Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benjamin Netanyahu

A Plea for Sanity in the Battle over Bibi

Last week, Bloomberg released a poll on partisan attitudes in the U.S. toward Israel that was immediately misunderstood by a vast swath of the commentariat. It wasn’t completely the commentators’ fault. They should have read it more carefully, but the poll was worded in such a way as to be more than useless; it was irresponsible. And while the poor polling question can excuse some of the confusion, it shouldn’t excuse the hysterical commentary it inspired in some quarters, though it was revealing to get an unfiltered look at what some pundits really think about Israel.

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Last week, Bloomberg released a poll on partisan attitudes in the U.S. toward Israel that was immediately misunderstood by a vast swath of the commentariat. It wasn’t completely the commentators’ fault. They should have read it more carefully, but the poll was worded in such a way as to be more than useless; it was irresponsible. And while the poor polling question can excuse some of the confusion, it shouldn’t excuse the hysterical commentary it inspired in some quarters, though it was revealing to get an unfiltered look at what some pundits really think about Israel.

One question in the poll found, as paraphrased by a Bloomberg reporter, that Republicans were “more sympathetic to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than to their own president, 67 percent to 16 percent, while Democrats are more sympathetic to President Barack Obama than to Israel’s prime minister, 76 percent to 9 percent.” The reporter’s choice of phrasing “than to their own president” (my italics) is telling, and was reflected in some of the more extreme responses to the poll.

But the question that confused people was as follows:

When it comes to relations between the U.S. and Israel, which of the following do you agree with more?

(Read options. Rotate.)

45            Israel is an important ally, the only democracy in the region, and we should support it even if our interests diverge

47            Israel is an ally but we should pursue America’s interests when we disagree with them

8            Not sure

Republicans were more likely to give the first answer, Democrats the second.

The problematic nature of the wording becomes clear as soon as you read the actual poll question. But reporting on the poll may have taken the form of a game of “telephone.” Bloomberg’s own report on its poll muddied the waters immediately, suggesting that the poll said that Republicans opted for supporting Israel in a zero-sum faceoff when our interests diverged with those of the Israelis. But that’s not what the question says. It’s not an either/or question.

For example: a few years ago then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave an interview to the Washington Post. During the course of the interview, Barak was asked about the Syrian civil war. He responded that the Assads should be removed from power if possible but only their innermost circle; stability should be prioritized over total revolution. Barak was clearly nervous about Syria being a repeat of Egypt, where a stability-minded dictator was removed and replaced (temporarily) with a president from the Muslim Brotherhood who intended to shift Egypt’s allegiances toward Israel’s (and the West’s) enemies in the region.

But that was not American policy at the time, at least on paper. Washington was leaning toward a wholesale power shift, with the caveat that it be brought about by negotiations.

According to the common interpretation of the Bloomberg poll, that meant that support for Israel should at that point disappear until the two were back on the same page. A similar conflict even arose over Ukraine. Should the disagreement over Ukraine have imperiled the alliance?

Of course not. Sometimes our interests diverge. Those times are the exceptions, not the rule. And it would be silly to suggest that “support” for Israel should be untenable at that time. Sometimes we disagree, it’s really as simple as that.

Additionally, not all conflicts can be weighed equally. For example: let’s say you believe it’s in America’s interest to have an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that removes Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, ignores Israeli security needs in the West Bank, and includes a deal on refugees that would put Israel’s demographic future in question. The majority of Israelis would oppose those terms. Should Americans support it? Is it enough that it’s in America’s interest, in your opinion, or should Israeli sovereignty and self-determination predominate? Barack Obama thought it was in America’s interest to interfere in Israel’s election. Is it wrong for an American to disagree and to hold that Israel’s democratic process should be respected?

You get the point. Moreover, the American sympathy for Israel is based not only on mutual strategic interests but also on history, religion, politics–the works. What poll respondents are saying is that the U.S.-Israel relationship is strong enough to withstand the occasional argument.

But if you were looking to misread the poll, it would be easy to do so. Slate’s William Saletan wrote a bizarre column using the poll to attack Republicans as disloyal. What Republicans revealed when they invited Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress “against the will of a Democratic president” (His Majesty will not be pleased) and again by the Republicans surveyed in the Bloomberg poll is that “They have adopted Netanyahu as their leader.” Here’s Saletan’s conclusion:

That split points to a more fundamental challenge. Does a majority of the Republican Party identify more with Israeli interests than with American interests? When Israel’s prime minister speaks on the floor of Congress, do Republicans feel more allegiance to him than to their president? If so, will the feeling subside once Obama leaves office? Or does it signify an enduring rift in the fabric of this country?

So are Republicans permanent traitors taking orders from the Israeli government, or will they one day love their country again? Stay tuned!

The heated rhetoric around Netanyahu has lost all proportion. And it isn’t limited to the anti-Bibi guns on the left. Just before the Israeli elections, NRO’s Quin Hillyer wrote a column headlined “Israelis Should Send Obama a Message of Defiance.” The column had high praise for Netanyahu, and also included this strange concern:

Americans who love Israel will, of course, continue to love it regardless. But we fear that, without Netanyahu’s leadership, there will be less of Israel left to love.

If he was speaking figuratively, that plainly makes no sense. If he was speaking literally–as in, the other side would throw a fire sale on Israeli land–it ignores the reality on the ground as well as the more hawkish tendencies of Labor leader Isaac Herzog, to say nothing of the fact that Bibi himself presided over a two-track negotiating process with the Palestinians that he let one of his main political rivals lead.

Look, Netanyahu’s an eloquent spokesman for Western ideals and values, and it’s easy to see why English-speaking conservatives enjoy his leadership. But even while winning a convincing victory, his party still only won less than a quarter of the vote. Israel is a diverse country with diverse politics. Bibi is a product of Israel; Israel is not a product of Bibi.

Both sides should keep this in mind, but the left obviously needs this reminder more than the right. Because even at its most adulatory, American admiration for Netanyahu is not treasonous. And the simple fact that it’s being treated as if it were should serve as a much-needed wake-up call for American liberals.

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The Holocaust and History’s Many Lessons

Debate continues over the relevance of the Holocaust to today’s Iran crisis, in the wake of Yom HaShoah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about learning the lessons of history. Jonathan Tobin covered the Iran issue on Wednesday, and Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer takes up what he imagines to be the West’s perspective today. Pfeffer’s column is thoughtful and well worth reading. And he makes some very important points about how the West has clearly learned at least some lessons of the Holocaust, as demonstrated in some of its policies toward Jews and Israel. But there’s also another aspect of this that’s worth some consideration, and it has more to do with non-Jewish victims than with the Jews.

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Debate continues over the relevance of the Holocaust to today’s Iran crisis, in the wake of Yom HaShoah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about learning the lessons of history. Jonathan Tobin covered the Iran issue on Wednesday, and Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer takes up what he imagines to be the West’s perspective today. Pfeffer’s column is thoughtful and well worth reading. And he makes some very important points about how the West has clearly learned at least some lessons of the Holocaust, as demonstrated in some of its policies toward Jews and Israel. But there’s also another aspect of this that’s worth some consideration, and it has more to do with non-Jewish victims than with the Jews.

But first, one quibble. Pfeffer writes that the West would of course have noticed Netanyahu’s comment about Arab voters being bussed to the polls, and should have expected backlash. But in this lies a crucial point: it’s understandable to have been irked by the comment, but look at the double standard. When Iranian leaders make extreme comments the Obama administration dismisses them as intended for a domestic political audience, nothing more. The press isn’t exactly blameless here either. In fact, it should be central to the discussion.

When we talk about historical analogies and the Nazis, we often stress the comparison between regimes more than the comparison between reactions to the regimes by gullible Westerners. It’s not that we ignore the latter–we don’t–it’s just that we tend to focus on the evil party asserting its genocidal intent.

But what lessons have Westerners learned from their own history? Here, it’s instructive to glance at Andrew Nagorski’s book Hitlerland. One of the stories he tells is of Chicago Daily News reporter Edgar Mowrer, who was reporting on Germany in the 1930s and even wrote an early book on the emergence of the Hitler era. Nagorski writes:

Yet even Mowrer wasn’t quiet sure what Hitler represented–and what to expect if he took power. “Did he believe all that he said?” he asked. “The question is inapplicable to this sort of personality. Subjectively Adolf Hitler was, in my opinion, entirely sincere even in his self-contradictions. For his is a humorless mind that simply excludes the need for consistency that might distress more intellectual types. To an actor the truth is anything that lies in its effect: if it makes the right impression it is true.” …

As for the true intentions of his anti-Semitic campaign, Mowrer sounded alarmed in some moments but uncertain in others. “A suspicion arises that Adolf Hitler himself accepted anti-Semitism with his characteristic mixture of emotionalism and political cunning,” he wrote. “Many doubted if he really desired pogroms.”

Well, we know how that story ends. The point is, proper historical reflection takes into account not only whether and how the current Iranian regime is animated by common principles with Nazi Germany but also whether we can really say we’ve learned the proper lessons from the past if we’re still dismissing unhinged rhetoric as play-acting for a domestic crowd. (We also should ask if play-acting for a domestic crowd is, in light of history, really as harmless as we sometimes make it out to be.)

Nonetheless, Pfeffer’s larger point about how the Jews have been welcomed in certain corners of the West–America being the shining example–is well taken. So is his point about America’s staunch pro-Israel policies.

Yet there is a difference between treating victims a certain way and preventing others from becoming victims. This is where, I think, many critics are coming from.

Pfeffer’s column has the bad luck to be timed just as the release of hundreds of pages of newly declassified documents, reported first by Colum Lynch yesterday at Foreign Policy, draws new attention to Western inaction during the Rwandan genocide. It’s a long story, and it doesn’t necessarily change the underlying dynamics all that much, though it does shift some more of the weight of the Clinton administration’s bystander role to Richard Clarke and Susan Rice.

Rice’s inclusion there should not be shocking. She is, after all, the official once quoted as cautioning Bill Clinton against recognizing the genocide for what it was because of the effect that could have on the Democratic Party’s electoral fortunes in the congressional midterms. Here’s Lynch introducing the revelation:

But the recently declassified documents — which include more than 200 pages of internal memos and handwritten notes from Rice and other key White House players — provide a far more granular account of how the White House sought to limit U.N. action. They fill a major gap in the historical record, providing the most detailed chronicle to date of policy instructions and actions taken by White House staffers, particularly Clarke and Rice, who appear to have exercised greater influence over U.S. policy on Rwanda than the White House’s Africa hands.

Just as relevant here is the sentence that comes next: “The National Security Archive and the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide obtained the documents during a two-and-a-half-year effort to amass long-secret records of internal deliberations by the United States, the U.N., and other foreign governments.”

The Holocaust Memorial Museum was a driving force in getting these documents released. That’s no coincidence. And Rwanda’s far from the only case of Western inaction. Not every mass killing amounts to genocide, but we’re seeing campaigns of ethnic violence and ethnic cleansing across the Middle East and Africa. The most recent example is the Yazidis of Iraq, which ISIS tried to exterminate. But the general treatment of Christians–Copts in Egypt, various Christian groups in Nigeria–suggests we are, unfortunately, far from seeing the end of such campaigns.

So has the West learned its lessons from the Holocaust? The honest answer is: some of them. It would be grossly unfair to claim they’ve learned nothing. But it would be wishful thinking to suggest they’ve learned everything.

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Can We Speak of Iran and the Holocaust?

In Israel this evening, the nation began observing Yom HaShoah, its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. At the ceremony at the Yad Vashem Memorial, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke passionately about the failure of today’s democracies to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. In doing so, he directly compared appeasement of the Nazis with contemporary efforts to engage Iran and its nuclear threat via diplomacy. However, it is likely that much of what passes for liberal and enlightened opinion in both Europe and the United States will dismiss Netanyahu’s analogies as well as his warnings about the potential costs of the course of action pursued by President Obama and U.S. allies. Like his speech to Congress last month in which he attempted to warn about the perils of the nuclear deal that was concluded weeks later, the prime minister’s speech will be put down as apocalyptic rhetoric from an intemperate leader whose voice has long since ceased to be heeded by the White House. But as painful as it may be for Obama loyalists and other Netanyahu-bashers to admit, those who wish to ignore his points need to think carefully before brushing aside his remarks as over the top or inappropriate.

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In Israel this evening, the nation began observing Yom HaShoah, its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. At the ceremony at the Yad Vashem Memorial, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke passionately about the failure of today’s democracies to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. In doing so, he directly compared appeasement of the Nazis with contemporary efforts to engage Iran and its nuclear threat via diplomacy. However, it is likely that much of what passes for liberal and enlightened opinion in both Europe and the United States will dismiss Netanyahu’s analogies as well as his warnings about the potential costs of the course of action pursued by President Obama and U.S. allies. Like his speech to Congress last month in which he attempted to warn about the perils of the nuclear deal that was concluded weeks later, the prime minister’s speech will be put down as apocalyptic rhetoric from an intemperate leader whose voice has long since ceased to be heeded by the White House. But as painful as it may be for Obama loyalists and other Netanyahu-bashers to admit, those who wish to ignore his points need to think carefully before brushing aside his remarks as over the top or inappropriate.

For the administration and its loyal press cheerleaders, Netanyahu isn’t so much the boy who cried “wolf,” as some would have it, as he is a Cassandra constantly predicting doom. Though they will in moments of lucidity concede that Iran is a state sponsor of terror, seeks regional hegemony, promotes anti-Semitism, and threatens Israel with destruction, they insist that the best way of dealing with this threat is via diplomacy. The president has, they tell us, gotten the best possible deal with Iran that will, at the very least, postpone or lessen the prospect of Iran getting a bomb. They contend that there are no alternatives to the nuclear deal short of a war that no one wants and whose outcome would be uncertain. More to the point, most people are so tired of promiscuous use of Holocaust comparisons that the rule of thumb in modern debate has become that the first person to mention it loses.

This is an absurd distortion of the situation since what Netanyahu and other critics of the Iran deal have called for is tougher diplomacy, backed by enhanced sanctions, not war. They have also pointed out, with justice, that the deal embraced by the president offers Iran two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on an agreement with gaping loopholes and no real accountability or monitoring, and the other by abiding by its terms and waiting patiently for it to expire all the while continuing their nuclear research.

But even if we take President Obama at his word when he says that what he has done is intended to forestall Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he has also made it clear that his real agenda is not so much to put the Islamist regime in a corner as it is to allow it to “get right with the world” and to transform itself into a government that is both trustworthy and peaceful. This is why the president views the Iran deal as his foreign-policy legacy. His goal here is not just nuclear restrictions but détente with Tehran.

And that is why Netanyahu’s rhetoric is entirely appropriate.

The problem with much of the debate about Iran is that it is premised on the assumption that the nuclear issue can be isolated from the rest of Iranian policies. President Obama says it is because he knows Iran won’t change that he wants to take every opportunity to limit the nuclear program that he pledged to dismantle when running for reelection in 2012. But if Iran won’t change, then we must confront the nature of the regime and that is something those who support the president’s appeasement of Tehran consistently refuse to do.

Netanyahu is not engaging in hyperbole when he speaks of the anti-Semitism that is integral to Iranian state policy as well as its sponsorship of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Nor is he exaggerating a whit when he talks of its oppression of religious minorities and vows to spread its Islamic revolution via proxies all the while crying “death to America” and “death to Israel.” Iran is not monolithic, but the consensus among its factions on the question of Israel’s elimination and the desirability of obtaining a nuclear weapon, with which that goal might be achieved or at least threatened, is not in question.

American liberals may be tired of Netanyahu and bored with talk of the peril from Iran. But they must understand that, at best, the deal Obama has struck will make Iran a threshold nuclear power. At worst, he has smoothed their path to a bomb. Once that is understood, the administration’s efforts to understand and even sympathize with Iran’s concerns must be seen as folly, not wisdom or good policy.

Netanyahu is right when he points out that talk about the horrors of the Holocaust and vowing “never again” is cheap when it is tethered to policies that essentially empower those who not only deny the reality of the Shoah but also seek the means to perpetrate a new one. Iran is not Germany but on a day when the lessons of history should be uppermost in our minds, the burden of proof lies with those defending appeasement of a government that seeks to complete the work Hitler started, not with those lamenting this disgraceful attempt to make a devil’s bargain with a violent hate-filled theocratic regime.

In the United States, we have built many monuments and museums about the Holocaust. But we forget that the only proper monument to the Six Million is a defensible Jewish state that exists to safeguard those that the Nazis failed to murder and their descendants. Remembering the Holocaust in such a way as to forget this vital truth is meaningless. Seen in that light, Netanyahu is sadly dead right to invoke the Holocaust in the context of Iran. It is his critics who should be rethinking their refusal to think seriously about the verdict of history, not the prime minister.

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What’s Wrong with Obama Walking in the Ayatollah’s Slippers?

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman performed a useful service for President Obama last week when he used his perch on the New York Times op-ed page to give the president a forum from which he could make a full-throated defense of his Iran nuclear deal. But speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program yesterday, he went further in defending the president as a leader with the greatness of spirit and the breadth of experience to see the world from the perspective of foreign antagonists. According to Friedman the main difference between Obama and, say, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that Obama is able to walk in the shoes of the Iranians while Netanyahu can’t. If so, that is an asset, but Friedman is confusing understanding with empathy. Contrary to the stereotype of U.S. conservatives or Israelis that Friedman is propagating, critics of the deal don’t lack knowledge about what Iranians think or want. The difference between them and Obama is that he not only understands Iran’s demands; he seems to sympathize with them in a way that has led him to make a series of concessions that gave them what they want.

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New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman performed a useful service for President Obama last week when he used his perch on the New York Times op-ed page to give the president a forum from which he could make a full-throated defense of his Iran nuclear deal. But speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program yesterday, he went further in defending the president as a leader with the greatness of spirit and the breadth of experience to see the world from the perspective of foreign antagonists. According to Friedman the main difference between Obama and, say, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that Obama is able to walk in the shoes of the Iranians while Netanyahu can’t. If so, that is an asset, but Friedman is confusing understanding with empathy. Contrary to the stereotype of U.S. conservatives or Israelis that Friedman is propagating, critics of the deal don’t lack knowledge about what Iranians think or want. The difference between them and Obama is that he not only understands Iran’s demands; he seems to sympathize with them in a way that has led him to make a series of concessions that gave them what they want.

Here’s the gist of Friedman’s argument:

What really came through to me in the interview really is a couple things that really do show you the difference between him and Netanyahu. Obama is someone who has lived abroad, maybe more than any president in a long time. And because of that, he actually knows what America looks like from the outside in. And he can actually see America even to some point from the Iranian perspective. And it comes through when he says let’s remember we, the Unites States, back in the ’50s, we toppled Iran’s democratically-elected government. You know, there might be some reason these people actually want to get a weapon that will deter that from happening again.

Friedman is right that understanding your adversary is a vital tool for any world leader. It is possible that the president’s experience of living abroad in his youth is an asset in that it does help him understand the way foreigners view the United States. Perhaps that has aided his efforts to think seriously about Iran and to realize that it is a vast complex country with a government with competing factions vying for influence in an undemocratic structure, at the top of which sits a supreme leader who ultimately calls the shots.

No one who thinks about Iran policy should be ignorant of the narrative of their country’s modern history that the leaders of the Islamist regime have carefully propagated, though it’s more likely that that the president learned about this from leftist professors at Columbia University and not at the Indonesian school where he studied as a boy. As Friedman rightly notes, Iran’s rulers see their nuclear-weapons project as an insurance policy against any threat of regime change that might, as many of those Iranians who took to the streets in a “Green Revolution” in 2009 may have hoped, lead to a government that would allow them more freedom than their current theocratic masters with whom the president prefers to do business will ever allow.

Friedman contrasts what he claims is Obama’s nuanced view of Iran with the more simplistic understanding of the country that he attributes to Netanyahu. The latter, he says, views it as a country with no politics and where 85 million people get up every morning clamoring for a bomb to drop on the Jews. The president and Friedman see it as more complex and think the right sort of diplomacy will tip the balance toward more moderate factions and away from extremists.

That is an interesting scenario that most in the West would applaud. But it is also the point at which walking in another fellow’s shoes becomes wishful thinking about that other person wanting the same things you want. In the case of Iran such thinking is not a triumph of understanding. It is delusional.

A truly nuanced view of Iran would incorporate the ideology that runs throughout the Islamist regime encompassing the worldview of both the so-called “moderates,” supposedly led by President Hassan Rouhani, and the hardliners, whose most prominent personality is the supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As much as there is certainly a political struggle between the two factions (though Rouhani has always been a faithful servant of the country’s extremist leaders), they don’t disagree about wanting a bomb. Nor do they differ much on the nation’s goal of regional hegemony or the desirability of obliterating Israel by any means possible. In that sense, Netanyahu’s supposedly more primitive grasp of the situation (a misnomer since the prime minister has devoted far more time to scholarship and writing about the Middle East than Obama has ever done, but never mind) is actually far closer to the truth.

The problem here isn’t that critics of Iran don’t get the motivations of those in power in Tehran. It’s that Obama and his foreign-policy team have bought into a myth about the potential for Iranian moderation that is rooted in their hopes for détente and completely divorced from recent history or Iran’s behavior. Having placed himself in the ayatollah’s slippers, President Obama has not only sought to gain a grasp of his prejudices; he has adopted them and treated them as normative and even worth defending. It is this mindset that caused him to assess his adversary in the talks and to discard the West’s enormous economic and political leverage and give in to Iran’s obdurate demands to keep its nuclear infrastructure rather than face them down.

This is not wisdom or understanding. It is folly and the sort of misplaced empathy with foes that has served as the rationale for every act of appeasement of tyrants throughout history.

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Iran’s Terrorist Allies the First to Benefit From Nuclear Deal

President Obama did everything he could to convince Israelis not to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu. But a position paper just issued by Israel’s chief opposition party makes it clear that on the issue that most separates the U.S. from Israel—the Iran nuclear deal—there isn’t all that much daylight between the Likud and the Zionist Union parties. In it, the Labor-led group states that the deal struck by the West and Iran needs to be changed and that when it comes to this issue, “there is no coalition or opposition,” just a solid Israeli position. There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but one was made obvious today with a report from Israel’s Channel 2 that said in recent weeks Iran had stepped up arms shipments to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as well as to Hamas in Gaza. With the U.S. prepared to end sanctions on Tehran as part of its nuclear agreement, this illustrates that among the chief beneficiaries of a revitalized Iranian economy will be the Islamist regime’s terrorist allies.

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President Obama did everything he could to convince Israelis not to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu. But a position paper just issued by Israel’s chief opposition party makes it clear that on the issue that most separates the U.S. from Israel—the Iran nuclear deal—there isn’t all that much daylight between the Likud and the Zionist Union parties. In it, the Labor-led group states that the deal struck by the West and Iran needs to be changed and that when it comes to this issue, “there is no coalition or opposition,” just a solid Israeli position. There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but one was made obvious today with a report from Israel’s Channel 2 that said in recent weeks Iran had stepped up arms shipments to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as well as to Hamas in Gaza. With the U.S. prepared to end sanctions on Tehran as part of its nuclear agreement, this illustrates that among the chief beneficiaries of a revitalized Iranian economy will be the Islamist regime’s terrorist allies.

The Channel 2 report detailed that Iran has increased its already considerable flow of weapons and cash to its Hezbollah auxiliaries as well as to Hamas. Most troubling is the news that it is not satisfied with helping Hamas rebuild its terror tunnels and replenish its rocket arsenal in Gaza but is also seeking to arm cells of the Islamist group operating in the West Bank. Like Russia’s sale of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran, these moves are part of the inevitable exploitation of Western weakness by an Iranian regime that understands that it has scored a huge victory in the nuclear negotiations. This is a trend that will get only more dangerous as their economy begins to recover after the sanctions disappear.

Administration apologists may claim that Iran’s actions can be seen as a warning to Israel not to act on its own against its nuclear infrastructure. But Tehran knows as well as anyone that the chances of Israel launching a strike against them while the U.S. is engaged in negotiations over their nuclear ambitions is virtually nil. A more realistic analysis of these actions would see them for what they are, more evidence of Iran’s desire to extend its control over the entire region via the actions of its terrorist friends. In particular, it is hoping to use its growing influence to support the most radical Palestinian factions in order to make war with Israel more likely. That is the context in which most Israelis see U.S. efforts to create a new détente between Iran and the West.

The Zionist Union document also illustrates that for all of the demonization of Netanyahu that has been pursued by the administration and its liberal media cheering section, even his most bitter rivals largely accept his positions.

Though Labor and its right-wing antagonists have sniped at each other on Iran as they do on all issues, the Zionist Union paper shares the Netanyahu government’s belief that the current agreement is flawed and must be revised. Though the Obama administration claims that there is no alternative to a negotiation in which they have made concession after concession, mainstream Israeli parties all seem to understand that the choice here is not between diplomacy and war but between weakness and strength that might persuade the Iranians that they can’t count on the U.S. folding on every point as it has in the past. As veteran U.S. peace processer Aaron David Miller—who is no fan of Netanyahu—wrote today in the Wall Street Journal, both Israelis and Arabs understand that what the U.S. is pursuing is an Iran-centric policy that prizes good relations with Tehran over those with its traditional allies.

By choosing not to demand that Iran change its behavior toward other nations, give up terrorism, or drop its calls for Israel’s destruction—a reasonable point considering that nuclear capability theoretically could give it the power to effectuate that scenario—the United States has flashed a green light to Iran for further adventurism in pursuit of its goal of regional hegemony. The president may pretend that the nuclear issue can be separated from other concerns about Iran, but those who must fear its behavior are not so foolish.

Liberal Democrats in Congress who have proved susceptible to administration talking points about Netanyahu and the Likud allying themselves with the Republicans need to take note of the fact that the same party that the White House was trying to help by means both fair and foul (indirect State Department contributions to anti-Netanyahu groups in Israel) takes more or less the same position on the Iran deal as the prime minister. Those who think hostility to Netanyahu should help them choose to override their instincts to back Israel’s position on the Iran deal should think again.

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Obama to Bibi: The Jerk Store Called, They’re Running Out of You!

After State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed Henry Kissinger and George Shultz’s critique of the Iran framework deal as “a lot of big words and big thoughts,” David Brooks responded by asking, “Are we in nursery school?” The evidence for answering that question in the affirmative continued to mount yesterday. Following on last month’s Twitter trolling of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (broadly criticized as mortifyingly undignified), the Obama administration did it again, proving once again the administration’s embarrassing immaturity and the fact that it is Obama who is keeping the public feud with Israel alive.

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After State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed Henry Kissinger and George Shultz’s critique of the Iran framework deal as “a lot of big words and big thoughts,” David Brooks responded by asking, “Are we in nursery school?” The evidence for answering that question in the affirmative continued to mount yesterday. Following on last month’s Twitter trolling of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (broadly criticized as mortifyingly undignified), the Obama administration did it again, proving once again the administration’s embarrassing immaturity and the fact that it is Obama who is keeping the public feud with Israel alive.

This time the White House tweeted out a picture that was expressly intended to mock Netanyahu’s famous bomb diagram at the UN in September 2012. At that time, Netanyahu used the picture to illustrate Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. The cartoon bomb appeared to backfire because it looked like something out of a Warner Bros. cartoon, no doubt leading the White House to hope an Acme anvil would drop out of the sky and onto the podium at that moment. But the illustration did at least draw attention to Netanyahu’s message, and succeeded in driving the conversation in the media.

Yesterday, the White House tweeted out the following picture:

whbomb

The “facts” in the diagram are mostly spin, though I don’t think anyone expects anything accurate out of the Obama administration’s press shop. The point of the diagram–the only point, since the picture isn’t actually informative and the president could have put out this information any number of ways–was to mock the Israeli prime minister on Twitter for something that happened in 2012.

Obama is essentially George Castanza finally coming up with what he believes is a great, though hilariously delayed, response to an earlier insult. Obama’s message to Bibi is: “The jerk store called, they’re running out of you!”

On a more serious note–though at this part we’ll surely lose the president and his spokespersons–does the Obama administration consider how this looks to the world? I doubt it. For example, the Russians just loved it–not because it was funny, but because the Kremlin-directed media expressed what appears to be Vladimir Putin’s uncontainable glee at watching the supposed leader of the free world (or at least Stephen Harper’s deputy leader of the free world, at this point) throw food at the Israeli prime minister in public.

If you’re an American adversary, you don’t even really have to do anything at this point. You can just sit and watch the Obama administration melt down under the weight of its own childish ignorance. Here’s Sputnik:

In three hours, the image had been retweeted nearly 700 times, with one user quipping “Apparently, the #WhiteHouse has hired #Netanyahu ‘s graphic design team.”

All in good fun. Except, you know, for the fact that the Obama administration apparently thinks a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is a big joke.

The last time the Obama administration did this was in early March. Its trolling then was more explicitly aimed at picking a fight with Netanyahu but, unlike this latest trolling, was at least above the intellectual maturity of a preschooler. The National Security Council tweeted out a column by Fareed Zakaria attempting to rebut Netanyahu. But the NSC’s tweet was more than just a link; it also added this administration’s trademark bitterness:

Yesterday’s trolling, ironically, actually confirmed Netanyahu’s success at controlling the conversation about Iranian nukes. The president has been trying to think of a comeback for two and a half years. And the picture, clearly, stuck in the minds of those who saw it.

If you’re thinking that, for an Ivy League-educated president of the United States, we’re sure using the word “trolling” an awful lot–well, yes. That’s one lesson of this whole affair. The president likes to troll allies on Twitter. Is there a better use of his time? I would imagine so.

But to realize that he would need a certain degree of self-awareness. It’s times like this the president’s tendency to hire young communications officials, inexperienced campaign hacks, and a Cabinet and inner circle of yes-men catches up with him.

The other lesson here is that it shows beyond all doubt (if anyone still had doubts) that Obama is the one who wants to keep this feud going, and publicly. At this point it’s obvious that Obama’s obsessive focus on Netanyahu’s campaign comments were merely a pretext to threaten to take action the administration was always planning on taking.

But this makes it crystal clear that when the administration gets all the mileage possible out of one manufactured controversy, and the prime minister hasn’t said anything they could harp on again, they’ll merely drop all pretense and just start taking potshots. Obama does not want this feud dropped, and he does not want reconciliation. He just wants to keep fighting. And our adversaries are just enjoying the show.

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Imagining a Jewish Conservatism

There is a remarkable expression of market economics in the Mishnah, the Jewish law book, in the discussion of fast days, and it’s worth revisiting when reading this month’s typically incisive Mosaic essay on Jewish conservatism. The Mishnah discusses the establishment of communal fast days when the rains don’t arrive by a certain point in the season in which they are needed. If the drought continues, the leaders declare three such fast days in two weeks, with the fasts taking place on consecutive Mondays and Thursdays. The mishnaic text reads:

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There is a remarkable expression of market economics in the Mishnah, the Jewish law book, in the discussion of fast days, and it’s worth revisiting when reading this month’s typically incisive Mosaic essay on Jewish conservatism. The Mishnah discusses the establishment of communal fast days when the rains don’t arrive by a certain point in the season in which they are needed. If the drought continues, the leaders declare three such fast days in two weeks, with the fasts taking place on consecutive Mondays and Thursdays. The mishnaic text reads:

Public fasts are not to be ordered to commence on a Thursday, in order not to raise the price of victuals in the markets; but the first fasts are to be on Monday, Thursday, and [the following] Monday; but the second three fasts may follow on Thursday, Monday, and [the following] Thursday. R. José says, “Even as the first fasts are not to be commenced on Thursday, so also are the second and last fasts not to commence on that day.”

Beginning an unscheduled fast on Thursday would raise prices just when people need to begin their grocery shopping for Shabbat. According to this logic the second fast can be a Thursday because it’s known in advance, giving shoppers time to prepare ahead of time and causing less havoc in the markets.

What we have here is a rather amazing case of Jewish law being set according to market economics and the principle of unintended consequences. You could call such ideas “conservative” or “classically liberal,” such as they are–but of course they preceded thinkers like Milton Friedman by almost two thousand years.

We’ll come back to Friedman in a moment, but first: this month’s fantastic Mosaic essay. In it, Eric Cohen argues for a Jewish conservatism as a political project in response to the threats–demographic, security, and otherwise–the Jews face today. A summary can’t really do the essay justice, so read the whole thing. Cohen talks about the role of the family in fostering continuity; the purpose of Jewish nationalism; the primacy of economics; and other conceptual areas of this political program. But he also says, as well he should, that: “What such an agenda would look like—its programmatic content—is a task for a separate essay and another occasion.”

Cohen’s purpose is to establish the principles, and he does so with great insight and erudition.

But we should still think about how to fill in the blanks, and also make one important distinction. Cohen’s essay is so valuable because it weaves together disparate elements into a “Jewish conservatism.” Yet part of any program of “Jewish conservatism” will also be conservatism as practiced by Jews. And for that, we really do have some idea how it would look.

Israel is the most obvious testing ground for Jewish conservatism. It is a country ever in the process of breaking free from its socialist shackles, but the seeds were planted earlier.

When we discuss the promotion of democracy abroad, we often hear objections like: “There are no Thomas Jeffersons and James Madisons in Iraq.” True. And what makes the United States and Israel such easy allies is the fact that Israel did have Thomas Jeffersons and James Madisons (though it needed more of them; it could have used a full constitution, for example). One such founder was Vladimir Jabotinsky.

Jabotinsky rejected socialism and had a fuller appreciation of individual liberty than virtually any other Israeli founding father. Here is Jabotinsky on representative democracy:

What is especially difficult to understand is the mentality of those who yearn for “leaders.” The situation was completely different and better in my youth. We believed that every movement was made of people of equal worth. Each one was a prince, each one was a king. When election time came, they chose, not people, but programs. Those who were chosen were nothing but the executors of the program. We, the masses, would follow them and listen to them, not because they were “leaders,” but specifically because they were our “servants”; when you, of your own free will, chose a group of people and order to them to work for you, you had to help them–or remove them. Because you were obeying not their will, but only your own will, which was expressed in the election. … This philosophy of my youth was perhaps a complete fiction (like all human philosophies), but I much prefer it; it had more genius and more noblesse, even though it bore the name, whose prestige has declined–democracy.

When your nationalist movement has such men at the forefront, democracy and freedom are in the DNA of the state that eventually comes into being. Jabotinsky’s vision might not have been described as “conservative” then, but it sure is now. This focus on nationalism and democratic accountability is falling out of favor in the West, but any aspiring political program would do well to swim against that tide.

But we can get more specific than that, with examples, once the state was actually founded–actually, when the right finally won an election nearly thirty years after the founding of the country. Shedding the country’s socialist skin was not easy. But Israeli rightists were willing to take on the challenge, at least incrementally. Menachem Begin was the Likud’s first prime minister after the 1977 elections. He called on–you guessed it–Milton Friedman for assistance.

Avi Shilon’s biography of Begin probably has the best rundown of the Begin government’s economic plans. A brief summary is as follows.

Begin wanted Friedman’s help with his New Economic Reversal. Friedman called Begin’s reform plans as “daring as the raid on Entebbe.” Subsidies were eliminated. This was politically brave, since lower-income earners were a crucial voting bloc in Begin’s electoral triumph. Also cancelled were foreign-currency controls to open up trade and investment. In order to try to alleviate the deficit, Begin also raised the value-added tax.

But Begin still did not go far enough, and inflation hit. Shilon writes:

The desire to create a free market in an economy that had not known many changes since the establishment of the state was expressed, among other things, in the fact that the linkage mechanism that compensated wage earners for price increases and that had been in existence since the days of Mapai was not eliminated, thus negating the effect of the built-in mechanism of inflation, by which rising prices were supposed to reduce demand and inflationary pressures.

He was also hesitant to push a fuller privatization program. Additionally, he wouldn’t cut government spending where it needed to be cut to help manage the debt. “I want social justice without socialism,” he had said. It was a start, anyway.

Israel took a big step forward with the Economic Stabilization Program beginning in 1985. Though Labor’s Shimon Peres was prime minister that year, he was heading a national unity government at a time when Likud had the upper hand, and the program was overseen by the Likud finance minister, Yitzhak Moda’i. It was instituted to boost the shekel, and rein in government spending through various mechanisms. It also had the assistance of the Reagan administration.

The stabilization was successful. More such programs finally took place in 2003 when Benjamin Netanyahu, at the time the finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s government, instituted more reforms by cutting taxes and increasing privatization while keeping government spending in check. And of course we can’t forget Israel’s reputation as a “start-up nation,” in which the opportunity to take risks and innovate is a mark of pride.

Back in the U.S., many American Jews are already positively disposed toward market economics, which has given them unprecedented freedom and prosperity. But other issues, such as school choice and religious liberty, will play an increasingly significant role in their lives. On those issues, the conservative positions may become more attractive to practicing Jews.

I’ve deliberately left off support for Israel. Although these days the American right is far friendlier to Israel than is the left, there is nothing specifically “conservative,” just as there is nothing specifically “liberal,” about support for an ally and a fellow democracy like Israel. It ought to be part of any conservative political program, but I hesitate to say it’s conceptually conservative.

There are other examples I’m sure I’m missing, but it will only help to put meat on the bones of a Jewish conservatism that we have so many real-world examples of Jews practicing political conservatism. With that combination, a real Jewish conservatism can take shape.

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A Bad Nuclear Deal? Never Mind!

Rather than merely inveigh against the seeming betrayal of the U.S.-Israel alliance represented by President Obama’s pursuit of détente with Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is attempting to reason with the administration. It has issued a detailed list of shortcomings with the as-yet-unwritten deal with Tehran that illustrate just how flimsy are the assurances about the nuclear threat the administration has been giving the nation. The president has dismissed some of them but for the most part the White House has ignored, at least in public, the specific problems with the pact. But the New York Times editorial page, which continues to serve as the president’s chief cheerleader, did deign to notice the Israeli list today. And while the editors of the Times acknowledged that all of the Israeli points were troubling, their response was straight out of a classic Saturday Night Live comedy routine: Never mind. While this is quite a commentary on the poor reasoning of the deal’s chief advocates, it also illustrates that their boasts about the agreement’s worth are as hollow as the president’s assurances that it will stop Iran from getting a bomb.

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Rather than merely inveigh against the seeming betrayal of the U.S.-Israel alliance represented by President Obama’s pursuit of détente with Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is attempting to reason with the administration. It has issued a detailed list of shortcomings with the as-yet-unwritten deal with Tehran that illustrate just how flimsy are the assurances about the nuclear threat the administration has been giving the nation. The president has dismissed some of them but for the most part the White House has ignored, at least in public, the specific problems with the pact. But the New York Times editorial page, which continues to serve as the president’s chief cheerleader, did deign to notice the Israeli list today. And while the editors of the Times acknowledged that all of the Israeli points were troubling, their response was straight out of a classic Saturday Night Live comedy routine: Never mind. While this is quite a commentary on the poor reasoning of the deal’s chief advocates, it also illustrates that their boasts about the agreement’s worth are as hollow as the president’s assurances that it will stop Iran from getting a bomb.

Though the Times terms the deal “surprisingly comprehensive,” the most interesting thing about the editorial is that it can’t dismiss the list of problems that Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz has produced. On each point, even the Times, which has been consistently and scathingly critical of the Netanyahu government on Iran as well as every other possible issue, admits the Israelis generally have a good argument.

The Times admits that eliminating Iran’s centrifuges, closing down the impregnable mountainside facility at Fordow, and mandating inspections anytime and anywhere would be preferable to what President Obama has accepted.

On other points, the Times notes Israel’s objections, but disingenuously claims that the agreement satisfies them. One such is the question of the stockpile of enriched uranium that, contrary to the expectations of even critics of the administration’s negotiating strategy, will not be shipped out of Iran and will instead remain under the regime’s control. The Times says that this stockpile, like the continued operation of the thousands of centrifuges that will continue to operate, means that “Iran can’t enrich material for nuclear weapons.” But that is not true since the stockpile can be easily and quickly reconverted to use for nuclear fuel. So, too, can any centrifuges that are being reconfigured for other uses.

Elsewhere, the Times merely engages in wishful thinking. That is especially true in its reaction to the Israelis pointing out that Iran has continued to stonewall the International Atomic Energy Agency on its past research on military use of nuclear material. The fact that the deal does not require Iran to tell the truth about this is a fatal flaw since without knowing how much progress they’ve made, all estimates about the time needed for a nuclear “breakout” are uninformed guesses. To this point, the Times merely breezily pretends that the written final version of the agreement will ensure that Iran does open up on this issue.

That is nonsense, since Iran has already learned that when faced with a refusal in a negotiation, the Obama administration always folds. And that is the entire point of both the editorial and the cogent criticisms that have been made about the deal.

It is true that, as the Times states, negotiations require compromises. But if the goal of this agreement is to ensure that Iran doesn’t either cheat its way to a bomb, or, as is just as likely, get one by abiding by a pact whose restrictions will expire in 15 years, then compromise that allows either scenario to happen is counter-productive.

The administration and the Times claims that to insist on any of the Israeli points would be to scuttle the deal. But all that tells us is that, as has been evident since the start of the negotiations, President Obama’s main purpose was to get a deal at any price, not to insist on one that would fulfill his campaign promises about eliminating Iran’s nuclear program. To claim that a deal that would fit Israel’s parameters is “unworkable” is merely to cravenly accept Iran’s frame of reference about the nuclear issue.

The Israeli objections are a viable alternative because they provide a path to a deal that would actually fulfill the avowed purpose of the negotiations. An agreement that would impose inspections, reduce Iran’s nuclear infrastructure to a bare minimum, and remove all possibility of their ever breaking out would do just that. So, too, would one that wouldn’t expire in a few years which, given the huge nuclear establishment left in place, almost guarantees that the Islamist regime will be in possession of a bomb sooner or later.

The gap between Israel and the United States is not so much about the details but as to goals. The administration and its supporters have abandoned the quest to stop Iran or decided that it’s just too heavy a lift to keep trying. Israel and rational critics of the president in Congress understand that the alternative is to demand a good deal or to ratchet up sanctions and isolation that would force Iran to give way. It is true that in the absence of a leader with the intestinal fortitude to push the Iranians hard and to credibly threaten force, that may be impossible.

But the Times editorial shows us there is no substantive debate about the shortcomings of the deal with Iran. If even the president’s most ardent backers seem to understand that it is a flimsy check on Tehran even if they continue to describe it with meaningless laudatory phrases about it being “groundbreaking” and even having “potential” (a piece of unintended comedy if ever there was one), then how can open-minded observers take their defense of it seriously?

Supporters of the administration understand that their only real talking point is one that claims that even a weak deal is better than none at all. That is not a compelling argument about any issue and certainly not one that involves giving a vicious, aggressive anti-Semitic regime the status of a threshold nuclear power.

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Obama’s Right

Whenever Barack Obama says, as he often does, that another war in the Middle East is the only alternative to the deal he is making with Iran, his critics immediately accuse him of setting up a straw man, which indeed he also often does. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the sternest and most effective critic of Obama’s deal, declares that the true alternative to it is not war but “a better deal.” So, too, leading domestic opponents like Senators Lindsay Graham and Tom Cotton.

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Whenever Barack Obama says, as he often does, that another war in the Middle East is the only alternative to the deal he is making with Iran, his critics immediately accuse him of setting up a straw man, which indeed he also often does. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the sternest and most effective critic of Obama’s deal, declares that the true alternative to it is not war but “a better deal.” So, too, leading domestic opponents like Senators Lindsay Graham and Tom Cotton.

Now I consider the agreement Obama has negotiated a dishonorable and dangerous product of appeasement, and so it pains me to side with him against political figures I admire and generally support. Nevertheless, I have to confess that I think he is right in arguing that the only alternative to a deal is war.

By this I do not mean that war is the only alternative to Obama’s deal alone. What I mean is that war is the only alternative to any deal the Iranians would be willing to sign–if, that is, the purpose is really to prevent them from getting the bomb. Obama keeps insisting that this is what his deal will accomplish. But it seems increasingly clear that he no longer thinks, if he ever did, that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would be so dangerous that it must be prevented at all costs from getting them.

Up until a few years ago, there was hardly any dissent from this conviction. Yet while just about every political leader and pundit throughout the West agreed that the threat of military force had to be “kept on the table” in order for peaceful means to succeed, most of them were confident that a judicious combination of carrots and sticks would do the trick and that military force would never need to be taken off the table and actually used.

There was, however, a small minority–myself included–who contended that the Iranians were so determined to build a nuclear arsenal that nothing, not sanctions and not the chance (in Barack Obama’s words) to “get right with the world,” could ever induce them to give up their pursuit of it. And since we were convinced that negotiations could accomplish nothing but buy the Iranians more time to forge ahead, we also thought that the sooner we bombed their nuclear facilities the better.

We were fully aware that such a course was very risky. It would almost certainly trigger Iranian retaliation against our troops in the region and against Israel, and it might well lead to the dire economic consequences that Iran could let loose by blocking the flow of oil. Yet in our view all this was as nothing compared with the nuclear arms race that an Iranian bomb would set off throughout the Middle East.

Even worse, there was also the high probability that Iran–once possessed of the means to make good on their openly and repeatedly stated dream of “wiping Israel off the map”–would either provoke the Israelis into a preemptive nuclear strike or try to beat them to the punch with a preemptive nuclear strike of its own. Either way, the casualties and the destruction would reach unimaginable heights.

Our position was summed up in the slogan “the only thing worse than bombing Iran is letting Iran get the bomb.” And to those like President Obama who charged us with warmongering, our response was that the choice was not between a negotiated settlement and war. It was between a conventional war now and a nuclear war later.

As for the Obama deal, if its purpose were really to prevent the Iranians from getting the bomb, it would be a total failure, if only because it leaves their nuclear infrastructure intact and gives them plenty of room to cheat. But judging by deeds rather than words, it is reasonable to conclude that what Obama is trying to do is not to keep Iran from getting the bomb but to further his quest for a detente, or even a de facto alliance, with Iran. Already we see the foreshadowing of such an alliance in his willingness to cooperate with the Iranians in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and his reluctance to take any steps in the Middle East (against their ally Syria, for example) that might displease them.

At this point, the slogan that best applies comes from Winston Churchill’s devastating comment on Neville Chamberlain’s pact with Hitler at Munich in 1938: “You were given a choice between dishonor and war. You have chosen dishonor and now you will get war”–and this time a nuclear war at that. Unless, that is, the Israelis were to choose conventional war now over nuclear war later. My guess is that they will, but it is just as likely that Obama, despite his repeated assurances that he “has Israel’s back,” will stop them by threatening to withhold the diplomatic support and the resupply of lost weaponry they would need. In that case God help us all.

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Why Is Obama’s Stance on Israel Questioned by So Many?

Yesterday in an interview with the New York Times Thomas Friedman, President Obama purported to be aggrieved that anyone would question his support for Israel or his respect for concerns about its security. Not satisfied with merely asserting his devotion to the Jewish state, he said it was “personally difficult” to hear such criticism and that he would consider his presidency “a failure” if anything he did weakened it. Six years of endless attempts to undermine Israel’s diplomatic position and the last few months of bitter, personal and even vulgar criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu culminating in threats to leave it isolated at the United Nations made his protestations absurd if not completely disingenuous. But Israelis could at least console themselves that in the course of trying to sell his appeasement of Iran to Congress, he was trying to downplay the crisis in the alliance that he had created. But it only took 24 hours for Obama to answer his own question about why so many Americans and Israelis question his attitude about Israel. In another interview, this time with another friendly questioner from the reliably liberal NPR, Obama dismissed the suggestion that Iran be asked to recognize Israel as part of the nuclear deal he is promoting. His reason: doing so would mean asking Iran to change the nature of its regime. To which critics must respond that this is exactly why it can’t be trusted with a nuclear infrastructure.

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Yesterday in an interview with the New York Times Thomas Friedman, President Obama purported to be aggrieved that anyone would question his support for Israel or his respect for concerns about its security. Not satisfied with merely asserting his devotion to the Jewish state, he said it was “personally difficult” to hear such criticism and that he would consider his presidency “a failure” if anything he did weakened it. Six years of endless attempts to undermine Israel’s diplomatic position and the last few months of bitter, personal and even vulgar criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu culminating in threats to leave it isolated at the United Nations made his protestations absurd if not completely disingenuous. But Israelis could at least console themselves that in the course of trying to sell his appeasement of Iran to Congress, he was trying to downplay the crisis in the alliance that he had created. But it only took 24 hours for Obama to answer his own question about why so many Americans and Israelis question his attitude about Israel. In another interview, this time with another friendly questioner from the reliably liberal NPR, Obama dismissed the suggestion that Iran be asked to recognize Israel as part of the nuclear deal he is promoting. His reason: doing so would mean asking Iran to change the nature of its regime. To which critics must respond that this is exactly why it can’t be trusted with a nuclear infrastructure.

Obama said the following to NPR’s Steve Inskeep:

The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.

Obama went on to say that he believed the reason why the deal couldn’t be struck in that matter was because his goal was to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and that he couldn’t count on it changing.

That makes a sort of superficial sense. And if the as yet unwritten deal actually ensured that Iran could never get a nuclear weapon, he might have a strong case for ignoring the nature of the Iranian government. But despite his ardent salesmanship, he can’t honestly claim that it does. Obama has made an endless string of concessions that have allowed to keep its nuclear infrastructure, included its fortified bunker at Fordow, not forced it to export its stockpile of nuclear fuel, reveal the extent of its nuclear research and put an expiration date on the restrictions on its program. All this means that Iran can, if it is patient, build up its nuclear capabilities and then have a bomb in short order at the end of the agreement. Or, if it is not that patient, it can easily cheat its way to a weapon due to the weakness of the deal and the lack of a truly strict inspections regime or the ability of the West to quickly reimpose sanctions.

At best, all Obama has accomplished is to delay an Iranian bomb. At worst, he has allowed it to get close to one with Western permission and after having made it impossible to reassemble the international coalition that might have brought Iran to its knees had it been led by an American president with the guts to stick to a tough line rather than one that folded at every opportunity. The reason for this was that Obama’s goal throughout this process was détente with an aggressive, anti-Semitic and tyrannical regime rather than an effort to keep his 2012 campaign promise to eliminate its nuclear program.

Thus, the question about forcing it to recognize Israel is actually an apt one. Having empowered Iran at a time when its quest for regional hegemony via actions in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and now Gaza are scaring Israelis as well as moderate Arabs, it is fair to ask why the deal ignored Tehran’s support for terrorism and its frequent threats to obliterate Israel.

The president is right that to ask Iran to give up its rhetoric about Israel, let alone its policies aimed at bringing its dream of its elimination about, is to seek to change the nature of its theocratic government. But that is exactly why any deal that leaves people who have such goals in possession of thousands of nuclear centrifuges and a stockpile of nuclear fuel and a free pass to build a bomb in 15 years is tantamount to saying you don’t give a damn about Israel’s legitimate worries about Iran.

It was beneath the dignity of the presidency for Obama to feign hurt feelings about criticism for his efforts to undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance. Had he not spent most of his presidency (with the exception of the one year grace period of a Jewish charm offensive that accompanied his re-election campaign) sniping at Netanyahu, tilting the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians and ignoring the latter’s consistent rejection of peace, there would be no justifications for questioning his bona fides as a friend of Israel.

But when he treats the vile threats against Israel as an insignificant detail about his prized negotiating partner, he betrays his own mindset that sees the Jewish state’s existential worries as a tiresome drag on his diplomatic ambitions. The president would probably prefer that the Iranians pipe down about their desire to destroy Israel but he doesn’t feel strongly enough about it to let it derail his grand design for a rapprochement with Tehran.

The president can complain about his hurt feelings as much as he wants though to do so strains even the credulity of his most fawning interviewers. But by agreeing to a deal that makes Iran a threshold nuclear power without insisting on it dropping its ideology of hate, the president has answered questions about his negative attitude toward Israel by confirming the worst fears of his critics.

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Netanyahu Can’t Back Down On Iran Now

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned up on the Sunday morning talk shows yesterday as the principal voice speaking out against the Iran nuclear deal, there’s little doubt that many people in the White House breathed a sigh of relief. Having sent President Obama out to talk to friendly outlets like the New York Times to defend an agreement that has yet to be put onto paper and which the Iranian regime is characterizing in a wholly different manner from that of the administration, they understand that the more the public understands about the details, the less they are going to like it. Advocacy for a pact about which the best that can be said is that it is better than a false choice of war is not easy. Nor is attempting to claim that the president alone ought to be able to decide about this rather than allowing Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibility to an up or down vote on foreign treaties. Yet the president is probably entirely comfortable if this argument is reduced to another Barack versus Bibi debate such as the one about the latter’s address to Congress last month. But though Netanyahu is being set up for another beating in the press, he has little choice but to continue to speak out.

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When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned up on the Sunday morning talk shows yesterday as the principal voice speaking out against the Iran nuclear deal, there’s little doubt that many people in the White House breathed a sigh of relief. Having sent President Obama out to talk to friendly outlets like the New York Times to defend an agreement that has yet to be put onto paper and which the Iranian regime is characterizing in a wholly different manner from that of the administration, they understand that the more the public understands about the details, the less they are going to like it. Advocacy for a pact about which the best that can be said is that it is better than a false choice of war is not easy. Nor is attempting to claim that the president alone ought to be able to decide about this rather than allowing Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibility to an up or down vote on foreign treaties. Yet the president is probably entirely comfortable if this argument is reduced to another Barack versus Bibi debate such as the one about the latter’s address to Congress last month. But though Netanyahu is being set up for another beating in the press, he has little choice but to continue to speak out.

The arguments about whether Netanyahu erred in accepting House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to speak to Congress earlier this year are moot. In doing so, he allowed the White House to divert the discussion from one about their indefensible appeasement of Iran to whether the prime minister and his GOP hosts had violated protocol or were “insulting” the president. That didn’t help those attempting to muster a veto-proof majority for more sanctions on Iran as well as the Corker-Menendez bill requiring the pact to be ratified by Congress before going into effect. But in the long run the arguments about the speech were meaningless. Netanyahu gave a great speech but nothing he said could have possibly altered the course of the negotiations in Switzerland. Nor did it galvanize Congress into immediate action.

Now that Iran has finally deigned to accept an agreement that allows it to become a threshold nuclear power and gives it a legal path to a bomb if it passes the time until the deal ends or to cheat its way to one if it doesn’t want to wait, Netanyahu has been put in an unenviable position. If he speaks up now, it allows the president to claim that the Israelis are allying themselves with his Republican opponents and gives him more ammunition with which he can try to persuade wavering Democrats to abandon the bipartisan consensus behind Corker-Menendez. If he remains silent, he abandons the field to Obama and his apologists at a time when Israel’s security—and that of its erstwhile antagonists among the moderate Arab nations in the region—is being imperiled.

It is unfortunate that the attitude among many Democrats, including many who claim to be friends of Israel, is such that they no longer hesitate to attack Netanyahu or dismiss his strong arguments about the nuclear deal with impunity. One such was California Senator Dianne Feinstein who more or less told Netanyahu to shut up and stop annoying his betters in an interview on CNN yesterday. Part of the fault for this is Netanyahu’s pre-election statements about the two-state solution and Arab voters that offended many Americans as well as the backwash from the speech controversy. But the bottom line here is that all of these anti-Netanyahu talking points have been ginned up primarily by an Obama administration that wants to silence the most prominent and articulate critic of its feckless quest for détente with Iran.

But whether or not Democrats and other liberals are putting their fingers in their ears and chanting “la, la, la” every time he speaks up about the obvious weaknesses to the Iran deal, Netanyahu can’t back down now.

Some criticized his speech to Congress as a mere appeal to history rather than a pragmatic effort to influence U.S. policy. There was some truth to that point but it is not one that is to Netanyahu’s discredit. Given the presence in the White House of a president who has been obsessed with ending 35 years of enmity between the U.S. and Iran, there was never anything that Netanyahu or any Israeli leader could ever do to stop Obama from getting his deal if he made as many concessions to the Islamist regime as he did. All Netanyahu can do at this point is make clear the danger that the president is creating for Israel, moderate Arabs, and the West.

Moreover, despite the dismissals of his plea for Western patience and courage to broker a better deal with Iran, Netanyahu does have a coherent alternative to Obama’s path. The U.S. could have, and still could if it had a president who wasn’t besotted with Iran détente, use all the economic and political weapons at its disposal to bring Tehran’s economy to its knees. It could insist that any deal be dependent on an end to Iranian support for international terrorism as well as force it to give up far more of its nuclear infrastructure and its fuel stockpile. It won’t because Obama didn’t have the guts to stick to his position when push came to shove.

Israel has no good options to deal with the threat from Iran. It cannot—and won’t—bomb Iran while it is negotiating with the United States. Nor can it shame the West into better behavior. But Netanyahu can speak. In spite of the opprobrium that has been hurled against him, he remains a strong voice respected by most of the American public. The list of improvements in this very bad agreement put forward by the Israelis are informative and will be useful to Congress and members of the American general public. Netanyahu must, if possible, avoid making himself the center of the argument. But he cannot be silent. Though the chances of success in this effort may not be good, he has no choice but to continue to speak lest history judge him and anyone else who punts on the issue as being complicit in one of the most disgraceful examples of appeasement in modern history.

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Does Iran Agreement Make an Israeli Unity Government More Likely?

The negotiating posture of the Jewish Home party’s Naftali Bennett can best be described as a strange mix of hardball and desperation. After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats in last month’s Knesset elections, he was tasked with forming a governing coalition. Jewish Home’s share of the Knesset seats dropped to single digits. The result has left Bennett demanding a princely sum to join the coalition while also insisting he’s being ignored so Likud can bring Labor into the coalition. Only a couple of weeks ago it seemed completely unrealistic, but is it less so now in light of the U.S.-Iran “framework” agreement?

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The negotiating posture of the Jewish Home party’s Naftali Bennett can best be described as a strange mix of hardball and desperation. After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats in last month’s Knesset elections, he was tasked with forming a governing coalition. Jewish Home’s share of the Knesset seats dropped to single digits. The result has left Bennett demanding a princely sum to join the coalition while also insisting he’s being ignored so Likud can bring Labor into the coalition. Only a couple of weeks ago it seemed completely unrealistic, but is it less so now in light of the U.S.-Iran “framework” agreement?

The argument goes something like this. The classic cliché of Israeli politics is that only the left can make war and only the right can make peace, because each would have enough support for the initiative from the opposition leaders to prevent domestic politics from getting in the way. It’s an exaggeration but there’s much truth to it. Netanyahu signed a deal with Arafat at Wye River and Ariel Sharon instituted the Gaza disengagement, while Israel’s major land wars were mostly wrapped up by the time the left lost its first Knesset election.

This dynamic, plus the politician’s ever-present desire to be a part of legacy-defining events, has made a possible unity government in which Likud would bring Labor into the coalition more realistic. The event in question, of course, is an attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

If a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program does actually get signed, whether it’s by the June 30 deadline or a later date, the devil will be in the details. But the framework agreement, intended to be an outline for a final deal, is a monument to the Obama administration’s serial capitulation.

A best-case scenario is that the deal would establish and legitimize Iran as a threshold nuclear power–though it is unlikely anyone will be able to see the best-case scenario from wherever we actually end up in late June. All of which means Obama is willing to toss some more fuel on the fires of the Middle East on his way out the door. The allies he’s abandoned to this future will have to decide how best to put out the flames of Obama’s failures.

One way would be do something Netanyahu has always wanted to avoid: an Israeli strike on Iran. The Obama administration has boasted in the past that it exploited Netanyahu’s hesitation to use military force and Israel’s trust in America to prevent a strike on Iran. Team Obama now thinks an Israeli strike is so unlikely as to openly mock Bibi’s moderation (a moderation they won’t admit to unless it involves getting to toss grade-school insults at the Israelis).

Isaac Herzog, whose Labor Party seemed poised to go into the opposition, is not the dove the White House obviously thinks he is. Hence, a unity government might make sense.

But those who advocate a unity government, such as Haaretz’s Aluf Benn, are missing the fact that it is Herzog, not Netanyahu who is likely to be the largest impediment to such a coalition. Benn writes:

Netanyahu needs Herzog as a moderate foreign minister, who will be in charge of repairing relations with the Obama administration. There is no one suitable for the job in the proposed right-wing government. … Appointing Herzog will also enable Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, a right-wing political hack who is disconnected from the administration, to be replaced by a professional diplomat with experience and multiple connections, such as Israel’s ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor.

Why would Netanyahu dislike this arrangement? He would oppose swapping out Dermer not because he’d have any objection to Prosor but because it would be a stinging rebuke to his own close advisor. But giving a major position like foreign minister to Herzog would have a great deal of upside for him. Bringing Herzog into the government gives him an excuse not to have to choose between Avigdor Lieberman and Bennett for the Foreign Ministry. It would give him a more expansive governing mandate. It would not only tamp down leftist discontent if Israel does decide it needs to strike Iran but would also make it more challenging for Western leaders to whine about right-wing militancy after such a strike. It would clear the space, also, for possible electoral reforms that might make coalition-building less of a headache. And it would have Labor buy-in on Netanyahu’s preferred economic policies.

Indeed, in 2009 Netanyahu brought Labor into his coalition, though he perhaps wanted to have Ehud Barak as his defense minister more than any other benefit the party brought to the table. And he wanted the opposition party, Tzipi Livni’s Kadima, in the coalition too. Why not? The more the merrier.

But is there such a clear case for Herzog? Here he has to game out a few scenarios. Kadima went into steep decline soon after that election and Livni lost a battle for the party’s leadership. So Herzog might look at that and think the lesson is he should join the government when given the opportunity. Yet at the same time, Labor’s joining the Netanyahu government in that very same coalition was the final straw for Laborites who finally had their opportunity to get rid of Barak.

Herzog also has to be quite careful about internal dissent. After improving Labor’s gains in the last election, then-party leader Shelly Yachimovich lost her leadership battle to … Herzog. Meanwhile, Yachimovich might have been better positioned to lead Labor in this past election, in which economic issues played an important role. The last thing Herzog needs now is buyer’s remorse from his own supporters.

Additionally, Labor was neck and neck with Likud in the polls and then established a lead before the elections. Yet they lost, and it wasn’t all that close either. Perhaps Labor dropped the ball, or perhaps they just didn’t see what Likud pollsters swear they saw all along. Whatever the case, discontent with Herzog is likely to bubble up to the surface.

Will joining a Netanyahu government protect his leadership? It can be argued that it will increase his national stature by demonstrating a willingness to put patriotism above politics. And it might show the country that he is, in fact, no dove, and thus make him a more plausible prime minister going forward.

The problem is that all these benefits will likely inflame his leftist base, who are not so hawkish and who are sensitive to the idea of being coopted by Likud. Herzog will try to find the right balance, but it’s doubtful Netanyahu is the one who needs convincing here.

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Obama’s Legacy and the Verdict of History

Yesterday’s announcement of a framework for a nuclear deal with Iran is being sold by the administration as a historic foreign-policy triumph for President Obama. Most of his press cheering section seems to agree. The president has told us that he has begun a process that forecloses Iran’s path to a bomb. Just as importantly, he sees it as an achievement which, like his massive federal health-care initiative, will fulfill his boasts about changing the world that were so much a part of his initial campaign for the presidency. Though the Iran framework is filled with so many caveats and loopholes that may allow Iran to easily evade its strictures and will, in any event, grant it impunity to do as it likes in ten or 15 years, this seems a flimsy foundation for a legacy. Yet the president may be right about it being integral to his legacy. The only problem is that what could follow from this turning point may not burnish his reputation as a peacemaker as much as it will solidify his place in history as an appeaser that empowered a violent, hate-driven regime.

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Yesterday’s announcement of a framework for a nuclear deal with Iran is being sold by the administration as a historic foreign-policy triumph for President Obama. Most of his press cheering section seems to agree. The president has told us that he has begun a process that forecloses Iran’s path to a bomb. Just as importantly, he sees it as an achievement which, like his massive federal health-care initiative, will fulfill his boasts about changing the world that were so much a part of his initial campaign for the presidency. Though the Iran framework is filled with so many caveats and loopholes that may allow Iran to easily evade its strictures and will, in any event, grant it impunity to do as it likes in ten or 15 years, this seems a flimsy foundation for a legacy. Yet the president may be right about it being integral to his legacy. The only problem is that what could follow from this turning point may not burnish his reputation as a peacemaker as much as it will solidify his place in history as an appeaser that empowered a violent, hate-driven regime.

It is possible that some of the president’s hopes will be fulfilled. Perhaps Iran’s leaders have been telling the truth about not wanting to build a bomb, though everything they have done leads to the opposite conclusion. Perhaps they will keep their promises and not cheat on a deal that will give them ample opportunities to do so even though the history of this regime tells us that this would be the first time such a thing would happen. It is also possible that those who constantly tell us of the innate moderation of the Iranian people will be right and the opening up of the Iranian economy to the world will set in motion fundamental changes in their society that will transform its government and cause it to cease its campaign to undermine the stability of Arab governments in the region, stop supporting terrorism, and give up its dream of obliterating Israel.

If all those things happen, then President Obama has been right and his critics, including the majority of both houses of Congress and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, will have been wrong. But everything we know about the nature of the regime that he has pursued so relentlessly informs us that this is unlikely to be the case.

Indeed, the course of the negotiations into which the president has invested so much time and political capital shows that Tehran is prepared to ferociously defend not only its nuclear options but also its ideology. Even as the president was instructing his negotiators to give way on almost every key point during the negotiations—including the location of Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel, the retention of thousands of centrifuges, the reimposition of sanctions, and its unwillingness to tell the truth about the extent of its military research program—the Islamist regime was expanding its reach throughout the Middle East as its auxiliaries and allies strengthened their hold on Syria, Iraq, and now Yemen. Nor did it trouble to lower its voice about threatening Israel with destruction (a point which one of its top military leaders said was “not negotiable” just days before the happy announcement in Lausanne). Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plea that final deal signed in June includes Iran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist is a forlorn hope that has zero chance of fulfillment. That’s not only because Iran would never do so but because the United States has not asked for such a thing any more than it has demanded that an end to Iranian support for terrorism or its building of ballistic missiles be included in the deal.

Having agreed to measures that will jumpstart an Iranian economy that might have been brought to its knees had President Obama stuck to the strategy that brought the regime to the negotiating table, the notion that it will moderate its ambitions is simply wishful thinking. Nor is there any reason to think that a government that has always treated its nuclear program as a key symbol and tool of their ability to defy the West will step back from their ambition to create a weapon.

At the same time, Arab governments whose existence is being threatened by Iranian-back subversion, and who rightly understand that they are as much in the crosshairs of Tehran as Israel, will now begin their own races to a bomb. Though President Obama clings to the notion that what he has done is to help Iran “get right with the world,” its neighbors understand that what is happening is the strengthening of a dangerous revolutionary power whose goals have nothing to do with peace.

President Obama may get his deal in June and he may even be able to pick off enough Democratic senators whose party loyalty exceeds their devotion to principles to prevent the passage of the Corker-Menendez bill that would force any such agreement to be subject, as it should under the Constitution, to a vote by Congress. He may well exit the White House claiming that his diplomacy has prevented Iran from getting a bomb, making him a great success in his own eyes and in those of his many fans in the press and the country.

But if we strip away the gloss of false optimism and subject the deal to cold, hard logic, the best-case scenario for this effort is that it will put off an Iranian bomb by a decade, though it will become a threshold nuclear power almost immediately. In the meantime, a dangerous Islamist regime will be strengthened, American allies weakened, and the stage will be set for a series of proxy wars across the Middle East as well as a surge in Iranian-backed terrorism. A more pessimistic assessment would see Iran cheat its way to a bomb much sooner with an emboldened Tehran using its enhanced diplomatic, economic, and political power to transform the Shia-Sunni split from a regional source of tension to a new age of religious wars in the region with untold consequences and casualties. Either way, U.S. influence will suffer a blow with equally uncertain costs.

President Obama should enjoy the adulation he is receiving today. He is a young man who will hopefully enjoy a long post-presidency that will enable him to witness what his attempt to forge a legacy will mean for the world. But that is a dangerous position for any appeaser to be in. If, contrary to his hubristic assumptions, Iran is not transformed into a peaceful partner of the U.S., he will have an equally long time to account for his folly and to face the awful truth about the destruction caused by his feckless pursuit of détente with Iran.

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Obama’s Preemptive Attack on Critics of the Iran “Framework”

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry went to some lengths to head off criticism of today’s framework agreement with Iran. And the president himself indicated just how concerned he was about the reaction among our allies by calling out potential critics–in the case of the Israeli prime minister, doing so by name–before they could fire the first shot.

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President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry went to some lengths to head off criticism of today’s framework agreement with Iran. And the president himself indicated just how concerned he was about the reaction among our allies by calling out potential critics–in the case of the Israeli prime minister, doing so by name–before they could fire the first shot.

Obama’s press conference this afternoon was notable for its tone. Though he was ostensibly announcing what he considers something of a diplomatic victory, he was agitated and defensive. But it was not just the tone. Here is what Obama said about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

It’s no secret that the Israeli prime minister and I don’t agree about whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue. If in fact Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking for the most effective way to ensure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, this is the best option.

It is a remarkably spiteful comment. What the president is saying is not that he and Netanyahu disagree about how to achieve a peaceful resolution. He says they disagree on “whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution” (emphasis added). In other words, Obama is saying publicly that Netanyahu wants war with Iran, and he wants the United States to fight it.

This is significant not just because of what it says about the president’s opinion of Netanyahu. It’s also important because Netanyahu is not just speaking for Israel. As we’ve seen throughout this process, Netanyahu has of late become the public spokesman for a coalition consisting of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other regional allies. And he’s voicing concerns that the French clearly possess as well, but won’t risk their seat at the table to say publicly.

Ironically, Obama’s shunning of Netanyahu has made such public criticism more likely, not less. By putting Netanyahu on the outside looking in–as opposed to giving him more of a stake in the discussions, as he’s done with the French–he’s given the Israeli prime minister and other skeptics in Israel’s security establishment more room to rally opposition to any element of a deal that would put them in grave danger.

That’s why Obama wanted to have some kind of agreement to announce this week, well ahead of the June 30 deadline for a more complete deal. Throughout this process the president has insisted that the only two options on the table are the deal or war. It was untrue, and not very convincing. After all, some details kept changing, and others were never set, so what the president really meant was it’s either whatever deal they can scrounge together or war, which was intended to insulate the administration against criticism for some of the inevitable concessions made to Iran.

But critics of the way the administration handled the negotiations could always credibly say that this wasn’t true–that there were other options, namely a better deal. As long as the parameters were theoretical, they had room to maneuver. What Obama wanted to do is box them in by announcing the parameters well ahead of the announcement of a final deal. This would give the administration a three-month head start to say that it really is this deal or war. Either way, it’s a fait accompli: these are the terms, they’ll say, and no other terms are relevant now.

The purpose of Obama declaring a victory of sorts and calling out Netanyahu today, then, was to send the following message: Critics of this framework must, by process of elimination, want war. It’s why Obama felt so confident smearing Netanyahu as being against a “peaceful” resolution. Because the narrative the administration will hammer home now is that there is only one peaceful resolution on offer.

If it was intended to prevent criticism, it didn’t work. The Times of Israel reports that Jerusalem is already reacting:

In Jerusalem, officials slammed the framework as “a capitulation to Iranian dictates.” The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, called it “a bad framework that will lead to a bad and dangerous agreement. If finalized, it would make the world “far more dangerous.”

The agreement constitutes “international legitimization of Iran’s nuclear program” whose “only purpose is to build nuclear weapons.”

That shouldn’t be surprising. Just because these are the terms the administration could get doesn’t mean it’s not a bad deal. If our allies in the region are on the same page, it also means the Saudis will be unconvinced and are likely to continue exploring their own route to nuclear capability, with the Egyptians not far behind. If Obama thinks this is a victory, it’s easy to see why our allies don’t agree.

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Israeli Peace Gestures Not Only Don’t Work. They Make Things Worse.

For those Americans who care about Israel, this is a time of crisis. The Obama administration’s reckless pursuit of détente with Iran and its anger over the reelection of Prime Minister Netanyahu has brought us to a critical moment in which it is now possible to imagine the United States abandoning Israel at the United Nations and taking steps to further distance itself from the Jewish state. Many in this country place most of the blame for the problem on Netanyahu because of his willingness to directly challenge the president on Iran and his statements about the two-state solution and the Arab vote prior to his victory that have undermined his reputation among non-Israelis. In response some well-meaning thinkers are proposing that the answer to the problem lies in gestures that Netanyahu could undertake that would both improve Israel’s image and lower tensions with the United States. But Netanyahu is right to not think the effort worth the bother. The recent history of the conflict illustrates that Israeli concessions intended to prove their devotion to peace don’t impress either the Arabs or foreign critics. In fact, they may make things worse.

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For those Americans who care about Israel, this is a time of crisis. The Obama administration’s reckless pursuit of détente with Iran and its anger over the reelection of Prime Minister Netanyahu has brought us to a critical moment in which it is now possible to imagine the United States abandoning Israel at the United Nations and taking steps to further distance itself from the Jewish state. Many in this country place most of the blame for the problem on Netanyahu because of his willingness to directly challenge the president on Iran and his statements about the two-state solution and the Arab vote prior to his victory that have undermined his reputation among non-Israelis. In response some well-meaning thinkers are proposing that the answer to the problem lies in gestures that Netanyahu could undertake that would both improve Israel’s image and lower tensions with the United States. But Netanyahu is right to not think the effort worth the bother. The recent history of the conflict illustrates that Israeli concessions intended to prove their devotion to peace don’t impress either the Arabs or foreign critics. In fact, they may make things worse.

While President Obama has been spoiling for fights with Israel’s government since he took office in 2009, his temper tantrum about Netanyahu’s victory now threatens to make his previous tilt toward the Palestinians seem trivial. So it is hardly surprising that veteran peace processers would think the time is right for Netanyahu to do something to appease the president’s wrath. That’s the conceit of a Politico Magazine article jointly credited to former State Department official Dennis Ross and think tank figures David Makovsky and Ghaith Al-Omari that lays out a series of suggestions intended to calm things down and get Israel out of the presidential dog house as well as to calm the waters with both Europe and the Palestinians.

Ross, Makovsky, and Al-Omari are smart enough to realize that the time isn’t right to revive a peace process that is dead in the water. The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected peace offers and show no sign that they are any more willing to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside one of their own no matter where its borders are drawn.

But they think it would be wise for Netanyahu to freeze building in settlements beyond the blocs that most concede would remain inside Israel in the event of a peace agreement. Allowing the Palestinians the right to build more in parts of the West Bank that would, at least in theory, be part of their state would calm the waters as would less confrontational rhetoric from Netanyahu. This would, they say, counter the campaign to delegitimize the prime minister and his nation and might prompt similar gestures from the Palestinians, such as a promise to avoid bringing their complaints to the United Nations instead of negotiating as they are committed to do under the Oslo Accords.

It all sounds very smart. Fair or not, Netanyahu is perceived as politically radioactive in Europe and, despite Israel’s popularity in the United States, President Obama’s efforts to turn both Iran and Israel into political footballs has undermined the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition. Gestures aimed at restoring Israel’s good name seem the only answer to a crisis of these dimensions.

But as logical as that sounds, such a course of action not only wouldn’t improve Israel’s image, they would probably further damage it.

How can that be?

Because the recent history of the conflict teaches us that gestures even more far reaching than those suggested for Netanyahu have the opposite effect on both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders.

Back in 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasir Arafat an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Arafat turned him down flat and then launched a terrorist war of attrition known as the Second Intifada. After it began, I heard then Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, an ardent peace processor, take some consolation from this depressing turn of events by saying that at least after this, no one in the world could fairly accuse Israel again of being the one responsible for the breakdown of the peace process. But, contrary to his predictions, Israel’s willingness to give so much and Palestinian terrorism only increased the level of vituperation against the Jewish state both in the Arab and Muslim worlds and in Europe. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry about Ben-Ami’s naïveté.

The same thing happened after Ariel Sharon withdrew every last Israeli soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in 2005. Instead of proving for the whole world that Israel was ready to once again trade land for peace, that grand gesture did nothing to improve the country’s image. Nothing, not the destruction of the green houses left behind by the Israelis for the Palestinians nor the conversion of Gaza into a terrorist base and then a Hamas-run independent state-in-all-but-name altered the conviction of a hostile world that the trouble was all the fault of the Israelis.

Indeed, it should be understood that the same dynamic was in place even before Barak and Sharon’s gestures since the Oslo Accords themselves in which Israel brought Arafat back into the country, empowered him, and led to withdrawals that gave the Palestinians functional autonomy did little to improve Israel’s image. As our Evelyn Gordon wrote in a prescient COMMENTARY article published in January 2010, by signaling its willingness to withdraw from some territory, the Israelis did not convince anyone of their good intentions. To the contrary, such concessions reinforced the conviction that Israel was a thief in possession of stolen property. The reaction from the Palestinians and hostile Europeans was not gratitude for the generosity of the Israelis in giving up land to which they too had a claim but a demand that it be forced to give up even more. Land for peace schemes and a belief in two states on the part of Israelis has always led most Palestinians to believe that their goal of forcing the Jews out of the entire country was more realistic, not less so.

The same dynamic applies to Netanyahu’s gestures. It was he who endorsed a two-state solution and then backed up his statement with a settlement freeze in the West Bank for ten months. But Netanyahu got no credit for this or any concessions in return from the Palestinians.

Netanyahu would do well to lower the tone of his rhetoric. A cautious leader, he has been rightly accused of carrying a small stick while speaking very loudly. But the expectation that settlement freezes or similar gestures will ease tensions with President Obama is a pipe dream. Even worse, along with Obama’s hostility, these moves may only encourage Hamas to see it, as they have always viewed such gestures, as weakness and an invitation to another round of violence such as the one that led to thousands of rockets being launched from Gaza at Israeli cities.

The diplomatic isolation of Israel that Obama is contemplating is a serious problem. But Israelis have had enough of futile unilateral gestures and rightly so. They have accomplished nothing in the past. Nor will they ameliorate the animosity for Israel in the Muslim and Arab worlds as well as Europe that is rooted more in anti-Semitism than in complaints about the location of the borders of the Jewish state. Until a sea change occurs in Palestinian political culture, Israel’s leaders would be wise to make no more concessions that will only whet the appetite of the terrorists for more Jewish blood. Nor should Netanyahu be under the illusion that President Obama will react with any more generosity toward Israel in the next two years than he has in the previous six. Far from staving off destruction as Ross and his friends think, their advice will likely lead to more diplomatic problems as well as more violence. Just as doctors are advised by their Hippocratic oaths to do no harm, so, too, should Israel’s prime minister be wise enough to eschew a repetition of the mistakes that he and his predecessors have made in the not-so-distant past.

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An Unconscionable Smear: Israel, Race, and the American Left

If the steady, but manageable flow of ignorant commentary on Israel of late has turned into a flood, it’s because of a particular tactic of the left employed in abundance since the Israeli elections. A surefire way to misunderstand Israeli politics is to view it through the stable lens of America’s two-party system. And one meme that has gained traction on the left during Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership is the lazy, obtuse narrative that he acts as some sort of representative of the Republican Party rather than his own party and country. Such self-refuting nonsense doesn’t generally need to be dignified with attention. But the latest version represents a despicable smear that demands a response.

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If the steady, but manageable flow of ignorant commentary on Israel of late has turned into a flood, it’s because of a particular tactic of the left employed in abundance since the Israeli elections. A surefire way to misunderstand Israeli politics is to view it through the stable lens of America’s two-party system. And one meme that has gained traction on the left during Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership is the lazy, obtuse narrative that he acts as some sort of representative of the Republican Party rather than his own party and country. Such self-refuting nonsense doesn’t generally need to be dignified with attention. But the latest version represents a despicable smear that demands a response.

Juan Williams’s column in The Hill changes the attack in two ways. The first is that he joins some of his more doltish peers in the new belief that congressional Republicans are now responsible for Netanyahu’s words and actions. This is merely an escalation of the Democrats’ recent campaign to turn Israel into a partisan issue and demand the left break with Israel to show appropriate loyalty to Barack Obama. In doing so Williams and others are now pawning Israel off on the Republicans: they don’t even want to deal with the Jewish state except to periodically upbraid it.

This is toxic, but it pales in comparison to Williams’s next trick. Once he’s assigned Republicans blame for Bibi, he then transfers the left’s racial grievances to Netanyahu as well. And he thereby threatens not only to rewrite recent Israeli history but to do so in a way that attacks the history of black-Jewish relations in the U.S. and agitates for the crumbling of African-American support for Israel in the future, all in a deeply dishonest way.

It should be noted that while reasonable people can disagree about Netanyahu’s Facebook comments about Arabs voting “in droves,” it’s perfectly understandable to object to them. In truth, the comments, while inartful, were aimed more at the fact that foreign groups, including American-funded anti-Bibi efforts, were busing leftist voters in to improve turnout, thus raising the vote count a party like Likud would need in order to keep pace with its share of the overall vote.

That was lost on many, and that’s not a surprise. But Williams goes completely off the rails:

Obama’s spokesman condemned the use of such noxious rhetoric as a “cynical” tactic. But there has been no comment from Boehner or other top Republicans.

There is a terrible history of race-based political appeals in the United States. As a civil rights historian, I know the sharp edges of racial politics as revealed in coded campaign language, gerrymandering, voter suppression and even today’s strong black-white split when it comes to views of how police deal with poor black communities.

But both major American political parties reject having their candidates directly and openly play on racial tensions for short-term political gain.

It is dangerous politics, at odds with maintaining a socially and economically stable nation of many different races, as well as a rising number of immigrants. It is also not in keeping with America’s democratic values, specifically the Declaration of Independence’s promise that “All men are created equal.”

To overlook Netanyahu’s racial politics is to send a troubling message to Americans at a time when blacks and Hispanics are overwhelmingly Democrats and the Republican Party is almost all white.

And thus does Juan Williams, in a fit of rancid political sour grapes, connect Benjamin Netanyahu with America’s civil-rights era racial politics and voter suppression. When you are a liberal hammer, every problem is a nail with Bull Connor’s face on it.

First, some facts. There was no voter suppression of Arabs in Israel’s election. The joint Arab list won the third-most seats in the Knesset, behind the two major parties. Arab turnout was the highest it’s been since at least 1999, and among the highest it’s been in decades. Bibi did nothing to derail Arab voting, nor was he even trying to scare voters to the polls in a traditional sense. He wanted Israelis who were already planning on voting and who supported Israel’s right wing to vote Likud instead of a minor party further to the right, because the increased turnout on the left meant the right needed a stronger anchor party to be able to build a coalition around.

Additionally, as Evelyn Gordon wrote in the March issue of COMMENTARY, “Israel doesn’t have a law banning minarets, as Switzerland does, or a law barring civil servants from wearing headscarves, as France does; nor does it deny citizenship to Arabs just because they can’t speak the majority’s language, as Latvia does to some 300,000 ethnic Russians born and bred there. But over the past two decades, successive Israeli governments have invested heavily in trying to create de facto as well as de jure equality.”

Statistics on Arab education have improved dramatically. Employment in the high-tech sector “almost sextupled from 2009 to 2014”–and who was prime minister during that time? Arab consumption patterns are improving, integration is on the rise, and all without increasing anti-Arab prejudice, despite what some in the media would like to believe.

That’s not to solely credit Bibi or any one single politician, but Netanyahu’s time in office has undoubtedly been good for Israel’s Arabs. Even if you choose to believe the worst interpretation of Netanyahu’s Facebook comment (for which he apologized), the picture Williams paints of Likud’s relationship with Israeli Arabs is so distorted as to be unrecognizable as the reality of modern Israel.

But Williams has another purpose: not only to falsely explain the present and the past but also the future. The tension between the Jewish and black communities is a source of great tsuris to the Jews, who felt called by God to stand with African-Americans in their times of trouble and to march with them to assert their inalienable rights which were denied for so long. But too many influential black leaders–think Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton (who was at the forefront of the closest thing America ever had to a pogrom), and even Jeremiah Wright, whose church guided our current president for so long–have sought to discourage such solidarity, and resorted to anti-Semitism to do so.

I imagine this greatly pains Williams. He spends some time in his column recounting the lack of support for Israel among America’s minorities, principally African-Americans and Hispanics, and he seems fairly unhappy about it. But he notes, correctly, that the Democratic drift away from Israel threatens to be even more profound among these minority communities. And so he blames Bibi:

This disagreement among American racial groups is reflected in the split between Republicans and Democrats over Israel. …

These divisions are likely even deeper now, after Netanyahu’s racial political appeal.

Going forward, it will now be gentler on the consciences of Democrats like Williams if support for Israel deteriorates among minority communities. From here on out, they’ll say it was inevitable after this election. That’s much simpler than taking on the Sharptons and the Jacksons and the Wrights, and the president whose ear they have had.

And it’s much simpler than swimming against the tide of leftist hostility to Israel. It’s the easy way out, and there’s nothing principled or noble about it.

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America’s Doing More Harm Than Good at the UN Human Rights Council

Not much attention is paid to the activities of United Nations agencies. To the extent that some of the world body’s work is on behalf of the world’s disadvantaged populations or children, that’s too bad. But the fact that the arm of the UN that is tasked with monitoring human rights around the world remains a cesspool of anti-Semitism and hatred against Israel and Jews is something that also deserves more attention than it gets. As UN Watch reports, the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council wrapped up last week by passing four resolutions condemning Israel for alleged violations while largely ignoring much of what goes on in countries that actually trash the rights of their people. This isn’t surprising since that’s what the UNHRC has been doing throughout its history. But this latest instance of bias and lack of concern for its actual responsibilities on the issue does raise an important question: what the heck are representatives of the United States still doing there dignifying the HRC’s proceedings with its ineffectual presence at their deliberations in Geneva?

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Not much attention is paid to the activities of United Nations agencies. To the extent that some of the world body’s work is on behalf of the world’s disadvantaged populations or children, that’s too bad. But the fact that the arm of the UN that is tasked with monitoring human rights around the world remains a cesspool of anti-Semitism and hatred against Israel and Jews is something that also deserves more attention than it gets. As UN Watch reports, the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council wrapped up last week by passing four resolutions condemning Israel for alleged violations while largely ignoring much of what goes on in countries that actually trash the rights of their people. This isn’t surprising since that’s what the UNHRC has been doing throughout its history. But this latest instance of bias and lack of concern for its actual responsibilities on the issue does raise an important question: what the heck are representatives of the United States still doing there dignifying the HRC’s proceedings with its ineffectual presence at their deliberations in Geneva?

The good news about the UNHRC votes is that in each of the four condemnations of Israel, the United States provided the sole no vote. President Obama’s defenders cite this as proof that he is not hostile to the Jewish state. Though the claim would be a little easier to accept if the president did not seek applause for doing something that any American leader ought to take as a matter of course, nevertheless the U.S. did the right thing. It would also be a little easier to cheer these stands if the president and various senior administration officials were not threatening to abandon Israel at the UN in the future because Prime Minister Netanyahu does not always follow Obama’s orders, but that is an argument for a different day.

But however much we might be glad that the U.S. is there to be a sole voice of sanity at the HRC, it’s arguable that even if the president doesn’t decide to stab Israel in the back to vent his pique about the results of the recent election there, America is doing more harm than good by legitimizing this farce by its continuing membership on the council.

It should be pointed out that the UN HRC managed to pass eight resolutions condemning alleged human-rights abuses at its recent sessions. That meant that half of its output was pro-forma attacks on Israel. One of the four resolutions condemned Israel’s presence on the Golan Heights, which it claims harms rights of the inhabitants. Another did the same for its presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem. One demanded “self-determination” for the Palestinians and another treated the existence of Jews living in these areas as an offense against their Arab neighbors.

One may debate the wisdom of Jewish settlements as well as the virtues of a two-state solution, even if the Palestinians have repeatedly demonstrated that they have no interest in such a scheme but prefer to hold onto their desire for destroying the one Jewish state no matter where its borders may be drawn. But to represent the situation in the territories, where the greatest threat to human life remains Palestinian terrorism and the efforts of groups like Hamas to rain down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities last year, as the worst thing happening in the region, let alone the world, illustrates how the HRC remains a theater of the absurd.

As scholar and activist Anne Bayefsky writes on the Fox News website, China, Qatar, Russia, and Saudi Arabia are all members of the HRC, because “protecting human rights is not a condition of being elected to the Council.” The Council ignores or dismisses other more pressing concerns (one resolution about a human-rights catastrophe in Syria where hundreds of thousands have died in the last four years and one non-condemnatory procedural measure about the Islamist tyranny in Iran) while devoting the lion’s share of its time to the campaign to delegitimize Israel.

In doing so, the HRC isn’t merely being unfair or disproportionate but is doing something far more insidious. As Bayefsky writes, “Subverting human rights principles for all turns out to be the other side of the coin of subverting human rights for Jews.” She’s right. Instead of treating the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel as one in which the two sides must try to reconcile competing rights, the HRC renders Jewish rights to self-determination and self-defense as unworthy of respect. That is to say, the HRC refuses to grant the one Jewish state in the world the same rights granted without argument to every other people. The term for such discriminatory treatment meted out to Jews is anti-Semitism.

As such, this is a forum that no self-respecting democracy ought to dignify with their presence. The lonely U.S. votes against this madness are not so much principled as they are granting the HRC an undeserved legitimacy. Past presidents have at times tried to step back from this disreputable body but President Obama’s obsessive affection for the UN has taken such a step off the table. Indeed, by staying on there, he seems to be using America’s votes as leverage to pressure Israel’s governments into taking steps its electorate has already specifically rejected at the polls.

Whoever it is that replaces President Obama in the White House will have a full plate of inherited foreign-policy crises to untangle in January 2017. But last week’s votes serve as a reminder that one of the items on the 45th president’s “to do list” ought to be pulling out of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

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GOP Doesn’t Play Fair. They Back Israel.

New York Times coverage of Republicans tends to be biased and judgmental. Conservatives are generally portrayed as either conniving and cynical big money manipulators of simple-minded voters (the standard trope about establishment Republicans) or as racist fire-eaters (i.e. Tea Partiers). But occasionally even the Grey Lady gets something right in its political coverage. That’s the case with the piece published today in which they note in their headline that, “For GOP, Support for Israel Becomes a Litmus Test.” They’re right about that and the contrast with Democrats, especially in the wake of the tirades against Israel’s government emanating from the White House in recent weeks, couldn’t be greater. While, as I noted yesterday, Democrats are claiming that the GOP is trying to turn Israel into a partisan wedge, what is really happening is that one of our two major parties has become a bastion of support for the Jewish state while the other is drifting away from it.

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New York Times coverage of Republicans tends to be biased and judgmental. Conservatives are generally portrayed as either conniving and cynical big money manipulators of simple-minded voters (the standard trope about establishment Republicans) or as racist fire-eaters (i.e. Tea Partiers). But occasionally even the Grey Lady gets something right in its political coverage. That’s the case with the piece published today in which they note in their headline that, “For GOP, Support for Israel Becomes a Litmus Test.” They’re right about that and the contrast with Democrats, especially in the wake of the tirades against Israel’s government emanating from the White House in recent weeks, couldn’t be greater. While, as I noted yesterday, Democrats are claiming that the GOP is trying to turn Israel into a partisan wedge, what is really happening is that one of our two major parties has become a bastion of support for the Jewish state while the other is drifting away from it.

As the Times points out, it used to be the Democrats who were the pro-Israel party and Republicans were the ones who were divided on the issue. That changed in the last quarter of the 20th century as GOP leaders like Ronald Reagan (who, despite clashes with Prime Minister Menachem Begin early in his tenure, was rightly seen as a warm supporter of Israel) and the influence of evangelical voters made life difficult for Republicans who were opposed or even merely unenthusiastic about the Jewish state. By the time of George W. Bush, whose closeness to Israel was something Obama set out on his first day in office to change, the GOP was unified behind the Jewish state. Even an outlier on foreign policy like Senator Rand Paul, whose father was hostile to it, has made a concerted effort to at least appear to be pro-Israel as he attempts to make a serious bid for the party’s presidential nomination.

What the Times leaves out of their story is that the opposite trend has been happening among Democrats as polls have consistently shown lower support for Israel among them for more than 20 years.

To some on the left, like J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami, strong support for Israel and opposition to efforts to pressure it to make suicidal concessions to its foes is a sign of growing radicalism among Republicans. But, unsurprisingly, he has that backwards. By embracing Israel, Republicans have moved into the mainstream on a key foreign policy issue since most Americans feel a tremendous sense of kinship with it for a variety of reasons, including religious motivations as well as its status as America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East.

The change among Republicans distresses the J Street crowd and those even farther on the left who eschew mere pressure tactics on the Israelis and prefer to isolate it or support the efforts of those who wish to destroy it.

Other more mainstream Democrats think there’s something fishy about it since it puts them in the position of having to compete with a rival party where backing for Israel is universal while they are forced to admit that many Democrats, including the president of the United States, are not exactly fans of the Jewish state and its democratically-elected government. But their claims that Republicans are making Israel a partisan issue are false. It is the Obama administration that has sought to break up the bipartisan consensus in Congress in favor of more sanctions against Iran or support for the Netanyahu government by appealing to the partisan loyalties of Democrats.

Whereas the president is seeking to convince Democrats to be less supportive of Israel and its security, Republicans understand that putting yourself on the wrong side of the issue is politically dangerous. That’s why Jeb Bush was quick to disassociate himself from James Baker’s attacks on Israel in front of J Street, in spite of the fact that the former secretary is a faithful Bush family retainer.

This doesn’t mean that there still aren’t Democrats who back Israel though they have been awfully quiet about the way the president has been bashing Netanyahu and the Israeli electorate in the last week. But what it does mean is that there is no use pretending that the bulk of the two parties are united on the issue. As the Times reports, there’s no longer much room in the GOP for opponents of Israel. At the same time, President Obama has transformed the Democrats from a bastion of pro-Israel sentiment to the home of most of its most vicious critics. Supporters of Israel, no matter their partisan affiliation, should be delighted about the former and deeply worried abou the latter. If voters are noticing the difference it isn’t because the GOP is acting unfairly. It’s because some of the most important Democrats in the country have abandoned Israel.

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Peter Beinart’s Israeli Democracy Problem

Last week after Israeli voters once again rejected the candidates and the policies that he believes would be best for them, writer Peter Beinart had a temper tantrum. Instead of accepting the verdict of the democratic process as did the leaders of Israel’s loyal opposition, Beinart wrote in Haaretz that American Jews must begin a campaign aimed at invalidating the votes of Israelis and to begin a “pressure process” that would force them to bow to his demands that they make unilateral concessions to the Palestinians that the overwhelming majority of the citizens of the Jewish state believe are, at best, misguided. I wrote here that this rant showed Beinart’s contempt for the democratic process, and that the premises of his argument–that Israel had not taken “risks for peace,” that “the election was not fought in the shadow of terror,” and that the Obama administration had not exerted pressure on Israel–were not so much mistaken as blatantly false. In response he wrote yesterday in Haaretz to assert that I was mistaken about the obligation to respect democratic elections as well as to claim that I was a hypocrite because I had not supported efforts to prop up Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government. But his response not only fails to address the substance of my criticism; it is as disingenuous as his original argument.

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Last week after Israeli voters once again rejected the candidates and the policies that he believes would be best for them, writer Peter Beinart had a temper tantrum. Instead of accepting the verdict of the democratic process as did the leaders of Israel’s loyal opposition, Beinart wrote in Haaretz that American Jews must begin a campaign aimed at invalidating the votes of Israelis and to begin a “pressure process” that would force them to bow to his demands that they make unilateral concessions to the Palestinians that the overwhelming majority of the citizens of the Jewish state believe are, at best, misguided. I wrote here that this rant showed Beinart’s contempt for the democratic process, and that the premises of his argument–that Israel had not taken “risks for peace,” that “the election was not fought in the shadow of terror,” and that the Obama administration had not exerted pressure on Israel–were not so much mistaken as blatantly false. In response he wrote yesterday in Haaretz to assert that I was mistaken about the obligation to respect democratic elections as well as to claim that I was a hypocrite because I had not supported efforts to prop up Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government. But his response not only fails to address the substance of my criticism; it is as disingenuous as his original argument.

Beinart does not trouble himself to account for his staggeringly mendacious claims about Israel’s past attempts to negotiate peace or his comments about the threat from terrorism. Beinart shoves three Israeli offers of statehood to the Palestinians by non-Likud governments from 2000 to 2008 that they rejected, as well as their stonewalling during the talks last year, down the memory hole. With his no “shadow of terror” remark, he does the same for last year’s war with Hamas in which thousands of Hamas rockets rained down on Israeli cities and the fact that any Israeli schoolchild knows that the only thing preventing another campaign of suicide bombing is the West Bank security barrier, not forbearance by Hamas or Fatah killers. As for the last six years of President Obama’s sniping at Israel’s government, that is also too insignificant a detail for Beinart to notice.

These points are important because they illustrate that Beinart’s arguments are based on a willful disregard for the facts that have influenced Israeli voters to hand the last three elections to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his party despite the fact that neither he nor the Likud is all that popular.

Beinart is right when he says the fact that Israelis have elected a Knesset with a clear majority opposed to his policies does not obligate him to agree with their judgment. In fact, I stated as much myself. One can vocally oppose the policies of any government without exposing oneself to the charge of contempt for democracy. But Beinart isn’t content anymore to merely voice criticism, however uninformed or contemptuous of the facts he may have been. The point is, he explicitly wrote that what must now happen is for Americans to rise up and back measures by the U.S. government that will overturn the judgment of Israel’s voters. Instead of continuing to try and persuade them of the wisdom of his suggestions, he now says what he wants is for Israelis to be isolated, economically and politically, and to be treated as a pariah state. If that is not contempt for the democratic process as played out in Israel, I don’t know what else it can be called.

It is true that, in theory, the voters of one democracy are not obliged to respect the decisions of voters in other countries. But this is no mere policy dispute. He alleges that Israel is a “brutal, undemocratic and unjust power” because it has rightly decided that allowing the creation of another terrorist state on its borders—like the one it allowed to rise up in Gaza—is unwise. What he is doing is not disagreement but delegitimization.

He also argues that because the Arab residents of the West Bank are not allowed to vote in Israel’s elections, it cannot be said to be a democracy there. This again is a willfully misleading argument. If the people of the West Bank can’t vote in an election, it is due entirely to the fact that the leaders of the Palestinian Authority have consistently rejected offers of statehood and independence for their people because doing so would also require them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders would be drawn, next door. As he well knows, the majority of Israelis would have been happy to embrace a two-state solution. But the Palestinians have never been able to do so because it means ending the conflict with Zionism and their national identity has been inextricably tied to that war since its inception. If Israelis have, at least for the moment, given up on two states, it is not because they don’t think it’s a good idea, but because they recognize the Palestinians aren’t interested in it, something that Beinart refuses to accept despite ample proof.

The status quo is both anomalous and unsatisfactory, but its continuation is not due to Netanyahu’s decisions or statements. It is the work of the Palestinians. They have constructed this status quo just as they did the security barrier, which they forced a reluctant Israeli government to build to keep out terrorists. Asking Israelis to ignore these facts and to place their population centers next to another Hamasistan is neither consistent with affection for their existence nor reasonable. Nor is it something that was likely to happen even if Netanyahu had been defeated and replaced with Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. Comparing Netanyahu to racist segregationists or any other evil figures in history tells us more about Beinart than the prime minister. When the political culture of the Palestinians changes to allow them to accept a state alongside Israel, they will get it. Until that happens, blaming Israel for Palestinian irredentism and hate merely denies agency to the Arab side of the conflict.

As for his claim that I’m being hypocritical because of my lack of support for Egypt’s short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government, that is mere sophistry.

It is true that the Brotherhood won an election after the fall of the Mubarak regime. But any comparison between the victory of a party advocating a totalitarian theocracy, whose ability to turn out its supporters or coerce others to do so bears little resemblance to the normal democratic process, and true democrats is absurd. The Brotherhood’s goal was to transform Egypt into another Gaza or Iran and to enact the usual Third World practice of “one man, one vote, one time” to ensure that its hold on power could never be endangered. A year after it came to power, tens of millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand its ouster and the military complied. That’s a sorry tale and one that shows how hard it is to create a democracy in a country with no democratic traditions or consensus about governance. Applauding the demise of an anti-democratic Islamist movement is not only consistent with belief in democracy; it was a precondition for any hope (albeit a very slim one) that Egypt will ever become a democracy.

Perhaps in Beinart’s fevered imagination, he thinks the Likud is analogous to the Brotherhood. This is a transparent libel of a party that has, since its inception, always abided by democratic norms in a way that Hamas’s Islamist ally has never done. What Beinart would like is for Israel’s people to rise up against the Likud as Egyptians did against the Brotherhood. If they did, Netanyahu’s government would fall. But not only have they failed to do so, they just gave him a third consecutive victory because, unlike Beinart, they have paid attention to what the Palestinians have done and said about peace.

That has to be frustrating for Beinart, but the answer for those who care about democracy to failure in an election is not an attempt to overturn the vote by foreign pressure but to work harder to give your ideas a fair hearing and to persuade Israelis to change their minds. Beinart has clearly tired of trying to do that and now places himself in the ranks of those seeking to treat its democratically elected government as pariahs. That is why, along with others, I have written that he has contempt for democracy. The charge stands.

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AP Editor Flunks Middle East 101

Those of us who write about Middle East politics sometimes joke that the mainstream press is desperately in need of an introductory course on the subject. And now, thanks to the latest effort by the Associated Press, we’re forced to ask: What happens when reporters take Middle East 101–and fail? The AP’s Middle East editor this week tackled the burning question: “Is Israel democratic?” If you know anything at all about the country, you know that this question requires a one-word answer: Yes. The AP, however, thought it was an essay test. And what a disaster it was.

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Those of us who write about Middle East politics sometimes joke that the mainstream press is desperately in need of an introductory course on the subject. And now, thanks to the latest effort by the Associated Press, we’re forced to ask: What happens when reporters take Middle East 101–and fail? The AP’s Middle East editor this week tackled the burning question: “Is Israel democratic?” If you know anything at all about the country, you know that this question requires a one-word answer: Yes. The AP, however, thought it was an essay test. And what a disaster it was.

The full headline to AP editor Dan Perry’s piece is “AP Analysis: Is Israel democratic? Not so clear.” Such baldly false smears are part and parcel of the debate, of course. For some reason it’s considered acceptable practice to merely make up stuff about Israel and pass lies off as truth. It comes with the territory of being the world’s one Jewish state. But the timing here is interesting. All that’s really changed regarding Israel is President Obama’s public attitude toward it, in which his hostility toward the country and its people are being broadcast instead of denied.

The Associated Press seems to be taking its cue from the president, “reassessing” its public posture toward Israel, and facilitating team Obama in their efforts to change the narrative. But it also does consumers of news on the Middle East a favor: anyone who doesn’t know Israel is clearly a democracy is obviously not a reliable source on the subject.

The AP also shows how much hedging and spinning needs to be done to even try to paint Israel as less than a democracy. Perry begins by calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “hardliner”–a common term employed by anti-Israel activists but one which has no basis in reality. Painting Netanyahu as a “hardliner” is especially useful if you’re trying to undercut his democratic credentials, however.

As Perry builds his argument, he is first forced to acknowledge that he has no case:

The displeasure felt in some quarters over his win has placed front and center the world community’s unwritten obligation to accept the results of a truly democratic vote. It is a basic tenet of the modern order which has survived the occasional awkward election result — as well as recent decades’ emergence of some less-than-pristine democracies around the globe.

For Israel, the argument is especially piquant, because its claim to be the only true democracy in the Middle East has been key to its branding and its vitally important claim on U.S. military, diplomatic and financial support. Israel’s elections, from campaign rules to vote counts, are indeed not suspect.

He then follows, of course, with “But.” It’s the “occupation,” as would be expected, but even here the AP can only build its case by making flatly false statements–and again we come back to Perry failing Middle East 101. He includes all of the West Bank and Gaza in his “analysis,” and stacks the deck thus:

Of the Arabs, only a third have voting rights. These are the “Israeli Arabs” who live in the areas that became Israel in the 1948-49 war, which established the country’s borders.

Does Perry believe Israel exists? It’s hard to tell, thanks to the scare quotes around “Israeli Arabs.” In fact, they are Israeli Arabs by definition–they are Arab citizens of Israel. Additionally, the Israeli war of independence did not establish “the country’s borders.” As the agreements and communiqués and subsequent negotiations made clear, no one considered the 1949 armistice lines to be permanent borders. This was not, by the way, an invention of Israelis who wanted to expand their territory at will; it was the position of the Arab states who wanted to regroup and then try again to eradicate the entire Jewish state.

And that’s the key fact that people who choose to fabricate Israel’s supposed nondemocratic nature must get around. Perry does so by calling the lines “borders,” which they manifestly are not and aren’t considered to be. But it’s important that they’re not borders, because once you acknowledge that fact you are describing not occupied territory but disputed territory, at least as far as international law is concerned. And it becomes even more difficult to tell Jews they can’t live there simply because they are Jews.

Such inconvenient facts appear throughout the piece. Perry paints Israel as the obstacle to peace; “The supposedly temporary arrangement shows no sign of a change — at least not one initiated by Israel,” we’re told. And yet a few paragraphs later we read:

Israel annexed East Jerusalem, and its approximately 200,000 Arabs can have voting rights if they choose. Most have rejected it–whether out of solidarity with the idea of Palestine or for fear of future retribution.

Retribution from whom? Not the Jewish state that offered those Arabs full voting rights. Retribution, instead, from the Palestinian government that continues to be opposed to peace and coexistence with the Jews. Perry then criticizes the security arrangement that currently prevails in the Palestinian territories, but also tells us that “The arrangement is a relic of the 1990s interim accords, which were meant to be succeeded by a final agreement by 1999.” In other words, they were agreed to by the Palestinians, and are being upheld by Israel.

No such article would be complete without some misleading scaremongering about settlements, such as: “Another four years of a Netanyahu government can be expected to add many thousands more settlers, complicating the prospects of a future pullout even more.”

As Evelyn Gordon explained two weeks ago, construction in the settlements has seen a steep drop. Additionally, she wrote, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics “settlement construction throughout Benjamin Netanyahu’s six years as prime minister has been significantly lower than it was under his predecessors.” More importantly, the construction has tended to be “up, not out”–it’s in towns Israel would keep as part of any final-status agreement and not expanding the borders of those towns, and therefore would not “complicat[e] the prospects of a future pullout even more.”

In sum, Israel’s democracy is so strong that even attempts to challenge that status can’t avoid confirming it. The only thing we ended up learning was that Middle East 101 is far too advanced for the AP.

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