Commentary Magazine


What If ISIS Spreads to Pakistan?

Nature may abhor a vacuum, but terrorists love one. The U.S. military-led surge in Iraq largely pushed al-Qaeda in Iraq into oblivion, but the uprising against the Arab Spring created a space for radical Islamists to incubate. The Bashar al-Assad regime ironically found the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh)’s presence useful both because he could hold them up as the alternative to his rule and because they often did the dirty work targeting the more moderate opposition. For his part, President Obama opposed any military action in Syria. Rather than excise the tumor when it was small, the United States sat aside as it metastasized, creating the circumstances that last summer enabled the Islamic State to bulldoze through much of Iraq and Syria. Even this was not inevitable: tumors need oxygen, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist dictator, provided it, allowing men and munitions to traverse the Turkey-Syrian border. Libya increasingly risks being the next Syria.

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Nature may abhor a vacuum, but terrorists love one. The U.S. military-led surge in Iraq largely pushed al-Qaeda in Iraq into oblivion, but the uprising against the Arab Spring created a space for radical Islamists to incubate. The Bashar al-Assad regime ironically found the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh)’s presence useful both because he could hold them up as the alternative to his rule and because they often did the dirty work targeting the more moderate opposition. For his part, President Obama opposed any military action in Syria. Rather than excise the tumor when it was small, the United States sat aside as it metastasized, creating the circumstances that last summer enabled the Islamic State to bulldoze through much of Iraq and Syria. Even this was not inevitable: tumors need oxygen, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist dictator, provided it, allowing men and munitions to traverse the Turkey-Syrian border. Libya increasingly risks being the next Syria.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s declaration of the caliphate might sound overwrought in the West, but Arab security experts in the Middle East with whom I have spoken in recent weeks say it has been tremendously inspiring to Islamists across the world. In Libya, the Sinai, and the Sahel, Islamist terrorist groups swore loyalty to the Islamic State. Boko Haram seeks its own caliphate, but nevertheless expressed its support to Baghdadi.

Clearly, the Islamic State brand reverberates. No matter how much the White House and State Department deny the Islamic basis of the Islamic State, it is resilient and attractive to many in the Islamic world. Right now, the Islamic State talks about conquering Rome, and while lone wolf and sleeper cell terrorism in Europe will continue to be a threat, a full-fledged invasion of Europe is unlikely. The nightmare scenario about which policymakers should be most concerned is a spread of the Islamic State to Pakistan.

Before 9/11, I spent a few weeks with the Taliban in Afghanistan. At the time, the group was desperate for recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. It declared an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and continues to embrace an essentially nationalist vision. Ditto the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban group which continues to dominate and terrorize Pakistan’s tribal territory, with ambitions throughout Pakistan. However, as Osama bin Laden once said, everyone loves the strong horse, and the Islamic State—which dismisses modern nationalism as illegitimate—has certainly proven itself that. If Pakistani radicals and militants—and there are no shortage of these in Pakistani society—shift their focus to the Islamic State, then all bets are off.

Pakistani officials might deny or even sneer at such suggestions that they are vulnerable to the Islamic State. But a consistent problem in Pakistani society has been that the elite believe that they can harness radicalism toward Pakistani ends in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and not pay the price. Simply put, the elite bubble is like a one-way mirror: Islamists can see in, but the Pakistani elite can see only their own reflection.

The danger for the West is, of course, that Pakistan is a nuclear power. What a tempting target Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could be for the Islamic State or its fellow-travelers. And while Western officials have long fooled themselves into thinking states like Iran developing a bomb could be contained because Iran isn’t suicidal, clearly the Islamic State prioritizes ideology above pragmatism.

Pakistan today might seem safe, but the allure of the Islamic State is a game changer. Indeed, it can change the game in a matter of months, as it has shown in Libya. The West allowed the Islamic State to metastasize. Unfortunately, policymakers still have no clue about how horrendous its terminal phase might be.

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Will Britain Do the Right Thing on Boycotts?

There is something fundamentally Stalinist about the notion of a cultural boycott of Israel. The idea that even the free exchange of ideas and expression should be censored by the strictures of ideology is a total affront to all the usual virtues associated with the arts. And unlike the economic boycott of Israel, which can at least claim to have practical objectives—albeit completely indefensible ones—the cultural boycott appears to be aimed at doing nothing more than alienating and ostracizing Israelis by any means possible. So it’s deeply troubling that a group of British artists are now leading just such a new boycott initiative. And yet, there are also encouraging indications that mainstream British society will not stand for this.

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There is something fundamentally Stalinist about the notion of a cultural boycott of Israel. The idea that even the free exchange of ideas and expression should be censored by the strictures of ideology is a total affront to all the usual virtues associated with the arts. And unlike the economic boycott of Israel, which can at least claim to have practical objectives—albeit completely indefensible ones—the cultural boycott appears to be aimed at doing nothing more than alienating and ostracizing Israelis by any means possible. So it’s deeply troubling that a group of British artists are now leading just such a new boycott initiative. And yet, there are also encouraging indications that mainstream British society will not stand for this.

Around a hundred allegedly prominent cultural figures have released a letter pledging not to travel to Israel on an official invitation, nor to accept funding from Israel or organizations that are associated with the Israeli government. In addition, this campaign claims to have the supporting signatures of a further 700 artists (almost all entirely unknowns). And naturally along with a few celebrities who are now notorious for their obsession with bashing Israel—such as Roger Waters—there are also several notable Jewish individuals who have been pushed to the forefront of the campaign.

Two Jewish directors who have evidently played a particularly leading role in promoting this boycott are Mike Leigh and Peter Kosminsky. Their involvement gives a pretty clear indication of precisely what kind of movement this is. When asked about Gaza, Leigh once dismissively retorted “I don’t want to know about rockets. What I am concerned with is humanity.” Humanity? Then in what category does Leigh place the people the rockets are aimed at? And then there’s Kosminsky, a remarkable figure to be boycotting Israel when much of his own acclaimed television drama The Promise was shot in Haifa. That by the way was a British TV mini-series that was not only viciously anti-Zionist but in which Jewish characters were without exception either overtly unlikable or ultimately untrustworthy. The non-Jewish characters, through whose eyes Israel’s story was told, were repeatedly let down, manipulated, or betrayed by every single Jew they came across.

These are the luminaries leading the cultural boycott against Israel.

The website of the campaign is also particularly revealing. Most bizarre is the section in which the campaigners insist that they will not be censored. What is boycotting Israeli arts if not censorship? Indeed, the activists pledge their solidarity with London’s Tricycle Theatre, which last year announced that as part of an Israel boycott it would no longer host the Jewish Film Festival. So the last thing that these people can claim is principled opposition to censorship.

Then there is the part of the website that advises artists on how they should implement their boycott in practice. Tellingly, artists are assured that they should not let the boycott prohibit them from collaborating with Palestinian artists and organizations. When it comes to Israelis, however, it seems that exceptions might only be considered for those who support the Palestinian cause. So once again we see the boycott working along ethnic lines. No investigation into the politics of Palestinian artists, but when it comes to Jewish Israelis, they must pledge allegiance to the cause before being redeemed of the crime of being born an Israeli Jew.

The one glimmer of hope in all of this is that there does seem to be an increasing recognition of just what a dangerous turn BDS represents. On the whole senior British politicians, including Prime Minister Cameron, have stressed their opposition to boycotts. But it was particularly noteworthy that the Times of London ran an editorial on the Copenhagen attacks and rising anti-Semitism that stated plainly, “The egregious campaigns for a cultural boycott of Israel are stoking ugly, atavistic movements in Europe. These need to be confronted by civilised opinion.” More remarkable still was that even the Guardian (a paper usually transfixed by the business of attacking Israel) printed a whole series of letters condemning the boycotts under the heading “Peace Not Promoted by an Israel Boycott.”

One senses that Britain’s liberal establishment is suddenly catching itself and pulling back at the last moment from the precipice. They have seen Paris, they have seen Copenhagen, they have seen anti-Semitism go off the chart from Brussels to Malmo. They have seen where all of this is leading and are now reconsidering their own responsibilities.

Of course the British establishment can only be expected to correctly identify boycotts as a form of racial discrimination if the Jewish community is unequivocal on the subject. And it must indeed be the Jewish community, and not the boycotters, who determine what is and what isn’t anti-Semitic. As it happens, a survey on anti-Semitism released in January found that 84 percent of British Jews consider boycotts to be a form of intimidation. Laura Marks of the Board of Deputies (Anglo-Jewry’s primary representative body) has also stressed that such a cultural boycott of Israel is racist.

The anti-Israel artists-turned-activists insist they won’t be silenced. Very well. But then the rest of us cannot afford to stay silent either about the racism inherent in what these people are doing.

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Losing the War on Terror

I am currently in the Philippines where I am reminded of how global the threat from Islamist terrorism has become: President Benigno Aquino III is under fire after 44 police commandos were killed in a battle with Muslim separatist groups. But the threat here is relatively limited because Muslims make up only 5 percent or so of the population. Muslims make up roughly the same percentage of the European population, which means that while atrocities such as the recent shootings in Copenhagen and Paris are likely to continue, there is no threat of an actual Islamist takeover.

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I am currently in the Philippines where I am reminded of how global the threat from Islamist terrorism has become: President Benigno Aquino III is under fire after 44 police commandos were killed in a battle with Muslim separatist groups. But the threat here is relatively limited because Muslims make up only 5 percent or so of the population. Muslims make up roughly the same percentage of the European population, which means that while atrocities such as the recent shootings in Copenhagen and Paris are likely to continue, there is no threat of an actual Islamist takeover.

The epicenter of the jihadist threat remains, of course, the Middle East, and recent trends there are alarming–they suggest that Islamists are increasingly ascendant. A few articles that have caught my eye:

  • The Islamic State (ISIS) is expanding not only in Iraq and Syria but also in Libya, another country where it’s easy for extremists to take advantage of the total chaos.
  • A Sunni tribal sheikh in Iraq who preached reconciliation with Shiites was apparently abducted and killed by Shiite militias.
  • Shiite militias, with more than 100,000 men under arms, now far outnumber the Iraqi army, which is down to 48,000 personnel. As a result the army is effectively becoming an adjunct of the militias–and that in turn means that U.S. air strikes, weapons, and training are effectively going to support the Quds Force, which controls the Shiite militias.
  • Hezbollah is not only ramping up its operations in Syria but also in Iraq.

The trends described above–Shiite and Sunni extremists expanding their operations–are in fact a closely-linked mirror image: the more that one side gains ground among its sectarian group (whether Sunni or Shiite), the more the other one gains in reaction.

There is another link between them: the utter lack of a serious response from the United States. Given the failure of the U.S. and its allies to fill the vacuum in Iraq, Syria, or Libya, we can expect the further emergence of competing jihadist states, one Sunni, the other Shiite, to the detriment of our interests and those of our more moderate allies. I hate to say it, but we have been losing the battle against Islamist terror ever since President Obama’s “mission accomplished” moment–the killing of Osama bin Laden. If the president has a plan to reverse this calamitous trend, he has kept it a closely guarded secret.

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ISIS and the Cost of Leading From Behind

The cost of leading from behind is going up. The release of a video showing ISIS terrorists in Libya executing Egyptian Christians was shocking and not just because of the depravity of the atrocity. The video’s production showed that the Libyan Islamists were closely coordinating with ISIS in Syria and Iraq revealing that what President Obama called a terrorist “jayvee team” was not only growing stronger but also expanding its reach around the region. In response to the murder of its citizens, the Egyptian military launched a strike at a target in Libya. Though it probably did little harm to the terrorists, it at least sent a strong message that the group could not expect to operate there with impunity. While Egypt may be signaling that it is prepared to push back against ISIS, the ability of the group to operate in Libya demonstrates the bankruptcy of America’s belated and half-hearted efforts against the group. Having originally gotten into Libya while bragging about leading from behind during the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, the Obama administration appears determined to demonstrate just how disastrous this philosophy can be.

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The cost of leading from behind is going up. The release of a video showing ISIS terrorists in Libya executing Egyptian Christians was shocking and not just because of the depravity of the atrocity. The video’s production showed that the Libyan Islamists were closely coordinating with ISIS in Syria and Iraq revealing that what President Obama called a terrorist “jayvee team” was not only growing stronger but also expanding its reach around the region. In response to the murder of its citizens, the Egyptian military launched a strike at a target in Libya. Though it probably did little harm to the terrorists, it at least sent a strong message that the group could not expect to operate there with impunity. While Egypt may be signaling that it is prepared to push back against ISIS, the ability of the group to operate in Libya demonstrates the bankruptcy of America’s belated and half-hearted efforts against the group. Having originally gotten into Libya while bragging about leading from behind during the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, the Obama administration appears determined to demonstrate just how disastrous this philosophy can be.

Administration apologists put down the recent spate of terror videos as an effort by ISIS to cover up for its weaknesses and losses with spectacular murders in order to bolster its reputation as the “strong horse” in the Middle East. There is some logic to this argument, but it is offset by the plain facts of the case. After months of a bombing campaign conducted by the United States and some of its Arab allies in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is more than holding its own. Even worse, it has formed alliances and begun to make its impact felt elsewhere. Rather than rolling back ISIS, the U.S. is barely holding it back from making more gains. Even worse, the anti-ISIS coalition has shown itself unable to prevent the group from scoring public-relations coups with snuff films that show what happens to those who are so unfortunate as to fall into their hands.

This ought to be a moment for reflection in Washington as the president and his foreign policy and defense team finally come up with a strategy that has as its aim the destruction of ISIS rather than attrition tactics that seem taken straight out of the Lyndon Johnson administration’s Vietnam War playbook, replete with body counts and overoptimistic bulletins bragging of pyrrhic victories.

But instead, all we continue to get out of the administration is an approach that seems aimed more at ensuring that the U.S. doesn’t win than anything else. The administration’s proposal for a new authorization for the use of force in the Middle East is as much about restrictions on the ability of the president to conduct a successful campaign against these barbarians than to actually “degrade” and eventually defeat ISIS.

Just as troubling is the administration’s determination to go on treating the Egyptian government led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi with disdain at a time when it has become a bulwark in the fight against ISIS and other radicals such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Instead of seeking to help the Egyptians, the U.S. is keeping its distance from Cairo, giving the lie to the president’s belief in multilateralism, a concept that only seems to apply to efforts to constrain self-defense efforts by allies rather than supporting them.

President Obama was dragged into the war against ISIS reluctantly and belatedly and that lack of interest in the fight shows in his statements and an amorphous anti-terror policy that seems aimed more at tolerating Islamists than in taking them out. Sisi is prepared to talk about the religious roots of terror. Obama isn’t. Egypt can’t destroy ISIS in Libya by itself any more than Jordan can do it in Syria and Iraq. American allies look to Washington for commitment and strength and instead they get statements about moral equivalence designed more to allow the president to shirk the responsibility to lead.

Expressions of shock about the mass beheadings of Christians are of no use. Mere statements of condemnation are not a substitute for a war-winning strategy or a willingness to stand by our allies. Far from mere propaganda, ISIS’s murder videos have shown the region that the U.S. can be defied with impunity. If the U.S. is serious about fighting ISIS, that is not an impression that it can allow to persist. Or at least it can’t if we really intended to defeat ISIS. Obama must lead or at least get out of the way.

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More Bad Advice From a False Prophet

After a career that stretches back to Israel’s birth, 91-year-old Shimon Peres is a revered national institution. His multifaceted work in helping to build the state and especially its defense establishment demands respect and admiration. So, too, does a record of public service that saw him serve in virtually every key position of responsibility in the Israeli government. Thus, when Peres speaks, he deserves a hearing. But as much as he should be considered the last of the country’s living founding fathers, his past performance as a prophet is as bad as his resume is impressive. Thus, when Peres tells us today that European Jews shouldn’t panic, that Middle East peace will happen in his lifetime, and that, far from worrying about Iran, we should think the Islamist regime’s days are numbered, these predictions should be dismissed as not only wrong, but dangerously wrong. The problem with Peres is not just that his optimism is foolish, it’s that all too many people in the corridors of power in Washington and Western Europe think he knows what he’s talking about.

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After a career that stretches back to Israel’s birth, 91-year-old Shimon Peres is a revered national institution. His multifaceted work in helping to build the state and especially its defense establishment demands respect and admiration. So, too, does a record of public service that saw him serve in virtually every key position of responsibility in the Israeli government. Thus, when Peres speaks, he deserves a hearing. But as much as he should be considered the last of the country’s living founding fathers, his past performance as a prophet is as bad as his resume is impressive. Thus, when Peres tells us today that European Jews shouldn’t panic, that Middle East peace will happen in his lifetime, and that, far from worrying about Iran, we should think the Islamist regime’s days are numbered, these predictions should be dismissed as not only wrong, but dangerously wrong. The problem with Peres is not just that his optimism is foolish, it’s that all too many people in the corridors of power in Washington and Western Europe think he knows what he’s talking about.

Peres served as the headliner at a Times of Israel event held Sunday night in New York and if his hosts were hoping that he would say something faintly newsworthy, the former Israeli president didn’t disappoint. He opposed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s calls for aliyah from Europe as being “political,” claiming that in doing so he was making Israel “a land of fear” rather than one of “hope.” Not satisfied with that astounding claim, he went on to claim that peace would soon break out in the Middle East, said he “trusted” President Obama to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, opposed any “unilateral” acts against Tehran by the U.S. or Israel, and predicted that the Islamist regime in Iran would fall: “In 10-15 years, Iran will be out of water and thus out of ayatollahs, in my judgment.”

To which friends of Israel as well as supporters of the West can only say “amen,” even as they shake their heads in disbelief at the absurdity of much of what Peres said.

We might dismiss this as just a little more of the same optimism Peres has been selling for the last 25 years. Such statements are very popular, especially with American Jews who dislike being confronted with the intractability of the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as the awful scenarios that the Iranian nuclear program forces us to contemplate and he has done a brisk business peddling these notions among credible Western audiences for a long time.

But as ridiculous as Peres’s pie in the sky sermons may be, they are neither harmless nor without cost to Israel.

It should not be forgotten that this is the same man who not only promoted the Oslo Accords but also predicted in their aftermath that if everyone just tried hard enough, a “New Middle East” would soon arise that would allow Israel and its neighbors to become a new Western Europe. To those who asked him at the time why he was ignoring the reality of Palestinian rejectionism, support for terror, and the rise of fundamentalist Islam, he insouciantly replied that they were akin to those who “looked at the back of an airline ticket” and saw the disclaimers about crashes and other catastrophic outcomes. We should, he said, just trust the pilot and set back and enjoy the ride to peace. As the history of the following two decades proved, Peres wasn’t just wrong, he was willfully blind.

The cost of his mistaken policies wasn’t just paid in terms of the casualties that Israel suffered from the Palestinian terror offensives that Oslo enabled. It was also in a mindset in both Jerusalem and Washington that saw holding the Palestinians accountable for their incitement to violence and violations of the Accords as unhelpful to peace. Thus, when the inevitable explosions happened, both Israel and the United States were unprepared for what would follow and, to some extent, unwilling to face the reality that Peres had urged us to treat as details that would soon disappear.

The point here isn’t to point out his mistakes or to wonder at how his reputation as a wise man survived the implementation of some of the least-wise policies any sovereign state has ever devised and lived to tell the tale about. It’s that as long as Peres’s impressive Nobel Prize reputation survives intact, people listen to him and take his predictions and counsel seriously.

The mere fact that Peres is deprecating the obvious necessity to safeguard European Jewry in an era of rising anti-Semitism when their safety cannot be ensured by their governments is something that will be used to undermine the Zionist cause that he once served so well. His dismissal of the Iranian threat will be ammunition that the Obama administration will use to answer the cogent arguments against those sounding the alarm against its push for détente with a terror-supporting, genocide-threatening tyranny. As for peace with the Palestinians, surely even Peres should know better than to make such inane prognostications after Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas have turned down Israeli peace offers. But his sound bite will be resurrected not only to revive negotiations but also to buttress the efforts of those who will pressure Israel into dangerous concessions.

Shimon Peres’s lifetime of service to Israel may balance out the disastrous nature of some of the policies he advocated in the historian’s ledger. Prophets may never be honored in their own time, but unfortunately false prophets often are. So long as Peres is treated as an authority by the media and Western governments, his urging of more such fiascos on his successors is not only deplorable, it is downright dangerous.

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Don’t Ignore Nonviolent Anti-Semitism

The debate over the future of European Jewry has centered on violent anti-Semitism, and for good reason. Without basic security for European Jews, the only question will be the rate at which they leave. But attacks on Jews don’t happen in a vacuum, and whether Jews feel welcome in their home countries will depend also on something not often given enough weight: nonviolent anti-Semitism.

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The debate over the future of European Jewry has centered on violent anti-Semitism, and for good reason. Without basic security for European Jews, the only question will be the rate at which they leave. But attacks on Jews don’t happen in a vacuum, and whether Jews feel welcome in their home countries will depend also on something not often given enough weight: nonviolent anti-Semitism.

As Joel Kotkin explains in a column for the Orange County Register, the global Jewish community is rapidly becoming a regional Jewish community. According to Kotkin, four out of every five Jews now lives in either Israel or the United States. In 1939, that number was one in four. Rising anti-Semitism throughout the world–and not just Western Europe–has combined with a dwindling birth rate to produce demographic decline in most of the world’s Jewish communities. Kotkin writes:

Overall, nearly 26,500 Europeans immigrated last year to Israel – a 32 percent increase from 2013. In Britain, a Jewish population of less than 300,000 has not grown for a generation. With recent polls showing close to half of all Britons holding some anti-Semitic views, a majority of British Jews now feel there is no future for them in Europe; one in four is considering emigration.

Other historically significant Jewish communities, such as that in Argentina, also are losing population. The number of Jews in the South American republic has fallen from roughly 300,000 in the 1960s to 250,000 today. This demographic decline will likely be accelerated now that the current Peronista regime has been accused of collaborating with Iranian terrorists implicated in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded more than 300. The government is widely suspected of complicity in the murder last month of the prosecutor investigating the bombing.

Argentina and France aren’t the only nations with formerly large, now-shrinking Jewish communities. In 1948, Iran was home to 100,000 Jews; now it’s a tenth of that number. In South Africa, the population reached 119,000 at the end of apartheid but since has dropped by roughly half. The largest numerical losses were in the former Soviet Union, where, in 1980, there were some 1.7 million Jews; now, as few as 250,000 remain. Most have resettled in Israel or the United States.

Still, France emerges as the canary in the coal mine–if, after the 20th century, the Jews of Europe need such a canary at all. It’s the largest European Jewish community, and it saw 7,000 of its Jews make aliyah last year alone. The numbers keep climbing, however. And there’s a reason beyond the violence.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher terror attacks in Paris, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls delivered a beautiful speech on what French Jewry means to the French state. He spoke out forcefully against resurgent French anti-Semitism and accused his country of historical blindness. And he was clear on France’s responsibility to the Jewish community.

And yet, there is a lingering sense that the endemic anti-Semitism in France has already reached a point of no return. I wrote in response that although Valls’s speech was laudatory and, at times, even inspiring, his framing of the issue left a bad taste. He spoke of France as the “land of emancipation of the Jews,” but that calls into question whether non-secular Jews will ever feel at home there again. I wrote: “A Frenchman who happens to be a Jew at home cannot be the only Jew who feels at home in France.”

A video making the rounds today demonstrates my point. A Jewish reporter for the Israeli news outlet NRG put on a yarmulke, untucked his tzitzit fringes, and walked around various neighborhoods of Paris for ten hours filmed by a hidden camera (and flanked by an undercover bodyguard). Here is what he encountered in more heavily Muslim neighborhoods of Paris:

Walking into a public housing neighborhood, we came across a little boy and his hijab-clad mother, who were clearly shocked to see us. “What is he doing here Mommy? Doesn’t he know he will be killed?” the boy asked.

Walking by a school in one of Paris’ neighborhoods, a boy shouted “Viva Palestine” at me. Moments later, passing by a group of teens, one of the girls remarked, “Look at that – it’s the first time I’ve ever seen such a thing.”

Walking down another neighborhood, a driver stopped his car and approached us. “We’ve been made,” I thought. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “We’ve had reports that you were walking around our neighborhood – you’re not from around here.”

In one of the mostly-Muslim neighborhoods, we walked into an enclosed marketplace. “Look at him! He should be ashamed of himself. What is he doing walking in here wearing a kippa?!” one Muslim merchant yelled. “What do you care? He can do whatever he wants,” another, seemingly unfazed merchant, answered. Over at a nearby street I was lambasted with expletives, mostly telling me to “go f*** from the front and the back.”

At a nearby [café], fingers were pointed at us, and moments later two thugs were waiting for us on the street corner. They swore at me, yelled “Jew” and spat at me. “I think we’ve been made,” the photographer whispered at me. Two youths were waiting for us on the next street corner, as they had apparently heard that a Jew was walking around their neighborhood.

They made it clear to us that we had better get out of there, and we took their advice.

The video also suggests there was a fair amount of spitting in their direction throughout the day. The reporter, Zvika Klein, was spared violence by adhering to threats that were probably not empty. But even without violence, what you see in the video is a pervasive sense of almost distaste for a Jew wearing a kippah. I received similar stares at the airport in Paris once when I thought I could use the time before my flight to don my tallis and tefillin. I was not received warmly (by the Frenchmen nearby, that is; the other non-French tourists were fine with it).

But I don’t live there. What does Manuel Valls plan to do about his country’s obvious, pervasive, rank anti-Semitism? Staging security forces or police outside Jewish schools is all well and good, but they’re there for a reason. They won’t make French society less anti-Semitic, and they won’t make Jews feel more at home in a place where being identifiably Jewish has become not an expression of French multiculturalism but an act of defiance that requires a bodyguard.

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Obama’s Secret Iran Talks Deserve Scrutiny

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the exchange of secret letters between President Obama and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has resumed. The letters are believed to concern Obama’s offer of cooperation with Iran against ISIS terrorists if Tehran will agree to a deal on its nuclear program. These letters have clearly been a crucial element in the six-year administration effort to forge a new détente with the Islamist regime. But they must also be placed in the context of the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and Israel about the nuclear talks. Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chided the U.S. for attempting to hide the details about the negotiations from Israel. While the president doesn’t like or trust the prime minister, those concerned about a drift toward accommodation of Iran’s demands are not wrong to note that the secrecy about the negotiations undermines the credibility of the administration’s assurances that it can be trusted not to betray the Israelis or American security interests in a futile pursuit of good relations with Khamenei’s government.

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Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the exchange of secret letters between President Obama and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has resumed. The letters are believed to concern Obama’s offer of cooperation with Iran against ISIS terrorists if Tehran will agree to a deal on its nuclear program. These letters have clearly been a crucial element in the six-year administration effort to forge a new détente with the Islamist regime. But they must also be placed in the context of the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and Israel about the nuclear talks. Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chided the U.S. for attempting to hide the details about the negotiations from Israel. While the president doesn’t like or trust the prime minister, those concerned about a drift toward accommodation of Iran’s demands are not wrong to note that the secrecy about the negotiations undermines the credibility of the administration’s assurances that it can be trusted not to betray the Israelis or American security interests in a futile pursuit of good relations with Khamenei’s government.

For the past few weeks, concerns about the details of the terms the U.S. is offering to Iran in the nuclear talks have been obscured by the controversy about Netanyahu’s determination to speak to a joint session of Congress next month about Iran. As I’ve pointed out, accepting House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation was a tactical blunder on Netanyahu’s part since it allowed the president and his apologists to divert the discussion about Iran from his indefensible pursuit of an entente with a radical terror-sponsoring tyranny to one about the Israeli’s alleged breach of protocol. This was a no-win confrontation for Israel and its friends that may have made it harder for Congress to pass tougher sanctions on Iran with a veto-proof majority because of defections from Democrats concerned about not taking sides with a foreign leader against the president. But the Journal report reminds us that the stakes here involve a lot more than the personal animus between Obama and Netanyahu.

The decision of the U.S. to keep Israel out of the loop about the details of its talks with Iran makes sense only inside the White House bubble where Netanyahu—the democratically-elected leader of America’s ally—is perceived as an enemy and the theocrat tyrant Khamenei is viewed as the head of a nation that must be wooed and won over in an effort to forge an entente with Tehran. Diplomacy is always best practiced outside of public view, but the problem with the discussion about Iran is that the administration’s public stand about its desire to prevent the regime from getting a nuclear weapon is at odds with everything we know about the negotiations.

As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius pointed out yesterday, the White House continues to claim that its offers to let Iran keep much of its nuclear infrastructure are misunderstood. He writes that officials say granting Iran the right to keep several thousands centrifuges and a stockpile of nuclear fuel would actually be tougher than one that would give them only a few hundred newer machines and a larger stockpile. But this is a classic Obama false choice in which a straw man is set up for the administration to knock down. What the Israelis and concerned members of Congress who support the threat of more sanctions want is for the president to keep his 2012 campaign pledge that stated that any deal would involve the end of Iran’s nuclear program. The administration has abandoned that position in favor of one that gives Iran the ability to build a bomb but only under circumstances that would take more than a year for them to “break out” to a weapon.

The problem with the one-year breakout offer is that there is a good argument to be made by the Israelis and others that the breakout period would be much shorter. Moreover, the idea that U.S. intelligence in Iran is good enough to detect the breakout in time to do something to prevent is, to put it mildly, a dubious assumption.

American officials may be angry about the fact that the Israelis are doing their best to publicize the details about American offers to Iran that make it clear that, at best, the U.S. is prepared to acquiesce to Khamenei’s regime becoming a threshold nuclear power. But, like their much publicized hurt feelings about Netanyahu’s speech to Congress that they’ve used to pick off wavering Democrats from the ranks of supporters of more sanctions, their umbrage about the Israeli disclosures rings false. The more we know about Obama’s communications with Khamenei and the fine print in the Western offers in the nuclear negotiations, the more it seems certain that détente is the president’s goal, not putting an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Disputes with Israel are being used as a cover to shield a diplomatic offensive aimed at allowing Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. If the president expects the country and Congress to follow his lead on Iran, it’s only fair to ask where he is leading us before, rather than after, he signs a nuclear deal that endangers U.S. allies and puts American security in the hands of the supreme leader and his terrorist auxiliaries.

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Court Immigration Ruling Doesn’t Solve Congress’s Homeland Security Dilemma

Republicans looking for a way out of their Department of Homeland Security funding tangle got a shot in the arm yesterday when a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling temporarily ordering the federal government to stop any implementation of President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to up to five million illegal aliens. Judge Andrew S. Hanen’s decision is a morale boost to those who agree that the president’s effort to bypass both Congress and the usual constitutional order was a blow to the rule of law. But it may not stop Obama’s effort for long and it won’t resolve an impasse in which a Senate Democratic filibuster of a House bill funding DHS has raised the possibility of a shutdown of the department. Hanen bolsters the sense among GOP members that they are right to press this issue. Yet it doesn’t provide them with the means to either block amnesty or to come out of this standoff without looking as bad or even worse than they did during the 2013 government shutdown.

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Republicans looking for a way out of their Department of Homeland Security funding tangle got a shot in the arm yesterday when a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling temporarily ordering the federal government to stop any implementation of President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to up to five million illegal aliens. Judge Andrew S. Hanen’s decision is a morale boost to those who agree that the president’s effort to bypass both Congress and the usual constitutional order was a blow to the rule of law. But it may not stop Obama’s effort for long and it won’t resolve an impasse in which a Senate Democratic filibuster of a House bill funding DHS has raised the possibility of a shutdown of the department. Hanen bolsters the sense among GOP members that they are right to press this issue. Yet it doesn’t provide them with the means to either block amnesty or to come out of this standoff without looking as bad or even worse than they did during the 2013 government shutdown.

Hanen is already on record as an outspoken critic of liberal immigration policies, but his ruling was on technical grounds rather than on the constitutionality of the presidential executive orders. With one of the programs granting legal status to those here without permission about to start receiving applications, the decision does stop its implementation. But if, as expected, the administration complies with the requirements to give notice of their procedures, the order might be quickly lifted at the appellate level. Writing from Brownsville, Texas along the border with Mexico, Hanen sided with the states that filed the lawsuit seeking to stop the implementation of the orders and believes they are right to say that the federal government has failed to enforce immigration laws in a way that “drains the states’ resources.” He’s right about that, but it’s far from clear that higher courts will uphold the ruling or even agree that the states have the legal standing to challenge the executive branch’s ability to enforce laws in any way it pleases, even if means acting in a manner that annuls a law passed by Congress.

Although Hanen and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are right to argue that the president’s actions constitute a body blow to the rule of law, the administration may be right to term this ruling a mere “speed bump” on the road to granting millions of illegals the right to stay and work in the country. Though his high-handed behavior constitutes an end run around the Constitution, the president’s defenders may well be right in thinking that the concept of federal supremacy on the question of immigration dooms the lawsuit in the long run. Though House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would love for the courts to provide them with an escape hatch from the dispute over funding DHS, Judge Hanen isn’t likely to provide them with one.

That puts Republicans back in the back in the box in which they’ve been placed by Obama’s audacious decision to do what he said 22 times previously he didn’t have the power to do. If they don’t try and use the power of the purse to prevent Obama from nullifying a law they’ve passed, the GOP grass roots will rightly lambast their leaders for letting Obama get away with murder despite their control of both Houses of Congress. But if they stick to their position that they will not fund DHS without including provisions that will prevent Obama from carrying out his extralegal plans, they will once again be lambasted as a party that is stopping the government from performing its proper functions. Indeed, as disastrous as the 2013 government shutdown over ObamaCare funding was, a more limited shutdown that would affect Homeland Security just at a moment when concern over terrorism is at the top of the national agenda might be even more misguided.

In that sense, the Texas ruling may actually complicate things for Republicans in Washington. Hanen’s decision strengthens their sense that they are very much in the right and Obama in the wrong on the substance of this dispute. It also would make any retreat on the issue even more problematic for a pair of leaders who are already vulnerable to critics within their caucuses who see them as insufficiently tough in dealing with an unscrupulous administration with no respect for the law.

Our John Steele Gordon was right to point out that the engine of their problem is a liberal mainstream media that blames Republicans no matter what happens. The GOP was blamed for the shutdown in 2013 because Senate Republicans stood their ground. Today, when it is the Senate Democrats who are obstructing the passage of a House bill that would fund DHS, the media is still prepared to blame the Republicans for the consequences of their filibuster.

John may also be right that in the long run conservatives must stand up to liberal media bias and to attempt to make their slanted coverage the issue rather than lying down and accepting the role of whipping boys for Washington gridlock. But there is a reason why the GOP is always going to be blamed for upsetting the D.C. applecart. That’s because it is the Democrats who always defend the existing system and the prerogatives of big government even when that leads them to trash the Constitution. It is the Republicans who are in the position of trying to halt this runaway train. That is the right thing to do, but even the noblest cause must be conducted in a responsible manner. Defunding DHS at a time when ISIS is burning and beheading people isn’t going to strike most Americans as smart or principled.

I believe Obama’s orders have created a constitutional crisis, but it is not one that can be resolved by budget maneuvers. Nor are the courts likely to follow Hanen’s lead and stop Obama in his tracks, as they ought to do. In the end the only way the president’s extralegal measures can be overturned is by the voters in November 2016. Until then, Republicans would do well to avoid falling into traps set for them by the White House and their media allies.

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The Root-Cause Zombie Rises Again

Barack Obama’s post-midterm second term continues to be enlightening. Mostly the president has been spending his time confirming conservative critiques of his presidency. But he’s also been demonstrating, as I wrote last week, startling ignorance. And the latest example comes from State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, who last night enlightened MSNBC’s viewers by revealing why Obama’s attempts to stop ISIS have been so disastrous.

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Barack Obama’s post-midterm second term continues to be enlightening. Mostly the president has been spending his time confirming conservative critiques of his presidency. But he’s also been demonstrating, as I wrote last week, startling ignorance. And the latest example comes from State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, who last night enlightened MSNBC’s viewers by revealing why Obama’s attempts to stop ISIS have been so disastrous.

It turns out that the Obama administration believes two very silly, discredited tropes about terrorism and violence. Behold, via the good folks at Power Line, the distillation of Obama’s foreign policy:

MATTHEWS: Are we killing enough of them?

HARF: We’re killing a lot of them and we’re going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians, so are the Jordanians. They’re in this fight with us. But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs, whether…

MATTHEWS: We’re not going to be able to stop that in our lifetime or fifty lifetimes. There’s always going to be poor people. There’s always going to be poor Muslims, and as long as there are poor Muslims, the trumpet’s blowing and they’ll join. We can’t stop that, can we?

HARF: We can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people…

Liberals might think that conservatives are happy to have any opportunity to criticize Obama (hence the “Thanks, Obama” meme), and especially when it involves an Obama administration statement that is so utterly wrong as to invite a social media pile-on. But the truth is there are really two kinds of critiques of Obama. There are those when Obama gets something trivial wrong, and when he gets something significant wrong. The latter is no fun; it means lives are in Obama’s singularly incapable hands.

And getting terrorism wrong is significant. Additionally, it has long since ceased being enjoyable to correct the purveyors of Harf’s “root causes” fallacy regarding the economic motivations of terrorist recruits. This is the national-security version of a flat-earther. We use flat-earthers as an example; we don’t actually still engage with flat-earthers, if there are any left. There’s nothing fun about rehashing an argument your side won long ago.

But Harf can’t be dismissed or ignored, because she speaks for the Obama administration. And yet it is downright tedious to have this conversation for the millionth time. Here, for example, is Charles Krauthammer explaining the root-cause fallacy–thirty years ago. Harf’s career in the American government never coincided with a time when the root-cause theory prevailed.

Which raises a broader question: Where does Obama find all these staffers who are so far removed intellectually from the issues they deal with? To populate an administration with such incompetents, you’d almost have to go back in time. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Obama administration, then, is how easily Obama has been able to find fellow dissenters from reality.

Additionally, the root-cause fallacy has wider implications, because it sets the foundation of a misguided worldview. Last month, I wrote about one aspect of this: the attempt to establish causation between Muslim integration and radicalization. There was always a certain logic to this, and the president and others in his administration are surely right when they talk of America’s admirable integration of its minorities and immigrants. Europe, it’s true, would be well served to do the same.

But I had called attention to a thorough investigation by terrorism analyst Lorenzo Vidino into the relationship between integration and radicalization. Vidino had showed that the integration argument was a sort of adjunct to the root causes argument. It was easy to see its appeal to Westerners, but in the end it was a distraction that veered into self-flagellating blame shifting.

The other part of Harf’s statement is likewise absurd: “we cannot win this war by killing them.” Harf might be surprised to hear this but yes, you can win wars by succeeding on the battlefield. It’s happened before, I swear. Wars have been won–quite a lot of them, in fact–by defeating the enemy. Maybe it sounds too obvious to be true. Could it really be that simple? You can win a war by winning a war? Wonders never cease.

As I said, the whole thing has been revelatory. It’s now quite easy to understand why Obama’s war on ISIS is failing: he seems to think that winning requires holding job fairs in a war zone. But ISIS has no intention of trading in its Islamist expansionism for a lemonade stand. (Though liberal nanny-state regulators would probably outlaw those too.) The root-cause zombie returns, again and again, to devour American policymaking.

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ISIS Is a Zionist-American Organization, Says BDS Heroine

Last month, I drew attention to Leila Khaled’s tour of South Africa under the sponsorship of BDS-South Africa. Khaled is a member of the “Political Bureau” of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP has claimed credit for murdering four worshippers and a policeman at the Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in Jerusalem in November. Khaled, who made her name as a hijacker and remains an advocate of violent resistance, is out raising money for the supposedly nonviolent boycott, divestment, sanctions movement against Israel.

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Last month, I drew attention to Leila Khaled’s tour of South Africa under the sponsorship of BDS-South Africa. Khaled is a member of the “Political Bureau” of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP has claimed credit for murdering four worshippers and a policeman at the Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in Jerusalem in November. Khaled, who made her name as a hijacker and remains an advocate of violent resistance, is out raising money for the supposedly nonviolent boycott, divestment, sanctions movement against Israel.

So far, the trip is going quite well. Khaled has been welcomed by the ruling African National Congress, scoring a seat at President Zuma’s State of the Nation Address. People seem to be responding to her pitch. For example, as I wrote last week, the student government of the Durban University of Technology, a day after a visit from Khaled, called for the expulsion of Jews (the student government has since apologized: “oops, by ‘Jews’ we meant ‘people funded by the Israeli government.’”). BDS South Africa has proudly reported on the tour, including its finale in Soweto. Rebecca Hodes, who was on the scene in Soweto, gives this remarkable description of Khaled’s remarks.

According to Hodes, toward the end of her speech, Khaled said: “ISIS, I tell you, is a Zionist, American organization. Boko Haram is another Netanyahu. [Its leaders] are more Zionist than the Zionists… Beware the imperialists. They are vicious and they are collaborating with the Zionists to control the whole world….”

You may think that BDS-South Africa, just for the sake of damage control, would distance itself from Khaled’s remarks, or at least avoid mentioning them. Instead, they repeated them on Twitter. After the speech, Khaled “was presented with a gift as dozens of audience members vied for a decent angle for a cell phone snap.” But not before the crowd sang “one more revolutionary song” for, as BDS-South Africa put it, the “freedom fighter.”

Although Khaled has made similar statements in the course of her tour, not one supporter of BDS, as far as I know, has seen fit to distance himself from her. Wouldn’t want to alienate the base.

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Radicals Strap Suicide Belt on MESA

The membership of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) has now passed a resolution taking the organization well down the road to endorsing the academic boycott of Israel. The resolution, which passed by a 561–152 margin, urges “MESA program committees to organize discussions at MESA annual meetings, and the MESA Board of Directors to create opportunities over the course of the year that provide platforms for a sustained discussion of the academic boycott and foster careful consideration of an appropriate position for MESA to assume.”

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The membership of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) has now passed a resolution taking the organization well down the road to endorsing the academic boycott of Israel. The resolution, which passed by a 561–152 margin, urges “MESA program committees to organize discussions at MESA annual meetings, and the MESA Board of Directors to create opportunities over the course of the year that provide platforms for a sustained discussion of the academic boycott and foster careful consideration of an appropriate position for MESA to assume.”

It isn’t too difficult to imagine just what sort of campaign the Israel-haters will launch during this “sustained discussion,” or where it’s likely to lead. And the overwhelming margin in favor of the resolution suggests that this is just where most MESAns want to go.

The vote constitutes a stunning defeat for MESA’s old guard. They invested decades in building MESA as the world’s preeminent professional organization for Middle Eastern studies, and they did it by maintaining at least a façade of scholarly neutrality. That MESA might blow itself up in a suicidal attempt to inflict some (marginal) political damage on Israel is a danger they repeatedly warned against in the closed online members’ forum that preceded the vote.

Consider these examples of arguments made by some of MESA’s past presidents. Zachary Lockman (2006–7), professor of history at New York University, is a strong critic of Israel with whom I’ve had the occasional run-in. He’s also signed a letter insisting that “those who support boycotts ought not to become subject to retaliation, surveillance, or censorship.” And he’s backed a divestment campaign directed at the firm which manages many university and college retirement funds. Yet Lockman doubted the wisdom of the resolution:

MESA has its own history, culture and vulnerabilities. What might be right for other associations will not necessarily serve MESA well. So we need to weigh the concrete difference MESA’s endorsement of a boycott resolution might make against such action’s potential downsides for the association, including the likely loss of some of its membership as well as of some affiliated organizations and institutions, but also possibly legal action, stepped-up attacks on MESA and Title VI by hostile organizations, legislative bodies and media, and conceivably even the loss of MESA’s home base at the University of Arizona.

Endorsing an academic boycott, wrote Lockman, “would seem to be inconsistent with MESA’s long-standing self-definition” as “nonpolitical” according to its own bylaws. He urged MESA members to step back and ask whether “abandon[ing] the association’s historically nonpolitical character” was “worth the potential costs.”

Fred Donner (2011–12), professor of Islamic history at the University of Chicago, is another occasional critic of Israel, whom I once took to task for his charge that the Iraq war was a “Likudniks’ scheme.” He’s also personally pledged to boycotting Israeli academe. Yet he described the MESA resolution as “utterly irresponsible,” for these four reasons:

  1. For MESA to take a political stand will lead to a loss of membership, as those who do not support what becomes MESA’s official position will no longer feel welcome within it.
  2. A stand on BDS will open the door to MESA being asked take a stand on the dozens of other political issues related to the Middle East, further fracturing its membership.
  3. For MESA to take a stand on BDS will endanger its tax-exempt status and therefore its long-term viability as an organization, since MESA’s 501(c)3 tax exemption depends on it remaining non-political.
  4. MESA’s endorsement of BDS will hand MESA’s enemies, who have persistently (but, until now, wrongly) claimed that MESA has been politicized, exactly the evidence they need to make their case against us—which they will not hesitate to do, to our representatives in Congress, to the I.R.S., and to the University of Arizona, whose support of the MESA Secretariat is vital to the organization’s well-being.

Yet another former MESA president, Jere Bacharach (1999–2000), in whose honor MESA has named its service award, argued that the resolution,

irrespective of its careful wording, is a step toward MESA making a political statement as an organization. Thus the resolution risks leading MESA to take a political stand at odds with its bylaws, mission statement, and history…. Other than making some temporarily feel better, passage of this resolution will only significantly put pressure on us to have MESA make a real political statement and, in the process, bring about its demise.

These reasoned and pragmatic arguments were of no avail. That’s because MESA has been invaded by hundreds of radicals, many from the Middle East, who can’t imagine a professional association that isn’t thoroughly politicized. In Cairo, Damascus, and Amman, the main function of such associations is to pass resolutions condemning Israel or anyone suspected of “normalizing” relations with it.

The radicals see MESA not as an American association for Middle Eastern studies, but as a Middle Eastern association for influencing America—that is, a kind of auxiliary of the Arab lobby, focused on the Palestinian cause. MESA has always been an arena for advocacy posing as scholarship, in panels and papers. But it’s the nature of such advocacy to push the envelope ever further. Those who silently accepted spurious scholarship under the guise of “Palestine studies” now find their own institutional legacy at risk—and there’s little they can do about it.

Now that MESA has embarked on a “sustained discussion of the academic boycott of Israel,” it’s time for others to start a sustained discussion of the boycott of MESA. I’ve already flagged the areas that deserve deepest exploration. (They’re precisely those that have the old guard worried.) Until now, the options have been discussed behind closed doors. Now it’s time to begin to talk of them openly, and to do what’s necessary to minimize the damage to Israeli academe and maximize the damage to MESA—if and when MESA’s members push the button on the suicide belt they’ve strapped around their collective waist.

If MESA self-destructs, the aftermath will create a huge opportunity to revamp the organized structure of Middle Eastern studies along completely different lines. I’ve already emphasized the existence of an alternative association of Middle Eastern studies, which is well-positioned to pick up many of the pieces. It’s easy to imagine still more initiatives. For MESA’s critics, such as myself, its “demise” (Bacharach’s word) isn’t a catastrophe at all. It’s an opportunity. MESA’s embrace of BDS will make no perceptible difference to the Middle Eastern equation, but it could shake the foundations of Middle Eastern studies in America.

Years ago, I tried to jolt Middle Eastern studies by writing a critical book, and achieved only limited results. Now MESA is about to inflict far more damage on the organized field than I inflicted. Who would have thought it?

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Republicans Should Declare War on the Mainstream Media

On February 27, funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out unless Congress authorizes a new appropriation. The House passed such a bill some time ago, funding the department but denying funding for the immigration policies that President Obama instituted by executive order, despite the opinion of nearly everyone, including President Obama—22 times no less—that the president lacks the authority to issue such executive orders.
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On February 27, funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out unless Congress authorizes a new appropriation. The House passed such a bill some time ago, funding the department but denying funding for the immigration policies that President Obama instituted by executive order, despite the opinion of nearly everyone, including President Obama—22 times no less—that the president lacks the authority to issue such executive orders.
The Republican majority in the Senate has been trying to begin debate on this appropriations bill ever since. Unlike Harry Reid when he was majority leader, Mitch McConnell is willing to entertain amendments proposed by the minority and vote them up or down. The Democrats will have none of it. Three times the measure has been brought up and three times the Democratic minority has used the filibuster to prevent debate from even beginning. John Boehner, being interviewed by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, said that “… the House has done its job under the Constitution. It’s time for the Senate to do their job.”

But Wallace said:

I understand there’s two sides to the argument. Here’s the bottom line: the deadline is less than two weeks from now. And the fact is that you and Congress are going to be out on recess for the next week. Can you promise the American people with the terror threat only growing that you’re not going to allow funding for the Department of Homeland Security to run out?

Why is it up to Boehner to bend instead of the Democrats doing so? The answer is simple. As Jonah Goldberg tweeted, “So when GOP holds up things in Dem-run Senate, GOP is to blame. When Dems hold things up in GOP-run Senate, GOP is to blame. I see a trend.” Even Chris Wallace—the fairest and best of the Sunday morning talk show hosts—thinks that when push comes to shove on Capitol Hill, it is the Republicans who must yield, even when they hold majorities in both houses as they do now. Why? Because that is the way the mainstream media will always play the story.

What should Boehner do? I think he, and every Republican, should do what George H.W. Bush did to Dan Rather as the 1988 presidential race was heating up: eat the mainstream media alive. They are the enemies of the Republican Party and should be treated as such. Stop trying to curry favor because you won’t get it. Bush laid a trap for Rather, insisting on the interview being live so it couldn’t end up on the cutting room floor. It totally flustered Rather, greatly energized Bush’s campaign, put the kibosh on his too-much-a-nice-guy image, and helped mightily to propel him to the White House. Make mainstream media bias the issue. Throw loaded questions and those premised on liberal assumptions back in their faces. Accuse them of bias when they are biased. Don’t be Mr. Nice Guy.

Why have the Republicans been such wimps when dealing with the media? The reason, I think, is that the Republicans were the minority party in this country from 1932 to 1994. The Democrats held the House for all but four of those 62 years and the Senate for all but ten of those years. In far too many ways, the Republicans still act as the minority party, begging for crumbs from the media. But they now hold more political offices, at both the federal and state levels, than at any time since the glory days of Calvin Coolidge. Instead they should, in dealing with the media, emulate Joan Crawford, at least as depicted by Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest, dealing with the board of Pepsi Cola (warning, she doesn’t use ladylike language).

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God, Our Rights, and the Modern Liberal Mind

In a recent interview, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore told CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, “Our rights, contained in the Bill of Rights, do not come from the Constitution, they come from God.”

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In a recent interview, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore told CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, “Our rights, contained in the Bill of Rights, do not come from the Constitution, they come from God.”

“Our rights do not come from God,” Cuomo replied. “That’s your faith. That’s my faith. But that’s not our country.” (For this portion of the exchange, see starting around the 13:00 minute mark.)

In fact, Mr. Cuomo is wrong and Judge Moore is right, at least in the context of America and its history. To understand why, it’s important to point out that the Constitution is America’s governing charter, one that sets up a structure of government. To be sure, the Bill of Rights lay out certain rights the people are entitled to against every government on earth. But to understand where those rights come from, what their source is, one needs to turn to the Declaration of Independence. And here is what the Declaration states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men…

It could hardly be clearer, then: Governments are instituted in order to secure rights that are God-given. And faith in divinely given rights is a consistent theme not only of the founders but of nearly every president. John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural address, crystalized the point this way: “Yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe–the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”

But the person who most often tied the story and meaning of America to the self-evident truths of the Declaration was our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln. Time and again he asked Americans to return to what he called the “sacred principles” embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Here is but one noteworthy 1858 passage from Lincoln that bears on this matter:

Now, if slavery had been a good thing, would the Fathers of the Republic have taken a step calculated to diminish its beneficent influences among themselves, and snatch the boon wholly from their posterity? These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures.

Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children and their children’s children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began—so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built. [Emphasis added.]

It is one thing to argue that our rights are not God-given and that the Declaration, the founders, Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and so many other great documents and figures in American history were wrong to claim they were. Those who hold this view, of course, need to explain the basis for believing in and protecting unalienable rights and human dignity if they are not grounded in “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Absent a Creator, what is the argument against capriciousness, injustice, and tyranny? How does one create a system of justice and make the case against, say, slavery, if you begin with two propositions: one, the universe was created by chance; and two, it will end in nothing? How do you derive a belief in a moral law that is binding on you and others apart from theism? How do you get from the “is” to the “ought”? But that is another argument for another day.

Where Mr. Cuomo goes off the rails is in asserting that “it is not our country” to say our rights come from God. This actually is a philosophical thread that runs throughout the history of our country with astonishing consistency and, at least until now, a proposition very few people disputed. So Mr. Cuomo’s statement is not only wrong; it is historically illiterate.

Illiterate, but revealing, too. There is something about the modern liberal mind that makes it so fearful about linking our rights to God that those (like Chris Cuomo) who hold this view disfigure our history in order to make their case.  Those who commit this error also seem clueless that the greatest strides toward justice in our history have occurred precisely because people like Lincoln and King articulated a human anthropology that was grounded in a belief in God. In his great debates with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln countered the argument of “popular sovereignty” by explaining that human beings were endowed by their Creator with fundamental rights that were inviolate regardless of what the popular will said. Thankfully it was Lincoln’s view, not Douglas’s, that prevailed.

Mr. Cuomo has a (God-given) right to believe what he wants. But in stating his case, he really should get his facts straight. Otherwise he risks looking foolish, as he did in his exchange with Judge Moore.

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Countering Violent Extremism the Right Way

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the offices of French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent attack by Islamist extremists on a kosher market, President Barack Obama invited political and religious leaders to a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. The whole summit is a bit amorphous and unfortunately seems to be the latest example of foreign policy by photo-op rather than substance.

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In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the offices of French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent attack by Islamist extremists on a kosher market, President Barack Obama invited political and religious leaders to a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. The whole summit is a bit amorphous and unfortunately seems to be the latest example of foreign policy by photo-op rather than substance.

Crippling the U.S. effort is an unwillingness to address the theological component: violent interpretations of Islam. I have spent the last several days in Morocco, witness to the academic and diplomatic effort to counter extremism which was a major subject of discussion at the Marrakech Security Forum, and then in Rabat, where I was able to sit in on workshops in which Moroccan graduates of religious studies programs and peer leaders addressed strategies to identify and counter radicalism among their peers.

I have previously addressed some aspects of Morocco’s strategy to promote religious moderation, here. Morocco has pioneered the Mourchidat program, in which both men and women together study the same religious curriculum, but combine it with instruction in psychology, sociology, and history so that they can discuss and explain religion to ordinary people so that extremists do not have a blank slate upon which they can declare their interpretation of Islam to be the correct one.

In addition, the Moroccans have set up networks to reach across society in order to nip radicalization in the bud, and provide alternatives. Think a religious equivalent of Boys and Girls Clubs, one in which young people undertake activities that provide alternatives to the Islamist vision. Other groups reach out via children’s books, cartoons, and interactive websites, some for children, and others for serious discussion and debate about religion and radicalism. See, for example, www.chababe.ma, whose offices I visited today.

Many Western diplomats and experts understand that change will have to come from within. Moroccan religious leaders recognize there is no single summit or call for international attention which can moderate growing extremism within Islam. Rather, it is a decades-long struggle that requires building a group of religious scholars that have credibility to push back upon those Saudi- and Qatar-funded and Muslim Brotherhood-oriented scholars inclined either to politicize Islam or to push more intolerant lines.

It also means not dismissing moderation in places such as Morocco as simply peripheral to the world of Islam. Today, the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina lay in Saudi Arabia, but that is only because Ibn Saud in 1925 conquered the previous Kingdom of Hejaz. The reality is that Nejd, from where the Saudis came, was long obscure and marginal to Islamic history, and that Saudi Arabia itself and the brand of Islam which it (and Qatar) promotes was not relevant until they used oil wealth to promote it. Morocco and Moroccan religious scholars have traditionally been far more influential throughout Africa and during both the Umayyad and Fatimid eras, as well as under the Almoravids. In many ways, the Islam practiced in and increasingly promoted by Morocco is far more authentic than the Wahhabism espoused by Saudi Arabia.

Nor should Western officials dismiss voices of moderation simply because calls for moderation against extremism occur alongside political agendas. Here, the case of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is instructive. In late December, Sisi made an extraordinary speech at Al-Azhar University calling upon theologians to revolutionize and modernize religion. His speech was largely ignored in the United States and the West, but it reverberated across the Maghreb and the Middle East. American diplomats seem more intent on antagonizing and isolating Sisi or dismissing his call to revolutionize Islam as a political ploy to further undercut the Muslim Brotherhood. Even if that were the case, however, what’s wrong with that? Radical Islamism and the theology preached by the Muslim Brotherhood are inherently political. The only difference between Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood is that Sisi seeks to promote a vision of religion which embraces tolerance and enables greater individual liberty, while the Brotherhood seeks to constrain interpretations and de-legitimize those who seek interpretations of Islam which conform with individual liberty and broader religious tolerance.

In sum, there’s no shortage in the Middle East of efforts to counter violent extremism. Those in the region who seek to counter violent extremism don’t tie their hands with political correctness: They recognize that the problem lies within interpretations of Islam, and simply seek to counter those interpretations with better ones. Denying the legitimacy of the religious basis for extremism, however, is counterproductive. It is also arrogant, as the people who least have credibility to define what Islam is or is not are those like President Obama whose legitimacy is entirely political and not based in theology.

So what should the West do? We must embrace those like the Moroccan and Egyptian governments which actively seek to promote moderation. Moroccan King Mohammed VI and Sisi—and the religious scholars who work alongside them—have much greater standing to lead the drive than a White House intent on a photo-op or an easy answer. We must not stand in the way of those voices who acknowledge the need for contemporary interpretations that focus on the present and future rather than the past.

And we must not fall into the trap of assuming compromise means finding the lowest common denominator. Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) might be the loudest in the United States because their financiers provide the resources to enable them to be, but that does not mean anyone should treat them as sincere in the effort to counter radicalization; rather, we should recognize that their main goal is to obfuscate the theological roots of radicalism and undercut the sincere efforts of moderates across the Middle East and elsewhere to promote moderation, modernity, and tolerance within Islam.

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Scott Walker’s Dropout Advantage

It is a measure how much the Scott Walker boomlet is worrying the left that there is suddenly a plethora of attacks on him, each and every one, of course, tendentious.
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It is a measure how much the Scott Walker boomlet is worrying the left that there is suddenly a plethora of attacks on him, each and every one, of course, tendentious.
Gail Collins of the New York Times wrote a column on Friday, entitled “Scott Walker Needs an Eraser,” denouncing Walker for cutting Wisconsin school funding in 2010, causing teacher layoffs. Despite the prodigious depth of her research, she failed to notice that he took office in 2011. Finally, on Sunday, the Times applied an eraser to Collins’s column and ran a correction. As Hot Air points out, the rest of the column doesn’t make much sense without the sentence that was deleted.

The Times itself ran an editorial on February 6 denouncing Walker for proposing a cut in the budget of the University of Wisconsin, implicitly arguing that a university with 180,000 students and 26 campuses could not possibly run a tighter ship. It claims he came to prominence in 2011 “with his attacks on collective bargaining rights and attempts to curtail the benefits of state workers,” as though it is impossible for state workers to have excessive benefits or too many collective bargaining rights.

It’s at it again this morning. Expect this to become a regular drum beat; the higher Walker gets in the polls the more the drum will be beaten.

But I think what really annoys both the “Paper of Record” and the intellectual snobs who think its editorial page is actually worth reading is that Walker is not an Ivy League intellectual. Indeed he didn’t go to an Ivy League school and he didn’t even graduate from Marquette, where he did go. To Howard Dean, that makes him unqualified to be president. Of course, Howard Dean, who went to Yale and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine on his father’s money, thinks it has been “generations” since a president lacked a college degree. In fact it has been only two generations since Harry Truman did a great job as president in the dangerous years after World War II despite a post-high-school education consisting of only one semester at Spalding’s Commercial College, a Kansas City business school. Woodrow Wilson, in contrast, had a Ph.D. from Princeton in political science and made a total dog’s breakfast of guiding the nation through the dangerous years after World War I.

Scott Walker dropped out of Marquette, lacking only one semester. So Howard Dean is implicitly arguing that had he stayed around Marquette four months longer and taken courses on American antebellum literature, astronomy, symbolic logic, and the French Revolution, he’d be qualified to be president. As George Orwell wrote, that is an idea so stupid only an intellectual could believe it.

Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit fame, thinks Walker’s lack of B.A. after his name would be a breath of fresh air in “an Ivy-League suffocated government.” I suspect that the 68 percent of the population who also lack college degrees may well feel the same. And then, the day after the election in 2016, Gail Collins, Howard Dean, etc., will be sitting around wondering how Scott Walker could possibly have won the election. After all, they won’t have known anyone who voted for him.

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A Russian Base for Cyprus?

The past few years have seen significant developments in the Eastern Mediterranean: Not only have significant gas reserves been discovered off the coast of Israel and Cyprus, but production has also begun in some fields. Turkey’s belligerence, an al-Qaeda and/or Islamic State presence in the Sinai Peninsula, civil war in Syria, Iranian shipment of anti-ship missiles to its proxies and its own declaration that the Eastern Mediterranean marks its strategic boundary, and Hezbollah openly declaring its drilling in underwater sabotage all add uncertainty to waters that had for decades been tranquil. The fact that Russia has dispatched a permanent naval task force to the Eastern Mediterranean highlights the fact that the waters will no longer be uncontested.

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The past few years have seen significant developments in the Eastern Mediterranean: Not only have significant gas reserves been discovered off the coast of Israel and Cyprus, but production has also begun in some fields. Turkey’s belligerence, an al-Qaeda and/or Islamic State presence in the Sinai Peninsula, civil war in Syria, Iranian shipment of anti-ship missiles to its proxies and its own declaration that the Eastern Mediterranean marks its strategic boundary, and Hezbollah openly declaring its drilling in underwater sabotage all add uncertainty to waters that had for decades been tranquil. The fact that Russia has dispatched a permanent naval task force to the Eastern Mediterranean highlights the fact that the waters will no longer be uncontested.

Against the backdrop of such changes and the Eastern Mediterranean’s increasing strategic importance, the United States has little permanent military infrastructure in the region. Hopefully, incoming Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will change that, but any augmentation of the U.S. presence wll take years, if not decades.

Alas, just as China has been filling the vacuum in Asia left by retreating U.S. power, and Iran has been doing likewise in the Middle East, so too is Russia making its move into the Eastern Mediterranean. In recent days, Cypriot papers have been awash with rumors that Cyprus might grant Russia use of its air and naval bases. Here, for example, is a report from Nicosia’s Cyprus Mail:

Local media reports on Tuesday [10 February] continued to suggest that Cyprus may grant Russia use of an airbase on the island as part of an updated defence agreement expected to be signed during President Nicos Anastasiades [Nikos Anastasiadis]’ visit to Moscow later this month… On Monday, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that the agreement to be signed in Moscow would allow the Russian air force to deploy from an airbase in Paphos, some 40km from the RAF airbase in Akrotiri. However RIA Novosti did say that the bilateral defence pact did not foresee creating a Russian military base here. “The issue of creating a Russian military base is not being discussed. We’re talking about providing the possibility of using an airbase in Paphos that other countries such as Germany and France use,” an Athens-based diplomatic source told the news agency….

Publicly, the question of access to the Paphos airbase and Limassol port has been raised only by Russian ambassador Nicosia Stanislav Osadchiy who has often expressed Moscow’s intention to reach a potential agreement with Cyprus for a military base on the island.

However, when Defense Minister Christoforos Fokaidis gave an interview to the Greek-language Cypriot paper Politis Tis Kyriakis, he pointedly avoided denying discussions about a Russian naval base, instead citing diplomatic sensitivity:

The president of the republic will soon visit Moscow and, according to information, will sign a military agreement. Will this agreement satisfy the Russian request for providing facilitations to the Russian Air Force and the Russian Navy with permanent presence?

[Fokaidis] You will allow me to not make any comment that may harm the ongoing diplomatic efforts. These issues are extremely sensitive and are being handled through the diplomatic channels within the framework of the government policy that wants Cyprus to be a credible partner in the European Union with whatever this entails but also a consistent friend with all the countries that consistently support the Republic of Cyprus.

Is there reaction by other countries about the military cooperation with Russia? I mostly refer to the EU and the United States.

[Fokaidis] It is well known that recently, because of the developments in Ukraine, a particularly negative climate toward Russia has developed. And it is even stronger in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe that see Russia as a threat. It would be wrong to disregard this element. We, I must tell you, work for the promotion of a dialogue between Russia and the EU. And this is not simply because Cyprus has traditionally close relations with Russia. Russia is a big country. And stability in Europe and the world cannot be ensured without Russia’s contribution. This is why it is in everyone’s interest that Russia comes closer to Europe and the Euro-Atlantic security system. The present circumstances, with the crisis in Ukraine, certainly do not help us approach this goal.

Turkish columnist Yusuf Kanli provided a bit more context:

Could it surprise anyone should someone come up with a claim that Greek Cypriots were offering bases to Russia? Will this be the first time such a flirtation will be in the cards? Was it not the Greek Cypriot Finance Minister Michael Sarris who visited Moscow in March 2013 to offer bases to Russia in exchange of much needed easy loans to overcome the worst financial crisis of south Cyprus in recent times? Did not those talks collapse when the Russians did not find Greek Cypriot offers juicy enough and ask for arrangements enjoyed by the British bases – that is to have sovereign bases on Cyprus…?

The latest euphoria over the Russian base on the Cyprus issue was because of a slip of the tongue of President Nikos Anastasiades. He did not even use the word “base” while briefing reporters about upcoming agreements with Russia. He said among the agreements to be signed, there will be one on “providing facilities for emergency and humanitarian operations to Russian aircraft carriers.” Of course there is a difference between “providing facilities” or “offering facilities to facilitate humanitarian operations” and “offering bases.”

So has Cyprus really offered the Turks a base or should Cypriot denials be taken at face value?

It would be naïve to discount the possibility that talks are underway. While President Obama and much of Europe approach diplomacy as an effort to compromise or find a win-win solution to problems, Russian President Vladimir Putin has always looked at international relations as a zero-sum game: For Russia to win, everyone else must lose. And it’s also beyond doubt that, under Putin, Russia’s military is resurgent. During the Cold War, the Soviet navy operated in the Mediterranean, and so it is natural that Putin would seek to restore that capability, as he restores the Soviet footprint elsewhere.

But what if the Cypriot deal is simply to provide the Russian navy with emergency services or other logistical support? Therefore, according to such logic, any agreement would simply be to provide facility access rather than a base. Here, however, it’s useful to remember that no matter how much Bahrain denies that its port is a U.S. naval base, it is, in effect, a U.S. naval base. Likewise, no matter how much the Chinese deny that Gwadar in Pakistan is anything more than a civilian, commercial project, it is being carefully designed to accommodate all the needs of the Chinese navy. Simply put, national security should not be sacrificed to semantics.

It is fashionable in diplomatic circles to deny that a new Cold War is underway. But there is something unfortunate about Obama administration policy in that it substitutes pronouncements about how it would like the world to be for any recognition of reality. The United States is in a new Cold War with Russia, and risks losing strategic ground every week it refuses to recognize Russian grand ambitions. Now, more than ever, the United States needs an Eastern Mediterranean strategy.

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The Copenhagen Attacks and Zionism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the attack on a Copenhagen synagogue last night by placing it the context of a rising tide of violent anti-Semitism. But, as he did after last month’s attacks in Paris, he said European Jews should draw conclusions from these events when he called on them to “come home” to Israel. In response the chief rabbi of Denmark criticized the prime minister saying that the statement was irresponsible and that terrorism wasn’t a reason to move to Israel. Some, especially Netanyahu’s many critics, view this exchange as yet another example of his seeking to take advantage of tragedies for the sake of boosting his poll ratings in a tight election race. But whatever you may think of Netanyahu, these attacks are both unfair and inaccurate. As the nation state of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland, Israel doesn’t exist solely as a refuge for Jews under attack. But the latest string of attacks on Jews in Europe, as the editors of this magazine wrote in our editorial in the February issue of COMMENTARY, do once again prove “the existential necessity of Zionism.”

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the attack on a Copenhagen synagogue last night by placing it the context of a rising tide of violent anti-Semitism. But, as he did after last month’s attacks in Paris, he said European Jews should draw conclusions from these events when he called on them to “come home” to Israel. In response the chief rabbi of Denmark criticized the prime minister saying that the statement was irresponsible and that terrorism wasn’t a reason to move to Israel. Some, especially Netanyahu’s many critics, view this exchange as yet another example of his seeking to take advantage of tragedies for the sake of boosting his poll ratings in a tight election race. But whatever you may think of Netanyahu, these attacks are both unfair and inaccurate. As the nation state of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland, Israel doesn’t exist solely as a refuge for Jews under attack. But the latest string of attacks on Jews in Europe, as the editors of this magazine wrote in our editorial in the February issue of COMMENTARY, do once again prove “the existential necessity of Zionism.”

Part of the pushback against Netanyahu’s statements and actions after both the Paris attacks and last night’s fatal shooting of a Jew guarding a Copenhagen synagogue stems from personal resentment of the prime minister who happens to be in the fight for his political life in the Knesset election that will be held next month. Here in the United States, supporters of President Obama and his effort to appease Iran have been bashing him relentlessly. In particular, the left-wing J Street lobby has initiated a campaign seeking to delegitimize Netanyahu, urging Jews to say that he “doesn’t speak” for them. Their stand is not only misguided on the issue of Iran; it also seeks to undermine the ability of the democratically-elected leader of the Jewish state to voice concerns about Jewish security in a way that only the person who holds that office can (something they won’t tolerate from the right if Netanyahu is replaced by someone from the left).

But Danish Chief Rabbi Yair Melchior was not engaging in that sort of attack. Rather, he seemed to view Netanyahu’s statement about the need for Jews to leave Europe as an attack on his community. As others said after the Hyper Cacher attack in Paris, the rabbi seems to believe that if Jews flee, the terrorists as well as the growing ranks of European anti-Semites win.

As the Times of Israel reported:

Rabbi Yair Melchior said, in response: “People from Denmark move to Israel because they love Israel, because of Zionism. But not because of terrorism.”

“If the way we deal with terror is to run somewhere else, we should all run to a deserted island,” Melchior said.

There is some truth to Melchior’s argument. Certainly Jews who immigrate to Israel from the United States are not fleeing injustice but are rather embracing Israel and Zionism. But does he really think the decline in the population of European Jews and the vast increase in aliyah in recent years is a statistical anomaly? As the Pew Research Center’s latest data reports, Jews are fleeing Europe. That is not just because of the alarming increase in violence against Jews but a product of the way anti-Semitism has once again become mainstream in European culture after decades of being marginalized, or at least kept under wraps, after the Holocaust.

Moreover, it is a plain fact that those who have made up every great wave of immigration to the Jewish homeland have been primarily motivated by necessity rather than an ideological commitment to Zionism. The logic of Zionism is not so much the very real appeal of its efforts to reconstitute a national Jewish culture and language but the need of the Jews for a refuge from the potent virus of anti-Semitism.

It would be nice to believe that in the enlightened Western Europe of our own day the fears about mobs crying “Death to the Jews” that motivated Theodor Herzl to write The Jewish State and found modern Zionism would no longer apply. But a Europe where the Jew-hatred of the Arab and Muslim world that was imported by Middle Eastern immigrants mixes with the contempt for Jewish identity and Israel that has become conventional wisdom among European intellectual elites is not a place where Jews can live safely.

Under these conditions, it is the duty of any prime minister of Israel to remind the world, as well as those faced with such a difficult decision, that Jews are no longer a homeless people that can be abused with impunity. The rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel not only gave the Jews a refuge that would have saved millions during the Holocaust. It also gave every Jew around the world, whether Zionist or non-Zionist, religious or non-religious, a reason to stand a little taller. Jews may choose to stay where they are, whether in an increasingly dangerous Europe or a place like the United States where, despite the existence of anti-Semitism, they can live in unprecedented freedom, acceptance, and security. But the existence of a home for Jews helps make them more secure. Anti-Semitism is, as we noted in our editorial, “a disease for which there is no cure.” But after Copenhagen, our conclusion is just as true: “The existential necessity of Zionism after Paris is not only a fact. It is a charge for the future.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu is right to note this fact. His critics, both in Europe and on the American left, should cease carping and seek to help him strengthen Israel against its enemies.

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Nothing ‘Random’ About Copenhagen Attacks

Many media accounts are referring to last night’s shootings in Copenhagen as a “copycat” episode in which the perpetrator sought to emulate the atrocities committed by Islamists last month in Paris. But whether or not the Copenhagen shooter was specifically motivated by the ones who committed the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Hyper Cacher market, this crime must be understood as being one more example of the twin trends of Islamist violence and anti-Semitism that have spread across Europe. Even more importantly, it demonstrates the folly of the mindset of the Obama administration that continues to be resolute in its unwillingness to confront the sources of terrorism and the reality of its role in violent Jew-hatred.

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Many media accounts are referring to last night’s shootings in Copenhagen as a “copycat” episode in which the perpetrator sought to emulate the atrocities committed by Islamists last month in Paris. But whether or not the Copenhagen shooter was specifically motivated by the ones who committed the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Hyper Cacher market, this crime must be understood as being one more example of the twin trends of Islamist violence and anti-Semitism that have spread across Europe. Even more importantly, it demonstrates the folly of the mindset of the Obama administration that continues to be resolute in its unwillingness to confront the sources of terrorism and the reality of its role in violent Jew-hatred.

The Copenhagen shootings provide important context for the interview of President Obama published last week in Vox. In it, he acknowledged that it was legitimate for people to be concerned about terrorism, but he spoke of it as a secondary concern that gained headlines merely because of the lurid nature of the crimes committed by those involved. Likening his job to that of a “big city mayor” who needs to keep crime rates low, he spoke of terrorism as merely one more problem on his plate and not the most serious one. Obama not only refuses to acknowledge that the spread of ISIS in the Middle East is fueled by a form of religious fundamentalism that has strong support in the Muslim world; he also quite deliberately refused to label what happened in Paris last month an act of anti-Semitism, a stand that was echoed by the press spokespersons for both the White House and the State Department last week.

I wrote last week that, contrary to Obama, there was nothing “random” about an attack on a kosher market in Paris: the assailants were clearly seeking out a place where they could kill Jews and succeeded in that respect. The same is true of the Copenhagen shooter’s decision to attack a synagogue after spraying bullets at a café where a cartoonist who had drawn images of the Prophet Muhammad was speaking. One person was killed at the café and a Jewish voluntary security guard at the synagogue (who was there protecting the celebrants at a bat mitzvah being held at the time).

The Copenhagen attacks are one more reminder that the debate about whether there is such a thing as Islamist terrorism or if attacks on Jews are “random” isn’t about semantics. The refusal to address the religious sources of terrorism—a point on which some Arab leaders have begun to be heard—inevitably renders American efforts to do something about the problem ineffective. Just as importantly, denying the connection between this form of Islam and anti-Semitism seems to be causing the administration to also refuse to acknowledge that Jews in Europe are being targeted because of their identity and not simply due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If the U.S. were to begin to tell the truth about the Islamist roots of terror and the connection with anti-Semitism, that might be the start of a re-examination of mistaken policies that have, albeit unwittingly, led to the rise of ISIS as well as a determination to retreat from the Middle East. The administration’s obsession with creating a new détente with Iran is not merely about pulling back from a confrontation with Tehran about their nuclear-weapons program. It is part of a mindset that mistakenly views the Islamist regime’s bid for regional hegemony as no threat to the West. At the same time it also seems to regard worries about the defense of Jews, whether in an Israel threatened with extinction by Iranian nuclear weapons and Palestinian terror groups, or in Europe, as complications that need to be either argued down or ignored.

The West needs the sort of moral leadership from the White House that would galvanize world opinion against Islamists, whether in the form of ISIS barbarians in Syria and Iraq, Islamist tyrants in Tehran, or murderers bent on suppressing free speech and killing Jews in European cities. Instead, it has a man who provides misleading and inaccurate analogies between Islamist crimes and the history of the West while seeing himself as beset by demands to address issues of terror and anti-Semitism that don’t hold his interest. When the leader of the free world isn’t terribly interested in the need to defeat freedom’s enemies, the world must tremble.

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Will ISIS Use Libya as a Springboard to Attack Egypt?

Whereas the Obama administration once sought to juxtapose the supposed success of its light-footprint Libya model with the failures of the George W. Bush administration’s heavy footprint and full-scale invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, now it appears that the decision to “lead from behind” in Libya may come back to haunt the United States and the region.

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Whereas the Obama administration once sought to juxtapose the supposed success of its light-footprint Libya model with the failures of the George W. Bush administration’s heavy footprint and full-scale invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, now it appears that the decision to “lead from behind” in Libya may come back to haunt the United States and the region.

Today, Libya has descended into civil war. As in Afghanistan in the years immediately preceding the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, two completely separate governments claim to be the sole legitimate authority for the entire country as they continue their fight. Meanwhile, huge swaths of the country have descended into chaos. As Amb. Angel Losada, Spain’s special representative for the Sahel, said on February 13 at the Marrakesh Security Forum, southern Libya has become “Club Med for smugglers and criminals.”

Last month, I highlighted the inroads that the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) had made into Tripoli, Libya, to the extent that the group has uploaded videos of its activities and morality patrols in the capital. Whereas once it appeared that either Lebanon or Jordan could be the next states to fall to the Islamic State, now it appears that Libya might have that dubious honor.

Over the past month, however, the situation has worsened even further. From the Tripoli-based Libya Herald:

Egypt today said it was preparing for an evacuation of workers from Libya after the Islamic State published photographs of 21 Coptic Christians kidnapped last month in Sirte. The photographs show the men in orange jump suits being paraded along the sea shore by black-clad gunmen. The Egyptian authorities, facing pressure at home to intervene, said they will consider evacuating some among the tens of thousands of workers who remain in Libya. There are fears that all Egyptians could become targets for IS which regards the authorities in Cairo and, by extension, Egypt as an enemy… Earlier this week Islamic State claimed control of the nearby town of Nawfaliya, while its units have already proclaimed an Islamic Caliphate in Derna on the north-eastern coast….

Egyptian-Libyan relations are long and complex. When Muammar Gaddafi seized power in 1969, he initially courted Gamal Abdel Nasser. Egyptian commentator Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal recalled that, just hours after the coup, Gaddafi asked him to pass the following message to Nasser:

We have hundreds of miles of Mediterranean coastline. We have the airfields. We have the money. We have everything. Tell President Nasser we made this revolution for him… All we have done is our duty as Arab nationalists. Now it is for President Nasser to take over and guide Libya from the reactionary camp, where it was to the progressive camp, where it should be.

The honeymoon was brief—Gaddafi’s impulsiveness was too much even for Nasser who, at any rate, died the next year. President Anwar Sadat backed out of a proposed union and relations deteriorated quickly. Antagonism and distrust has survived in both countries. Throw into that mix the ideology of the Islamic State and the situation is volatile. Home to one in four Arabs in the Middle East and the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt is the ultimate prize. That Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi has become the Arab Ataturk, symbolizing an alternative in which Islam is respected but kept distant from governance, and a desire to bring the fight to Egypt by jihadists is palpable.

What was unthinkable just a few years ago across the Arab world is now the new reality: Syria and Libya were once considered among the most stable, even if repressive, societies and are now the most chaotic. Shi’ites are the predominant power in Yemen. Once the prime obsession across the region, Israel is now marginal to most discussions in Arab capitals. As Libya’s descent into chaos continues, and as the Islamic State makes advances in the oil-rich state, the new unthinkable might be a renewed effort to destabilize Egypt and the potential for real conflict.

Either way, two things become clear:

  • The fight against the Islamic State cannot simply be limited to Syria and Iraq. Defeat of the group in either country does not equate to its end.
  • And, second, Egypt will—as with Jordan—be the next frontline with the expanding movement. It is long past time to stop wringing hands about Egypt’s revolution, the rise and fall of Mohamed Morsi, and the circumstances of President Sisi’s rise. It is essential to support and equip Egypt’s ability to fight terrorism, not only in the Sinai but increasingly against the threat of a looming Islamic State affiliate to its west.

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Liberal European Policy to Blame for African Migrant Deaths

In recent days, perhaps 200 African migrants died while trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies just 70 miles off the North African coast. Every year, African migrants also die trying to make the crossing to the Canary Islands, a Spanish possession 62 miles off the African coast. Meanwhile, around 600 African migrants tried to scale the fence at Melilla, along with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the North African coast. If migrants manage to scale the fence separating those two enclaves from Morocco—and last year 16,000 African migrants tried to do so at Melilla alone (of which 5,000 were successful)—then they are on European soil and can seek asylum.

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In recent days, perhaps 200 African migrants died while trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies just 70 miles off the North African coast. Every year, African migrants also die trying to make the crossing to the Canary Islands, a Spanish possession 62 miles off the African coast. Meanwhile, around 600 African migrants tried to scale the fence at Melilla, along with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the North African coast. If migrants manage to scale the fence separating those two enclaves from Morocco—and last year 16,000 African migrants tried to do so at Melilla alone (of which 5,000 were successful)—then they are on European soil and can seek asylum.

Whenever migrants drown trying to make the hazardous crossing, either over water to European islands or overland to European enclaves in Africa, human-rights groups wring their hands and immigration activists criticize European governments and their militaries for failing to intervene and rescue the migrants. The pattern, however, continues even as, over the years, thousands if not tens of thousands have perished.

Alas, if the goal is to save the lives of the African migrants, then the biggest enemies to the health and safety of the migrants are well-meaning European politicians, human-rights organizations, and advocates for liberal immigration policies. The problem is incentive: No matter where the illegal alien steps foot, so long as it’s European soil, then he or she has won the jackpot. To treat all European lands as equal for the purposes of immigration, however, is an arbitrary decision, and should not be the basis of law.

There are other models. If the Europeans truly cared about African lives, they might consider Australia’s experience. For years, Australia was a choice destination for illegal migrants. Unscrupulous human traffickers would extort thousands of dollars from migrants who would then board rickety boats in order to reach outlying Australian islands. Once they touched land, they hoped, they would be in Australia and transported safely to the mainland. The Australian government solved the problem by declaring that no automatic right to Australian residence nor freedom of travel for illegal migrants from outlying Australian islands to the mainland. The next step was for Canberra to negotiate agreements with Nauru and Papua New Guinea for the transport of migrants there. That might be OK for those fleeing political persecution—after all, they could be safe as safe in Nauru or Papua New Guinea as they would be in Australia—but it wasn’t so attractive for economic migrants. And, let’s face it, 99 percent of the migrants trying to reach Europe or Australia are economic migrants. Australia also isolated many illegal migrants in camps until they could be processed. It’s quite one thing to reach Ceuta, travel to the European mainland, and then sit back and relax in a Spanish or Italian café on the backs of generous European welfare packages; it’s quite another thing to spend one’s day in a camp in Papua New Guinea, Nauru, or Christmas Island. To reach Australia might still be an objective, but it is an increasingly distant one. There are still disasters, but fewer migrants try to make the perilous journey, and fewer still lose their lives as a result. The willingness of the Australian navy to intercept in international water and divert is admirable and prevents further accidents still.

So back to Europe: If the Europeans want to stop the death of thousands of migrants—and, remember, those killed on the waters of the Atlantic or Mediterranean are only the tip of the iceberg as many lose their lives to terrorists and bandits as they traverse West or Central Africa and the Sahel—then it’s imperative to remove the incentive to gamble with their and their children’s lives. Here, there’s also an interplay between migration and security, for the same networks which help smuggle or insist on protection money from the smugglers are those like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or criminal networks like the Polisario Front which pose larger threats to regional and perhaps even European security.

If the European Union truly cares about African lives, it’s imperative that they cease rewarding those who reach outlying islands or enclaves. Migrants who reach those territories should remain there, in camps if need be. There should be no right of migration, for example, for non-citizens to move from Ceuta or Melilla across the Mediterranean or illegal immigrants in the Canary Islands across the Atlantic on ferries or commercial flights just because they scaled a fence or stepped foot on a beach.

Reach Melilla? Well, that’s your final destination. Reach Ceuta? Ditto. Arrive in the Canaries? Well, you’ll be interred there for years before an inevitable return to the African mainland. Can’t return to the Central African Republic, Nigeria, or Libya because of political violence? Well, if safety is the concern, then detention camps in Benin, Togo, or Ghana await. It would be far cheaper for the European Union to provide aid to those countries or territories or others like them to maintain camps for illegal migrants than it would be to pay European welfare. In the meantime, the European Union would create a disincentive to make the perilous journey. It is the maintenance of that incentive which causes death. And for those groups which seek to increase rather than decrease the reward for illegal migration, let’s call a spade a spade: They have blood on their hands.

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