Commentary Magazine


Topic: Germany

Have Patience with the Arab Spring

Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

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Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

France, after all, transitioned from absolute monarchy by way of the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror. This was followed by numerous further upheavals that Berman does not mention, including the Bourbon restoration from 1815 to 1830, the July Revolution of 1830, the Revolution of 1848, the proclamation of the Second Empire in 1851, the creation of the Third Republic in 1870, the Vichy regime from 1940 to 1944, and, finally, in 1958 the overthrow of the Fourth Republic and the birth of the Fifth Republic which has lasted to this day.

Germany, for its part, was forcibly created by Bismarck out of numerous smaller states in the decades leading up to 1871 and democracy did not emerge until after World War I—only to be snuffed out starting in 1933 by Adolf Hitler. Out of the post-war rubble emerged a West Germany that was democratic and an East Germany that was not. A unified, democratic Germany was not created until 1990.

As for Italy, it, too, did not emerge as a unified state until relatively late (1870). And it, too, saw its nascent democracy usurped by a fascist (Benito Mussolini), and it did not become a true liberal democracy until after World War II.

Nor was the process of democratization painless in the United States: It took two outright wars (the War of Independence and the Civil War) to establish self-government and another period of violent upheaval (the Civil Rights era of the 1950s-60s) to realize the potential of the Constitution.

Considering the tribulations suffered by the U.S. and Europe on the road to democracy, it is hardly surprising that the process of political reform is proving painful in the Middle East. As Berman reminds us: “Stable liberal democracy requires more than just a shift in political forms; it also involves eliminating the antidemocratic social, cultural, and economic legacies of the old regime. Such a process takes lots of time and effort, over multiple tries.”

She is right. Anyone who reads her article, “The Promise of the Arab Spring,” should gain a measure of patience and understanding for what it is currently happening in the Middle East. We cannot expect overnight miracles, but that does not mean that it is possible to cling to the rule of discredited strongmen—any more than Europe today could possibly return to the rule of absolute monarchs.

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Drop the Emotional Baggage of Israel’s “Best Friends in Europe”

Seth made an excellent point yesterday about the irreconcilability of Israeli and European visions of the two-state solution. I’d like to add a linguistic corollary: Israel and its supporters need to eliminate the phrase “Israel’s best friends in Europe” from their lexicon with regard to Germany, Britain, France and their ilk. This is not just a matter of semantics. Aside from the insult to Israel’s one real friend in Europe, the emotional baggage this phrase carries is seriously warping the Israeli-European relationship.

Just consider the events of the past week, following Europe’s decision to support (or at least not oppose) the Palestinians’ UN bid and Israel’s decision to move forward on planning and zoning approvals for construction in E-1, the corridor linking Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. Europeans are outraged; they feel betrayed. They thought they had an understanding with Israel that it would let the UN vote pass quietly; they felt Israel was being ungrateful for their backing during its recent Gaza operation and their imposition of stiff sanctions on Iran. Israel is also outraged; it feels betrayed. It thought it had an understanding with the Europeans that they would oppose (or at least not support) the UN bid; it felt Europe was being unappreciative of the many concessions it has made to the Palestinians, from an unprecedented 10-month settlement freeze through various measures to bolster the Palestinian Authority’s finances. In short, this isn’t a diplomatic dispute; it’s a lover’s quarrel–which is precisely why it escalated so rapidly and hysterically into threats of sanctions.

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Seth made an excellent point yesterday about the irreconcilability of Israeli and European visions of the two-state solution. I’d like to add a linguistic corollary: Israel and its supporters need to eliminate the phrase “Israel’s best friends in Europe” from their lexicon with regard to Germany, Britain, France and their ilk. This is not just a matter of semantics. Aside from the insult to Israel’s one real friend in Europe, the emotional baggage this phrase carries is seriously warping the Israeli-European relationship.

Just consider the events of the past week, following Europe’s decision to support (or at least not oppose) the Palestinians’ UN bid and Israel’s decision to move forward on planning and zoning approvals for construction in E-1, the corridor linking Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. Europeans are outraged; they feel betrayed. They thought they had an understanding with Israel that it would let the UN vote pass quietly; they felt Israel was being ungrateful for their backing during its recent Gaza operation and their imposition of stiff sanctions on Iran. Israel is also outraged; it feels betrayed. It thought it had an understanding with the Europeans that they would oppose (or at least not support) the UN bid; it felt Europe was being unappreciative of the many concessions it has made to the Palestinians, from an unprecedented 10-month settlement freeze through various measures to bolster the Palestinian Authority’s finances. In short, this isn’t a diplomatic dispute; it’s a lover’s quarrel–which is precisely why it escalated so rapidly and hysterically into threats of sanctions.

Now contrast this with the response of dozens of non-European countries that also supported the UN bid and oppose settlement construction. Has anyone heard any sanctions threats coming from China or India, for instance? Of course not. And that’s precisely because Israel’s bilateral relations with those countries are based on interest, not an imagined friendship. The mutual interests (mainly economic) are extensive, and both sides are eager to pursue them. But it’s strictly a business relationship; neither side expects anything of the other beyond that. Israel knows China and India will vote against it in every possible forum; China and India know Israel won’t take their views into account when determining its foreign and defense policies. And since neither side expects anything more, they don’t get upset over it.

But the term “friendship” immediately creates expectations. You expect your friends to take your wishes and interests into account, and you feel upset and betrayed when they don’t. And precisely because Israel and its supporters have been referring to Britain, Germany, France and co. for so long as “Israel’s best friends in Europe,” they get upset when they feel Israel isn’t treating them that way, and Israel gets upset when they don’t act that way.

So it’s time to eliminate the emotional baggage. Britain, France and Germany are much better than, say, Ireland and Norway, but they aren’t friends. Like China and India, they’re countries with whom Israel has many mutual interests worth pursuing, but both sides need to accept that they will often disagree–and they need to start doing it like adults.

And if anyone feels an emotional need for a “best friend in Europe,” Israel actually has a real one, with a consistent, decades-old record: the sole European country to vote with Israel at the UN last week, which was also the sole country to buck a worldwide arms embargo 64 years ago and supply Israel with desperately needed planes during its War of Independence. So could we please stop insulting the Czech Republic by lumping it in the same semantic category as Germany, France and Britain?

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Germans Move to Lift Bris Ban

Four months after a Cologne court rattled European Jews with a ruling that banned circumcision, the German government took the first step toward granting the ritual the formal protection of the law. Acting at the behest of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the 16-member cabinet voted in favor of a draft bill that will overturn the Cologne court and make circumcision legal throughout Germany if done by a trained professional, such as a Jewish mohel or ritual circumciser. If the bill is passed by the federal parliament, it will become law and remove the threat of prosecution that now hangs over mohels in Germany.

The odds are, that is exactly what the Bundestag will do in the coming weeks, though some Jews are worried that public sentiment is still against them no matter Merkel wants. As the Forward notes, German Jewish leaders fear that the ambivalence of all the major parties, as well as what may turn out to be spirited resistance from major medical associations, will derail the legislation. But even if Merkel succeeds, the question hanging over European Jewry is whether the bill can start to undo the damage that the court ruling created.

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Four months after a Cologne court rattled European Jews with a ruling that banned circumcision, the German government took the first step toward granting the ritual the formal protection of the law. Acting at the behest of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the 16-member cabinet voted in favor of a draft bill that will overturn the Cologne court and make circumcision legal throughout Germany if done by a trained professional, such as a Jewish mohel or ritual circumciser. If the bill is passed by the federal parliament, it will become law and remove the threat of prosecution that now hangs over mohels in Germany.

The odds are, that is exactly what the Bundestag will do in the coming weeks, though some Jews are worried that public sentiment is still against them no matter Merkel wants. As the Forward notes, German Jewish leaders fear that the ambivalence of all the major parties, as well as what may turn out to be spirited resistance from major medical associations, will derail the legislation. But even if Merkel succeeds, the question hanging over European Jewry is whether the bill can start to undo the damage that the court ruling created.

The prosecutions of rabbis for performing circumcisions, the decisions by hospitals to cease conducting the procedure, and incidents of anti-Semitic violence have all helped to create a hostile atmosphere for European Jews. While some put down the opposition to circumcision to a general lack of tolerance for faith and organized religion in Europe, the fact remains that Jews remain the leading targets for ostracism and hatred.

In contemporary Europe, hostility to Zionism and Israel has given a façade of faux legitimacy to traditional anti-Semitism. Combine that with a culture that views all religious observance as either primitive or foreign and it’s easy to see how the anti-circumcision movement has gained so much traction.

That means that Merkel is going to have put the whip out on her coalition members to ensure that the bill is passed without any changes that would make it impossible for mohels to do their job and thus render the whole exercise pointless.

Nevertheless, Chancellor Merkel deserves great credit for pushing the bill through this far. A failure to legalize circumcision will expose Germany to ridicule and anger. But even if it passes, there is no denying that this lamentable chapter has exposed a raw nerve of modern Jew-hatred.

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Germany’s Double-Dealing on Iran

The good folks at Germany’s Stop the Bomb campaign alerted me to this latest tidbit, which clearly shows what a double game Berlin now plays vis-à-vis Iran:

Last month, Iran’s Science, Research, and Technology ministry signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD), the German Academic Exchange Service. When it comes to its dealings with Iran, DAAD acts with the blessing of Germany’s Foreign Ministry. The German agreement with Iran comes despite the fact that Kamran Daneshjoo, the Iranian Minister of Science, Research, and Technology, is on the European Union sanctions list because of his alleged involvement in Iranian nuclear warhead design and work. DAAD’s logic of academic engagement falls short when it fails to pay attention to the agenda and, in this case, expertise of its partners. Exchange in the humanities is one thing. Does DAAD really believe it is wise to provide Iranians pursuing nuclear and sensitive scientific studies with unprecedented access to German technology and instruction?

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The good folks at Germany’s Stop the Bomb campaign alerted me to this latest tidbit, which clearly shows what a double game Berlin now plays vis-à-vis Iran:

Last month, Iran’s Science, Research, and Technology ministry signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD), the German Academic Exchange Service. When it comes to its dealings with Iran, DAAD acts with the blessing of Germany’s Foreign Ministry. The German agreement with Iran comes despite the fact that Kamran Daneshjoo, the Iranian Minister of Science, Research, and Technology, is on the European Union sanctions list because of his alleged involvement in Iranian nuclear warhead design and work. DAAD’s logic of academic engagement falls short when it fails to pay attention to the agenda and, in this case, expertise of its partners. Exchange in the humanities is one thing. Does DAAD really believe it is wise to provide Iranians pursuing nuclear and sensitive scientific studies with unprecedented access to German technology and instruction?

Sanctions against those involved in Iran’s nuclear program will not alone change the regime’s mind against the path it is pursuing. The logic of sanctions, however, is to isolate the regime and to demonstrate a united front. With DAAD’s latest agreement, however, the German government appears to be signaling Iran that nothing is beyond the pale, not even dabbling in nuclear weapons technology. As the Iranian regime doubles down on its genocidal rhetoric, it is unfortunate that Berlin pursues such an underhanded policy. It is embarrassing, as well, that the German government has concluded that the White House policy of leading from behind means that they need not worry about chastisement for their double-dealing.

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A Victory for Anti-Semites in Berlin

The controversy over efforts by some Germans to ban circumcision has gone from bad to worse in the months since a Cologne court deemed the procedure illegal. Prosecutors have charged two rabbis for carrying out the procedure, though the one who was being investigated for merely saying he would on television is now to be left alone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed that the country’s parliament will act this fall to ensure that it is legalized, but the discussion this vow has engendered has only complicated matters. That was made plain today when Berlin, one of the country’s 16 states in a federal system as well as Germany’s capital, issued a ruling declaring circumcision legal but only if a doctor performs it. This means that the brit milah ceremony — an integral part of Jewish identity — is still illegal and therefore constitutes a severe abridgement of religious freedom.

As the Associated Press reports, State Justice Minister Thomas Heilman said the measure was meant to allay fears in this “difficult transitional period.” But the refusal to allow circumcisions to go on as they always have under the supervision of Jewish religious leaders and according to traditional ritual is a defeat for those seeking to end this controversy. Though the use of mohels may be protected by national legislation, the Berlin decision may serve as a precedent by which the country as a whole may limit circumcisions and stop their performance under traditional Jewish auspices by mohels. These limits are a victory for those disingenuously arguing that the practice is unsafe, and means future debate in Germany on the issue will be conducted on an uneven playing field for the Jewish community.

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The controversy over efforts by some Germans to ban circumcision has gone from bad to worse in the months since a Cologne court deemed the procedure illegal. Prosecutors have charged two rabbis for carrying out the procedure, though the one who was being investigated for merely saying he would on television is now to be left alone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed that the country’s parliament will act this fall to ensure that it is legalized, but the discussion this vow has engendered has only complicated matters. That was made plain today when Berlin, one of the country’s 16 states in a federal system as well as Germany’s capital, issued a ruling declaring circumcision legal but only if a doctor performs it. This means that the brit milah ceremony — an integral part of Jewish identity — is still illegal and therefore constitutes a severe abridgement of religious freedom.

As the Associated Press reports, State Justice Minister Thomas Heilman said the measure was meant to allay fears in this “difficult transitional period.” But the refusal to allow circumcisions to go on as they always have under the supervision of Jewish religious leaders and according to traditional ritual is a defeat for those seeking to end this controversy. Though the use of mohels may be protected by national legislation, the Berlin decision may serve as a precedent by which the country as a whole may limit circumcisions and stop their performance under traditional Jewish auspices by mohels. These limits are a victory for those disingenuously arguing that the practice is unsafe, and means future debate in Germany on the issue will be conducted on an uneven playing field for the Jewish community.

The effort to ban circumcisions, which has spooked hospitals throughout the region to ban the procedure, is being represented as a health issue. However, this is a thin veil for the prejudice against minority religions and non-German natives. The rulings affect Muslims as well as Jews, but there’s no escaping the conclusion that a willingness to both limit the practice of Judaism and offend Jewish sensibilities in this manner demonstrate that the rules about anti-Semitism are changing in Germany. Such a decision would have been impossible in the past, because any German judge or official would have feared to be associated with a campaign that reeks of anti-Semitism in the country where the Holocaust was perpetrated. But 67 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Germans, and especially German intellectuals who have bought into the demonization of Israel, have no such compunctions.

It needs to be understood that if the Berlin ruling becomes the national standard for circumcision for all of Germany it will be more than a blow to that country’s post-war tradition of religious tolerance. It will be the end of the revival of Jewish life in Germany. Chancellor Merkel must act quickly to spike this trend and ensure that traditional Jewish practices are protected if she wishes to avoid seeing her nation being labeled as a beachhead for the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

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Another German Rabbi Charged in Bris Ban

I’ve gotten some feedback from readers who don’t agree with my posts that look to anti-Semitism as supplying much of the motivation for the drive to ban circumcision in Germany. They claim I’m exaggerating the Jewish angle and ignoring other reasons–such as German hostility to Muslims and foreigners in general, as well as the belief by some that it harms children. I’m prepared to acknowledge that those may have a hand in driving this story, but the developments since a judge in Cologne first issued the ruling rendering circumcision illegal in the country tend to undermine other narratives.

Today we learned that criminal charges have now filed against a second rabbi for performing circumcisions. This also comes hours after a brutal beating of a skullcap-wearing Jew on the streets of Berlin in front of his six-year-old daughter by an assailant who first demanded to know if he was Jewish. It’s time for those seeking to assert that what the U.S. State Department has called a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe hasn’t touched Germany to acknowledge that there is a serious problem. And it is getting worse.

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I’ve gotten some feedback from readers who don’t agree with my posts that look to anti-Semitism as supplying much of the motivation for the drive to ban circumcision in Germany. They claim I’m exaggerating the Jewish angle and ignoring other reasons–such as German hostility to Muslims and foreigners in general, as well as the belief by some that it harms children. I’m prepared to acknowledge that those may have a hand in driving this story, but the developments since a judge in Cologne first issued the ruling rendering circumcision illegal in the country tend to undermine other narratives.

Today we learned that criminal charges have now filed against a second rabbi for performing circumcisions. This also comes hours after a brutal beating of a skullcap-wearing Jew on the streets of Berlin in front of his six-year-old daughter by an assailant who first demanded to know if he was Jewish. It’s time for those seeking to assert that what the U.S. State Department has called a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe hasn’t touched Germany to acknowledge that there is a serious problem. And it is getting worse.

Rabbi Yishak Ehrenberg is the second German Jewish clergyman to be noticed by officials that he is under investigation for violating the ban on circumcision. This apparently happened after Ehrenberg took part in a television debate on the issue at which he vowed that the Jewish community would continue to perform the ritual of brit milah that is at the heart of Jewish identity.

The Times of Israel supplied the following quote from Ehrenberg’s appearance:

“I don’t even want to go into this discussion,” Ehrenberg said after a proponent of a ban said that the act was tantamount to causing the child bodily injury without his or her consent. “We’re talking about religion,” said Ehrenberg. “This ruling will kill Judaism in Germany.”

The rabbi is correct about that. Though German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken a strong stand against the ruling and vowed that her parliamentary majority will pass a law legalizing it this fall, it’s not clear that what will be passed will actually grant immunity to traditional Jewish practice.

More to the point, the assumption that most Germans would ignore the Cologne ruling until the federal government dealt with the issue was incorrect. There is an obvious willingness by Germans to enforce the ban and punish those dedicated to ensuring that Jewish life in the country is able to continue.

That this effort would spill over into street violence against Jews was entirely predictable. The Cologne decision was a signal to anti-Semites that the generations-old taboo against anti-Jewish behavior had been lifted in mainstream German society.

Though there may be other factors behind the original campaign against circumcision, it’s now clear what is at stake here. It is now up to Merkel and her government to act expeditiously to quash any prosecutions of Jews and to pass a law that will put this nightmare to rest. The alternative is to see the country that spawned the Nazis and the Holocaust revisit a tragic and criminal past by threatening the religious freedom of Jews.

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Pediatrics Academy Debunks Bris Foes

European opponents of circumcision have been able to frame the debate over banning a ritual integral to Jewish identity as one where medical and humanitarian concerns should override the right of religious believers. Their recent successes in getting a court in Cologne, Germany to rule that circumcision is illegal, the potential prosecution of a rabbi in Bavaria for performing a brit milah, and the fact that several European hospitals have now banned the procedure are all based on the idea that “enlightened” Europeans must halt a practice they have branded as unhealthy, if not primitive. But a stinging rejoinder to that claim has just been issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

As the New York Times reported today, the Academy announced in an article in Pediatrics, “new research, including studies in Africa suggesting that the procedure may protect heterosexual men against H.I.V., indicated that the health benefits outweighed the risks.” This gives the lie to those opponents who have tried to depict circumcision as a danger to male infants who must be protected from the desire of their parents to practice their faith. The ruling is a switch from a 1999 ruling that had taken a neutral stance on the issue. This helps clarify the debate being promoted by opponents of circumcision. Once the medical argument is taken away from them they are left with only two possible motivations: The dubious assertion that no parent ought to have the right to make the decision to carry out such a procedure on an infant, and anti-Semitism.

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European opponents of circumcision have been able to frame the debate over banning a ritual integral to Jewish identity as one where medical and humanitarian concerns should override the right of religious believers. Their recent successes in getting a court in Cologne, Germany to rule that circumcision is illegal, the potential prosecution of a rabbi in Bavaria for performing a brit milah, and the fact that several European hospitals have now banned the procedure are all based on the idea that “enlightened” Europeans must halt a practice they have branded as unhealthy, if not primitive. But a stinging rejoinder to that claim has just been issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

As the New York Times reported today, the Academy announced in an article in Pediatrics, “new research, including studies in Africa suggesting that the procedure may protect heterosexual men against H.I.V., indicated that the health benefits outweighed the risks.” This gives the lie to those opponents who have tried to depict circumcision as a danger to male infants who must be protected from the desire of their parents to practice their faith. The ruling is a switch from a 1999 ruling that had taken a neutral stance on the issue. This helps clarify the debate being promoted by opponents of circumcision. Once the medical argument is taken away from them they are left with only two possible motivations: The dubious assertion that no parent ought to have the right to make the decision to carry out such a procedure on an infant, and anti-Semitism.

It should be specified that neither Jews nor Muslims, who also practice circumcision, do so for health reasons. Both treat the circumcision of males as a positive religious commandment and not one of either health or hygiene. But where opponents have been able to brand the procedure as either dangerous or without medical benefits has undermined support for the procedure even though the question is one of religious freedom.

Last week in Germany, an ethics committee sought to overrule the Cologne court but the country’s Professional Association of Pediatricians called the reversal “a scandal.” Given the evidence of the benefits of circumcision, it’s difficult to understand the willingness of German doctors to join the chorus of those seeking to ban the practice without thinking about the history of anti-Semitism in the country.

One of the authors of the American Pediatricians study, Dr. Douglas S. Diekema, told the Times that he wasn’t in favor of pushing anyone to circumcise their child but thought they ought to be given a “choice.” That’s exactly what the Germans pushing to ban circumcision want to deny parents. Such a position is only explicable in the context of what the U.S. State Department has rightly called “a rising tide of anti-Semitism” throughout Europe.

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German Circumcision Ban Bags First Victim

After a Cologne court ruled that circumcision was illegal, there were those who argued that the decision would not impact Jewish life in Germany. We were cautioned not to jump to conclusions since it was just one court, whose jurisdiction was limited. The reaction of Germany’s political leadership, particularly Chancellor Angela Merkel, was exemplary as the parliament voted to take up a bill legalizing the ritual in the fall. But, as today’s news reveals, the optimists did not count on the willingness of many Germans to support the court.

As the Times of Israel reports, criminal charges have been filed against a rabbi in Northern Bavaria for performing circumcisions. According to the Juedische Allgemeine, a Jewish weekly, the state prosecutor of Hof confirmed that charges had been filed against Rabbi David Goldberg, who serves the community of Upper Franconia for “harming” infants by performing the rite of brit milah, the covenantal ritual at the heart of Judaism. A Hessian doctor that cited the Cologne court’s ruling brought the charges against the rabbi. While the rabbi has not yet been tried, let alone convicted, the spectacle of German courts prosecuting a Jew for practicing Judaism doesn’t just awaken echoes of the Holocaust. It also sounds a warning that the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Western Europe is not a passing phase.

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After a Cologne court ruled that circumcision was illegal, there were those who argued that the decision would not impact Jewish life in Germany. We were cautioned not to jump to conclusions since it was just one court, whose jurisdiction was limited. The reaction of Germany’s political leadership, particularly Chancellor Angela Merkel, was exemplary as the parliament voted to take up a bill legalizing the ritual in the fall. But, as today’s news reveals, the optimists did not count on the willingness of many Germans to support the court.

As the Times of Israel reports, criminal charges have been filed against a rabbi in Northern Bavaria for performing circumcisions. According to the Juedische Allgemeine, a Jewish weekly, the state prosecutor of Hof confirmed that charges had been filed against Rabbi David Goldberg, who serves the community of Upper Franconia for “harming” infants by performing the rite of brit milah, the covenantal ritual at the heart of Judaism. A Hessian doctor that cited the Cologne court’s ruling brought the charges against the rabbi. While the rabbi has not yet been tried, let alone convicted, the spectacle of German courts prosecuting a Jew for practicing Judaism doesn’t just awaken echoes of the Holocaust. It also sounds a warning that the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Western Europe is not a passing phase.

In recent decades, Jewish life in Germany has thrived as immigrants in the prosperous nation have revived communities that were long dormant. But this episode unfolding in the one country where awareness of the consequences of anti-Semitism are so well known should send chills down the spine of Jews around the world.

Circumcision opponents may claim they are not anti-Semitic, especially since their campaign also targets Muslims. But there is little doubt that the driving force behind this movement is resentment toward Jews and a willingness to go public with sentiments that long simmered beneath the surface in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Just last week, French scholar Michel Gurfinkiel wrote on his blog that anti-Semitism has increased in France since the Toulouse massacre in March. Since then violence has grown, fed by what he calls a rejection of Jews and Judaism. In France, these sentiments are fed by the Jew hatred openly expressed by the expanding Muslim population. Throughout Europe, the demonization of Israel hasn’t just increased hostility to the Jewish state; it has served as an excuse for anti-Semitism to go mainstream for the first time since World War Two. Just as some claim circumcision critics aren’t intrinsically anti-Semitic, there are those who blame anti-Semitism on Israeli policies. But when you add all these factors together what you get is an undeniable upsurge in Jew-hatred.

While we trust that Chancellor Merkel and the Berlin government will find a way to quash this latest disgraceful attack on Judaism, we need to realize that this won’t be the last such episode. The strength of Europe’s traditional pastime of Jew-hatred should never be underestimated.

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Remembering the Evils of Communism

An often-debated subject, especially among scholars on the right, is the discrepancy between the considered history of the crimes of Communism and those of Nazism. Both were totalitarian and evil, but there are far more victims of Communism than Nazi fascism–yet we shun one completely but make some room for the influence and ideas of the other; European governments outlaw one but not the other.

Two current debates illustrate this divide. Last month, in what appeared to be a public relations stunt to distract pro-democracy protesters in Russia from the neo-Soviet behavior of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s new culture minister touched off a national debate when he proposed–as someone does every so often there–that the state bury Vladimir Lenin’s body once and for all. The Soviet founding father currently lies in a glass coffin in Red Square. The fact that Lenin inhabits a shrine rather than be returned to the dust of the earth, where he belongs, has turned the phrase “Lenin’s tomb” into a sort of shorthand for the torn nostalgia of Russian society.

The other such debate, the subject of an interesting story in today’s Washington Post, is over whether, how, and where Germany should build a new Cold War museum. Neither society appears to have much taste for the totalitarianism that oppressed them throughout the 20th century, but the West’s victory in the Cold War cannot be so easily simplified in two countries that were divided–in Germany’s case, literally–about the issue as recently as the early 1990s. In Russia’s case, burying Lenin would be an act of tremendous psychological weight and exertion. In Germany, it is much the same:

Here at Checkpoint Charlie, where Soviet and American tanks once aimed at each other separated by 30 yards, Cold War tensions are still running high.

An international group of scholars, backed by Berlin’s center-left city government, wants to build a Cold War museum on a rubble-strewn plot of land here, arguing that one of the best-known sites of confrontation between the capitalist West and the Communist East should not be abandoned to tourist touts and vendors selling Red Army hats.

But a group of conservative politicians, seared by memories of the divided city, says the plans for the museum are overly sympathetic to the Communists. They want to go elsewhere in the city to build a museum that they say celebrates freedom….

“It’s a scandal to have hot dog stands and people in fake uniforms,” said Konrad Jarausch, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was born in Germany and is leading the effort to build a museum at Checkpoint Charlie. “What the city needs is a museum on the same level of some of the museums that deal with the Third Reich.”

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An often-debated subject, especially among scholars on the right, is the discrepancy between the considered history of the crimes of Communism and those of Nazism. Both were totalitarian and evil, but there are far more victims of Communism than Nazi fascism–yet we shun one completely but make some room for the influence and ideas of the other; European governments outlaw one but not the other.

Two current debates illustrate this divide. Last month, in what appeared to be a public relations stunt to distract pro-democracy protesters in Russia from the neo-Soviet behavior of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s new culture minister touched off a national debate when he proposed–as someone does every so often there–that the state bury Vladimir Lenin’s body once and for all. The Soviet founding father currently lies in a glass coffin in Red Square. The fact that Lenin inhabits a shrine rather than be returned to the dust of the earth, where he belongs, has turned the phrase “Lenin’s tomb” into a sort of shorthand for the torn nostalgia of Russian society.

The other such debate, the subject of an interesting story in today’s Washington Post, is over whether, how, and where Germany should build a new Cold War museum. Neither society appears to have much taste for the totalitarianism that oppressed them throughout the 20th century, but the West’s victory in the Cold War cannot be so easily simplified in two countries that were divided–in Germany’s case, literally–about the issue as recently as the early 1990s. In Russia’s case, burying Lenin would be an act of tremendous psychological weight and exertion. In Germany, it is much the same:

Here at Checkpoint Charlie, where Soviet and American tanks once aimed at each other separated by 30 yards, Cold War tensions are still running high.

An international group of scholars, backed by Berlin’s center-left city government, wants to build a Cold War museum on a rubble-strewn plot of land here, arguing that one of the best-known sites of confrontation between the capitalist West and the Communist East should not be abandoned to tourist touts and vendors selling Red Army hats.

But a group of conservative politicians, seared by memories of the divided city, says the plans for the museum are overly sympathetic to the Communists. They want to go elsewhere in the city to build a museum that they say celebrates freedom….

“It’s a scandal to have hot dog stands and people in fake uniforms,” said Konrad Jarausch, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was born in Germany and is leading the effort to build a museum at Checkpoint Charlie. “What the city needs is a museum on the same level of some of the museums that deal with the Third Reich.”

The site at present is a tourist destination, complete with food vendors selling–apologies in advance–“Checkpoint Curry.” It may sound insensitive, and obviously so, but it’s not all that straightforward. I recently visited the new 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero in Manhattan, and due to its park-like atmosphere and city location, it does not feel solemn, somber, or especially evocative of the magnitude of the tragedy. It has also, predictably, become a tourist destination–though that is not an entirely bad thing, as many people from all over the world pay their respects regularly.

But Professor Jarausch has made the essential point: historical crimes must be honestly reckoned with. Though this can heal a society’s old wounds in a way time alone cannot, it’s also painful. In his profoundly moving new history of the run-up to the Soviet Union’s collapse, which I reviewed for the current issue of COMMENTARY, Leon Aron tackles this with precision. I wrote:

Aron offers a fully rounded portrait of the moment when the Russian people, for the first time in nearly a century, were directed by their own modernizing regime to look in the mirror of glasnost. Mikhail Gorbachev’s administration said there was no way the country could move forward with the restructuring Gorbachev sought without first understanding its past. The problem was that “the road to self-discovery, now deemed vital to the country’s revival—indeed, her survival—was found to be full of vast gaps.” Censorship had been locked in place since 1921; secrecy had been the foundational doctrine of the empire.

That empire of secrecy and lies was Lenin’s foremost legacy. It is why fully burying that legacy may in fact require fully burying Lenin himself. Though Germany may seem farther along this road, the discussion has brought to the surface lingering resentments on both sides. The pro-democracy side wants to call Communism and its crimes heinous; but that would mean so designating the operational ideology of the East German state, and its citizens, many of whom are still alive. Unification itself was far from unanimous, and therefore solidified, rather than soothed, many an East German’s bitterness.

Are they just being sore losers? They will say they have been gracious enough in defeat, and that this is more they can say for the victors now asking to pour salt in their wounds. “Everything has its history, including history,” John Lukacs wrote. And the history of Communism is monstrous; it should be remembered this way.

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Economic Shoes Are Dropping

If the stock market is truly a leading indicator (and it tends to be one of the more reliable ones), then the Obama campaign had better start worrying. May has been a brutal month for the Dow. It closed May 1 at 13,279. As it approached noon today, it’s at 12,360, down 59 on the day. That’s a decline of 7.1 percent for the month, wiping out all the gains since Jan. 1.

The reasons, of course, are not hard to find: the crisis in Europe, lackluster economic data in general, a sharp drop in consumer confidence in May, an uptick in weekly jobless claims, and more.

Perhaps the biggest news is the drop in bond rates. The benchmark ten-year treasury bond is currently yielding 1.53 percent. On July 1 last year, the ten-year treasury was yielding 3.2 percent, more than twice as much. This is good news and bad news. The good news is that the federal government can finance its huge deficits more easily (and consumers can borrow more cheaply as well: mortgage rates are at near record lows). But the bad news is that bond yields go down for two reasons: a slowing economy and/or a financial crisis. As nervous investors seek safe haven, demand for treasuries rises, pushing down yields. (French and German bond rates are also very low for the same reason, yielding 2.35 percent and an astonishing 1.24 percent respectively.)

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If the stock market is truly a leading indicator (and it tends to be one of the more reliable ones), then the Obama campaign had better start worrying. May has been a brutal month for the Dow. It closed May 1 at 13,279. As it approached noon today, it’s at 12,360, down 59 on the day. That’s a decline of 7.1 percent for the month, wiping out all the gains since Jan. 1.

The reasons, of course, are not hard to find: the crisis in Europe, lackluster economic data in general, a sharp drop in consumer confidence in May, an uptick in weekly jobless claims, and more.

Perhaps the biggest news is the drop in bond rates. The benchmark ten-year treasury bond is currently yielding 1.53 percent. On July 1 last year, the ten-year treasury was yielding 3.2 percent, more than twice as much. This is good news and bad news. The good news is that the federal government can finance its huge deficits more easily (and consumers can borrow more cheaply as well: mortgage rates are at near record lows). But the bad news is that bond yields go down for two reasons: a slowing economy and/or a financial crisis. As nervous investors seek safe haven, demand for treasuries rises, pushing down yields. (French and German bond rates are also very low for the same reason, yielding 2.35 percent and an astonishing 1.24 percent respectively.)

But countries at the heart of the crisis are not faring so well. Spain is not borrowing so cheaply, to put it mildly. Its current rate on ten-year bonds is 6.67 percent, more than five times what Germany has to pay to borrow. Spanish banking is near collapse and the country is in deep recession. If Spain were unable to meet its obligations and rescue its banking sector, it would be a much bigger deal than Greece’s problems. At about $1.5 trillion, its economy is five times the size of the Greek economy. Not even Germany (the world’s fourth largest economy) can write a check that big.

All eyes will be on tomorrow’s release of the jobs report for May, at 8:30 a.m., an hour before the market opens. But there are a lot of other economic shoes to drop in the next few weeks. As Bette Davis, playing Margot Channing, said in “All About Eve”: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

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“Peace Studies” Founder and Anti-Semitism

Via Haaretz, Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, known as the “father of Peace and Conflict Studies” shares his thoughts on Jewish control of the media and academia. This guy will no doubt be written off as a nutjob who’s completely unrepresentative of the Peace Studies curriculum. And based on his lunatic theory that the Mossad and Freemasons had a hand in the Anders Breivik terror attack, and his paranoid calculation that Jews control “96 percent of the media,” he clearly is unhinged.

But his comments also underscore a major problem with Peace Studies. Some anti-Semitic ideas, like the one that “Auschwitz had two sides,” are a natural progression of the discipline:

He pointed out that one of the factors behind the anti-Semitic sentiment that led to Auschwitz was the fact that Jews held influential positions in German society.

Galtung also recommended reading “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” – one of the most popular anti-Semitic texts in the world. …

According to Galtung, “terrible Auschwitz,” had two sides as well. “[It was] not unproblematic that Jews had key niches in a society humiliated by defeat at Versailles,” wrote Galtung, referencing Germany following World War I. Galtung continued, “In no way, absolutely no way, does this justify the atrocities. But it created anti-Semitism that could have been predicted.”

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Via Haaretz, Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, known as the “father of Peace and Conflict Studies” shares his thoughts on Jewish control of the media and academia. This guy will no doubt be written off as a nutjob who’s completely unrepresentative of the Peace Studies curriculum. And based on his lunatic theory that the Mossad and Freemasons had a hand in the Anders Breivik terror attack, and his paranoid calculation that Jews control “96 percent of the media,” he clearly is unhinged.

But his comments also underscore a major problem with Peace Studies. Some anti-Semitic ideas, like the one that “Auschwitz had two sides,” are a natural progression of the discipline:

He pointed out that one of the factors behind the anti-Semitic sentiment that led to Auschwitz was the fact that Jews held influential positions in German society.

Galtung also recommended reading “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” – one of the most popular anti-Semitic texts in the world. …

According to Galtung, “terrible Auschwitz,” had two sides as well. “[It was] not unproblematic that Jews had key niches in a society humiliated by defeat at Versailles,” wrote Galtung, referencing Germany following World War I. Galtung continued, “In no way, absolutely no way, does this justify the atrocities. But it created anti-Semitism that could have been predicted.”

Peace Studies is based on the premise that all conflicts can be resolved through peaceful, nonviolent means. It’s the height of moral relativism, holding that both sides have legitimate grievances and are rational, that both sides can and should make compromises, and that both sides have a responsibility to listen and consider each other’s arguments. Yes, even if the two sides are the Nazis and the Jews. Follow this argument to the end of its logical chain, and you get to Galtung’s repulsive idea that German anti-Semitism could have somehow been an understandable response to Jewish provocations.

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French-German Rift Puts Voters and Markets On Edge

The dominoes continue to fall. The deepening of the Eurozone economic crisis claimed the sitting governments of Greece and then of Italy, and the biggest domino yet–French President Nicolas Sarkozy–trailed French socialist Francois Hollande after the first round of voting during the weekend. As the French political class began preparing this morning for the upcoming runoff between Hollande and Sarkozy, they were greeted with the expected news of the collapse of the Dutch government.

This latest is the most significant for France, if only because the Netherlands was generally supportive of the austerity-first budget strategy promoted by Germany and backed by Sarkozy. But the political currents began pulling the French president as well, who was sufficiently spooked by the events of the past week, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

Following the weekend political developments in France and the Netherlands, the German-inspired fiscal pact, agreed by Eurozone leaders in Brussels in December, could also be delayed or thrown into question.

In a U-turn from his earlier stance, Mr. Sarkozy has used recent campaign rallies to call for changing the course of Eurozone policies to ensure they are also designed to stimulate growth.

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The dominoes continue to fall. The deepening of the Eurozone economic crisis claimed the sitting governments of Greece and then of Italy, and the biggest domino yet–French President Nicolas Sarkozy–trailed French socialist Francois Hollande after the first round of voting during the weekend. As the French political class began preparing this morning for the upcoming runoff between Hollande and Sarkozy, they were greeted with the expected news of the collapse of the Dutch government.

This latest is the most significant for France, if only because the Netherlands was generally supportive of the austerity-first budget strategy promoted by Germany and backed by Sarkozy. But the political currents began pulling the French president as well, who was sufficiently spooked by the events of the past week, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

Following the weekend political developments in France and the Netherlands, the German-inspired fiscal pact, agreed by Eurozone leaders in Brussels in December, could also be delayed or thrown into question.

In a U-turn from his earlier stance, Mr. Sarkozy has used recent campaign rallies to call for changing the course of Eurozone policies to ensure they are also designed to stimulate growth.

The blame game has commenced, with predictable parameters. The Journal’s editorial notes that because Sarkozy’s chances for success in the runoff election hinge on his ability to woo right-wing voters who supported neither Hollande nor Sarkozy in the first round, his “appeal will probably include a combination of anti-immigration riffs and more attacks on the European Central Bank (which has become the modern French substitute for running against the Germans).” The feeling is mutual, writes Mathieu von Rohr for Der Spiegel:

This election is a referendum on Sarkozy’s presidency…. His first-round result is poor, as was expected — Sarkozy is the first incumbent in the Fifth Republic who didn’t win the first round. It is an expression of the almost physical revulsion that many people feel for him.

If there’s any immediate relevance for President Obama’s reelection campaign, it’s that he probably cannot afford a Eurozone collapse or another serious financial crisis in Europe. A big question will be how the markets react and how nervous they get. In February, global markets rose on just the expectations that a Greek deal was imminent. In the near-term, this week’s events won’t calm anyone’s nerves, and the markets today predictably signaled their discontent. Long-term, a French-German split would likely be a headache for everyone on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Germany Shows True Colors on Iran

It’s all well and good for the Obama administration to brag about how its diplomatic approach has brought European states onboard with sanctions on Iran, but as the White House grants waivers for countries to give them more time to disentangle themselves from their Iran investments, German companies are showing they have no intention to leave the Iranian market. Quite the contrary, German firms are using the space granted them by the Obama administration to flout sanctions and embrace the Iranian market further.

The German NGO “Stop the Bomb” has outed several German firms which participated in last week’s 17th annual Iran International Oil, Gas, Refining, and Petrochemical Exhibition. According to their press release:

Among the German companies that have confirmed their participation at the Iran Oil Show to Stop the Bomb are for example Bopp & Reuther, Helmke, Hova and Schauenburg. The companies Herrenknecht and Pepperl + Fuchs are also present at the Iran Oil Show, according to the exhibition’s homepage.

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It’s all well and good for the Obama administration to brag about how its diplomatic approach has brought European states onboard with sanctions on Iran, but as the White House grants waivers for countries to give them more time to disentangle themselves from their Iran investments, German companies are showing they have no intention to leave the Iranian market. Quite the contrary, German firms are using the space granted them by the Obama administration to flout sanctions and embrace the Iranian market further.

The German NGO “Stop the Bomb” has outed several German firms which participated in last week’s 17th annual Iran International Oil, Gas, Refining, and Petrochemical Exhibition. According to their press release:

Among the German companies that have confirmed their participation at the Iran Oil Show to Stop the Bomb are for example Bopp & Reuther, Helmke, Hova and Schauenburg. The companies Herrenknecht and Pepperl + Fuchs are also present at the Iran Oil Show, according to the exhibition’s homepage.

“Stop the Bomb” notes that, according to the Exhibition rules, all participating companies must pay fees to Iran’s Bank-i Mellat which is sanctioned by both the United States and the European Union.

If President Obama wishes to prevent a war with Iran, he must end the diplomatic smoke and mirrors and stop granting waivers. Such action may raise European ire, but it is the White House which should be angry when European firms—and the governments which support them—so blatantly demonstrate their willingness to support investments in Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps front companies.

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German SPD Youth Group Calls for Attack on Iran if Sanctions Fail

Jerusalem Post journalist Benjamin Weinthal, who has thankfully returned to regular blogging, just posted about a potentially significant, albeit somewhat counter-intuitive, development on the German left. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) leadership is much more hostile to Israel and much more sympathetic to Iran than is the party’s youth organization Jusos. That’s the opposite of what you usually get when you juxtapose party elders with young European political activists, and the dynamic is increasingly fueling talk of a generation gap.

Earlier this month, SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel, who hopes one day to be chancellor and might very well succeed, triggered a controversy by slamming Israel for “apartheid.” The statement was hailed as “courageous” by the Palestinians but drew a strong rebuke from Jusos’s Berlin chapter, which called on him to distance himself from the remarks and insisted that there is “in no way a justification” for the accusation.

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Jerusalem Post journalist Benjamin Weinthal, who has thankfully returned to regular blogging, just posted about a potentially significant, albeit somewhat counter-intuitive, development on the German left. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) leadership is much more hostile to Israel and much more sympathetic to Iran than is the party’s youth organization Jusos. That’s the opposite of what you usually get when you juxtapose party elders with young European political activists, and the dynamic is increasingly fueling talk of a generation gap.

Earlier this month, SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel, who hopes one day to be chancellor and might very well succeed, triggered a controversy by slamming Israel for “apartheid.” The statement was hailed as “courageous” by the Palestinians but drew a strong rebuke from Jusos’s Berlin chapter, which called on him to distance himself from the remarks and insisted that there is “in no way a justification” for the accusation.

Now Weinthal reports the same Jusos chapter has gone further than ever before on the issues of the Jewish State and its security, using an SPD party conference to emphasize unconditional solidarity with Israel. Cognizant of Iran’s stated intention to destroy Israel and its Jews, they demanded the global community do what needs to be done to block the mullahs. Said Berlin Jusos chairman Kevin Kühnert, “If Iran continues to work on a nuclear weapon, we are arguing for a preventive attack.”

The resolution is designed to “jumpstart” discussions about the German-Israeli relationship in German political circles. Germany has become increasingly close to Israel’s declared enemies – a German group even awarded Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan a prize for tolerance two weeks ago – and increasingly hostile to Israel. When Germany piled on against Israel in the UN recently, that decision was made at the highest levels.

And of course, Iran. State-funded German universities promote trade with Tehran. Germany’s federal government indirectly sold a jet used by German chancellors to a sanctioned Iranian airline company. Iranian officials visit Germany and take meetings with German parliamentarians, and they use their visits to deny the Holocaust. Just this week, German TV station ZDF broadcast without objection a Holocaust-denying speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Given that context, the Jusos resolution is at a minimum heartening. But it’s going to take a long time to reverse the lazy anti-Israel ideology that has taken hold on the left in Germany and across much of the rest of Europe, which long ago extended to accepting anti-Semitic Iranian declarations.

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Is NATO Expansion Really More Dangerous Than the Status Quo?

Daniel Larison responded to my post yesterday in which I argued that Georgia should be considered for NATO membership. I recounted that the stated reasons for keeping Georgia out in 2008 were Foggy Bottom’s concern such advocacy would prompt Russia to turn against our Eastern European missile defense plans, and the hypocritical warning from Germany–which endured quite a significant territorial dispute with the Russians for the first 35 years of its NATO membership–that countries with territorial disputes with the Russians should be kept out of NATO.

The first concern has obviously vanished, since those missile shield plans were scrapped. Germany’s position–which is refuted most effectively by its own history–should be reexamined now that Georgia and Russia have signed a border-control agreement. Larison disagrees, but I think ends up strengthening my original point. He writes:

Trying to bring Georgia into the alliance does not enhance European security in any way, and Russia would still regard it as an intolerable provocation. Just as it did not in April 2008 during the Bucharest summit, Georgia still does not have full control of its territory. It is ridiculous to ask members of the alliance to extend an Article V guarantee to a country with ongoing territorial disputes.

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Daniel Larison responded to my post yesterday in which I argued that Georgia should be considered for NATO membership. I recounted that the stated reasons for keeping Georgia out in 2008 were Foggy Bottom’s concern such advocacy would prompt Russia to turn against our Eastern European missile defense plans, and the hypocritical warning from Germany–which endured quite a significant territorial dispute with the Russians for the first 35 years of its NATO membership–that countries with territorial disputes with the Russians should be kept out of NATO.

The first concern has obviously vanished, since those missile shield plans were scrapped. Germany’s position–which is refuted most effectively by its own history–should be reexamined now that Georgia and Russia have signed a border-control agreement. Larison disagrees, but I think ends up strengthening my original point. He writes:

Trying to bring Georgia into the alliance does not enhance European security in any way, and Russia would still regard it as an intolerable provocation. Just as it did not in April 2008 during the Bucharest summit, Georgia still does not have full control of its territory. It is ridiculous to ask members of the alliance to extend an Article V guarantee to a country with ongoing territorial disputes.

The latter point echoes the Germans’ concern about the “frozen conflicts” of the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Larison also faults Georgia for “escalating” the 2008 conflict with Russia. But to me, this seems to incentivize exactly the wrong behavior on both sides.

One point I made yesterday was announcing the “frozen conflicts” were reason enough to keep Georgia out of NATO encourages Russia to continue to stir up trouble. The Germans said this in April 2008, and Russia invaded in August of that year, and has since admitted that of course keeping Georgia out of NATO was exactly why they did so.

NATO has never considered itself exclusively a club for countries with no natural predators, so I’m not convinced the Russia-Georgia dispute should disqualify Georgia anyway. I’m not arguing it would absolutely prevent war, but our current position has instigated war already, and set a pattern of such conflict. So it cannot be argued that keeping Georgia out of NATO contributes in any meaningful way to conflict prevention.

Larison and I disagree on whether Russia or Georgia is more to blame for the 2008 war, and I don’t want to relitigate that entire discussion. But it’s worth noting that before that war, Russia had already stacked South Ossetia’s government with ethnic Russians who were trained by the Russian military and security services. (Russian General Vasily Lunev, who was installed as South Ossetia’s defense minister a few months before the war, is but one such example.) Led by such men, Russian forces had been shelling Georgian territory for years prior to that war. Russia, therefore, “escalated” the conflict several times prior to the 2008 war, which was itself a Russian escalation of the conflict.

So let’s take Larison’s point of view for a moment. If Georgia were a country looking for excuses to “escalate” the conflict, wouldn’t keeping them out of NATO on their lack of full control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia be likely to trigger a Georgian “escalation”? Would it not, that is, encourage Saakashvili to keep trying to replicate his success in exiling Aslan Abashidze from Adjara and getting the Russians to remove their base from Batumi?

And wouldn’t this require a major war, since Russian personnel run so much of South Ossetia’s government, and therefore Saakashvili might get the impression that nothing less than a full de-baathification of those provinces would resolve this conflict enough for Germany to consider the border matter settled? I think the answer is yes–I think our current posture toward the conflict as the justification for excluding Georgia from NATO is one that incentivizes war, whether you believe Russia or Georgia is more likely to be the aggressor.

Now, you may argue we can still keep Georgia out of NATO because, as Larison suggests, Russia would consider it an “intolerable provocation.” So it would make Russia angry. And what would they do in retaliation? Perhaps they would sell Iran upgraded radar jammers; suppress the UN nuclear watchdog’s report on Iran’s nuclear program; sell weapons to Bashar al-Assad; prevent even token action against Syria at the UN Security Council. They could not do any of this in retaliation, because they are already doing all of those things.

Is Russia’s cooperation on the Afghan supply route the only chip left to play? Of course it’s not nothing–we greatly appreciate it. But can that be the trump card to any Russian provocation? And who in their right mind thinks Russia wants us out of Afghanistan? They unambiguously do not.

Larison suggests Georgia isn’t democratic enough for NATO. But it’s hardly Belarus, let alone Ukraine. And isn’t that why we have membership action plans in the first place? No one is suggesting we leave NATO’s front door wide open for just anyone to waltz in. They have to earn it. And isn’t the prospect of NATO membership a better way to encourage such democratization than leaving such nations to Russia’s sphere of influence? Again, I give you Belarus.

Ironically, I don’t think Larison’s suspicion of NATO enlargement in general is all that unreasonable; I just think in this case it has been overtaken by events. Putin’s behavior has not earned him the benefit of the doubt, but you can certainly make the argument that the reverse was true with regard to Ron Asmus’s manic push to enlarge NATO as the Soviet Union was dissolving. Indeed, I asked Gorbachev’s adviser, Pavel Palazchenko, about that a few months ago, and he said their impression of that push for NATO enlargement was built on a misunderstanding of whether a new “union” of former Soviet republics might form, and that NATO’s eastward march made the transition more difficult for everyone involved. (I’m not endorsing the criticism; just noting that Gorbachev and Yeltsin had more credibility then than Putin does now.)

So I remain convinced that of the three options–bringing Georgia into NATO, permanently excluding Georgia from NATO, or forcing a more concrete resolution of Georgia’s breakaway provinces–Georgian inclusion in NATO (provided, of course, they meet democratization criteria) is the best.

UPDATE: Larison responds here.

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Georgia’s Exclusion from NATO: Is the West Out of Excuses?

President Obama and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili were all smiles after their meeting at the White House earlier today. Obama reportedly told Saakashvili he wants a U.S.-Georgia free trade agreement, and the two leaders discussed security cooperation as well.

Obama also made a verbal gesture toward Georgia that everyone pretends to be reassured by even though it’s usually utterly meaningless: He reaffirmed American support for Georgia’s acceptance into NATO. But in this case, Obama’s NATO comments are actually important, whether the NATO bid goes anywhere or not. That’s because the reasons to keep Georgia out of NATO have disappeared, and we’ll find out whether the West’s commitment to its allies and to global security are all, as Obama might say, “just words.”

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President Obama and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili were all smiles after their meeting at the White House earlier today. Obama reportedly told Saakashvili he wants a U.S.-Georgia free trade agreement, and the two leaders discussed security cooperation as well.

Obama also made a verbal gesture toward Georgia that everyone pretends to be reassured by even though it’s usually utterly meaningless: He reaffirmed American support for Georgia’s acceptance into NATO. But in this case, Obama’s NATO comments are actually important, whether the NATO bid goes anywhere or not. That’s because the reasons to keep Georgia out of NATO have disappeared, and we’ll find out whether the West’s commitment to its allies and to global security are all, as Obama might say, “just words.”

To backtrack a few years, when George W. Bush used his last NATO conference in 2008 to argue forcefully for granting Georgia and Ukraine membership action plans (MAP), the first step toward NATO accession, he was rebuffed by France and Germany who found Bush’s defense of America’s allies to be, according to the New York Times, “annoying.”

Germany’s official reason for selling Georgia out to Moscow was that the periodic Russian invasions of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were “frozen conflicts,” and until such matters were settled it would be dangerous to pledge to protect Georgia. What the Germans were doing–unintentionally but still reprehensibly–was signaling to Russia that as long as they continued to attack sovereign Georgian territory every so often, Germany would continue to keep Georgia out of NATO. Unsurprisingly, four months after that conference, Russia invaded.

In case anyone thought that wasn’t the reason for it, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently gave two speeches in which he plainly said the 2008 invasion was carried out specifically to keep Georgia out of NATO. That Bush tried valiantly but unsuccessfully to stop Germany from encouraging a Russia-Georgia war seems to be water under the bridge. But so is the “frozen conflict” the Germans were so worried about. Last month, Russia was finally admitted to the World Trade Organization. Georgia had been holding up Russia’s admission into the group over Russia’s refusal to agree to a reasonable border-security arrangement, but the two sides finally did come to such an agreement, so that should remove Germany’s excuse.

That Times story from the 2008 conference also suggests that Bush’s attempt to get Georgia and Ukraine into NATO risked upsetting Russia over missile defense sites in Eastern Europe. But early on in his administration, Obama helpfully took care of that by scrapping the missile defense anyway (and in the most offensive manner possible–this was an early indicator of “smart” power).

So, Russia’s concerns have been tended to. Germany’s excuses have dissipated. Georgia’s good-faith gestures, however, thus far have been unilateral. Unless Barack Obama’s gift for diplomacy cannot even convince our allies to support our other allies, what’s the holdup?

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More on the Freedom Agenda

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

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Holocaust Scholar Quoted in Anti-Glenn Beck Letter Criticizes the Campaign

A Holocaust scholar quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice’s anti–Glenn Beck letter has criticized the group’s campaign as one-sided and political.

Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, is the fourth person or organization cited in the letter who has questioned the political motives of the anti-Beck campaign. The Jewish Funds for Justice letter, published as a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and the Jewish Daily Forward last week, called on Fox News to sanction Beck because of his use of “Holocaust imagery.”

“I don’t disagree with the thrust of JFSJ’s ad,” wrote Lipstadt in a column in the Forward yesterday. “That said, I do worry that it is a distortion to focus solely on the conservative end of the political spectrum.”

While still maintaining that Beck’s comments about the Holocaust crossed the line, Lipstadt noted that, in recent years, some of the most offensive Holocaust rhetoric has come from the political left:

During his term in office, President George W. Bush was frequently compared to Hitler. A 2006 New York Times ad from a group called the World Can’t Wait, signed by a number of prominent leftists (as well as five Democratic members of Congress), cited a litany of complaints about the Bush administration’s policies and concluded: “People look at all this and think of Hitler — and rightly so.” British playwright and Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter, who signed onto the ad, went to so far as to call the Bush administration “more dangerous than Nazi Germany.” (emphasis added)

Similarly, references to Israelis as “Nazis” and claims that Israel is committing genocide abound in left-wing discourse. Because of their ubiquity, we have almost become inured to the horror of such comparisons.

“Is this about principle, or is it about politics?” asked Lipstadt. “Is this about anti-Semitism, or about Rupert Murdoch?”

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, and COMMENTARY were also quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice letter and have all since clarified that they are not associated with the campaign. However, as noted yesterday, Jewish Funds for Justice is continuing to collect signatures for the letter on its website.

A Holocaust scholar quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice’s anti–Glenn Beck letter has criticized the group’s campaign as one-sided and political.

Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, is the fourth person or organization cited in the letter who has questioned the political motives of the anti-Beck campaign. The Jewish Funds for Justice letter, published as a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and the Jewish Daily Forward last week, called on Fox News to sanction Beck because of his use of “Holocaust imagery.”

“I don’t disagree with the thrust of JFSJ’s ad,” wrote Lipstadt in a column in the Forward yesterday. “That said, I do worry that it is a distortion to focus solely on the conservative end of the political spectrum.”

While still maintaining that Beck’s comments about the Holocaust crossed the line, Lipstadt noted that, in recent years, some of the most offensive Holocaust rhetoric has come from the political left:

During his term in office, President George W. Bush was frequently compared to Hitler. A 2006 New York Times ad from a group called the World Can’t Wait, signed by a number of prominent leftists (as well as five Democratic members of Congress), cited a litany of complaints about the Bush administration’s policies and concluded: “People look at all this and think of Hitler — and rightly so.” British playwright and Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter, who signed onto the ad, went to so far as to call the Bush administration “more dangerous than Nazi Germany.” (emphasis added)

Similarly, references to Israelis as “Nazis” and claims that Israel is committing genocide abound in left-wing discourse. Because of their ubiquity, we have almost become inured to the horror of such comparisons.

“Is this about principle, or is it about politics?” asked Lipstadt. “Is this about anti-Semitism, or about Rupert Murdoch?”

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, and COMMENTARY were also quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice letter and have all since clarified that they are not associated with the campaign. However, as noted yesterday, Jewish Funds for Justice is continuing to collect signatures for the letter on its website.

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Go Read Kirkpatrick. Again.

Now more than ever, Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Dictatorships & Double Standards” essay deserves to be read and pondered. If this isn’t the greatest essay COMMENTARY has ever published, it’s certainly the most influential.

Amb. Kirkpatrick doesn’t tell us “what we should do” about Egypt, and it’s impossible to summarize such a brilliant piece. But she does make three relevant points: about freedom, revolution, and the American administration. First, as Peter has implied and as Abe has written, “The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings”; in other words, if we want to encourage autocracies to move towards democracy, it cannot be a crisis response.

Second, in foreign policy as elsewhere, the best is often the enemy of the good — or at least the marginally tolerable. John Steele Gordon says that this may be 1848 in the Arab World, and he might be right. But that is an invidious comparison, for in the one country that really mattered on the continent — Germany — 1848 turned out in retrospect to mark liberalism’s decisive defeat. In light of 1914, never mind 1939, it might have been better if 1848 had never happened.

It would be nice if, as Peter says, “the driving force of events in Egypt [is] tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression.” But as my colleague Jim Phillips points out, this is far from a sure bet, and the poisonous legacy of the Egyptian educational system that Alana refers to sure doesn’t help matters.

Third, and finally, there is the contrast between the president’s claim as of last Tuesday that “American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored” and Iran, where this administration sat on its hands as a viciously anti-American regime with a nuclear-weapons program slaughtered and raped protesters at will. And Honduras, where it moved heaven and earth to reinstate a pro-Chavez dictator in the making. And Egypt, where it is mincing about reform partnerships with Mubarak and the Egyptian people, a partnership that exists nowhere except in the Obama administration’s fevered desire to catch up with events that have relentlessly outpaced it.

So yes, as Kirkpatrick said of Carter, Obama is “especially vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.” Yes indeed.

Now more than ever, Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Dictatorships & Double Standards” essay deserves to be read and pondered. If this isn’t the greatest essay COMMENTARY has ever published, it’s certainly the most influential.

Amb. Kirkpatrick doesn’t tell us “what we should do” about Egypt, and it’s impossible to summarize such a brilliant piece. But she does make three relevant points: about freedom, revolution, and the American administration. First, as Peter has implied and as Abe has written, “The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings”; in other words, if we want to encourage autocracies to move towards democracy, it cannot be a crisis response.

Second, in foreign policy as elsewhere, the best is often the enemy of the good — or at least the marginally tolerable. John Steele Gordon says that this may be 1848 in the Arab World, and he might be right. But that is an invidious comparison, for in the one country that really mattered on the continent — Germany — 1848 turned out in retrospect to mark liberalism’s decisive defeat. In light of 1914, never mind 1939, it might have been better if 1848 had never happened.

It would be nice if, as Peter says, “the driving force of events in Egypt [is] tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression.” But as my colleague Jim Phillips points out, this is far from a sure bet, and the poisonous legacy of the Egyptian educational system that Alana refers to sure doesn’t help matters.

Third, and finally, there is the contrast between the president’s claim as of last Tuesday that “American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored” and Iran, where this administration sat on its hands as a viciously anti-American regime with a nuclear-weapons program slaughtered and raped protesters at will. And Honduras, where it moved heaven and earth to reinstate a pro-Chavez dictator in the making. And Egypt, where it is mincing about reform partnerships with Mubarak and the Egyptian people, a partnership that exists nowhere except in the Obama administration’s fevered desire to catch up with events that have relentlessly outpaced it.

So yes, as Kirkpatrick said of Carter, Obama is “especially vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.” Yes indeed.

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Israel Supporters Barred from Anti-Zionist Event at Rutgers

Hundreds of Jewish students and supporters were barred from attending an event comparing Israel to Nazi Germany at Rutgers University on Saturday, according to witnesses and news reports:

The campus police were asked to limit attendance to supporters of the program after it became clear the audience would be outnumbered 4 to 1 by the Jewish students, according to the report.

The Jewish students turned away from the event reportedly gathered in the lobby of the building where the program was being held and sang Hebrew songs.

The event, called “Never Again for Anyone,” is part of a nationwide tour “to honor those who perished in the Holocaust by upholding the human rights inherent to all people — and particularly for Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.” It engages in that increasingly popular form of Holocaust revisionism that equates Israel’s legitimate acts of self-preservation with the genocide carried out by the Nazi regime.

Organized by a student group called BAKA, the event was held in a public campus building and advertised as open to the public. Attendees were originally let inside the event for free, but once hundreds of members of the Jewish community began showing up, BAKA began trying to charge an attendance fee.

“They had a sign that had a $5- $20 donation suggestion, and they ripped the sign in half and said you have to pay to get inside,” Aaron Marcus, a Rutgers student who helped organize a counter-protest to the event, told me.

Of course, paying an entrance fee would also mean giving a donation to an organization whose specific purpose is to demonize Israel. In addition to hosting “Never Again for Anyone,” the Rutgers chapter of BAKA has hosted campus lectures by Norman Finklestein and gained national attention after it attempted to sponsor a flotilla to Gaza last fall.

And while anti-Zionist students were given wristbands and let into the event for free, almost none of the 400 Israel supporters were able to get inside, said Marcus. And those who did manage to find a way inside were prevented from using recording devices.

“As a skeptic, it’s just really, really disturbing that they don’t want anybody to videotape them, they don’t want anybody to audio-record them, they don’t want anybody who disagrees with them at their events,” said Marcus. “So what are they hiding, and why is it that students are paying for it?”

The Rutgers administration has not yet commented on the incident, but Marcus told me that the Anti-Defamation League has been in touch with some of the people who were refused admission to the event.

Hundreds of Jewish students and supporters were barred from attending an event comparing Israel to Nazi Germany at Rutgers University on Saturday, according to witnesses and news reports:

The campus police were asked to limit attendance to supporters of the program after it became clear the audience would be outnumbered 4 to 1 by the Jewish students, according to the report.

The Jewish students turned away from the event reportedly gathered in the lobby of the building where the program was being held and sang Hebrew songs.

The event, called “Never Again for Anyone,” is part of a nationwide tour “to honor those who perished in the Holocaust by upholding the human rights inherent to all people — and particularly for Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.” It engages in that increasingly popular form of Holocaust revisionism that equates Israel’s legitimate acts of self-preservation with the genocide carried out by the Nazi regime.

Organized by a student group called BAKA, the event was held in a public campus building and advertised as open to the public. Attendees were originally let inside the event for free, but once hundreds of members of the Jewish community began showing up, BAKA began trying to charge an attendance fee.

“They had a sign that had a $5- $20 donation suggestion, and they ripped the sign in half and said you have to pay to get inside,” Aaron Marcus, a Rutgers student who helped organize a counter-protest to the event, told me.

Of course, paying an entrance fee would also mean giving a donation to an organization whose specific purpose is to demonize Israel. In addition to hosting “Never Again for Anyone,” the Rutgers chapter of BAKA has hosted campus lectures by Norman Finklestein and gained national attention after it attempted to sponsor a flotilla to Gaza last fall.

And while anti-Zionist students were given wristbands and let into the event for free, almost none of the 400 Israel supporters were able to get inside, said Marcus. And those who did manage to find a way inside were prevented from using recording devices.

“As a skeptic, it’s just really, really disturbing that they don’t want anybody to videotape them, they don’t want anybody to audio-record them, they don’t want anybody who disagrees with them at their events,” said Marcus. “So what are they hiding, and why is it that students are paying for it?”

The Rutgers administration has not yet commented on the incident, but Marcus told me that the Anti-Defamation League has been in touch with some of the people who were refused admission to the event.

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