Obama had vanquished the threat.

As far as Iran is concerned, say what you will about Bush’s negligence on the issue. But at least he never appeased Iran or gave it permission to continue a nuclear program that may well produce a bomb either by cheating on Obama’s weak deal or by abiding by it and waiting patiently for it to expire.

But there’s a broader point to be made about the willingness of liberals to still blame everything that’s wrong in the world on Obama’s predecessor.

Bush made mistakes, and perhaps the world have been better off had he not invaded Iraq. Then again, we don’t know what mischief Saddam Hussein might have accomplished had he remained in power over the past decade.

More to the point, in the aftermath of 9/11 Bush was presented with a clear and present danger to the United States. Instead of waiting for the next attack, he took the war to the enemy. Not everything worked out as he hoped and, in fact, some things turned out very badly indeed. But America did not suffer another 9/11 as most people expected it would in the days after that attack. The world he left Barack Obama was one in which the nation’s enemies were on the run. If he feels dismay about the chaos that Obama’s negligence in Iraq and foolish appeasement of Iran has created, who can blame him?

Instead of continuing to treat the 43rd president as a punch line, perhaps it’s time to start honestly evaluating the disastrous record of the 44th. If we do, and I suspect future historians will do just that, then Bush’s criticisms of Obama will be viewed very differently.

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The Future of the U.S.-Japan Alliance

With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington and getting ready to address a joint meeting of Congress, the long-awaited “revised guidelines” for the U.S.-Japan Alliance were released yesterday. A copy of the document can be found here. It’s an impressive start, but a lot of the heavy lifting remains.

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With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington and getting ready to address a joint meeting of Congress, the long-awaited “revised guidelines” for the U.S.-Japan Alliance were released yesterday. A copy of the document can be found here. It’s an impressive start, but a lot of the heavy lifting remains.

Both governments have been telegraphing for months what the revisions would likely include, so there were no real surprises for Asia watchers. Perhaps the most interesting revision, and one that may make a real difference, is the establishment of an “Alliance Coordination Mechanism, [to] enhance operational coordination, and strengthen bilateral planning,” according to the document.

After 50-plus years of the alliance, it may be a bit surprising that no such mechanism hitherto existed, but rectifying that gap is a good idea. If it operates the way it should, Tokyo and Washington should be able to discuss on an early and continuous basis specific issues or threats that may fall under alliance auspices. That takes the pressure off of calling for formal alliance discussions when a threat arises, and also means that appropriate alliance managers are communicating regularly on issues that may eventually require a joint response.

The two sides will also upgrade the Bilateral Planning Mechanism, which may allow for a steady evolution of plans for coordinated operations, as well as requirements needed to undertake enhanced operations.

As expected, there is also an increased emphasis on planning with potential partners for situations where Japan is not under attack, but the security environment is deleterious to Japan, including “emerging threats.” This may open the door to far wider-ranging U.S.-Japan regional cooperation, not only on things like intelligence sharing, but also maritime security, refugee situations, and the like. Threats to cyber networks and space assets also have been a hot topic during the months of negotiations, and the revised guidelines have an entire section on notional cooperation on both those issues.

Overall, the document lives up to its billing, but implementation is now the order of the day. Prime Minister Abe will have to push through a raft of legislation in the Diet (parliament) in order to allow Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to undertake the broadened array of operations envisioned in the guidelines. That will be no mean feat, given opposition from other political parties, including his own coalition partners, as well as public wariness of an expanded Japanese role abroad.

As for Washington, the sentiments and promises in the revised guidelines are only part of a broader strategy to deal with increased risk in Asia. In that sense, the document is too reactive. China’s creation of island territory in the South China Sea is giving it de facto sovereignty over those waters, according to worried Philippine officials, while North Korea continues to improve its nuclear and missile capabilities.

If Washington chooses simply to react to threats when they cross unknown redlines, then the U.S.-Japan alliance will forever be playing catch-up. Some bolder thinking on how to utilize Abe’s interest in playing a larger regional role may serve to blunt Chinese moves, and certainly aiming at weakening North Korea’s hermit regime is the best policy for trying to shape the region’s security environment. Even if not spelled out in the new alliance guidelines, those goals should be animating policymakers in Tokyo and Washington going forward.

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Obama Still Threatening Netanyahu

What does the State Department’s Wendy Sherman do with her spare time when not negotiating weak nuclear deals with rogue regimes? The same as the rest of the Obama foreign-policy team: threaten Israel with diplomatic isolation at the United Nations. Sherman issued some thinly veiled threats yesterday in remarks to a gathering of Reform movement leaders in which she made clear that the administration expects the next Israeli government to do its bidding with respect to supporting a two-state solution with the Palestinians. While there’s nothing new about this insistence, Sherman’s language followed the same pattern as other remarks issued by U.S. officials since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected last month. But like all such warnings that have been aimed at Jerusalem from Washington, the most striking aspect of this effort is how divorced these American staffers are from the reality of a peace process that the Palestinians have no interest in pursuing.

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What does the State Department’s Wendy Sherman do with her spare time when not negotiating weak nuclear deals with rogue regimes? The same as the rest of the Obama foreign-policy team: threaten Israel with diplomatic isolation at the United Nations. Sherman issued some thinly veiled threats yesterday in remarks to a gathering of Reform movement leaders in which she made clear that the administration expects the next Israeli government to do its bidding with respect to supporting a two-state solution with the Palestinians. While there’s nothing new about this insistence, Sherman’s language followed the same pattern as other remarks issued by U.S. officials since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected last month. But like all such warnings that have been aimed at Jerusalem from Washington, the most striking aspect of this effort is how divorced these American staffers are from the reality of a peace process that the Palestinians have no interest in pursuing.

Sherman, who holds the title of Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, is best known for her work on nuclear non-proliferation in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. But her real claim to fame is as the person who naively gave away the store to the North Koreans that helped them get closer to a bomb in the 1990s and learned nothing from that experience before repeating the exercise in the last few years with Iran. She defended the Iran nuclear deal she helped negotiate and assured the Reform leaders that the pact would make Israel and the world safer. But that highly debatable conclusion is less newsworthy than Sherman’s effort to fire yet another shot over Netanyahu’s bow as he completed negotiations to form his next government.

According to the Times of Israel, Sherman warned that if the new government “is seen as stepping back from its commitment to a two-state solution,” that “makes our job in the international arena that much tougher.” She went on to note that the U.S. had “repeatedly stood up against efforts to delegitimize Israel or single Israel out unfairly” and that this “would continue to be the case.” But then she added that Netanyahu’s pre-election statements about the unlikelihood of a two-state solution happening had “raised questions” about the premise of U.S. support.

While Sherman’s remarks can be read in a sympathetic manner as being basically supportive of Israel—and there’s little doubt that her audience heard it that way—the message to Netanyahu was clear: any more wavering about his dedication to two-state negotiations and all bets are off in the United Nations.

But while Sherman is right when she says that most American Jews are as obsessed with willing a two-state solution into existence as the president and Secretary of State Kerry, Israelis take a different view of things.

Most of them would also like a two-state solution that would allow them to cease having responsibility for areas that are dominated by Palestinian Arabs. But unlike the Obama administration and its American Jewish cheering section on the left, the majority of Israeli voters have paid attention to events in the region in the last 20 years and know that they don’t have a viable Palestinian peace partner. It doesn’t matter whether most Israelis share the conviction that two states for two peoples is the best possible solution to the conflict. That happens to be the case, but Israelis also understood what Netanyahu was talking about the day before his stunning election victory when he said that creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank under current circumstances was an invitation to a new round of terrorist attacks on Israel.

Israelis remember what happened when their government withdrew every last soldier and settler from Gaza in 2005. Instead of trading land for peace as they hoped (and as they had vainly attempted to do with the Oslo Accords), they wound up trading land for terror. Indeed, for all the talk about the necessity of creating a Palestinian state, what Israelis understand is that the Hamas-run strip is for all intents and purposes an independent Palestinian state. The notion of repeating this experiment in the far larger and more strategic West Bank strikes most Israelis, whether they voted for Likud and its allies or Netanyahu’s main opponents, the Labor-led Zionist Union, as nuts. A two-state solution wasn’t in the cards no matter who had won the Israeli election and it won’t be brought any closer or pushed off any further into the future no matter what Netanyahu says about the idea.

That’s been the basic problem with Obama administration Middle East policy since 2009. The president came into office obsessed with the notion that more distance between Israel and the United States would tempt the Palestinians to negotiate seriously. He’s gotten the distance he wanted and then some, but the Palestinians have never budged. They’re still refusing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has no real interest in being drawn into more talks where he’s faced with the choice of either saying no to peace (which he and his predecessor Yasir Arafat have repeatedly done even when a Palestinian state was offered the by the Israelis) or agreeing to something his people won’t accept. Hamas, backed up by an Iranian ally that has been empowered and embraced by Obama, exercises an effective veto on peace even if Abbas were willing or capable of signing a deal.

But that doesn’t stop the president from sending Sherman to intimate that if the Israelis don’t bow to his dictates the U.S. will no longer veto resolutions recognizing Palestinian independence without first forcing them to make peace with Israel. Clearly, that’s the direction toward which the lame duck administration is moving despite the recent talk of a Jewish charm offensive intended to disarm criticism of the president’s clear animus against the Israeli government. In the absence of significant pushback from a Democratic Party that is still in thrall to Obama, we may find out in the next 23 months whether Obama is bluffing.

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The Left Will Disown Rushdie Too; the Only Question Is When

Ever since Islamist terrorists murdered a dozen at the offices of the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, and then finished their murder spree by targeting and killing Jews in a kosher supermarket in Paris, it was clear a certain sector of the politically correct left was uncomfortable with the identity of the victims. Cartoonist Garry Trudeau and writer Teju Cole, among others, didn’t like linking the cause of free speech with offensive material, which free-speech laws and norms exist to protect in the first place. (Popular speech needs no bodyguard.) Some, like the historian Karen Armstrong, preferred to excuse anti-Semitic extremism as an expected reaction to disagreeable Israeli policies. And now the liberal backlash against Charlie Hebdo has taken a new, dispiriting turn.

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Ever since Islamist terrorists murdered a dozen at the offices of the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, and then finished their murder spree by targeting and killing Jews in a kosher supermarket in Paris, it was clear a certain sector of the politically correct left was uncomfortable with the identity of the victims. Cartoonist Garry Trudeau and writer Teju Cole, among others, didn’t like linking the cause of free speech with offensive material, which free-speech laws and norms exist to protect in the first place. (Popular speech needs no bodyguard.) Some, like the historian Karen Armstrong, preferred to excuse anti-Semitic extremism as an expected reaction to disagreeable Israeli policies. And now the liberal backlash against Charlie Hebdo has taken a new, dispiriting turn.

As the New York Times reports, the PEN American Center had decided to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to Charlie Hebdo at its May 5 event. Organizers have now been taken aback by the sudden reaction of six of the event’s “literary hosts” just a couple weeks before the dinner. Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn their participation.

Of these, Cole was perhaps the least surprising. And the general lack of coherence among this cohort has been interesting not least because it’s shown how difficult a task they have made for themselves in seeking to make those who murder writers and Jews for the crime of free expression the real underdogs. (David Frum’s piece on this in the Atlantic is essential reading.)

But it also tells you something about the liberal crackup. Glenn Greenwald posted correspondence and statements of those involved in the controversy, and Cole’s is particularly noteworthy for what it says about dogmatic leftists’ inability to make their worldview make sense. In part, Cole said:

I’m a free-speech fundamentalist, but I don’t think it’s a good use of our headspace or moral commitments to lionize Charlie Hebdo in particular. L’affaire Rushdie (for example) was a very different matter, as different as blasphemy is from racism. I support Rushdie 100%, but I don’t want to sit in a room and cheer Charlie Hebdo. This distinction seems to have been difficult for people to understand, and any dissent from the consensus about Charlie Hebdo is read as somehow “supporting the terrorists,” or somehow believing that they deserved to be murdered.

I would rather honor Raif Badawi, Avijit Roy, Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning, who have also paid steeply for their courage, but whose ideals are much more progressive than Charlie’s. I would like an acknowledgement of the Kenyan students who were murdered for no greater crime than being college students. And, if we are talking about free speech, I would rather PEN shed more light on the awful effects of governmental spying in the US, and the general issue of surveillance.

A couple things jump out. First of all, you knew you were in for trouble when Cole began a sentence with “I’m a free-speech fundamentalist, but… .” Second, does the fact that Charlie Hebdo’s work was of a less elevated literary quality than that of Salman Rushdie mean the former cannot lay claim to the transgression of “blasphemy”? For his part, Rushdie himself correctly points out that Cole et al. have no idea what they’re talking about:

“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” Mr. Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

Indeed. Liberals have apparently graduated from telling Muslims what is and isn’t truly Islamic to telling Muslims (and their victims) what is and isn’t blasphemy. According to the left, blasphemy is not a religious term so much as it just shouldn’t be applied to people who draw yucky pictures. This is, to say the least, a standard that bodes poorly for those who truly do support free speech. Where are their allies going to come from if not from free-speech organizations?

And there’s also something quite hilarious in the don’t-worry-Rushdie-you’re-still-good defensiveness in the anti-Charlie Hebdo group. That may be true today, but for how long will it continue to be true? At what point will the left finally throw Rushdie under that bus? Because that moment is coming, and I suspect everyone knows it.

The other word that jumped out at me from Cole’s statement was “progressive.” He’d rather honor, he said, someone “whose ideals are much more progressive than Charlie’s.” So now to be a martyr for free speech you have to not only be a blasphemer without falling into the ever-changing and elastic category of racism, but you also must be “much more progressive” than a lowbrow satirical French publication.

Salman Rushdie is on the right side of the line–for now. But that line is moving, and not in the direction of free speech.

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Is the Tide Turning Back Against Assad?

After an uprising began in Syria in March 2011, the expectation was that Bashar Assad’s days were numbered. But he managed to hang onto power with surprising tenacity, thanks in no small part to significant assistance from Iran and its Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon. In more recent months the conventional wisdom had gone from “Assad’s a goner” to “Assad’s a winner.” But that latter judgment may be premature.

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After an uprising began in Syria in March 2011, the expectation was that Bashar Assad’s days were numbered. But he managed to hang onto power with surprising tenacity, thanks in no small part to significant assistance from Iran and its Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon. In more recent months the conventional wisdom had gone from “Assad’s a goner” to “Assad’s a winner.” But that latter judgment may be premature.

The recent fall of Idlib city and much of its surrounding countryside to rebel fighters suggests that Assad’s power may be waning. “After seizing most of Idlib province in recent weeks,” the Washington Post notes, “the rebels are pressing south toward the government strongholds of Hama and Homs and are threatening the ­Assad family’s coastal heartland of Latakia.” Other signs also point to a regime not as strong as commonly believed: notably the failure of earlier government offensives against Aleppo and rebel strongholds in the south.

These setbacks have been accompanied by rumors of high-level dissension. As the Post notes: “On Friday, pro-government news outlets reported the death of political security director Rustom Ghazaleh, a longtime Assad stalwart, after months of rumors that he had fallen out with the regime, had been badly beaten up by a rival and was languishing in a hospital. The reports followed the firing last month of the military intelligence chief, Rafiq Shehadeh, another inner-circle loyalist. Western diplomats monitoring events in Syria from Beirut say the two men appear to have clashed with the Assad family over the growing battlefield role played by Iran.” Even Assad’s family appears to be cracking to some extent. One of Bashar’s cousins was fired as head of security in Damascus and fled the country while another cousin was detained “amid rumors that he had been plotting a coup.”

No less an observer than Robert Ford, an astute Arabist who was the last U.S. ambassador to Damascus, writes: “We may be seeing signs of the beginning of their end.”

Of course one must stay skeptical about such reports, which sound so suspiciously similar to reports from 2011-2012 which prematurely wrote a political obituary for Assad. But even if it’s true that the end is nigh for the Assad regime, that’s hardly unalloyed good news.

True, no one can shed any tears over the potential demise of a government that has been responsible for murdering more than 200,000 of its own citizens. But there is a big question as to what comes next.

The losses the government has been suffering lately are not at the hands of the relatively moderate Free Syrian Army, which has been all but abandoned by the United States. Rather, recent military victories against Assad are ascribed to a new rebel coalition called the Army of Conquest. It includes some of the more moderate battalions that make up the Free Syrian Army but its core is the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate. Its primary patrons are not the Americans or Europeans but rather Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, all Islamist states. Replacing an Iranian-backed regime in Damascus with an al-Qaeda regime would hardly be cause for celebration, even if ISIS, the other major Islamist army in Syria, is even more radical than al-Nusra.

There was nothing inevitable about the triumph of the extremists—it has come about primarily because President Obama missed his opportunity to support the more moderate rebels in a more sustained way earlier in the conflict. If anything, the potential crumbling of the Assad regime should be a wakeup call to the administration that it needs to step up its aid to the Free Syrian Army and to create liberated enclaves, protected by American airpower, where the moderate Syrian opposition, which has been recognized as the true government by the U.S. and its allies, can start to rule on Syrian territory.

But realistically even such steps would not be enough to significantly alter the balance of power on the ground in the short term. If the Assad regime collapses in the near future, it’s hard to imagine the power vacuum being filled by anyone other than Sunni jihadists—unless the international community is prepared to intervene with a large-scale peacekeeping force, a la Bosnia or Kosovo or East Timor. But if the U.S. and its allies failed to send such a force to Libya after Gaddafi’s downfall (as I urged at the time), it’s unlikely to do so now in the far more dangerous circumstances of Syria where foreign forces would be ripe for attack not only from the al-Nusra Front and Assad’s remaining champions but also from ISIS.

It’s hard to imagine Syria—already a war-ravaged land that has become a magnet for foreign jihadists, both Shiite and Sunni—getting any worse after Assad’s downfall. But it’s also hard to imagine it getting any better unless the West steps up to do more than it has been willing to do for the past four years.

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Why Pro-Israel Republicans Get Attention

A lot of attention was focused this past weekend on the annual gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas. The event was depicted, as it has been in the past, as an unseemly assembly of GOP candidates with their hands out to Jewish donors. In particular, the affections and backing of lead donor Sheldon Adelson, at whose casino the RJC meeting was held, was seen as a “Sheldon primary” for which the party ought to feel shame. But while some went there in search of backing and donations, that sort of coverage misses the point about the event. There’s nothing unusual or unseemly about politicians asking for support from a particular constituency. The real question to ask about the way the candidates trooped to Las Vegas is not about Adelson or his money, but why Israel has become a litmus test issue for Republicans while at the same time support for it appears to be waning among Democrats.

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A lot of attention was focused this past weekend on the annual gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas. The event was depicted, as it has been in the past, as an unseemly assembly of GOP candidates with their hands out to Jewish donors. In particular, the affections and backing of lead donor Sheldon Adelson, at whose casino the RJC meeting was held, was seen as a “Sheldon primary” for which the party ought to feel shame. But while some went there in search of backing and donations, that sort of coverage misses the point about the event. There’s nothing unusual or unseemly about politicians asking for support from a particular constituency. The real question to ask about the way the candidates trooped to Las Vegas is not about Adelson or his money, but why Israel has become a litmus test issue for Republicans while at the same time support for it appears to be waning among Democrats.

The upshot of the RJC meeting was not so much that Adelson and other major Jewish donors to the Republicans were still up for grabs as far as a candidate for 2016 was concerned. Rather, it was that virtually every Republican, including Senator Rand Paul who is not known for his support for Israel, understands that alienating friends of Israel, both Jewish and non-Jewish, is a political death wish for anyone in the GOP. Though Paul wasn’t in Las Vegas (he wasn’t the only potential candidate to skip the event) he has spent the last two years trying to ingratiate himself with the pro-Israel community, including Adelson. Though Paul’s s attempts to create some distance between his candidacy and his extremist father’s stands have not been entirely successful, they reflect the reality of a party where no one wants to be seen as lacking in ardor for the Jewish state.

What makes this so newsworthy isn’t Adelson’s money or that of the other significant donors, though it will be very helpful to the Republicans next year. It’s the contrast with the other party. While leading figures in the GOP can’t seem to do enough to show how much they care about Israel and candidates are mortified when members of their camp join the chorus denouncing the Jewish state (as was the case with Bush family retainer James Baker’s speech to the J Street conference earlier this month), Democrats have increasingly been doing the opposite.

This is not an unimportant point. The press’s interest in the GOP and the Jews isn’t really driven by the rush for donations since candidates do that wherever they go. Adelson has a lot of money and is willing to spend on behalf of his ideological beliefs, but there’s as much, if not more cash to be found by diving for dollars among any number of major industries such as agriculture or pharmaceuticals and other special interests across the spectrum.

No, the “man bites dog” element that makes the RJC newsworthy (other than the principle that holds “Jews are news” under any circumstance) is that the Democrats are not so eager to play the same game.

Part of this is reflected in the latest Gallup poll which showed that while support for Israel among Americans in general is at an all-time high, Republicans are far more likely to do so than Democrats with 78 percent of the former and only 53 percent of the latter expressing that opinion.

But it is even more noticeable as members of Congress have started to split along party lines when the Iran nuclear deal is discussed. President Obama’s efforts to undermine support for more sanctions on Iran and to dissuade members from trying to derail his nuclear deal with the Islamist regime have had no impact on the GOP but have considerably undermined support for sanctions or efforts to allow Congress a meaningful say on the deal among Democrats.

That doesn’t mean the Democrats can’t still count on majority support from Jews whose support for the party’s liberal stands on domestic issues outweighs any affection for Israel. But even though many Democrats, Jewish and non-Jewish, are friends of Israel, there is a difference between them and their conservative counterparts.

Democrats know that pro-Israel liberals won’t abandon them if they take stands that harm or undermine the Jewish state. By contrast, Republicans know all too well that Adelson and every other Jewish donor to the GOP will throw them under the bus in a second if they were to back away from Israel.

That used to be also true of Democrats, but no more. In the age of Obama, where Jewish liberals tend to see conservatives like House Speaker John Boehner or Senator Ted Cruz as worse than Hamas or Hezbollah, it’s clear the old pro-Israel consensus is cracking if not yet broken.

Instead of mocking Republicans for seeking Jewish support, Jewish Democrats need to understand why they do and seek to emulate them rather than continuing to drift away from the pro-Israel community on key issues whenever the president crooks his little finger. The answer about the differences between the parties on this point speaks volumes not so much about any change in the GOP mindset as the one going on among Democrats.

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Do the Clintons Have Enough Scapegoats for an Entire Presidential Campaign?

The latest series of Clinton corruption scandals have allowed voters to get a preview of the way Hillary would govern if she were elected president. Most of that has focused, rightly, on the pay-for-play issues and the way the Clintons profited from taking official actions that harmed American security interests. But now the Clintons have completed the picture by also revealing just how they would handle revelations of misdeeds while in office. In true Clintonian fashion, they’ll pass the buck. The Clintons remain allergic to anything resembling accountability.

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The latest series of Clinton corruption scandals have allowed voters to get a preview of the way Hillary would govern if she were elected president. Most of that has focused, rightly, on the pay-for-play issues and the way the Clintons profited from taking official actions that harmed American security interests. But now the Clintons have completed the picture by also revealing just how they would handle revelations of misdeeds while in office. In true Clintonian fashion, they’ll pass the buck. The Clintons remain allergic to anything resembling accountability.

We shouldn’t miss the significance of the Clintons’ latest effort to dodge the blame for the influence-peddling scandals. What the Clintons are telling us, essentially, is that they are incapable of ensuring the honesty and integrity of any organization over which they preside. And the next such organization would be, if they have their way, the United States government.

Last week, it was revealed that Bill Clinton facilitated deals for donors to the Clinton Foundation, as well as those who paid him directly in speaking fees, to give the Russians control of a huge chunk of American uranium deposits–and that those deals needed Hillary Clinton’s approval as secretary of state, which she provided. Additionally, in an attempt to hide foreign influence peddling, the Clinton Foundation filled out years of false tax returns. And yet, the Clintons’ response to this is the following, via Politico:

The acting chief executive of the Clinton Foundation addressed mistakes that the philanthropic organization has made in a blog post on Sunday, while also emphasizing that its policy regarding donor disclosure and foreign governments is “stronger than ever.”

Maura Pally, the organization’s CEO and senior vice president, women and youth programs, said that the foundation “will likely refile” tax forms for some years after a voluntary external review, which found that it had “mistakenly combined” government grants with other donations.

“So yes, we made mistakes, as many organizations of our size do, but we are acting quickly to remedy them, and have taken steps to ensure they don’t happen in the future,” Pally wrote. “We are committed to operating the Foundation responsibly and effectively to continue the life-changing work that this philanthropy is doing every day.”

Pally also addressed the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with Canadian businessman Frank Giustra, who set up an independent charity called the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership.

The fact that individual donors are not listed on the foundation’s site is not an effort to avoid transparency, she said, noting that Canadian law requires charities to get prior permission from each donor to disclose their identities.

Ah yes, mistakes were made. Also, blame Canada. Welcome to Hillary 2016: it’s not only someone else’s fault–whatever it is–but it also might be some other country’s fault.

There is, in fact, nothing shocking whatsoever in what Hillary’s trying to pull here. And that in itself should be shocking.

Hillary’s camp actually previewed this defense somewhat, by saying there was no proof that she personally signed off on the deals that needed her State Department’s approval. Sound familiar? It should: we heard it with regard to Libya as well. An American ambassador was killed in a terrorist attack after months of warnings of such attacks and a request for additional security, all made to Hillary’s State Department.

Yet after the deadly attack–in the aftermath of a war that was fought precisely how Hillary wanted to fight it–we were told that maybe those very important requests and briefings didn’t get all the way to Hillary. After all, she had to do some delegating: maybe the furniture questions, as we’ve seen, were the only ones to get all the way to the top, but the requests for security in a war zone could be handled by Frank in the mailroom. At least she didn’t try to blame Benghazi on Canada.

Hillary uses the complexity of bureaucracy to claim she didn’t know. And that’s why the Clinton Foundation scandals read like a Rube Goldberg rendering of political and financial corruption.

It’s bad enough for officials of the government to use the bureaucracy to insulate themselves from accountability, but they are merely availing themselves of the system’s perks. The Clinton Foundation, and the Clintons’ personal bank accounts, into which speech fees went, are the Clintons’ constructs. They arranged their family enterprise to mimic the way the federal government fleeces taxpayers while shielding those at the top from responsibility for their misdeeds.

The bet made by the Clintons was that reporters wouldn’t be sharp or dogged enough to connect all the dots. And they were almost right. Peter Schweizer, who wrote the forthcoming book Clinton Cash, has been the engine driving much of this. But reporters are building on what he’s uncovered, and putting their resources to good use. There are a lot of dots to connect, but once you connect them, you see a pretty disturbing picture.

Once reporters did connect those dots, Hillary had a fall-gal at the ready: an executive at the Clinton Foundation, as if it were some free-floating entity only loosely tied to the Clintons themselves, when in fact it is not only their family business but also served as a kind of super-PAC for Hillary while she was still at State at which her top aides served simultaneously while on her staff at the State Department.

That was a brilliant stroke, having someone not named Clinton at the foundation admit fault and apologize. But it’s getting a bit predictable, and if the scandals keep coming at this pace the Clintons are going to run out of scapegoats. The public, however, is likely to stop falling for it long before that.

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Like Obama’s Iran Deal, Corker Bill May Be Worse Than Nothing

As the Corker-Menendez bill requiring a congressional vote on the nuclear deal with Iran heads to the floor of the Senate this week, many in the Republican leadership are urging their caucus to pass the bill just as it is without amendments. Having forged a compromise with some Democrats to get it through the foreign affairs committee by a unanimous vote, Chairman Bob Corker believes his bill is still “pretty strong” because it allows Congress a voice on the Iran deal. He and other GOP leaders believe changes that would force the administration to hold Iran accountable for its support for terrorism or even to change it so as to make it a treaty would scuttle the entire effort. They may be right about that since the administration and many Democrats would like nothing better than to let the president cut a deal with Iran without Congress having any say in the matter. But without such changes, it’s fair to ask whether Corker’s assessment of his bill is any different than Obama’s deal. Is a weak Iran bill better than no bill at all? Maybe not.

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As the Corker-Menendez bill requiring a congressional vote on the nuclear deal with Iran heads to the floor of the Senate this week, many in the Republican leadership are urging their caucus to pass the bill just as it is without amendments. Having forged a compromise with some Democrats to get it through the foreign affairs committee by a unanimous vote, Chairman Bob Corker believes his bill is still “pretty strong” because it allows Congress a voice on the Iran deal. He and other GOP leaders believe changes that would force the administration to hold Iran accountable for its support for terrorism or even to change it so as to make it a treaty would scuttle the entire effort. They may be right about that since the administration and many Democrats would like nothing better than to let the president cut a deal with Iran without Congress having any say in the matter. But without such changes, it’s fair to ask whether Corker’s assessment of his bill is any different than Obama’s deal. Is a weak Iran bill better than no bill at all? Maybe not.

The purpose of the Corker-Menendez bill is a noble one. Faced with an administration that was determined not only to press ahead with the most important diplomatic pact signed by the United States in a generation but to do so without allowing Congress to play its constitutionally mandated role to ratify such a deal, the Senate needed to act. What Corker and Robert Menendez, a stern critic of the administration’s Iran policy and the former ranking Democrat on the committee, intended to do was to create a mechanism by which the Senate could act as a possible brake on the president’s appeasement of the Islamist regime.

But over the course of the debate about the bill a couple of things soon became clear.

One was that the bipartisan consensus within Congress about the need to stop Iran’s nuclear program quickly broke down once the president made it clear to Democrats that he considered support for his Iran policy as a litmus test of party loyalty. That was first illustrated by the White House’s attempt to orchestrate a boycott of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress on the issue. But even after that effort flopped, the administration worked hard to twist the arms of wavering Democrats in order to persuade them to oppose a tough Iran sanctions bill that would have put more heat on Tehran to make concessions as well as the Corker-Menendez proposal. While a veto-proof majority on both ideas seemed likely a few months ago, once the president laid down the law to liberals on Iran, it was obvious that Corker would have to start making compromises if his bill was going to succeed.

The second was that once the negotiations over passing Corker-Menendez started, it was also clear that it was the president and the not the Republican majority that held all the cards in the bargaining. The president pushed ahead to get a weak framework deal with Iran agreed to by the end of March, a development that made critics wonder if they were going to be able to weigh in on the issue before it was too late.

More than that, the administration realized that the way the Corker bill was structured gave them an enormous advantage. The Constitution requires a two-thirds affirmative vote to pass a treaty. But by calling this far-reaching pact a mere agreement between the Iranians and the West, President Obama sought to evade that rule altogether. He wanted to have no vote at all on the deal but once he realized that even Democrats didn’t feel comfortable going along with a complete abnegation of their constitutional duties, the president’s path was clear. So long as it didn’t declare the Iran deal a treaty, passing Corker-Menendez actually served the administration’s purpose.

Provided the bill was stripped of measures that would provide some real accountability on the content of a deal that offers Iran two paths to a bomb—one by easily evading its weak restrictions and another by abiding by it and patiently waiting for it to expire—a congressional vote along these lines would give a legitimacy to the process that the administration needed. Moreover, the Corker bill created a reverse confirmation process by which the president needed only 34 votes—enough to sustain a veto of a vote that rejected the deal—rather than 67 in order for it to become law. Thus, after loyal Democrats on the committee got Corker to take out provisions that would make it more onerous for the administration to defend a weak deal, the president signaled that he would sign the bill.

The bill is now being praised as a rare example of bipartisanship. But though Corker’s intentions may have been good, the result is not. No matter how bad the Iran deal is, it’s obvious that the president will be able to pressure enough Democrats to back him to sustain a veto. If his bill doesn’t provide real accountability and actually gives the president a path to passage of a deal with only 34 Democratic votes, then all their effort will have been for nothing. Indeed, it will be worse than nothing since Obama will be able to say that he has given Congress a say even if he has vetoed their rejection of the deal. That’s why rather than being another suicide charge in the manner of the 2013 government shutdown, efforts to amend the Corker bill are actually the right thing to do.

In particular, Senator Ron Johnson’s amendment that would force the Senate to treat the Iran deal as a treaty that would require the normal two-thirds majority for passage deserves the support of the chamber. So, too, do measures proposed to require the administration to certify that Iran is no longer supporting terrorism (a point that was strengthened this past weekend as Israel attempted to interdict arms shipments from Iran to Hezbollah).

Democrats may not be willing to support strengthening the bill, but contrary to the assertions of its supporters, the “clean” bill as it currently stands may be worse than nothing at all. Efforts to compel senators take a stand on treaty status and terrorism may be the last chance to put them on record as being willing to support a measure that would actually prevent the president from sacrificing U.S. security and the stability of the Middle East on the altar of his vain pursuit of détente with Iran. These amendments may be poison pills, but the real poison is a bill that will give a seal of approval on a tragic foreign policy blunder.

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Why Ed Miliband’s Labor Is Losing the Jewish Vote

Britain’s upcoming general election is fast turning into one of the strangest the country has ever witnessed. Quite apart from the fact that the outcome appears utterly unpredictable, there have also been all kinds of strange anomalies. Both the major parties–Conservative and Labor–are being seriously undercut by a formerly fringe single issue anti-European Union party, while a tiny far-left environmentalist party momentarily pushed itself to center stage in the election debate, and looming over the entire campaign has been the unpalatable prospect of Scottish separatists playing kingmaker in the next parliament. Yet perhaps more surreal than all of this has been the bizarre reality of a Labor party that now has its first Jewish leader, just at the very moment that it is losing the Jewish vote.

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Britain’s upcoming general election is fast turning into one of the strangest the country has ever witnessed. Quite apart from the fact that the outcome appears utterly unpredictable, there have also been all kinds of strange anomalies. Both the major parties–Conservative and Labor–are being seriously undercut by a formerly fringe single issue anti-European Union party, while a tiny far-left environmentalist party momentarily pushed itself to center stage in the election debate, and looming over the entire campaign has been the unpalatable prospect of Scottish separatists playing kingmaker in the next parliament. Yet perhaps more surreal than all of this has been the bizarre reality of a Labor party that now has its first Jewish leader, just at the very moment that it is losing the Jewish vote.

According to a poll carried out by Survation at the beginning of April, just 22 percent of British Jews intend to vote for Ed Miliband’s Labor, whereas an unprecedented 69 percent say they will back the Conservatives. This is quite some turnaround. Historically Britain’s Jews were aligned with the left. The old Liberal party—a sad remnant of which lives on within today’s Liberal Democrats—once boasted many Jewish members of parliament. At the same time working-class Jews from Eastern Europe, concentrated in London’s East End during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, overwhelmingly voted Labor.

In the post-war era it was the familiar story of the Jewish community escaping the slums and joining the middle classes, but old political loyalties often seemed to have remained impervious to changing economic circumstances. Mrs. Thatcher did manage to coax some of the Jewish vote away from the left, with her own north London parliamentary seat containing a large Jewish population. However, Tony Blair’s New Labor soon won many of these voters back, receiving resounding support from across the Jewish community. And so what Miliband’s Labor has achieved in having so alienated Britain’s Jewish voters is really quite something.

While Jews make up less than one percent of the UK population, they could prove more significant in electoral terms, concentrated as they are in a whole series of suburban London and Manchester swing seats that the Conservatives must win if they are to have any hope of staying in office. In the past Labor has benefited from the support of some important Jewish donors. Yet more recently it has become known that several key figures can’t bring themselves to give to Labor this time around.

Under Miliband, Labor has taken a two-pronged approach to scaring off Jewish support. The first has involved the party’s sudden veer to the left with a clear commitment to wealth redistribution, a so-called mansion tax, and now rent controls. Miliband has truly earned his tabloid title, “Red Ed.” And as wedded to “progressive” notions about social justice as many middle-class Jews still are, even they have their limits when it comes to voting against the financial welfare of their own families.

The second, and no less significant factor, has been Labor’s turn against Israel. Despite having once been Britain’s most pro-Zionist party and despite the pro-Israel sentiments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, today Labor’s grassroots are virulently hostile to the Jewish state, and this is an attitude that most believe Miliband shares. After all, the highly political household he grew up in was far more affiliated with the Marxist left than it was with the mainstream Jewish community.

In the past year alone Miliband has whipped a parliamentary vote on Palestinian statehood, spoken at the gala dinner of the pro-BDS Labor Friends of Palestine, and condemned Israel’s acts of self-defense during last summer’s war in Gaza. Things got so bad that the former head of Labor Friends of Israel, Kate Bearman, resigned her party membership. Meanwhile, Jewish actress and life-long Labor supporter Maureen Lipman wrote bitterly from the pages of Standpoint Magazine about why she could no longer bring herself to vote Labor.

When it comes to Israel and the liberal establishment with which they have maintained a longstanding alliance, Anglo-Jewry is undergoing a painful mugging by reality. And it almost certainly isn’t over yet. The Survation poll found 73 percent of British Jews saying that Israel was important to them when deciding how to vote. These people are going to have quite a circle to square if they wish to vote Labor at the upcoming election.

Labor, however, appears not to care. Increasingly, Miliband seems to be pursuing the ethnic minority and Muslim vote, perhaps even at the cost of losing some of Labor’s traditional white working-class base. The Conservatives have gone out of their way to pledge support for fighting the rising tide of anti-Semitism. But Labor has been far quieter on the subject and last week Miliband gave an interview to a Muslim newspaper in which he pledged to outlaw Islamophobia and to “overhaul” the government’s counter-terror strategy, which he implied alienates the Muslim community.

There are, after all, far more Muslims than Jews in Britain, and at the last election 89 percent of these voters endorsed Labor and the Liberal Democrats. With support for the Liberals now having collapsed, that’s a lot of votes up for grabs. If going cold on Israel is what it takes to woo these voters then so be it. One suspects that hurt Jewish feelings are something Miliband is prepared to live with.

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Liberal Thought Police Bully Gay Conservative

Liberals have transformed the debate about gay marriage in recent years from one about the definition of marriage to one about intolerance. That shift seems to have won general acceptance throughout the country and even the courts. But as we saw in the forced resignation of the CEO of Mozilla for his contribution to California’s Proposition 8 campaign and in the reaction to the passage of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, the cutting edge of the issue now is not so much to rally support for a cause that has already won its case in the court of public opinion but to silence opponents. The latest example of the left’s impulse to mob rule comes in an even more ironic form. A gay businessman who hosted an event for Senator Ted Cruz has been so abused by fellow gays and other liberals for the crime of allowing a conservative presidential candidate a hearing at his home that he has now been forced to publicly abase himself and apologize lest the hotels he owns be boycotted by the same gay community to which he caters. Once again, despite their claims that religious conservatives seek to persecute them, the only people being bullied or silenced on this issue lately are the few who dare to either question the newly minted liberal consensus about gay marriage or even offer a platform to those who do.

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Liberals have transformed the debate about gay marriage in recent years from one about the definition of marriage to one about intolerance. That shift seems to have won general acceptance throughout the country and even the courts. But as we saw in the forced resignation of the CEO of Mozilla for his contribution to California’s Proposition 8 campaign and in the reaction to the passage of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, the cutting edge of the issue now is not so much to rally support for a cause that has already won its case in the court of public opinion but to silence opponents. The latest example of the left’s impulse to mob rule comes in an even more ironic form. A gay businessman who hosted an event for Senator Ted Cruz has been so abused by fellow gays and other liberals for the crime of allowing a conservative presidential candidate a hearing at his home that he has now been forced to publicly abase himself and apologize lest the hotels he owns be boycotted by the same gay community to which he caters. Once again, despite their claims that religious conservatives seek to persecute them, the only people being bullied or silenced on this issue lately are the few who dare to either question the newly minted liberal consensus about gay marriage or even offer a platform to those who do.

The statement issued by Ian Reisner in an effort to get the gay community to call of the dogs on their boycott effort reads like something a victim of a Communist regime’s “reeducation” labor camp might be forced to recite. According to the New York Times Reisner issued the following statement:

I am shaken to my bones by the e-mails, texts, postings and phone calls of the past few days. I made a terrible mistake.”

I was ignorant, naive and much too quick in accepting a request to co-host a dinner with Cruz at my home without taking the time to completely understand all of his positions on gay rights.

I’ve spent the past 24 hours reviewing videos of Cruz’ statements on gay marriage and I am shocked and angry. I sincerely apologize for hurting the gay community and so many of our friends, family, allies, customers and employees. I will try my best to make up for my poor judgment. Again, I am deeply sorry.

Reisner is apparently a conservative on issues other than gay marriage and seems to have thought Cruz’s economic and foreign-policy stands amenable to his worldview. In particular, the hotelier is a big supporter of Israel, which happens to be one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world. But the Texas senator’s belief that states should be allowed to make up his or her own minds about allowing gay marriage and his evangelical beliefs place him beyond the pale for liberal gays. Thus, to the liberal thought police, anyone who hosts Cruz or presumably anyone who holds opinions or religious convictions that were shared by both President Obama or Hillary Clinton only a couple of years ago must be publicly humiliated and forced to recant lest they be exposed to economic boycotts.

You don’t have to oppose gay marriage to be disgusted by this incident.

Gays have every right to express their views about Cruz or anyone else. But their point is not just to pursue their campaign for gay marriage but to silence opponents. The bullying of Reisner is an attempt to send a message to gays and others than no other issue, not the future of the country’s economy or the security of Israel, can be allowed to interfere with efforts to not just defeat religious conservative efforts to oppose gay marriage but also to make it impossible for anyone to try to defend their own views about the issue.

Whether or not you agree with Cruz, the spectacle of Reisner’s apology for daring to think he could back a candidate in spite of their differences on gay marriage bodes ill for any effort to preserve a tone of civility in our political culture. Indeed, his statement seems to bear a greater resemblance to a victim of the Spanish Inquisition issuing a ritual recantation of heresy in order to avoid being burned at the stake.

The irony of so-called liberals, who routinely denounce conservatives for being both intolerant and debasing the political culture with incivility, orchestrating such an intolerant and undemocratic response to an individual’s behavior is lost on the left. Free speech for me but not for thee is now liberal orthodoxy. So, too, is their effort to shame anyone who doesn’t agree with them on gay marriage or even associates with anyone who dissents. As we saw with Mozilla and Indiana, mob rule is ugly but often effective, especially in the corporate world. That may comfort some gays, but it should cause all of us, whether we are gay or straight, religious or irreligious, who support democracy to tremble.

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How the Iran Deal Helps Hezbollah

On Saturday the Israeli Air Force reportedly struck surface-to-surface missile depots in Syria near the Lebanese border. The attack is widely believed to be a yet another Israeli attempt to interdict Iran’s efforts to maintain a steady flow arms and advanced weapons to its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries in Lebanon. In particular, Tehran has used the chaos of the Syrian civil war as an opportunity to establish Hezbollah bases in Syrian territory to threaten Israel. But neither these strikes nor Hezbollah’s failed attempt yesterday at a terrorist incursion along Israel’s northern border should be viewed in isolation from the aspect of Iranian foreign policy that has drawn far more interest in the West: the negotiations for a nuclear pact. Far from being tangential to the debate about the Iran nuclear framework deal that President Obama has staked his legacy on, the flow of arms from the Islamist regime to a terrorist group illustrates the danger of appeasing Tehran far better than any speech by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or other opponents of the pact.

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On Saturday the Israeli Air Force reportedly struck surface-to-surface missile depots in Syria near the Lebanese border. The attack is widely believed to be a yet another Israeli attempt to interdict Iran’s efforts to maintain a steady flow arms and advanced weapons to its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries in Lebanon. In particular, Tehran has used the chaos of the Syrian civil war as an opportunity to establish Hezbollah bases in Syrian territory to threaten Israel. But neither these strikes nor Hezbollah’s failed attempt yesterday at a terrorist incursion along Israel’s northern border should be viewed in isolation from the aspect of Iranian foreign policy that has drawn far more interest in the West: the negotiations for a nuclear pact. Far from being tangential to the debate about the Iran nuclear framework deal that President Obama has staked his legacy on, the flow of arms from the Islamist regime to a terrorist group illustrates the danger of appeasing Tehran far better than any speech by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or other opponents of the pact.

The Syrian adventure serves a dual purpose for Iran. On the one hand, it has committed Hezbollah and Iranian forces to help bolster its ally Bashar Assad in the war against Syrian rebels (both moderate and extremist) as well as ISIS terrorists. At the same time, it offers Iran a chance to extend its sphere of influence in such a way as to create a second front against Israel for Hezbollah. Hence the Israeli insistence, made clear in the strikes on similar targets in January and the attack this weekend, that it will not allow Iran or its Lebanese proxy terrorists to be able to strike at the Jewish state with impunity.

The Western media tends to view any violence between Israel and Hezbollah, whether along the border with Lebanon or in Syria, as part of an endless “cycle of violence.” From the point of view of the Obama administration and the liberal mainstream media this is a struggle to which there is no end and no beginning and thus no real policy implications other than the fear that a small conflagration could somehow be blown up into a regional war.

The problem with that way of looking at the issue is not so much that such fears are unreasonable as they are a function of Iran’s bid for regional hegemony, not a mere brush fire unrelated to the Islamist regime’s broader goals.

Hezbollah’s stance against Israel is, after all, not a function of an attempt to defend Lebanon or recover that nation’s territory occupied by the Jewish state. Rather it is a military front operated by Tehran’s terrorist proxy that is living proof of Iran’s commitment to Israel’s destruction. The conceit of efforts to set up Hezbollah bases in Syria is to offer the group a way to shoot at Israel without incurring retaliation on Lebanon that would lead the citizens of the country to try and curb the terrorist group’s power.

The reason this is germane to the nuclear talks is that the question of allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear power is one that directly affects Hezbollah. Iran’s ability to project power across the Middle East via Hezbollah, the Assad regime, as well as Hamas in Gaza (which recently came back into the fold with Iran after a few years’ break because of a disagreement over the Syrian civil war) makes its nuclear pretensions that much more dangerous. If the nuclear deal gives, at the very least, Iran a potential for a bomb, that strengthens its terrorist allies. Critics rightly allege that the loose terms of the deal offer Iran two paths to an actual bomb, one by easily evading the pact’s restrictions because of a lack of tough inspections and one by abiding by it and waiting patiently for it to expire before building a weapon. If that is so, then the Iran deal will not only lead to proliferation and give Tehran the means to threaten Israel’s existence.

But even if Iran never takes advantage of that opportunity or never uses the bomb if it gets one, this deal places Hezbollah and Hamas under a potential nuclear umbrella. That gives the terrorists more freedom to operate and to foment and commit violence against both Israel and the United States. That’s why it’s a mistake for the United States to separate the issue of Iran’s support of terrorism and its desire to eliminate Israel from the nuclear issue.

President Obama’s illusions about Iran reforming itself and “getting right with the world” are foolish enough with respect to the nature of the Islamist regime. But when one considers that this same policy is empowering terrorist groups allied to Iran they become a dangerous error that will be paid for in Israeli, Palestinian, and Lebanese blood.

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Divestment from Israel Loses at Princeton

​On Friday, Princeton University’s undergraduates voted on this question: “Shall the undergraduates call on the Trustees of Princeton University and the Princeton University Investment Company (‘PRINCO’) to divest from multinational corporations that maintain the infrastructure of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, facilitate Israel’s and Egypt’s collective punishment of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and facilitate state repression against Palestinians by Israeli, Egyptian, and Palestinian Authority security forces, until these corporations cease such activities?”

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​On Friday, Princeton University’s undergraduates voted on this question: “Shall the undergraduates call on the Trustees of Princeton University and the Princeton University Investment Company (‘PRINCO’) to divest from multinational corporations that maintain the infrastructure of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, facilitate Israel’s and Egypt’s collective punishment of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and facilitate state repression against Palestinians by Israeli, Egyptian, and Palestinian Authority security forces, until these corporations cease such activities?”

​Although the question mentions Egypt and the Palestinian Authority (but not Hamas), the proposers have made it clear that their ultimate purpose is get Princeton “to divest from multinational corporations that are complicit in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip until these corporations cease such activities.” In other words, the sole reason to object to Egypt or the Palestinian Authority is that they facilitate Israeli oppression.

​Fortunately, Princeton’s undergraduates resisted the star power of Cornel West and the urging of more than a few faculty members, and voted the resolution down, 1067-965. The divestment campaign at Princeton joins other recent failed efforts at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of New Mexico. But as usual, the pro-divestment side is claiming victory for having opened up a conversation that has in fact been incessant on college campuses for the past decade, when the latest effort to turn Israel into a pariah state, Israeli Apartheid Week, was launched on our campuses.

​It was reasonable, after this summer’s Gaza offensive, to expect a very bad year for the treatment of Israel on college campuses. But in fact, although divestment resolutions have been passed at UCLA, Northwestern, and Stanford, among other places, divestment has done no better this year than last. It is hard to say why, but perhaps Princeton’s undergraduates and others who rejected divestment could see that they were being played for fools. Perhaps they grasped that divestment is an entering wedge for the broader boycott, divestment, sanctions movement, which puts the very right of Israel to exist in question. Perhaps they understood that activists were taking advantage of student government elections, in which few vote, to produce the appearance of a consensus against Israel on campus.

Perhaps, finally, they reacted against the barely disguised anti-Semitism that has been brought to the surface this year. As Rabbi Evan Goldman, director of Hillel at the University of California, Santa Barbara, reported of the lengthy divestment debate at UCSB, one student senator spoke of “the power, money and influence of the Jewish community…. [T]here were audible gasps in the audience.” At least there were gasps. A USCB student in attendance at the same debate was disgusted by “the normalization of anti-Semitic language so casually thrown around at the meeting. In those eight hours, I was told that Jews control the government, that all Jews are rich, that Zionism is racism, that the marginalization of Jewish students is justified because it prevents the marginalization of other minority groups, that Israel sterilizes its Ethiopian women.”

​It is heartening that divestment lost at UCSB, as it lost at Princeton, but disheartening that the vote—reportedly a third attempt at passing divestment at UCSB—was close. Students and faculty, even if they feel no stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, need to get off the sidelines and understand that the use of colleges and universities as weapons in a propaganda war undermines them.

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Must We Ask a Rude Question About the Clintons?

On the surface, it isn’t that hard to understand the Clinton Cash scandal that Democrats are trying very hard to ignore this week. We have a former president making millions giving speeches and doing favors for wealthy foreign entities and nations that give massive sums to the Clinton family charity that subsidizes the lavish lifestyle of the former First Family. He did this at the same time as his wife spent four years as secretary of state where she made decisions that influence the fortunes of those donors. And all this was happening while said former first lady/secretary of state is planning to run for president herself at the next opportunity. No one can deny that this smells to high heaven of impropriety, and the best Billy and Hillary’s court of admirers and apologists can say in their defense is that the evidence of a conflict of interest is circumstantial and that there is no smoking gun proving their guilt. But there is another defense that Politico’s national editor Michael Hirsch hints at in a piece published yesterday: their marriage is so dysfunctional that any alleged coordination between the two is unlikely.

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On the surface, it isn’t that hard to understand the Clinton Cash scandal that Democrats are trying very hard to ignore this week. We have a former president making millions giving speeches and doing favors for wealthy foreign entities and nations that give massive sums to the Clinton family charity that subsidizes the lavish lifestyle of the former First Family. He did this at the same time as his wife spent four years as secretary of state where she made decisions that influence the fortunes of those donors. And all this was happening while said former first lady/secretary of state is planning to run for president herself at the next opportunity. No one can deny that this smells to high heaven of impropriety, and the best Billy and Hillary’s court of admirers and apologists can say in their defense is that the evidence of a conflict of interest is circumstantial and that there is no smoking gun proving their guilt. But there is another defense that Politico’s national editor Michael Hirsch hints at in a piece published yesterday: their marriage is so dysfunctional that any alleged coordination between the two is unlikely.

As Hirsh notes, to discuss the “impenetrable” Clinton marriage is a difficult task. Upon their arrival on the national stage in the 1992 presidential campaign, Americans have on the one hand been deluged with far more information about the Clintons’ relationship than we wanted, as he confessed to having “caused pain,” while never giving us any further explanations. A few years later Bill plunged the nation into a degrading debate about the definition of sex and whether it’s OK to commit perjury about acts of sexual harassment after his dalliance with an intern in the Oval Office. Since then we’ve been asked at one and the same time to sympathize with Hillary as the long suffering wife while also being warned to keep our noses out of their private business.

Would that we could. As Brit Hume recently noted on Fox, one of the key questions about Hillary’s presidential prospects is whether the “American people want another four, eight years of the Clintons and their weird marriage.”

That sounds pretty harsh and uncharacteristically ungentlemanly coming from the courtly Hume. But he’s on to something that can neither be ignored nor swept under the carpet. Having asked us to take them as a two-for-one package in 1992, the ordeal of watching their odd contortions as a couple has become a long national nightmare that, if she wins in 2016, will have no end in sight.

If the questions about them were merely the prosaic ones about whether their continuing union is one primarily of convenience like some royal dynastic pairing rather than a conventional marriage in which two people strive to love and stay together, any queries about their private lives would be rude and even inadmissible. Whether the Clintons are in any sense a romantic couple is none of our business. But if they are still a working political partnership, then we are entitled to know a great deal about their personal interactions. In particular, we deserve to learn about how large a role Bill played as an advisor to her when she was running U.S. foreign policy. We’re also entitled to know more about her role in their charity’s insatiable campaign to raise enormous amounts of cash from individuals, companies, and countries. In classic “pay for play” style, those donors thought they could do themselves quite a bit of good by giving to the Clintons rather than more established philanthropies that were not run by former and perhaps future presidents.

Other than merely claiming that we can’t prove it to a legal certainty without a smoking gun, Mrs. Clinton’s defense against the allegations raised in Clinton Cash rests on a few shaky limbs onto which her defenders can climb. One is to assert that the actions the Department of State took that benefitted Clinton donors were handled below her level. Which is to say she was, shades of Benghazi, not in the know about crucial decisions taking place on her watch. Which is to say she was an incompetent secretary of state.

Another possible defense raised by Hirsh is that Clinton was completely removed from major policy decisions in the Obama administration. This has a ring of truth to it as Obama distrusts the Clintons and runs a top-down administration in which Cabinet secretaries have little say on important matters, though that doesn’t absolve her on issues that the president did not decide. It also further undermines her claim that her experience as secretary of state entitles her to the presidency.

Yet there is an even more credible defense that Clinton’s clique can’t raise. It is that Bill and Hillary are just so disconnected a couple that the idea that they coordinated the family charity business with her foreign-policy ambitions is absurd.

Is this true? We don’t know for sure and, as with so much else about the Clintons, we may never know. Whatever their personal problems might be, their political and business partnership seems to be intact. Moreover, that defense didn’t work for an equally dysfunctional couple, Bob and Maureen McDonnell, when they faced prosecution for pay to play charges for their actions during his time as governor of Virginia.

Whatever form their personal relationship now takes, it’s too late to say that the vast charitable and political web they have woven is none of our business. Both Bill and Hillary have benefitted enormously from their charitable empire and so have those who donated to it.

Getting to the bottom of the Clinton Cash problem may require us, as Hirsh says, to “unscramble the omelet.” The putative 2016 Democratic Party candidate for president has shown no signs of being willing to speak candidly about these questions and a presidential campaign is a bad time for the pair to sort out their marriage for the public. It might be the best defense she can offer, but Hillary is unlikely to try to acquit herself of any involvement in the Clinton Foundation’s dirty business by telling us the truth about how disconnected the two really are.

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