Commentary Magazine


Topic: anti-Semitism

Iran’s Existential Threat to Israel Not Exaggerated

As President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry rush to a nuclear deal that addresses few of the original issues that have sparked international concern with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, it may be useful to consider just why Israel has come to view a nuclear capable Islamic Republic of Iran as an existential threat. While there is much to criticize in the technicalities of the agreement, the consistency and frequency of Iranian threats against the Jewish state, as well as the prestige within Iran of those who have made such threats, are too often ignored.

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As President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry rush to a nuclear deal that addresses few of the original issues that have sparked international concern with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, it may be useful to consider just why Israel has come to view a nuclear capable Islamic Republic of Iran as an existential threat. While there is much to criticize in the technicalities of the agreement, the consistency and frequency of Iranian threats against the Jewish state, as well as the prestige within Iran of those who have made such threats, are too often ignored.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was an unabashed racist and anti-Semite. He began his seminal essay on Islamic government—the exegesis that underlays the Islamic Revolution and Islamic Republic—by cursing the Jews. “From the very beginning, the historical movement of Islam has had to contend with the Jews, for it was they who first established anti-Islamic propaganda and engaged in various stratagems, and as you can see, this activity continues down to the present,” he declared.

Then, of course, there have been the repeated declarations about Israel’s destruction. Iranian authorities have declared the last Friday in Ramadan to be “Qods [Jerusalem] Day” and have reserved it for the most vitriolic sermons and threats. It was on Qods Day in 2001 that Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and one of the most influential regime figures, declared, “If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” Hassan Rouhani was, of course, Supreme National Security Council chairman at the time. He applauded. Has he changed? No. One of his first actions as president was to underscore the importance of the annual Qods Day rally.

Other Iranian figures appointed by the supreme leader have also threatened to eradicate Israel by means of nuclear weapons. Why Western diplomats believe the assurances they receive in English when the supreme leader’s inner circle says quite the opposite in Persian is something someone might want to ask America’s nuclear negotiators. Likewise, while Obama seems to embrace the pre-World War I notion of secret treaties, there is no reason why the supreme leader’s fatwa against nuclear weapons should remain secret unless, of course, the assurance which Obama so often cites simply does not exist. Certainly, if the backbone of newfound trust in Iran is such a fatwa, the White House could provide its text. That it chooses not to do so again amplifies concerns that Obama has become Khamenei’s useful idiot.

Underlying concerns about Iran’s intentions have been frequent statements by Iranian officials attesting to Iran’s genocidal intent. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that “Israel must be wiped off the face of the map,” academic apologists for Iran ran interference. Here, for example, University of Michigan professor Juan Cole suggested that the New York Times had mistranslated Ahmadinejad’s quote of Khomeini, and suggested the phrase he used was perhaps drawn from medieval poetry and had nothing to do with tanks. Of course, this is belied by the Iranian regime itself, which in bilingual posters made clear its intent and which tended to repeat its declaration not in poetry slams but rather in military parades.

And while Obama and Kerry put their head in the sand with regard to Iran’s nuclear intentions, those within range of Iran’s missiles remember the last will and testament of Maj.-Gen. Hassan Tehrani-Moghadam, the overseer of Iran’s missile program, who died in an explosion in 2011. While not published in English, the Iranian press highlighted how Moghadam had asked that his epitaph read, “Write on my tombstone: This is the grave of someone who wanted to annihilate Israel.”

Perhaps Obama and Kerry wish to ignore the frequency of Iranian statements seeking an end to Israel’s existence. They may see it as rhetorical excess only, but never bother to ask why a regime would embrace such rhetoric in the first place. Make no mistake: Anti-Zionism may be the cool new trend in Western Europe and in American universities, but wishing Israel out of existence is akin to seeking the eradication of the people who populate the country. And the Iranian regime, which has been a charter member of the “eradicate Israel” camp will, thanks to Obama and Kerry, soon have the means to fulfill their dream. The deal Obama now strikes is analogous to trusting Hutus in early 1990s Rwanda to manufacture and use machetes for agricultural purposes only despite their rhetoric to cut Tutsis to pieces.

Yes, Israel must take Iran at its word and recognize that the nightmare of an Iranian regime able to back its rhetoric with substance will soon be its new reality. Under such circumstances, the Israelis would be foolish to respond to the threat with inaction.

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Open Hillel: Two Can Play the Shame Game

Last December I wrote about Open Hillel, a movement founded in 2012 to oppose Hillel’s Standards of Partnership. Hillel International is the most prominent campus Jewish organization, with over 500 college and university affiliates. Their standards for sponsoring speakers or cooperating with organizations, though imperfect, protect Hillel’s foundational principles, which include a commitment to Zionism understood in the broad sense in which nearly all Jews of the left, right, and center, endorse it, namely the belief in the legitimacy and desirability of a Jewish state in the Middle East. This principle has led Hillel to say that it will not sponsor speakers or cooperate with groups who promote the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. That movement has, since 2005 sought to turn Israel into a pariah state comparable to apartheid era South Africa or even Nazi Germany. It is in the context set on campuses by BDS, which has included the targeting not simply of Zionists or Israel but of Jewish people and organizations altogether, that Hillel adopted its standards. As I have written here concerning Swarthmore College’s decision to disaffiliate with Hillel, when Open Hillel assails Hillel International for sticking to its standards of partnership, it assails it for sticking to rather than abandoning its fundamentally decent principles.

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Last December I wrote about Open Hillel, a movement founded in 2012 to oppose Hillel’s Standards of Partnership. Hillel International is the most prominent campus Jewish organization, with over 500 college and university affiliates. Their standards for sponsoring speakers or cooperating with organizations, though imperfect, protect Hillel’s foundational principles, which include a commitment to Zionism understood in the broad sense in which nearly all Jews of the left, right, and center, endorse it, namely the belief in the legitimacy and desirability of a Jewish state in the Middle East. This principle has led Hillel to say that it will not sponsor speakers or cooperate with groups who promote the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. That movement has, since 2005 sought to turn Israel into a pariah state comparable to apartheid era South Africa or even Nazi Germany. It is in the context set on campuses by BDS, which has included the targeting not simply of Zionists or Israel but of Jewish people and organizations altogether, that Hillel adopted its standards. As I have written here concerning Swarthmore College’s decision to disaffiliate with Hillel, when Open Hillel assails Hillel International for sticking to its standards of partnership, it assails it for sticking to rather than abandoning its fundamentally decent principles.

But this year, Open Hillel has been running a campaign to force Hillel International to abandon its principles. It is, one must admit, clever. Four Jewish veterans of the American civil rights movement are touring the country to discuss what they see as the connection between their civil rights work and their Israel-Palestine activism. Two support BDS. The campaign is quite explicit that its intent is to break Hillel’s standards of partnership. As Open Hillel says of the activists, who appeared at Open Hillel’s conference in October, they “discussed their work in the South fifty years ago and the role Judaism played in shaping that work. They tackled issues that are banned by Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership. They made connections between their work in the Jim Crow south and activism around Israel-Palestine today.” I call the campaign clever because if Hillel rejects these speakers—two of whom can be expected to proselytize for BDS—they will appear to reject that most American of causes, the civil rights movement. But if they accept the speakers they put their name on the Zionism is racism obscenity, not at all well disguised in the program’s coupling of Jim Crow to Israel.

To its credit, Hillel has refused to sponsor the “From Mississippi to Jerusalem” event. So the civil rights veterans involved are expressing shock and outrage that Hillel won’t sponsor their campaign against Hillel. Their piece is entitled—one hopes not by them—“Shame on Hillel for Shunning Civil Rights Veterans.

If you are looking to inspire shame, though, it helps to start by being honest. Our civil rights veterans write that they “are honored that since the [Open Hillel] conference, Hillel students around the country, from Boston to Chicago to North Carolina, have invited us to continue these conversations in their Jewish communities on campus.” What they don’t say, here, or anywhere else in the 900 plus word article, is that they are part of the campaign I just described, publicized and partially funded by the Open Hillel movement, to break Hillel’s standards of partnership.

Our civil rights veterans say that one of them, the pro-BDS activist Dorothy Zellner, spoke in February “on an interfaith panel at Harvard Hillel, where she discussed both her work organizing for racial justice in the United States and her work organizing for Palestinian human rights in Israel/Palestine.” This event was well received, but “to our great dismay, Hillel International, the parent organization for Jewish students on campus, has blocked us from coming to every subsequent campus Hillel where students have invited us to speak.” What they don’t say is that Hillel International was willing to have its name associated with the Harvard event because it did not focus on Israel and Palestine, and that they have indicated—in a letter to Swarthmore—their willingness to have chapters sponsor similar events featuring these very civil rights veterans. So no, Hillel did not shun any civil rights veterans. But they won’t sponsor programs for speakers to “present or proselytize their known anti-Israel and pro-BDS agenda.” The campaign in which these civil rights veterans have been engaged is, unlike the Harvard event, designed precisely so that BDS can be preached under the Hillel banner, and it was because Hillel took a principled stand on that matter that Hillel supposedly should feel ashamed.

Finally, the civil rights veterans think that Hillel should be ashamed for trying to “censor what Hillel students can hear.” In fact, there is no shortage of anti-Israel or BDS speech for Hillel students to hear on the campuses that have declared themselves Open Hillels and, if anything, speech in favor of Israel is suppressed.

Unlike our civil rights veterans, I am no expert on what people should be ashamed of. But people who use their civil rights records to cover for a movement as ugly as BDS, then publicly misrepresent their own actions and Hillel’s, should probably not be wagging their fingers at others.

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“Away with Racist Jewish Deputies Away!”

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies represents South Africa’s Jewish community. In that capacity it has been at the forefront of resistance to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement that is popular in that country. For doing that work, the board has been targeted, not by lone anti-Semitic lunatics but by major South African organizations.

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The South African Jewish Board of Deputies represents South Africa’s Jewish community. In that capacity it has been at the forefront of resistance to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement that is popular in that country. For doing that work, the board has been targeted, not by lone anti-Semitic lunatics but by major South African organizations.

Last year, Tony Ehrenreich, regional secretary of the Western Cape region of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), issued a press release on behalf of his group. The release declared that “if the Jewish Board of Deputies wants to advance a Zionist agenda, they should leave South Africa and go advance their agenda elsewhere.” Referring to the Gaza offensive, the release went on, “to let these funders of a war against a defenseless people act with impunity in South Africa, is against South Africa’s commitment to the people of Palestine. The Jewish Board of Deputies must be advised in no uncertain terms that if they are not part of the solution then they are part of the problem.” On his personal Facebook account, Ehrenreich went from condoning exile to condoning murder: “The time has come to say very clearly that if a woman or child is killed in Gaza, then the Jewish board of deputies, who are complicit, will feel the wrath of the People of SA with the age old biblical teaching of an eye for an eye.” Yair Rosenberg has more here.

I have written here about the visit of Leila Kahled, former hijacker and present advocate of violence against Israel, to South Africa on behalf of BDS, and here about the demand, made by the student government of the Durban University of Technology, that Jewish students be expelled. The Board of Deputies has drawn attention to these incidents and others, including a Johannesburg protest, in which “nonviolent” BDS supporters shouted, among other things, “You think this is Israel, we are going to kill you!” BDS South Africa denied everything, but the Board of Deputies has video that appears to back its account up.

Now the Congress of South African Students, a national organization, has gotten into the act, complaining that the Community Security Organization (CSO), a private security agency that protects synagogues, Jewish schools, and communal events in South Africa, is an “armed” and “foreign militia.” The CSO was present at the Johannesburg protest, cooperating with local police. After lodging a variety of complaints against CSO, to whose substance I cannot speak, CSAS concludes: “Truly the SA Jewish Board of Deputies is the Jewish ISIS and threatens our sovereignty through, illegal, mercenaries, militia and invasion.” And “away with racist Jewish Deputies away!”

​The Jewish ISIS. Leila Khaled recently asserted in South Africa that ISIS is a “Zionist-American industry.” Now South African students have gone their teacher one better.

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Can Americans Tell European Jews to Leave for Israel?

Actor Michael Douglas came face to face with European anti-Semitism recently and didn’t like the experience. Neither have many of the European Jews interviewed by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg for his feature, whose headline poses the main question about the upsurge in hatred and violence against them: “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” Douglas writes about the abuse directed at his son because the boy was wearing a Star of David while staying in what was likely a posh hotel in “southern Europe,” in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times. He has plenty of commendable outrage but nothing other than an anodyne call for an ecumenical stand against hatred to offer in response to a trend that can’t be ignored. Goldberg delves deeper into the motivations of the haters and the responses of the Jews but seems ambivalent about what conclusions to draw from it all. But the answer remains obvious even if it is easier for American Jews, who live in a country where anti-Semitism touches few lives, to ignore it: Israel remains the only logical answer to the question that his article poses.

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Actor Michael Douglas came face to face with European anti-Semitism recently and didn’t like the experience. Neither have many of the European Jews interviewed by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg for his feature, whose headline poses the main question about the upsurge in hatred and violence against them: “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” Douglas writes about the abuse directed at his son because the boy was wearing a Star of David while staying in what was likely a posh hotel in “southern Europe,” in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times. He has plenty of commendable outrage but nothing other than an anodyne call for an ecumenical stand against hatred to offer in response to a trend that can’t be ignored. Goldberg delves deeper into the motivations of the haters and the responses of the Jews but seems ambivalent about what conclusions to draw from it all. But the answer remains obvious even if it is easier for American Jews, who live in a country where anti-Semitism touches few lives, to ignore it: Israel remains the only logical answer to the question that his article poses.

Douglas’s piece was noteworthy because he lends his celebrity status to the effort to draw attention to what even the U.S. State Department has described as a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism in Europe. Goldberg offers a far more comprehensive triptych through Europe, describing the dilemma of Jews in places as diverse as France and Sweden and everywhere finding the same thing: it is increasingly impossible for Jews to live openly Jewish lives in nations that were long assumed to be bastions of Western freedom. But while the two pieces together help establish the importance of the issue, they also show how hard it is for American Jews to speak out on this issue in way that offers any clarity about the choices facing their European brethren.

Goldberg concludes his piece with the following puzzling paragraph:

I am predisposed to believe that there is no great future for the Jews in Europe, because evidence to support this belief is accumulating so quickly. But I am also predisposed to think this because I am an American Jew—which is to say, a person who exists because his ancestors made a run for it when they could.

Is Goldberg telling us that Jews must make “a run for it” in Europe in order to assure their safety? Or is he making a point that American Jews, who live in a very different environment, lack the standing to tell Europeans what to do?

If the latter, there is a point to be made on that score. No one can stand in judgment on the willingness of Jews in France, Sweden, and other countries to put up with insults and violence while seeking to conceal their Jewish identity in public. Leaving a home where you have history, jobs, family, and connections is very difficult. As a general rule, most people only do so when they feel they have little to lose by leaving or are motivated by ideology. Certainly American Jews, who are not likely to leave their homes for Israel, are in no position to demand that European Jews wake up and depart. Nor are we in a position to assure them asylum here at a time when a broken immigration system has left so many waiting to get in while millions live here illegally, albeit with the promise of amnesty from President Obama.

But it is possible for American Jews to look at the situation in Europe and to cease pretending that scattered gestures of goodwill or appropriate statements of concern from European leaders is any kind of an answer. As Goldberg’s report makes plain, the problem is too widespread, the roots of anti-Semitism run too deep in European culture, and the hate brought with them by Muslim immigrants to the continent far too embedded in their religion and culture to be talked out of existence. If Jews fear to wear Stars of David in public in some of the most enlightened capitals of the world, then it must be conceded that they not only have no future, but not much of a present.

Nor should American Jews think this situation has nothing to do with them.

It is true that American exceptionalism renders even the most virulent anti-Semitism less dangerous on these shores. Despite a history that includes many instances of Jew hatred, unlike every European and Asian country, America is a place where there is no real history of government-sponsored discrimination against them. Moreover, unlike Europe, where Israel’s existence is considered a vestige of the original sin of imperialism, support for Zionism is embedded in the political DNA of America. Religious Christians are ardent supporters of Israel and opponents of anti-Semitism. So are the overwhelming majority of Americans of all faiths.

But the trends that Goldberg discusses in Europe have established beachheads here on university campuses where Israel is a constant object of hate speech and boycott movements are part of the mainstream of academic culture. Last month’s incident at UCLA where a Jewish student was initially disqualified for a student government post was just the tip of the iceberg of a growing problem of prejudice. So is the ability of BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movements to demonize supporters of Israel and to legitimize anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish rights on many campuses.

The difference is that American Jews are in a position to stand up against these disturbing trends while European Jews find themselves isolated and at risk. Though attacks on Jews still vastly outnumber those on Muslims (despite the incessant harping of the media on the myth of Islamophobia), Jews know they are at home in America in a way they can never be in places where they have already experienced expulsion and extermination.

But as we wrote in our February editorial on “The Existential Necessity of Zionism,” after the attack on the Hyper Cacher market, like the subsequent attack on a Danish synagogue and a host of other examples in recent years, it is no longer possible to treat anti-Semitic violence as if it were an isolated phenomenon.

Nor are the arguments of Israel’s critics, such as those recounted in Goldberg’s piece, even minimally persuasive. The State of Israel faces a nuclear threat from Iran and an ongoing siege of terror from Palestinians and other Islamists. But it has the capability and the will to defend itself and it can be counted on to do so no matter who is running its government. Israel will retain its Jewish identity and it will do what it must to preserve itself even if that means, as it has so often in the past, forfeiting the applause of Europeans who are indifferent to the rise of anti-Semitism in their backyards.

The only possible answer to what Michael Douglas and Jeffrey Goldberg witnessed in Europe is an effort to help those Jews who wish to leave Europe to do so. And it should remind all Jews and non-Jews that the need for a Jewish state is just as much of an imperative as it was in the late 19th century where the Dreyfus case convinced Theodor Herzl of the need for one or as it was during and after the Holocaust. Any response to anti-Semitism that seeks an answer that ignores the Zionist imperative is part of the problem, not its solution. And American Jews, who are for the most part, as Goldberg pointed out, descendants of people who had the smarts to leave Europe while the getting was good, should not be shy about saying so.

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Southampton U. to Host Three Days of Hate

The announcement that Southampton University in England is to host a conference delegitimizing Israel’s basic right to exist is just one more reminder of how warped the conversation about Israel has become in the academic world. The conference has drawn criticism from a handful of British politicians, but not nearly as many as would have spoken up if the fundamental rights of just about any other people were being called into question in this way. Naturally, the university has gone on the defensive and is invoking arguments about academic freedom. Of course, the university has every right to hold such a conference if it wishes, but that still doesn’t make the decision to do so a decent one. And a glance over some of the names attending this conference reveals that this event has nothing to do with free or credible academic inquiry.

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The announcement that Southampton University in England is to host a conference delegitimizing Israel’s basic right to exist is just one more reminder of how warped the conversation about Israel has become in the academic world. The conference has drawn criticism from a handful of British politicians, but not nearly as many as would have spoken up if the fundamental rights of just about any other people were being called into question in this way. Naturally, the university has gone on the defensive and is invoking arguments about academic freedom. Of course, the university has every right to hold such a conference if it wishes, but that still doesn’t make the decision to do so a decent one. And a glance over some of the names attending this conference reveals that this event has nothing to do with free or credible academic inquiry.

It should be said at the outset that even if the organizers could demonstrate that they are structuring the sessions and speakers for this conference in a balanced manner, to put Israel’s right to exist up for question is itself far beyond the pale. It’s not as if debating the existence of the world’s other nation-states is a routine practice. Unless Southampton University can provide a serious list of other countries that have been subjected this kind of treatment—a three-day-long extravaganza of condemnation and delegitimization—then we are left with no choice but to conclude that this institution just doesn’t mind playing host to bigotry.

Of course, the whole undertaking is not only profoundly offensive; it is also utterly absurd. The conference is being hosted by the college’s law faculty, and claims that it will be exploring the question of Israel’s right to exist with regard to international law. But as Israel is one of the few states in the world that was actually established by specific instructions by both the League of Nations and the United Nations, there are simply no plausible grounds for inquiry here.

Similarly, the university’s website defends the conference as being part of the effort to establish an “enduring peace.” But what kind of genuine peace process involves telling one side that it doesn’t have any rights, not even to so much as exist?

It comes as no surprise then to discover that one of the key speakers billed to appear at this event is Richard Falk. This is a man who is a notorious 9/11 truther, who has likened the Jewish state to Nazi Germany, and who has used his personal blog to promote anti-Semitic cartoons and conspiracies. That Falk has issued a stream of anti-Semitic comments is not only the opinion of groups such as the ADL; even the British mission to the UN has explicitly called Falk out for his anti-Semitism.

The attendance of Richard Falk, astonishing as it is, becomes less surprising once one takes a look at who the conference’s primary organizer is. Southampton’s Professor Oren Ben-Dor—who is behind this conference—is not simply an ex-Israeli wildly hostile to his own country of origin; he is also a defender of Gilad Atzmon, a known anti-Semite. That fact alone ought to be enough to set the conference far beyond the realms of credibility.

As crazy as this whole affair is, it is important to stress that this does matter and should be taken very seriously. Not because Southampton University is regarded as particularly prestigious among British universities—indeed another institution might have sidestepped arguments about intellectual freedom and simply shut down this conference on the grounds that this undertaking lacks any serious academic rigor. But rather, it is important because events like this one must not be allowed to become accepted as a normal part of the academic scene.

The conference boasts of being the “first of its kind,” ”ground-breaking,” and “historic.” No doubt it is the first of its kind, but the activist academics behind it also hope that it will not be the last. We must disappoint them. As it is, one or two genuinely pro-Israel speakers do appear to have accepted the invitation to attend, no doubt with the best intentions of fighting the good fight. But there are occasions when it is better just to not give these things the veneer of acceptability.

Southampton’s Vice Chancellor Don Nutbeam has defended the university’s right to hold the conference. As mentioned, it is true that they do have every right. But Nutbeam and his institution should just know that if they go ahead with hosting such conferences, they will be directly complicit in furthering the rising and harrowing tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, a phenomenon that has already got a number of innocent people murdered.

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The Speech and Friedman’s Recycled Slurs

The Obama administration is determined to treat Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Iran as a non-event. As negotiations with Iran continued, the White House and its apologists in both Congress and the press dismissed Netanyahu’s pointed criticisms of the nuclear deal President Obama is offering the Islamist regime and acted as if he hadn’t proposed a sensible alternative to his policy of appeasement and acceptance of Iran as a threshold nuclear power and, in the long run, one with weapons capacity. But that isn’t enough for some of Obama’s partisans in the media who aren’t satisfied merely to see the administration continue on its path to disaster but wish to use this controversy to delegitimize the entire pro-Israel coalition in Washington. Unsurprisingly, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is at the head of the pack in this regard but his column about the speech was a triumph of incoherence and specious arguments even by the debased standards by which he has operated on the Grey Lady’s op-ed page. Worse than that, the speech gave the writer an excuse to recycle anti-Semitic slurs he floated the last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress.

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The Obama administration is determined to treat Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Iran as a non-event. As negotiations with Iran continued, the White House and its apologists in both Congress and the press dismissed Netanyahu’s pointed criticisms of the nuclear deal President Obama is offering the Islamist regime and acted as if he hadn’t proposed a sensible alternative to his policy of appeasement and acceptance of Iran as a threshold nuclear power and, in the long run, one with weapons capacity. But that isn’t enough for some of Obama’s partisans in the media who aren’t satisfied merely to see the administration continue on its path to disaster but wish to use this controversy to delegitimize the entire pro-Israel coalition in Washington. Unsurprisingly, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is at the head of the pack in this regard but his column about the speech was a triumph of incoherence and specious arguments even by the debased standards by which he has operated on the Grey Lady’s op-ed page. Worse than that, the speech gave the writer an excuse to recycle anti-Semitic slurs he floated the last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress.

Friedman didn’t claim that Netanyahu misrepresented the facts about the proposed Iran deal or even dispute the danger that an Iranian bomb would represent. His problem is with what is to him an even more dangerous idea: that the security interests of Israel and the United States might overlap. He asserts that a weak deal that might prevent Iran from getting a bomb for ten years would be perfectly adequate as far as defending American security even if, as he seems to be implying, it might not be what is good for Israel or the Arab nations in the region that are every bit as upset with the administration policy as the Jewish state. Demands that Iran give up its nuclear infrastructure, something that President Obama promised in his 2012 foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney would be integral to any deal struck by the United States, are simply unrealistic and therefore must be dismissed even if that’s what most Israelis and Arabs think is necessary for their security.

Friedman’s right about one thing. A nuclear deal with Iran would only work if the regime changed its nature and was ready to “get right with the rest of the world,” as President Obama put it. But though he likes to pose as a tough-minded analyst, he leaves unsaid the fact that no serious person thinks Iran is moderating under its current government. Nor is logical to believe that it would do so if that tyrannical, terror-supporting, anti-Semitic regime were to get the major economic boost and political prestige that would it get from a nuclear deal with the United States.

But by the end of his column, Friedman runs out of ideas or even the energy to try and square his prejudices with the facts and simply lets loose with an anti-Netanyahu rant. He argues that if Netanyahu really wanted support for his position on Iran, he’d make concessions to the Palestinians even though he knows very well that those wouldn’t bring the region one inch closer to peace. In fact, Netanyahu has the tacit support of most of the Arab world for his speech. It’s only the Obama administration and others obsessed with the idea that détente with Iran is possible that didn’t like it.

Friedman concludes his piece by saying that it “rubs me the wrong way” to see a foreign leader pointing out the mistakes of an American president in front of Congress. But in that paragraph he lets us on to his real problem with the speech and the entire discussion about Iran: the existence of a solid pro-Israel coalition in Congress that thinks Netanyahu’s concerns are worth a hearing. Friedman says, “I have a problem with my own Congress howling in support of a flawed foreign leader.”

With this phrase he reminds us of his reaction to Netanyahu’s last speech to Congress in 2011. At that time, Friedman couldn’t restrain his bile and claimed that the ovations the prime minister received were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby,” a smear that was reminiscent of the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis about a vast Jewish conspiracy controlling U.S. foreign policy to benefit Israel. The point of that thinly disguised piece of anti-Semitic invective was to delegitimize supporters of Israel who had the temerity to back Netanyahu against the Obama administration’s assault on the alliance between the two democracies.

Friedman didn’t go quite as far as that sort of libel this time though his contempt for a Congress “howling” in support of Netanyahu betrayed his animus. But he did let down his hair a bit in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2. Friedman claimed the only reason Netanyahu received tumultuous applause for his brilliant speech was that he was speaking in “Sheldon’s world” a reference to casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a leading Jewish philanthropist and pro-Israel political donor.

Whatever you may think of Adelson’s politics, the point of that comment is to reintroduce Friedman’s 2011 slur about Congress being purchased by a ruthless Jewish minority. This is a classic anti-Semitic trope in which Jews are accused of using money to insinuate themselves into power and subverting the interests of the nation in favor of their own agenda. It is, of course, pure tripe, since support for Israel is overwhelming throughout the country and undiminished by either the media barrage against Netanyahu or the efforts of the administration to distance itself from the Jewish state.

Friedman then claimed that had Netanyahu spoken to the real America, rather than the Congress that is supposedly owned by the Jews, he would have gotten a different response. His example of a real American venue is the University of Wisconsin. It’s true that if Netanyahu or any friend of Israel were to speak at a leftist enclave such as the one in Madison, they would not be cheered. But who, other than Friedman, actually thinks that opinion there is representative of anything but the prejudices of liberal academics.

But the truth is, as a poll suggest, most Americans agree with Netanyahu on Iran, not Obama or Friedman. That’s why Friedman’s canard about Congress, Adelson and the “Israel lobby” is a lie. But like Obama’s Iran policy, Friedman is as undaunted by the prospect of repeating untruths about Israel as his newspaper is unashamed about printing them.

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If European Jews Must Live in Fear, Why Was Netanyahu Wrong?

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu took a pasting from pundits and even some Jewish leaders when he reacted to the attack on Copenhagen synagogue by repeating his call for European Jews to “come home” to Israel. Many people were uncomfortable with the prime minister’s open advocacy for Zionism. But the problem goes deeper than that. Despite the recent violence against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen, denial about what even the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism still exists. But yesterday’s comments by a German Jewish leader advising fellow Jews not to identify themselves by wearing yarmulkes while walking in certain sections of the country is yet more confirmation that what Europe is experiencing is a revival of Jew hatred that can’t be ignored. If Jews must live in fear even in a country that supposedly has learned the lessons of the Holocaust, then what hope is there for Jews on the Continent other than to seek protection elsewhere.

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Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu took a pasting from pundits and even some Jewish leaders when he reacted to the attack on Copenhagen synagogue by repeating his call for European Jews to “come home” to Israel. Many people were uncomfortable with the prime minister’s open advocacy for Zionism. But the problem goes deeper than that. Despite the recent violence against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen, denial about what even the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism still exists. But yesterday’s comments by a German Jewish leader advising fellow Jews not to identify themselves by wearing yarmulkes while walking in certain sections of the country is yet more confirmation that what Europe is experiencing is a revival of Jew hatred that can’t be ignored. If Jews must live in fear even in a country that supposedly has learned the lessons of the Holocaust, then what hope is there for Jews on the Continent other than to seek protection elsewhere.

A new Pew Research Center study shows that Jews were harassed or oppressed by their governments in 77 of the 198 countries covered by the survey. That includes a frightening total of 34 out of 45 countries in Europe. Yet the problem with accepting the reality of European anti-Semitism arises from a reluctance to place the blame for this prejudice on the haters rather than the victims.

One example came this week from “Science Guy” Bill Nye, the popular science educator and television star. On Bill Maher’s HBO show Real TimeNye said that the problems of European Jews stem from their reluctance to make friends with those who hated them. Attacking Netanyahu’s Zionist stand, Nye said the answer was that Jews should do more “to get to know their neighbors,” as if the roots of centuries of European anti-Semitism was the unwillingness of the victims to undertake outreach to anti-Semites.

That was offensive enough, but an even better example of the mentality that tolerates this new wave of anti-Semitism came from a British Jews. Harry Potter Actress Miriam Margolyes told the Guardian, “I don’t think people like Jews” but blamed the current outbreak on Israel since it gave Britons an excuse to vent their true feelings because of anger about the Gaza war. Like most British artists Margolyes blamed Israel for defending itself against Hamas terrorism and said the backlash against Jews was therefore somehow understandable, if deplorable. Her stance was both uninformed and illogical but it reflects the attitudes of English and other European elites who have, in a strange confluence of opinion, come to share the prejudices of Muslim immigrants who have helped revive traditional Jew hatred on the continent.

Blaming the Jews for being clannish (the conceit of Nye’s bizarre comments) sounds more like 19th century anti-Semitism, but even if we only focus on the way anti-Zionism has allowed traditional hatred to undergo a revival, there is no longer much doubt about the fact that it is becoming open season on Jews on the streets of Europe. A viral video of a Jewish journalist strolling through Paris wearing a kippah being abused by passersby is one more confirmation of a trend that can only be denied by those with ulterior motives.

European Jews may still prefer to think of themselves as safe, free, and prosperous and the political leaders of their countries may often say the right thing about anti-Semitism. But if Jews can no longer walk the streets of Europe’s capitals while identifying themselves with their faith or fear to speak out in defense of Israel lest they face opprobrium, then they cannot pretend to be truly free. The choice whether to stay or to go is personal, and it is difficult for anyone to pick up and leave their homes even under duress. But, as it did throughout the 20th century, history continues to vindicate the cause of Zionism. The Jews of Europe cannot pretend to be secure or to be confident that worse is not in store for them. Netanyahu was right to speak up about them having a haven where they will be able to defend themselves. Those inclined to denigrate his remarks should stroll about Europe’s streets while identifying themselves as Jews before they speak.

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The “Flood Libel” Propagandists of 2015

The proliferation of online news outlets has democratized newsgathering, but it’s also updated the famous adage that “there’s a sucker born every minute” for the Internet age. And no circus attracts the suckers quite like the Arab-Israeli conflict. Not only will people believe anything about Israel; their editors will let them write it. And as we learned yesterday, pretty much every year someone will fall for the impossibly preposterous accusation known as the “flood libel.”

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The proliferation of online news outlets has democratized newsgathering, but it’s also updated the famous adage that “there’s a sucker born every minute” for the Internet age. And no circus attracts the suckers quite like the Arab-Israeli conflict. Not only will people believe anything about Israel; their editors will let them write it. And as we learned yesterday, pretty much every year someone will fall for the impossibly preposterous accusation known as the “flood libel.”

There are moments when biased coverage of Israel goes beyond mere opinion. Last year, the good folks at Vox, a notoriously error-ridden site, declared the existence of a bridge connecting the West Bank and Gaza. It was not a maddening mistake; it was, rather, kind of endearing. It was adorable, in its own way. But that such a bridge does not exist is an easily verifiable fact.

Same goes for New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren’s claim in 2012 that prospective Jewish construction in the West Bank would bisect the West Bank and make physical contiguity impossible. As was subsequently pointed out (and corrected accordingly), this was not even close to being true and Rudoren would have known as much had she glanced at a map.

And this week we were treated to another version of this story, though it’s one we hear often enough. It’s a bit of a hazing ritual: the Palestinians find someone they haven’t yet sold this particular lie to and watch the magic unfold. The lie is this: that flooding in Gaza was caused by Israel opening dams in the South. Easily the most important part of this story is the fact that there are no such dams. They are the Gaza-West Bank bridge of this story. And yet, the story just keeps appearing because the Palestinians never run out of Western suckers.

One of the suckers this year was Vice News. To try to hide its ignorance, Vice offered up several paragraphs of false accusations from the Palestinians followed by this attempt at “balance”: “Israeli officials categorically denied they were to blame while speaking to VICE News on Monday.”

Other outlets were more honest and ethical in the aftermath of publishing the flood libel. As HonestReporting notes, the Daily Mail went with a bit of false balance but also, crucially, added a straight correction and admission of error: “An earlier version of this article stated that Israel had opened river dams in the south of the country, causing flooding in the Gaza strip. In fact, there are no dams in southern Israel and the flooding was caused by rain and drainage issues. We are happy to clarify this.”

According to HonestReporting, the Daily Mail piece also contained the following amazing sentence: “The flooding was today compounded after an Israeli power company cut electricity to two of Gaza’s major West Bank cities.”

And according to CAMERA, both Agence France Presse and Al Jazeera (shocking, I know) passed along the flood libel. AFP pulled its video, and Al Jazeera went the Vice route by pretending the existence of magical dams is somehow in dispute.

The flood libel is proof that sometimes people refuse to learn from others’ mistakes. See this post from Jonathan Tobin in December 2013 for a reminder that the flood libel is neither new nor surprising. IDF spokeswoman Libby Weiss understandably would rather news organizations first locate their unicorns before blaming those unicorns for goring the neighbor’s ox:

So why does this keep happening? Part of the frustration with reporters stems from their absolute laziness. The Internet has put so much information within arm’s reach, and yet reporters are taught that when it comes to Israel, the facts are optional. And that’s because the facts favor Israel.

If you were to draw a map of Israel, using Western news organizations’ reporting, you’d have one that showed Israel bisecting the West Bank while connecting it to Gaza via a bridge and holding parliamentary meetings in its capital of Tel Aviv. None of that is true, but that’s the picture that emerges from the media’s “reporting.”

There also appears to be a kind of modified Stockholm Syndrome at work. These reporters and the outlets they represent are constantly made to look like fools by Palestinian propaganda. But they also seem not to mind, because they sympathize so strongly with what the propagandists and terrorists are telling them.

If what I’m describing to you sounds an awful lot like an activist, not a journalist, well–that’s about right. And such activists play a key role in disseminating grist for the anti-Semitic mill. The first headline is the one that makes waves, especially in the Arab world and in Europe. If the follow-up is not a full retraction or correction, but rather a “balanced” piece in which Israel is permitted to deny the existence of things that plainly don’t exist, then it casts the Israeli government as a powerful entity engaged in a cover-up.

It would be bad enough if we were forced to admit that our media just can’t get the story right. But that’s naïve. The truth is, much of the time our media just won’t get it right. And that’s why the flood libel returns, year after year.

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Judicial Board Vacancy: Students from Hillel Need Not Apply

If supporters of campus campaigns for divestment from Israel want to convince people that these campaigns do not foster a hostile environment for Jewish students, they will need to rein in the student leaders they have swayed. Having been fed a steady diet of demonizing rhetoric, these leaders are having a hard time distinguishing the Israelis they accuse of committing human-rights violations from Jews as such.

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If supporters of campus campaigns for divestment from Israel want to convince people that these campaigns do not foster a hostile environment for Jewish students, they will need to rein in the student leaders they have swayed. Having been fed a steady diet of demonizing rhetoric, these leaders are having a hard time distinguishing the Israelis they accuse of committing human-rights violations from Jews as such.

Consider UCLA, which passed a divestment resolution in November. The College Fix reports that, at an Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting, members debated whether Rachel Beyda should be confirmed as a member of the Judicial Board. Beyda, a candidate whom everyone present agreed was more than qualified for the position, had one strike against her: she is, as one council member put it, “a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community.” How then, could she be expected to rule fairly on student government matters of concern to that community? Although the president of the council objected to the line of questioning, some council members not only pursued it but, even more remarkably, were convinced by the argument that affiliates of campus Jewish organizations should be disqualified from serving on campus judicial boards. Beyda is an officer in UCLA’s Hillel and in a Jewish sorority. As another council member mused: “For some reason, I’m not 100% comfortable. I don’t know why. I’ll go through her application again — I’ve been going through it constantly, but I can see that she’s qualified for sure… but I just worry about her political affiliations.”

This is nothing new at UCLA. As Jonathan Tobin has reported, after the failure of an earlier divestment resolution before the Council, divestment supporters took two members before the Judicial Board, seeking to have their votes disqualified. These council members had gone to Israel under the sponsorship of the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. Although that action failed, the pro-divestment crowd sought to make refusing to go to Israel on trips funded by pro-Israel organizations a litmus test for being elected to student government. Unruffled by the insanity of making a student government election about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a number of candidates, dutifully, shamefully, “signed a pledge not to take such trips.”

The Council, at first deadlocked on the question of Beyda’s confirmation, came around to a unanimous vote in her favor only after “much discussion and the intervention of administrators.” Perhaps because the whole discussion was captured on video (warning: it’s very difficult to hear), the council members who raised questions about Beyda’s Jewish affiliations felt compelled to issue a public apology.

Perhaps when UCLA’s student government is done making foreign-policy pronouncements it will turn to the question of how to deal with anti-Semitism on its own campus.

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Jewish Voice for Peace Takes Off Its Mask

Jewish Voice for Peace was a major force behind Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 2014 divestment from companies, like Caterpillar, said to profit from Israel’s activities in the West Bank. They provided a useful Jewish fig leaf for the Church, who could assert that some of divestment’s best friends are Jews. JVP has also eagerly made itself useful to Students for Justice in Palestine, which seeks to promote divestment, among stronger measures against Israel, at our colleges and universities.

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Jewish Voice for Peace was a major force behind Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 2014 divestment from companies, like Caterpillar, said to profit from Israel’s activities in the West Bank. They provided a useful Jewish fig leaf for the Church, who could assert that some of divestment’s best friends are Jews. JVP has also eagerly made itself useful to Students for Justice in Palestine, which seeks to promote divestment, among stronger measures against Israel, at our colleges and universities.

JVP’s position has always been merely tactical. As the organization explained in a 2005 statement, “we face a more hostile environment than our European comrades, and thus we cannot uncritically adopt” direct sanctions against Israel. In a 2011, statement, JVP again affirmed its preference for the tactic of selective divestment, but fully endorsed the overall goals of the BDS movement, including the right of return, or, in effect, the end of Israel as a Jewish state. JVP never really so much distanced itself from BDS as reluctantly concluded that only BDS-lite was possible in the U.S. for the time being. Yet in both the Presbyterian debate and the Stanford debate over divestment, at least some advocates insisted that a vote for divestment was not, in fact a vote for BDS.

It is therefore refreshing that JVP has finally come out and joined the BDS movement, openly endorsing not only the goals but also the strategy of that movement, complete isolation and demonization of Israel as an apartheid state.

The fact is, it’s not necessary to point to the right of return to show that BDS has never acknowledged Israel’s right to exist. Although one version of the BDS call asks, as JVP claims to be asking, only for an end to the Israeli presence in the territories disputed after 1967, the original call, never disavowed, distinguishes not at all between 1967 and 1948 Israel. The call condemns what Israel has done “since 1948” and demands an end to Israel’s “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands.” This studied ambiguity helps keep both those who merely would like Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and those who would like Israel to withdraw from the face of the Earth in the same camp.

That is the camp that Jewish Voice for Peace has always belonged to, and the camp it has at last openly joined. In joining up at this particular time, Jewish Voice for Peace also declares that it is ready to lead the charge to catch up with its “European comrades” who have contributed to the anti-Semitic environment that has many European Jews contemplating emigration. Perhaps JVP, which has now openly allied itself with a movement that refuses to concede their right to live in Israel, will help drive them into the sea.

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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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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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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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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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BDS Youth Speak Out: “Expel the Jews”

The campus boycott, divestment, sanctions movement depends on two myths of purity. One concerns South Africa. Ignoring South Africa’s alliance with human-rights violators like Russia and China, the BDS movement draws at every opportunity on statements of support from South Africa to demonstrate its bona fides: these people know a little something about apartheid, they suggest, so our assertions that Israel is an apartheid state must also be taken seriously.

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The campus boycott, divestment, sanctions movement depends on two myths of purity. One concerns South Africa. Ignoring South Africa’s alliance with human-rights violators like Russia and China, the BDS movement draws at every opportunity on statements of support from South Africa to demonstrate its bona fides: these people know a little something about apartheid, they suggest, so our assertions that Israel is an apartheid state must also be taken seriously.

The second concerns students. Ignoring signs that young people are at least as capable of prejudice and stupidity as their elders, the BDS movement suggests that the young are on “the right side of history” and that, consequently, BDS’s occasional successes at colleges and universities demonstrate the essential rightness of their cause. As the anti-Israel activist Anna Balzer has put it, BDS will benefit from “a generational shift, driven by young people, who have become allies to the cause even as their parents repeat the same tired arguments.”

So you would think that in South Africa’s students, you might find the quintessence of the boycott movement’s forward-looking strategy. Indeed. As InsideHigherEd reports today, the “student government of the Durban University of Technology, in South Africa, has called on the institution to expel Jewish students.” They have also asked for more financial aid. They are joined in their demands by the Progressive Youth Alliance (I am not making this up).

When I read the headline, I admit that, in spite of my experience with BDS, I assumed it must be an exaggeration. On the contrary, the secretary of the student government, rather than taking the opportunity to issue a denial, said “We had a meeting and analyzed international politics. We took the decision that Jewish students, especially those who do not support the Palestinian struggle, should deregister.” The vice-chancellor of the university has acknowledged receiving a memorandum from student protesters demanding the “deregistration of Jewish students” and has firmly rejected it. But Mr. Vice-Chancellor, they “analyzed international politics”!

Charmingly, according to the Daily Vox, a South African site that features young journalists, “students that desisted from the strike were explicitly threatened.” It is no doubt a coincidence that Leila Khaled, under the sponsorship of BDS-South Africa, had visited campus the day before the memorandum was issued. I have written about Khaled’s advocacy of violence here.

So far, I haven’t seen any coverage of this incident from those who favor BDS. That makes sense. It wouldn’t do to criticize the moral center of one’s movement.

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European Anti-Semitism Starts from the Top

The Obama administration’s inexplicable denial that last month’s attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris could possibly be anti-Semitic overshadowed yesterday’s other interesting tidbit from the anti-Semitism front: German Jewish organizations are furious because a blue-ribbon panel set up by the German government to advise it on fighting anti-Semitism doesn’t include a single Jew. It’s hard to imagine that a panel on, say, prejudice against Muslims or blacks would exclude representatives of the targeted community. But the more serious concern is that a panel without Jews will ignore one of the main manifestations of modern anti-Semitism, as exemplified by another German decision just last week: a judicial ruling that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about torching a synagogue to protest Israeli actions in Gaza.

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The Obama administration’s inexplicable denial that last month’s attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris could possibly be anti-Semitic overshadowed yesterday’s other interesting tidbit from the anti-Semitism front: German Jewish organizations are furious because a blue-ribbon panel set up by the German government to advise it on fighting anti-Semitism doesn’t include a single Jew. It’s hard to imagine that a panel on, say, prejudice against Muslims or blacks would exclude representatives of the targeted community. But the more serious concern is that a panel without Jews will ignore one of the main manifestations of modern anti-Semitism, as exemplified by another German decision just last week: a judicial ruling that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about torching a synagogue to protest Israeli actions in Gaza.

The case involved two German-Palestinian adults who threw Molotov cocktails at the Wuppertal synagogue in July, causing 800 euros worth of damage. The court decided the attack wasn’t anti-Semitic and therefore let them off with suspended jail sentences and community service. And why wasn’t it anti-Semitic? Because, said the court, the perpetrators were simply trying to bring “attention to the Gaza conflict” then raging between Hamas and Israel. And of course there’s nothing anti-Semitic about attacking Jews in one country to “bring attention” to acts by other Jews in another country; they’re all Jews, aren’t they? Doubtless the court would be equally understanding if Israelis torched a German church to “bring attention to” this abhorrent ruling.

Nor is the ruling an aberration; it’s quite representative of elite German thought. Last year, Prof. Monika Schwarz-Friesel of the Technical University of Berlin published a study that analyzed 10 years’ worth of hate mail sent to the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israeli embassy in Berlin. To her surprise, only 3 percent came from right-wing extremists, while over 60 percent came from educated members of “the social mainstream.” And these letters weren’t mere “Israel criticism”; they contained classic anti-Semitic statements like “It is possible that the murder of innocent children suits your long tradition” or “For the last 2,000 years, you’ve been stealing land and committing genocide.”

Needless to say, educated elites in other European countries aren’t much better. Last month, for instance, a BCC reporter drew fire for implying that the kosher supermarket attack in Paris was somehow justified because “Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.” And just last week, Britain’s Sky News “apologized” for showing footage from the Gaza war above a strip saying “Auschwitz remembered” during a Holocaust Memorial Day interview with Britain’s chief rabbi; the “apology” defended the original decision as “logical” even while admitting that in retrospect, it was “unfortunate.” After all, what could be more logical than implicitly comparing a war that killed some 2,100 Palestinians (and 72 Israelis) to the deliberate extermination of six million Jews?

Indeed, this comparison is so “logical” to many educated Westerners that during the Gaza war, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum felt the need to publish a special FAQs section on its website explaining why the war wasn’t comparable to the Holocaust, why Palestinians aren’t victims of genocide, and why Gaza isn’t a ghetto. You’d think this would be self-evident, but in a world where 35 percent of Germans say Israel treats Palestinians just like the Nazis treated Jews, and where Britons loathe Israel more than any other country except North Korea, it clearly isn’t.

In short, modern anti-Semitism can’t be fought without addressing a problem that too many members of Europe’s educated elites refuse to see: The propagators of today’s anti-Semitism come primarily from their own Israel-obsessed ranks, not from the far-right fringes. And one can’t help wondering whether Jews were left off Germany’s blue-ribbon panel precisely because they might have the temerity to point this out.

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We Have to Talk About Obama’s Ignorance

In the wake of the controversy over President Obama’s offensive labeling of anti-Semitic violence as “random,” it became clear that regardless of whether he chose his words carefully, he certainly chose his audience carefully. He was not challenged by his interviewer at Vox for his undeniably false characterization of the Paris attacks. And now, having given an interview to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, he has continued exposing his own ignorance in the hope that he would continue not to be called on it by his interviewers. He was in luck yet again.

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In the wake of the controversy over President Obama’s offensive labeling of anti-Semitic violence as “random,” it became clear that regardless of whether he chose his words carefully, he certainly chose his audience carefully. He was not challenged by his interviewer at Vox for his undeniably false characterization of the Paris attacks. And now, having given an interview to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, he has continued exposing his own ignorance in the hope that he would continue not to be called on it by his interviewers. He was in luck yet again.

BuzzFeed has posted the transcript of the interview, and when the subject turns to Russia, Obama said this:

You know, I don’t want to psychoanalyze Mr. Putin. I will say that he has a foot very much in the Soviet past. That’s how he came of age. He ran the KGB. Those were his formative experiences. So I think he looks at problems through this Cold War lens, and, as a consequence, I think he’s missed some opportunities for Russia to diversify its economy, to strengthen its relationship with its neighbors, to represent something different than the old Soviet-style aggression. You know, I continue to hold out the prospect of Russia taking a diplomatic offering from what they’ve done in Ukraine. I think, to their credit, they’ve been able to compartmentalize and continue to work with us on issues like Iran’s nuclear program.

As people pointed out immediately, Obama is wrong about Putin and the KGB. Ben Judah, a journalist who recently wrote a book on Putin’s Russia, responded: “The interesting and informative thing about Obama’s view on Putin is how uninsightful and uniformed it is.”

Putin ran the FSB–the successor agency to the KGB–and the difference matters. But what also matters is the emerging pattern for Obama’s view of the world: he has no idea what he’s talking about. The president, as Sam Cooke sang, don’t know much about history. And it’s evident in each major area of conflict the president seeks to solve and ends up only exacerbating.

It is not my intention to run down a list of all Obama’s flubs. Everybody makes mistakes, and any politician whose words are as scrutinized as the president’s is going to have their share of slip-ups. Yes, Obama is a clumsy public speaker; but that’s not the problem, nor is it worth spending much time on.

The problem is that Obama tends to make mistakes that stem from a worldview often at odds with reality. Russia is a good example. Does it matter that Obama doesn’t know the basics of Vladimir Putin’s biography and the transition of post-Soviet state security? Yes, it does, because Obama’s habit of misreading Putin has been at the center of his administration’s failed Russia policy. And it matters with regard not only to Russia but to his broader foreign policy because Obama has a habit of not listening to anyone not named Jarrett. Obama appointed among the most qualified American ambassadors ever to represent the U.S. abroad in sending Michael McFaul to Moscow. But with or without McFaul, Obama let his own naïveté guide him.

Obama has also run into some trouble with history in the Middle East, where history is both exceedingly important and practically weaponized. The legitimacy of the Jewish state is of particular relevance to the conflict. So Obama was criticized widely for undermining that legitimacy in his famous 2009 Cairo speech, puzzling even Israel’s strident leftists. The speech was harder to defend than either his remarks to BuzzFeed or Vox because such speeches are not off the cuff; they are carefully scrutinized by the administration. When Obama could say exactly what he meant to say, in other words, this is what he chose to say.

It wasn’t the only time Obama revealed his ignorance of the Middle East and especially Israeli history, of course. And that ignorance has had consequences. Obama has learned nothing from the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a fact which was reflected quite clearly in his disastrous mishandling of the negotiations and their bloody aftermath. He didn’t understand Palestinian intentions, Israeli political reality, or the lessons from when the U.S. has played a beneficial role in the conflict in the past. The president can simply move on, but Israelis and Palestinians have to pay the price for his learning curve.

And the Vox errors echo throughout the president’s mishandling of the other great security challenge: Islamic terrorism. Such terrorism has contributed a great deal to the undoing of many of the gains in Iraq and the international state system. Here, for example, is a map tweeted out last week by Ian Bremmer, which shows, in his words, “Statelessness overlapping with radical Islam.” We can certainly argue over the chicken-or-egg quality to such an overlap, but the threat radical Islamic violence poses to global order is fairly obvious.

Yet it’s not just the history of Islam and of anti-Semitism that the president gets wrong when trying to spin away the threat of Islamist terror. He also created a firestorm with his faux history of the Crusades in order to draw a false moral equivalence that only obscures the threat.

In other words, it’s a comprehensive historical ignorance. And on matters of great significance–the major world religions, the Middle East, Russia. And the president’s unwillingness to grasp the past certainly gives reason for concern with Iran as well–a country whose government has used the façade of negotiations to its own anti-American ends for long enough to see the pattern.

They’re not just minor gaffes or verbal blunders. They serve as a window into the mind of a president who acts as if a history of the world before yesterday could fit on a postcard. We talk a lot about the defects of the president’s ideology, but not about his ignorance. The two are related, but the latter is lately the one causing a disproportionate amount of damage.

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An Administration With a Blind Spot About Anti-Semitism

President Obama’s recent interview with Vox included an astonishing characterization of one of the most notorious recent terror attacks. As he did in his initial reaction to the assault on a kosher deli in Paris, the president did not call it an act of anti-Semitism or say that those slaughtered were singled out for murder because they were Jews. Even worse, he told Vox that those responsible for the attack on the Hyper Cacher had decided to “randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a Paris deli.” The day after such a glaring misstatement of fact, one might expect the White House to walk back this remark in some way. But, instead, both White House spokesman Josh Earnest and State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki doubled down on the president’s tortured logic in a stunning display of Orwellian doubletalk. Instead of just a president with a blind spot about anti-Semitism that comes out when he is interviewed, it is now clear that the United States has an administration with a blind spot about anti-Semitism.

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President Obama’s recent interview with Vox included an astonishing characterization of one of the most notorious recent terror attacks. As he did in his initial reaction to the assault on a kosher deli in Paris, the president did not call it an act of anti-Semitism or say that those slaughtered were singled out for murder because they were Jews. Even worse, he told Vox that those responsible for the attack on the Hyper Cacher had decided to “randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a Paris deli.” The day after such a glaring misstatement of fact, one might expect the White House to walk back this remark in some way. But, instead, both White House spokesman Josh Earnest and State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki doubled down on the president’s tortured logic in a stunning display of Orwellian doubletalk. Instead of just a president with a blind spot about anti-Semitism that comes out when he is interviewed, it is now clear that the United States has an administration with a blind spot about anti-Semitism.

To have made such a statement once might be just a gaffe. To do it twice revealed that the president has a blind spot about anti-Semitism that somehow prevents him from either admitting that the incident was anti-Semitic or condemning it as an incident in which Jews were targeted. But today we learned that this is not just a rhetorical tic. It is now official U.S. policy to claim that when Islamist murderers go into a kosher deli looking for Jews to kill, they are not targeting Jews or acting out of religious bias.

Earnest ‘s insistence that the Hyper Cacher was not chosen by the terrorists because of the likelihood that it would be filled with Jews shopping for the Sabbath is mind-boggling. So, too, is Psaki’s belief that calling it an act of anti-Semitism is a question so complex that only the local French authorities investigating the crime can know for sure.

Why the adamant refusal to label an unambiguous act of anti-Semitism what it is?

One reason is the natural resistance on the part of this administration to admit mistakes especially when the president commits them. President Obama is a notoriously thin-skinned individual who clings to the conceit that he understands every issue better than his critics. Few administrations like to concede they have erred but this one is particularly allergic to that type of transparency.

But this problem goes deeper than that.

This is an administration that is loath to say that Islamist terrorists represent a significant minority of adherents of their faith. Indeed, as I noted yesterday, this understandable desire to avoid casting the conflict as one of the West against Muslims has been exaggerated to the extent that the president now poses as the pope and claims that he has the authority to determine who does or does not reflect the true version of that faith.

But now apparently this reluctance to admit that Islamists terrorists are Muslims extends to refusing to say that Jewish victims were Jewish or that the killers were trying to kill Jews. In doing so, the administration seems to think that denying that it was an act of anti-Semitism will absolve it of any responsibility to speak up against Jew hatred or to acknowledge the way the virus of anti-Semitism has spread among Muslims.

It goes without saying that this controversy and the embarrassing lengths to which Obama’s whims required Earnest and Psaki to foreswear both logic and honesty were entirely unnecessary. Acknowledging the obvious anti-Semitic nature of the Hyper Cacher attack has no real policy implications. No one expects the administration to do anything about anti-Semitism except to condemn it. In fact any mention of the attack is not a trick question. It is a layup for the president who could easily pose as a defender of Jewish interests and an opponent of hate by merely saying he is appalled by the targeting of Jews in France or anywhere else. Obama and his mouthpieces could have done this easily without being roped into unwanted action or even expressing sympathy for Israel as a refuge against anti-Semitism. But though speaking out against anti-Semitism is a cost-free way of demonstrating both sensitivity and a zealous defense of human rights, it is apparently too much to ask of a president who feels free in his last two years in the White House to say and do as he likes.

But there is a cost attached to Obama’s refusal to speak about anti-Semitism and his firm orders to underlings to copy his oblivious stand. By that I do not refer to a political cost for Obama who will never again have to face an electorate, including an American Jewish community that gave him the lion’s share of their votes despite his obvious hostility to Israel. Instead it is the Jews of Europe, who continue to be targeted because of their faith amid what even Obama’s State Department termed a “rising tide of anti-Semitism,” who will pay the price for his refusal to speak the truth about violent Jew hatred.

Islamist terrorists and their state sponsors in Iran will not be slow to pick up on this signal from Washington that the Jews are on their own. If the president and his spin masters won’t speak about anti-Semitism, you can be sure that those ginning up these attacks and engaging in the most vile forms of delegitimization will interpret it as a sign that the U.S. isn’t interested in the fate of the Jews.

Were the president prepared to speak responsibly about terrorism he would do more than acknowledge that the Hyper Cacher was singled out because it was filled with Jews. He would, instead, connect the dots between these acts of terror and the hate spread by an Iranian regime that he is pursuing with offers of détente. But it is hardly surprising that a president who treats Israeli acts of self-defense against terror as an obstacle to his foreign policy goals would treat the siege of the Jews of Europe as beneath his notice.

An administration with a blind spot about anti-Semitism is one that is not only encouraging more such attacks. It is also demonstrating that is unready to defend anyone against an Islamist scourge that this president dares not call by its right name.

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Obama’s Blind Spot About Anti-Semitism

There has been a great deal of justified criticism about President Obama’s unwillingness to respond to terrorist outrages with the sort of moral leadership that can rally the West to fight back. His comments at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast in which he sought to create a false moral equivalency between ISIS’s horrific burning alive of a captured Jordanian pilot and the Christian West’s past sins during the Inquisition and even the Crusades have been rightly blasted for his tone-deaf approach to terrorism. The president seems so mired in his deep ambivalence about the West’s role in world history that he is unable to play his part as leader of the free world in what is, like it or not, a life-and-death struggle against truly evil forces. It is also revealed in his administration’s refusal to call Islamist terrorism by that name. But just as troubling is his unwillingness to address one of the primary characteristics of this brand of terror: anti-Semitism. In an interview with Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, he described the terror attack on a Paris kosher market as a “random” event rather than an act of murder motivated by Jew hatred. Though it won’t get the same attention as his outrageous speech last week, it gives us just as much insight into the president’s foreign-policy mindset.

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There has been a great deal of justified criticism about President Obama’s unwillingness to respond to terrorist outrages with the sort of moral leadership that can rally the West to fight back. His comments at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast in which he sought to create a false moral equivalency between ISIS’s horrific burning alive of a captured Jordanian pilot and the Christian West’s past sins during the Inquisition and even the Crusades have been rightly blasted for his tone-deaf approach to terrorism. The president seems so mired in his deep ambivalence about the West’s role in world history that he is unable to play his part as leader of the free world in what is, like it or not, a life-and-death struggle against truly evil forces. It is also revealed in his administration’s refusal to call Islamist terrorism by that name. But just as troubling is his unwillingness to address one of the primary characteristics of this brand of terror: anti-Semitism. In an interview with Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, he described the terror attack on a Paris kosher market as a “random” event rather than an act of murder motivated by Jew hatred. Though it won’t get the same attention as his outrageous speech last week, it gives us just as much insight into the president’s foreign-policy mindset.

It should be recalled that in the immediate aftermath of the shootings at the Hyper Cacher market by killers associated with those who perpetrated the Charlie Hebdo massacre days earlier, President Obama also refused to call it an act of anti-Semitism. That was, in its own way, as shocking as the president’s decision to not send any high-ranking U.S. official to the Paris unity march that took place to protest the murders or to go himself as did many other Western leaders.

But official American statements that did mention anti-Semitism and the subsequent rally boycott overtook this controversy. The kerfuffle over that initial comment was soon forgotten. But the president’s return to this topic has brought that statement back to mind.

His Vox comments are, in fact, far worse than his initial reaction which was more a matter of omission than a conscious twisting of events. Here’s what the president said in response to a question about whether the media is blowing terrorist incidents out of proportion:

It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.

Let’s first note that his characterization of the assailants again omits their Islamist loyalties and the fact that religion was the motivating factor for their crime. This is consistent with administration policy that seeks to cleanse ISIS, al-Qaeda, or other Islamists of any connection with the Muslim faith. This is absurd not just because it is wrong. It also puts Obama in the position of trying to play the pope of Islam who can decide who is or is not a real Muslim, a responsibility that no American president should try to usurp.

But it is also significant that once again the president chooses to treat a deliberate targeting of a Jewish business filled with Jewish customers as something that is random rather than an overt act of anti-Semitism. Doing so once might be excused as an oversight. The second time makes it a pattern that can’t be ignored.

This is a peculiar talking point especially since the increase of anti-Semitism in Europe with violent incidents going up every year is something that even the Obama State Department has dubbed a “rising tide” of hate.

Why does the president have such a blind spot when it comes to anti-Semitism? His critics will jump to conclusions that will tell us more about their views of Obama than about his thinking. But suffice it to say that this is a president who finds it hard to focus on the siege of Jews in Europe or of the State of Israel in the Middle East. Nor can it be entirely coincidental that a president who treats Israeli self-defense and concerns for its security as a bothersome irritant to his foreign policy or seeks to blame the Jewish state’s leaders for obstructing a peace process that was actually blown up by the Palestinians would have a blind spot about anti-Semitism.

To address the spread of violent anti-Semitism in Europe would require the administration to connect the dots between slaughters such as the ones that took place at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher and the hate spread by the Islamists of Iran with whom Obama is so keen on negotiating a new détente. To put these awful events in a context that properly labels them an outbreak of violent Muslim Jew-hatred would require the administration to rethink its policies toward Israel as well as Iran. And that is something this president has no intention of doing.

You can’t defeat an enemy that you refuse to call by his right name. That’s why ignoring Islamism and calling ISIS and the Paris killers mere “zealots” or “extremists” not only misses the point but also hampers the West’s ability to resist them. By the same token, the omission of any discussion of anti-Semitism about an event that was an unambiguous act of Jew hatred similarly undermines the effort to strike back at such atrocities. When a president calls one of the more egregious acts of anti-Semitism in recent years a mere “random” shooting, it trivializes the victims and places the U.S. on the wrong side of the moral divide. In doing so, Obama does the nation and the cause of freedom a grave disservice.

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