Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel

Amnesty’s Reports on Hamas Refute Its Allegations Against Israel

Over the past two months, Amnesty International has quietly confirmed nearly all of Israel’s main claims about Hamas’s conduct during last summer’s war in Gaza. Yet the organization still lacks the intellectual honesty to admit that its findings about Hamas completely undercut its main allegations against Israel – made vociferously both at the time and in a series of reports last fall and winter.

Read More

Over the past two months, Amnesty International has quietly confirmed nearly all of Israel’s main claims about Hamas’s conduct during last summer’s war in Gaza. Yet the organization still lacks the intellectual honesty to admit that its findings about Hamas completely undercut its main allegations against Israel – made vociferously both at the time and in a series of reports last fall and winter.

Amnesty turned its attention to Hamas only after months of reporting on alleged Israeli crimes. First came a March report on Hamas’s rocket fire, then one this week on its extrajudicial killings of alleged collaborators. Each undercuts a key claim against Israel.

The most interesting finding in the March report was that Hamas’s rockets killed more civilians in Gaza than they did in Israel. Altogether, Amnesty said, the rockets killed six Israeli civilians and “at least” 13 Palestinian civilians. Where did the latter figure come from? From a single misfired rocket that killed 13 civilians in the Al-Shati refugee camp. In other words, Amnesty didn’t bother checking to see whether other Hamas rockets also killed civilians; it simply cited the one case it couldn’t possibly ignore, because it was reported in real time by a foreign journalist at the scene.

But according to Israel Defense Forces figures, roughly 550 rockets and mortars fired at Israel fell short and landed in Gaza, including 119 that hit urban areas. And it defies belief to think those other 549 rockets and mortars produced no casualties.

After all, unlike Israel, Gaza has no civil defense system whatsoever. A 2014 study found that Israel’s civil defense measures reduced casualties from the rocket fire on sparsely populated southern Israel by a whopping 86%. But Gaza has no Iron Dome to intercept missiles, no warning sirens to alert civilians to incoming rockets, and no bomb shelters for civilians to run to even if they were warned. Thus in densely populated Gaza, with no civil defense measures, those misfired rockets would almost certainly have killed at least dozens, and quite possibly hundreds, of civilians.

One of the main claims against Israel made by Amnesty and other human rights groups is that it caused excessive civilian casualties. Most such groups simply parrot the UN claim (which came straight from Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry) that 67% of the 2,200 casualties were civilians; Israel has consistently said the civilian-to-combatant kill ratio was roughly 1:1. While there are many reasons to think the Israeli figure is closer to the truth, even the UN/Palestinian ratio of 2:1 would be drastically lower than the international norm of 3:1.

But once you acknowledge that some portion of those civilian casualties was actually caused by misfired Hamas rockets rather than Israeli strikes, then the claim of excessive civilian casualties becomes even more untenable. Indeed, it means the civilian-to-combatant fatality ratio from Israeli strikes was likely even below 1:1.

Then there’s Amnesty’s report this week on Hamas’s extrajudicial executions. Its most interesting finding, as Elhanan Miller reported in the Times of Israel, is that “Hamas used abandoned sections of Gaza’s main hospital, Shifa, ‘to detain, interrogate, torture and otherwise ill-treat suspects, even as other parts of the hospital continued to function as a medical center.’”

That goes to the heart of the other main allegation against Israel made by Amnesty and its fellows: that Israel repeatedly targeted civilian buildings rather sticking to military targets. Israel countered that these “civilian” buildings doubled as military facilities – weapons storehouses, command and control centers, etc. – and were, therefore, legitimate military targets, but human rights groups pooh-poohed that claim.

Now, however, Amnesty has admitted that Hamas used Gaza’s main hospital as a detention, interrogation and torture center. And if Hamas was misusing a hospital in this way, it defies belief to think it wasn’t similarly misusing other civilian buildings for military purposes. Once you admit that Hamas did so once, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t do so again. And, in that case, the allegation that Israel wantonly attacked civilian structures also collapses.

Thus in its reports on Hamas, Amnesty has effectively demolished its two main allegations against Israel. And if it had a shred of honor and decency left, it would admit it. But, needless to say, I’m not holding my breath.

Read Less

As Jews Worldwide Go Conservative, How Long Will U.S. Jews Buck the Trend?

There has been a spate of articles recently about how Jews in liberal democracies round the world have moved politically rightward in response to the global left’s increasing antipathy toward Israel. In a handy round-up of the trend over at FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Greenfield cites data showing that in Britain, Canada, Australia and France, a majority of Jews now vote conservative. The one glaring exception, of course, is America – which begs the question why.

Read More

There has been a spate of articles recently about how Jews in liberal democracies round the world have moved politically rightward in response to the global left’s increasing antipathy toward Israel. In a handy round-up of the trend over at FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Greenfield cites data showing that in Britain, Canada, Australia and France, a majority of Jews now vote conservative. The one glaring exception, of course, is America – which begs the question why.

Greenfield’s answer is that non-Orthodox American Jews care less about Judaism that their counterparts overseas, and therefore inevitably care less about Israel. And certainly, that’s part of the answer: A 2013 Pew poll showed that Jewish affiliation has declined markedly among American Jews, with only 68% of Jews born after 1980 considering themselves “Jews by religion,” compared to 93% of those born in 1914-27. And among the 32% that define themselves as “Jews of no religion,” a whopping 67% raise their children “not Jewish,” 79% have non-Jewish spouses, 54% say being Jewish is of little or no importance to them, and 55% feel little or no attachment to Israel.

Nevertheless, young Jews in other countries also intermarry more and are less Jewishly identified than their grandparents. So even if the decline has been steeper in America than elsewhere – an assumption for which Greenfield brings no evidence – it’s hard to see that alone as sufficient to explain this political divergence.

What’s missing from Greenfield’s answer, of course, is America itself: the anomalous fact that non-Jewish Americans are overwhelmingly pro-Israel. That certainly isn’t the case in Europe. And as an annual BBC poll shows, it isn’t even true in Canada and Australia, whose current conservative governments are staunchly pro-Israel.

Consequently, Democratic politicians are rarely as anti-Israel as their counterparts overseas, because being anti-Israel is still bad politics in America. Thus, for instance, they routinely support arms sales to Israel, whereas left-wing politicians abroad routinely oppose them. Nor does the American left’s animus against Israel spill over into blatant anti-Semitism as often as it does in, say, Europe. So for now, liberal American Jews still feel as if they can support the left without having to repudiate their Zionism or their Judaism – something that’s increasingly no longer possible overseas.

But even in America, that may not be true for long. As Sohrab Ahmari and Noah Pollak explained in detail in COMMENTARY this month, the Obama Administration and its Democratic cheerleaders have been steadily defining pro-Israel downward. During last summer’s Gaza war, for instance, the administration relentlessly criticized Israel over Palestinian civilian casualties, halted arms shipments in the middle of the fighting and urged Israel to accept a cease-fire dictated by Hamas patrons Qatar and Turkey, all while declaring itself to be unstintingly pro-Israel.

And on American college campuses, the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is rapidly disappearing. See, for instance, the case of UCLA student Rachel Beyda, who was rejected for a post on the university’s judicial board solely because she was Jewish, until a faculty adviser intervened.

Thus if American Jewish liberals don’t want to go the way of their counterparts overseas – i.e., if they want to be able to continue voting left without feeling that they are thereby sacrificing their Jewish and Zionist identity – they need to mount an urgent campaign to convince their own political camp that any good liberal should also be pro-Israel. That’s far from an impossible case to make, since it has the advantage of being true, as I explained in detail in a COMMENTARY article in March. But conservatives can’t do the job for them; only liberals can persuade their fellow liberals.

And if American Jewish liberals don’t make that case, then in another decade or two, those that still care about Judaism and Israel are liable to find themselves exactly where their British, Canadian, Australian and French counterparts are now: forced to hold their nose and vote conservative, because anything else would be a betrayal of their Jewish identity.

Read Less

Sorry, Your Holiness, But Abbas is No Angel

Those who forget that the Vatican is a city-state and not just the home office of the Catholic Church got a reminder this past week of just how its sovereignty works. Its decision to formally recognize “Palestine” as an independent nation was not a theological position but one in keeping with the policies of the rest of Europe which has chosen to promote the Palestinian Authority’s ambitions despite its repeated refusal to make peace and its lack of control of much of the territory it claims. The announcement of the planned treaty was timed to coincide with the canonization of two 19th century Arab nuns who lived in Ottoman-ruled Palestine. Yet despite that religious gloss on an otherwise realpolitik move the nuns were upstaged when Pope Francis embraced PA leader Mahmoud Abbas on his visit to Rome and pronounced him “an angel of peace.” Such hyperbole may be par for the course in exchanges between heads of state but for the pope to say something that is so patently false damages his credibility in a way that does the church more harm than might have occurred than had it decided not to join in the rush to recognize the Palestinians. Abbas may be many things but he is no angel as well as not being a champion of peace.

Read More

Those who forget that the Vatican is a city-state and not just the home office of the Catholic Church got a reminder this past week of just how its sovereignty works. Its decision to formally recognize “Palestine” as an independent nation was not a theological position but one in keeping with the policies of the rest of Europe which has chosen to promote the Palestinian Authority’s ambitions despite its repeated refusal to make peace and its lack of control of much of the territory it claims. The announcement of the planned treaty was timed to coincide with the canonization of two 19th century Arab nuns who lived in Ottoman-ruled Palestine. Yet despite that religious gloss on an otherwise realpolitik move the nuns were upstaged when Pope Francis embraced PA leader Mahmoud Abbas on his visit to Rome and pronounced him “an angel of peace.” Such hyperbole may be par for the course in exchanges between heads of state but for the pope to say something that is so patently false damages his credibility in a way that does the church more harm than might have occurred than had it decided not to join in the rush to recognize the Palestinians. Abbas may be many things but he is no angel as well as not being a champion of peace.

As I noted last week, the decisions being taken by the Vatican and other European states won’t advance peace. To the contrary, such moves only encourage Abbas to continue to refuse to negotiate with Israel. The only path forward for a two state solution to the conflict is for the Palestinians to be given statehood only after they have made peace with Israel and not before. Abbas and his predecessor Yasir Arafat have repeatedly refused Israeli offers of peace and statehood. To this day, he refuses to sign any deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

That alone should be enough to deny Abbas the title of “angel of peace.” But that isn’t the only reason. Abbas was a longtime deputy to arch-terrorist Arafat and played a role in organizing and financing many acts of brutal terrorism. But unlike other world leaders who might have employed violence in his youth and then became a statesman, Abbas has never really changed. He is the same man who wrote a doctoral thesis that centered on Holocaust denial at Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University that was published in 1984. He continues to embrace and honor terrorists, such as the murderers with the blood of innocent civilians on their hands that were released by Israel in order to ransom Gilad Shalit from his Hamas captors. Just as important, though he occasionally makes statements about wanting peace when speaking to Western audiences or the international media, his official PA media incites hatred against Jews and Israel on a regular basis.

Let’s concede that part of the Vatican’s motivation for all the love being shown the Palestinians is a desire to position the church to protect Middle East Christians at a time when they are under siege from radical Islam in the region. That ISIS is slaughtering Christians with impunity is well known. Less talked about is the every day pressure that Christian communities are under throughout the region. The result is that ancient Christian communities are disappearing as its members flee for safety in the West rather than face increasing marginalization and discrimination if not violence.

That Christian institutions like the Church would choose to ingratiate themselves with the Muslim world by attacking Israel in this manner is not altogether surprising. Arab Christians have long sought to gain acceptance from Muslims by being in the forefront of the struggle against Zionism. It hasn’t worked as Arab Christians continue to be attacked no matter how ardently they demonstrate their antipathy for Israel and Jews. Religious minorities in the Muslim have a natural ally in Israel but Arab Christians and some of their Western supporters continue to cling to the myth that they can win acceptance from Muslims by joining in attacks on the Jews. That Western Christians also adopt such attitudes is equally foolish. But it can also be explained by anti-Semitic attitudes that persist in Europe despite the heroic efforts of Pope Francis’ predecessors, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II to eradicate the vestiges of the Church’s past errors.

The pope might be forgiven for this flight of fancy if he were to give an equally egregious title to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during a meeting with him. But given the animosity that Europeans direct toward the democratically elected leader of the Jewish state such a similar papal embrace is highly unlikely.

Pope Francis’s statement about Abbas can be dismissed as mere window dressing to the Vatican’s diplomatic initiative. But the damage the pope does when he says things that are so blatantly false goes beyond the assault on the truth that so often occurs when world leaders are polite to each other. The power of the papacy remains great. During the last decade of the Cold War, Pope John Paul II proved that Stalin was wrong when he mocked a previous pope by asking how many divisions he controlled. But that power must rest in truth if it is to be more than just talk.

The pope is a good man whose intentions should not be questioned. But just as the Vatican should refrain from acts that harm peace such as its recognition of Palestine, so, too, should the pope not utter falsehoods. That Pope Francis must meet with Abbas is to be expected but when he says something so obviously untrue about him, it hurts the papacy and undermines good relations between the church and the Jewish people more than it helps the corrupt, tyrannical and undemocratic leader of a Palestinian kleptocracy.

Read Less

Good Deeds Won’t Win Israel Any Friends

In recent weeks, a fair amount of publicity has been given to the fact that Israel’s efforts to aid the victims of the Nepal earthquakes have been far out of proportion to its size. Far larger countries have done much less or nothing at all to assist the Himalayan nation deal with this terrible tragedy. In fact, Israel’s humanitarian delegation to Katmandu, which numbered more than 250 persons including medical personnel and experts in rescue and recovery operations, is the second largest of any country that sent assistance to Nepal. As with similar instances in which the Jewish state donated so generously to countries in need, both Israel and its friends around the world have felt a great deal of pride in this fact. But it has not altered the opinions of those who wish to see it destroyed. Indeed, as the Times of Israel notes, some of the country’s foes have taken to label the aid effort “rubble-washing,” deeming it a transparent attempt to distract the world from the country’s alleged sins. This is a monstrous charge and those who make it deserve to be treated with contempt. But the issue here goes further than such libels. So long as the pro-Israel community neglects efforts to highlight the justice of its cause in the conflict with the Palestinians, highlighting the Jewish state’s accomplishments and attractions won’t help.

Read More

In recent weeks, a fair amount of publicity has been given to the fact that Israel’s efforts to aid the victims of the Nepal earthquakes have been far out of proportion to its size. Far larger countries have done much less or nothing at all to assist the Himalayan nation deal with this terrible tragedy. In fact, Israel’s humanitarian delegation to Katmandu, which numbered more than 250 persons including medical personnel and experts in rescue and recovery operations, is the second largest of any country that sent assistance to Nepal. As with similar instances in which the Jewish state donated so generously to countries in need, both Israel and its friends around the world have felt a great deal of pride in this fact. But it has not altered the opinions of those who wish to see it destroyed. Indeed, as the Times of Israel notes, some of the country’s foes have taken to label the aid effort “rubble-washing,” deeming it a transparent attempt to distract the world from the country’s alleged sins. This is a monstrous charge and those who make it deserve to be treated with contempt. But the issue here goes further than such libels. So long as the pro-Israel community neglects efforts to highlight the justice of its cause in the conflict with the Palestinians, highlighting the Jewish state’s accomplishments and attractions won’t help.

There’s something particularly egregious about those who actually criticize Israeli aid efforts to a prostrate Third World nation. Apparently nothing, not even a humanitarian crisis, is enough to cause those who wish to see the Jewish state brought down to call a timeout in their campaign of delegitimization. That’s bad enough when it comes from bottom feeder websites like Mondoweiss. But when it comes from supposedly legitimate figures within the human rights community, it bridges the gap between the absurd and the pathological. Much like those who advocate gay rights but who react furiously when it is pointed out that Israel is a haven of freedom and equal rights for the gay community (called “pinkwashing”) the criticism of Israel’s generous humanitarian aid efforts says more about rigid ideology, if not outright hatred, of the people making such bizarre charges than it does about Israel.

But this nasty business aside, the fact that aid to Nepal doesn’t endear Israel to a world that continues to single it out for condemnation about debatable charges while ignoring actual human rights catastrophes elsewhere such as the slaughter in Syria or tyranny in Iran (a far larger country that, of course, sent no aid to Nepal) still frustrates a lot of well meaning supporters of the Jewish state. For years, many in the pro-Israel community as well as some in the country’s Foreign Ministry have been obsessed with the idea that Israel’s problem is primarily one of  negative images. They rightly point out that many people only associate it with stories about conflict and violence as well as allegations about violating the rights of Palestinians or slanders about it being an “apartheid state.” They say the answer to that is an effort to “rebrand” the country. If only, they have asserted, people associated Israel more with beautiful beaches (and pretty girls frolicking on the beaches), the lifesaving medical advances that have been discovered by its brilliant scientific community or the fact that it is truly the Start-Up Nation that has a high-tech industry second only in many respects to that of the United States, people would stop listening to the attacks.

But while there is plenty of good news to be disseminated about Israel’s many accomplishments and genuine attractions, as well as its humanitarian bona fides, the discussion of these topics won’t change a single mind about the attacks on the country’s legitimacy or its behavior. As I noted in a COMMENTARY feature back in October 2009, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s rebranding campaign was not only doomed to failure; it was a distraction from its real job of combating the lies about the conflict.

It’s satisfying for both Israelis and their foreign friends who are sick of being bashed in the media and tired of the old arguments about territory and settlements, to see attention focused on publicizing the good things about Israel, whether it is gay rights, medicine or humanitarian aid. But the problem is that a rival branding program has overtaken this effort. Israel’s foes have devoted themselves to the apartheid libel, effectively convincing much of the world that only the Palestinians have rights and that the terror threat as well as the ongoing siege of the Jewish state is irrelevant to discussions about the peace process. By establishing the notion that all of the West Bank and Jerusalem is stolen property rather than just land to which both sides have legitimate claims, Israel is branded as an oppressor and thief of other people’s property. This dovetails with the rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout Europe and the world.

The only thing that will convince the world that Israel does not deserve the opprobrium directed at it is a case for the justice of its cause in its fight against the Palestinians. That means Israel’s advocates must still directly address the case for its right to be where it is as well as its right to defend itself against those who are only interested in its elimination and not a two-state solution.

Just like its gay rights policy, scientific advances, vibrant economy, beautiful scenery and pretty girls, Israeli humanitarian efforts deserve to be celebrated by the world. Moreover, like those other aspects of its national life that illustrate the country’s basic character and values, a willingness to help others is worth doing because it is right, not to win popularity contests. But none of this will prevent the country from being smeared with the apartheid label. Only direct answers to those charges as well as an effort to turn the tables on the Palestinians and to highlight the truth about their support for terrorism and refusal to make peace on any terms but Israel’s destruction, will help to alter its image.

Read Less

Vatican Recognition of Palestine Won’t Bring Peace Closer

Israel’s critics will celebrate the news today that the Vatican will recognize Palestinian statehood as a rebuke of the Jewish state’s government and policies. The move is line with the international community’s push for Palestinian statehood. It also is part of the Vatican’s efforts to appease the Arab and Muslim worlds as part of a campaign to improve the plight of embattled and dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East. As such, its impact will be mostly symbolic though it will certainly be considered yet another blow to Israel’s uphill efforts to maintain good relations with European countries that are increasingly hostile to Jerusalem. But the one thing we can be sure it won’t do is to improve the chances for peace. By granting the Palestinians official recognition without first requiring them to make peace with Israel, Pope Francis and the Church have only made it less likely that this will ever happen.

Read More

Israel’s critics will celebrate the news today that the Vatican will recognize Palestinian statehood as a rebuke of the Jewish state’s government and policies. The move is line with the international community’s push for Palestinian statehood. It also is part of the Vatican’s efforts to appease the Arab and Muslim worlds as part of a campaign to improve the plight of embattled and dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East. As such, its impact will be mostly symbolic though it will certainly be considered yet another blow to Israel’s uphill efforts to maintain good relations with European countries that are increasingly hostile to Jerusalem. But the one thing we can be sure it won’t do is to improve the chances for peace. By granting the Palestinians official recognition without first requiring them to make peace with Israel, Pope Francis and the Church have only made it less likely that this will ever happen.

It should not be forgotten that the Catholic Church has undergone a remarkable transformation in the last generation with regard to its attitude toward Jews, Judaism and the state of Israel. The historic efforts of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II created a revolution in Jewish-Catholic relations that consigned the disrespect and tolerance for anti-Semitism to the past. The Second Vatican Conference in 1961 broke with the past in terms of rejecting the myth of Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus and set the Church on the path of reconciliation with Judaism. Pope John Paul II continued that effort and under his tutelage Catholic educational efforts discarded the contempt for Judaism that had formerly characterized the Church’s attitude. He added to that legacy when the Vatican formerly recognized Israel in 1993, putting an end to the Church’s official opposition to Zionism that was rooted in a belief that the Jews were cursed to wander and had forfeited the right to their historic homeland.

Since then relations between the Jewish state and the church have not always been rosy. Disputes that stemmed from the anti-Israel attitudes of Palestinian Christians have continued to pop up. As part of an effort to ingratiate itself with Arab countries, the Church has also adopted policies that were hostile to Israel. It’s effort to wrongly blame the Israelis for the decline in the Palestinian Christian community — a trend that is the result of the growing influence of Islamists — has been particularly egregious. But despite all of that, it would be a mistake to consider the Church or the Vatican a particularly avid foe of Israel. Catholics around the world and especially those in the United States have become some of the Jewish state’s best friends and most staunch allies.

Moreover, it is likely that Pope Francis considers his gesture toward the Palestinians to be one intended to encourage peace. The pontiff seems to consider it an effort to be even-handed between the two parties to the conflict and is probably entirely sincere in his hopes that this move will jumpstart the moribund peace process.

But, for all of his good will, the pope is mistaken to think that giving the Palestinians such recognition will advance the peace process. To the contrary, by granting them official status in this way only encourages Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to continue to stonewall efforts to make peace.

After all, if Abbas’s real goal been an independent Palestinian state, he could have had one in 2000, 2001 when his former boss Yasir Arafat rejected an Israeli offer of statehood including almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Abbas rejected an even better offer in 2008 and then refused to negotiate seriously in 2013 and 2014 even after the Israelis had accepted an American framework whose goal was a two state solution.

The Palestinian campaign to get recognition from the United Nations and other countries is motivated by a desire to avoid peace talks, not to make them more successful. The Palestinians want a state but not one that is prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside it, not matter where its borders are drawn. By telling the Palestinians, the Church recognizes his faux state; it is making it easier for Abbas to refuse to negotiate. To the extent that this recognition grants the Palestinians rights to all of the disputed 1967 territories, the Vatican and other European states that have done the same thing, is prejudging negotiations that should be conducted by the parties, not outsiders.

Just as important, the Church ignores the fact that an independent Palestinian state in all but name already exists in Gaza under the tyrannical rule of Hamas terrorists. Which “Palestine” is the Church recognizing? Hamasistan or Fatah’s corrupt kleptocracy that Abbas presides over? With Hamas growing more popular, the prospect of it gaining power in an independent West Bank makes an Israeli withdrawal a fantasy rather than a viable policy option.

While no one should question the pope’s good intentions, the Vatican move will only serve to make peace less likely and do nothing for Middle East Christians who are under unbearable pressure from Islamists, not Israel. In this case, being even-handed undermines the already dwindling hopes for a two state solution.

Read Less

When the ICRC Feels It Must Apologize for Telling the Truth

It’s not hard to find examples of double standards against Israel; COMMENTARY has published two examples, from academia and sport, just in the last two days. But it’s worth reiterating that such incidents are made possible not by the rabid Israel-haters, who remain a small minority, but by all the “good” people who know better yet are too intimidated to speak out. Nowhere is this more evident than in the so-called human rights community. And Exhibit A is the exception that proves the rule: Jacques de Maio, who heads the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in “Israel and the Occupied Territories.”

Read More

It’s not hard to find examples of double standards against Israel; COMMENTARY has published two examples, from academia and sport, just in the last two days. But it’s worth reiterating that such incidents are made possible not by the rabid Israel-haters, who remain a small minority, but by all the “good” people who know better yet are too intimidated to speak out. Nowhere is this more evident than in the so-called human rights community. And Exhibit A is the exception that proves the rule: Jacques de Maio, who heads the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in “Israel and the Occupied Territories.”

The ICRC has produced its share of Israel-haters, but De Maio certainly isn’t one of them. Not only does he realize that Israel isn’t the Great Satan it’s generally portrayed as by “human rights” activists, but he’s even willing to say so occasionally – which makes him far braver than many of his colleagues. Yet even this braver-than-average member of the human rights community feels so intimidated that whenever he does say something positive about Israel, he feels the need to apologize. So you get astounding statements like this tweet from last November: “It may seem provocative, but I would contend that humanitarian access in Israel & OT is, comparatively, outstandingly good.”

The mind simply boggles. It’s “provocative” to state the simple fact that Israel, like any Western democracy, allows humanitarian aid groups relatively unfettered access? In his next tweet, De Maio added, “I can think of no other context where we operate worldwide where access for humanitarian organizations is as good as it is here.” Yet if that’s the truth, why should it be “provocative” to say so? Shouldn’t it be as natural for human rights organizations to praise countries for enabling their access as it is to criticize them for not doing so?

But of course, when it comes to Israel, it isn’t. After all, in the “human rights” community to which De Maio belongs, the loudest voices are people like Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth, who famously criticized Israel last month for sending the world’s largest medical team, 30 percent of all foreign medical personnel, to help victims of Nepal’s earthquake. In a world where “human rights activists” slam Israel even for providing humanitarian relief – though Roth has yet to explain how he thinks the world would be a better place had Israel failed to do so – it’s clearly not a given to praise it for enabling humanitarian access. So De Maio apologizes for telling the truth. And untold numbers of his less courageous colleagues choose the easier route of not telling it at all.

Nor is it Israel alone that pays the price for their silence – something else De Maio understands quite well. “Why is there so much more focus on Israel than on Syria [and] other places where many more civilians are dying?” he demanded in December. “In other ongoing wars, more civilians die in one week than in Israeli wars in a full year.” Yet even the braver-than-average De Maio made that statement at a conference in Israel, the one place it’s relatively “safe” to say such things. And untold numbers of his less courageous colleagues will never say it at all.

So all the people worldwide who truly need humanitarian assistance – in Syria and “other places where many more civilians are dying” – will continue having their pleas for help go unheard, because the only “human rights” activists raising their voices are the ones obsessed with Israel. The others are too busy proving, yet again, that all that’s needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Read Less

Will International Soccer Kick Out Israel?

It’s only a matter of time before the Obama administration begins a campaign of pressure against Israel’s new government. Once the weak Iran nuclear deal is safely signed and then steered through Congressional approval courtesy of the equally weak bill, we can expect to see Washington’s open threats about abandoning the Jewish state at the United Nations put into action. But Jerusalem doesn’t need to wait until then to see how much progress the Palestinian campaign to isolate Israel has made. Though not as serious as the Palestinian Authority effort to obtain United Nations recognition for their independence without first having to make peace with Israel, the PA’s effort to get Israel expelled from FIFA — the body that governs international soccer — hits closer to home for most Israelis. Though the Israelis may decry this blatant effort to politicize sport, they are learning again that when it comes to the Jewish state, the rules are always different for Israelis than other countries.

Read More

It’s only a matter of time before the Obama administration begins a campaign of pressure against Israel’s new government. Once the weak Iran nuclear deal is safely signed and then steered through Congressional approval courtesy of the equally weak bill, we can expect to see Washington’s open threats about abandoning the Jewish state at the United Nations put into action. But Jerusalem doesn’t need to wait until then to see how much progress the Palestinian campaign to isolate Israel has made. Though not as serious as the Palestinian Authority effort to obtain United Nations recognition for their independence without first having to make peace with Israel, the PA’s effort to get Israel expelled from FIFA — the body that governs international soccer — hits closer to home for most Israelis. Though the Israelis may decry this blatant effort to politicize sport, they are learning again that when it comes to the Jewish state, the rules are always different for Israelis than other countries.

FIFA President Sepp Blattner is coming to the region for talks with the Israeli and Palestinian soccer associations prior to his group’s congress scheduled to be held in Switzerland later this month. The controversial Blattner would probably like to avoid having his group entrapped in the morass of the Middle East conflict. But after recent UN votes that granted the Palestinians the right to participate in the world body’s agencies, they may feel they have the wind at their back. Given Obama’s threats and the international unpopularity of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government, they may think this is the perfect time to score a victory that will resonate throughout the soccer-mad international community.

The PA has actually been a member of FIFA since 1998 but its move against Israel has more to do with political timing than the currency of their complaints. Their case for expelling the Israelis rests on the notion that the Jewish state must give anyone who calls himself a soccer player the right to move between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza. That doesn’t take into account the security issue and the fact that the Palestinians have waged an off-and-on terror campaign against Israel. Since the Palestinians have always prioritized the struggle against Zionism over the demands of sport, it’s a bit much for them to expect Israel to do the same. But that, like their insistence that Israel shouldn’t allow clubs based in Jewish communities in the West Bank to compete, is a mere pretext, not a serious argument.

FIFA’s members include some of the worst tyrannies in the world. Its 2018 World Cup will be held in Russia. No thought is given to expelling Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. In 2022, it will be held in undemocratic and terror-supporting Qatar and other Gulf States, a result that may have been obtained by bribing of the FIFA selection committee. But given the current international climate; will anyone be very surprised if FIFA decides to expel Israel?

To put the soccer dispute into context, it should be remembered that in international tournaments such as the World Cup, Israel has been forced to play in regional competitions in Europe rather than Asia because Arab and Muslim countries won’t play against them. This violates the conventions of international sport but it has been allowed to continue because prejudice against Jews is always tolerated.

If anyone didn’t realize that sport was merely a political tool for the Palestinians, it should also be noted that the head of the Palestinian soccer federation isn’t an athlete or veteran sports figure but veteran terrorist Jibril Rajoub, one of Yasir Arafat’s top aides. Rajoub has graduated from leading and conspiring murderous attacks against Israelis to hobnobbing with the global sports elite. Rajoub labeled pleas for an official moment of silence at the Olympic Games for the victims of the 1972 Munich massacre as “racist.” He’s also denounced the United States and talked about using nuclear weapons against Israel.

Rajoub’s role in this farce should serve to remind Israel’s critics in the West that the point of efforts to isolate Israel and brand it as a pariah is not to change its policies but to destroy it. Let’s hope the global soccer community is wise enough to stay out of this despicable effort. But at a time of growing anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel, as well as the talk of abandoning Israel coming out of the Obama administration, anything may be possible.

Read Less

Obama’s Double Standard on Civilian Casualties

I know it’s been a busy two weeks, but I’m still waiting for that apology. I’ve been waiting for it ever since the U.S. admitted on April 23 to accidentally killing two Western hostages in Pakistan, and doubly so after a U.S. airstrike allegedly killed 52 civilians in Syria last Friday. Clearly, I don’t expect an apology for the fact that American forces are composed of men rather than angels, and therefore sometimes makes mistakes. But I certainly do expect an apology for the Obama Administration’s refusal to acknowledge that so are Israel’s forces. In the administration’s view, Israel never makes honest mistakes. If Israel inadvertently kills civilians in wartime, then it wasn’t trying hard enough not to do so.

Read More

I know it’s been a busy two weeks, but I’m still waiting for that apology. I’ve been waiting for it ever since the U.S. admitted on April 23 to accidentally killing two Western hostages in Pakistan, and doubly so after a U.S. airstrike allegedly killed 52 civilians in Syria last Friday. Clearly, I don’t expect an apology for the fact that American forces are composed of men rather than angels, and therefore sometimes makes mistakes. But I certainly do expect an apology for the Obama Administration’s refusal to acknowledge that so are Israel’s forces. In the administration’s view, Israel never makes honest mistakes. If Israel inadvertently kills civilians in wartime, then it wasn’t trying hard enough not to do so.

We don’t yet know what happened in Syria, but the drone strike on an al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan is instructive. Administration officials told the New York Times that the CIA had “no idea that the hostages were being held there despite hundreds of hours of surveillance.” Yet they apparently can’t conceive of Israel — in the midst of a shooting war where decisions on whether to return fire must be made instantly, rather than with the benefit of hundreds of hours of surveillance — being similarly unaware that civilians were present at various sites it targeted during last summer’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

Needless to say, American military professionals don’t share the administration’s view. The day after the White House announced the hostages’ deaths; Michael Schmitt and John Merriam published a summary of their detailed investigation into Israel’s targeting practices during that war. Schmitt, a professor of international law, heads the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the U.S. Naval War College and is considered a leading expert on the laws of armed conflict (LOAC). Merriam is a U.S. Army Judge Advocate and associate director of the Stockton Center. They were given unusual access to information, like targeting procedures that the Israel Defense Forces usually keeps secret; they were also allowed to observe IDF targeting cells at work and examine combat footage that hasn’t been publicly released. And here’s their conclusion:

Broadly speaking, we concluded that IDF positions on targeting law largely track those of the United States military. Moreover, even when they differ, the Israeli approach remains within the ambit of generally acceptable State practice … we found that their approach to targeting is consistent with the law and, in many cases, worthy of emulation.

They also pointed out that “the nuances of the Israeli approach … can only be understood in the context of the specific operational and strategic environment in which the IDF must fight.” And the complexities of that environment, which Israel’s critics largely ignore, go beyond such simple facts as Hamas’s penchant for launching rockets from civilian homes.

For instance, one key principle of LOAC is proportionality, meaning that an attack is illegal if the anticipated harm to civilians is disproportionate to the anticipated military benefit. But for a country that routinely trades hundreds of terrorists – who then resume killing Israelis – for a single captured soldier, the anticipated military benefit of preventing a soldier from being captured may be much higher than it would be for countries that don’t routinely make such trades, Schmitt and Merriam noted.

Yet the professionals’ view – also voiced by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey last November – never mattered to their civilian superiors. Even a Pentagon spokesman joined the administration pile-on accusing Israel of callous disregard for civilian life, declaring in a news briefing last July that “the Israelis need to do more to live up to their very high standards … for protecting civilian life.”

I don’t expect anything of people who think U.S. drone strikes are no less evil than Israel’s actions in Gaza. But the Obama Administration routinely defends its own civilian casualties as honest mistakes that occurred despite the strictest precautions. And to do that while simultaneously insisting that Israel’s can’t possibly be the same is the height of hypocrisy.

Read Less

Hamas Atrocities and the Rules of War

Last week the United Nations issued a report on Israel’s attacks on UN facilities in Gaza during last summer’s war. As I noted at the time, that even though the purpose of the exercise was to attack Israel and undermine its right to self-defense, even the UN report admitted that Hamas was storing weapons at schools run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and that Hamas fighters were firing rockets and other weapons at Israeli targets from the vicinity of these places. Though there were examples of Israeli fire hitting civilians taking cover in UN shelters at the height of the fighting, these damning admissions raised questions about how the rules of war can possibly apply to a situation where armed killers who are themselves firing at Israeli civilians are using Palestinian civilians as human shields. This point was made today at a conference in Israel by the former head of the Israel Defense Forces. To make this point clear, retired General Benny Gantz recalled one incident that didn’t make it into the UN report in which a Palestinian mortar killed a four-year-old Israeli boy. According to Gantz the shell that took his life was fired from a United Nations building. The question the general raised is of what use are such rules if they serve to protect Hamas killers while endangering Jewish children?

Read More

Last week the United Nations issued a report on Israel’s attacks on UN facilities in Gaza during last summer’s war. As I noted at the time, that even though the purpose of the exercise was to attack Israel and undermine its right to self-defense, even the UN report admitted that Hamas was storing weapons at schools run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and that Hamas fighters were firing rockets and other weapons at Israeli targets from the vicinity of these places. Though there were examples of Israeli fire hitting civilians taking cover in UN shelters at the height of the fighting, these damning admissions raised questions about how the rules of war can possibly apply to a situation where armed killers who are themselves firing at Israeli civilians are using Palestinian civilians as human shields. This point was made today at a conference in Israel by the former head of the Israel Defense Forces. To make this point clear, retired General Benny Gantz recalled one incident that didn’t make it into the UN report in which a Palestinian mortar killed a four-year-old Israeli boy. According to Gantz the shell that took his life was fired from a United Nations building. The question the general raised is of what use are such rules if they serve to protect Hamas killers while endangering Jewish children?

The UN report gave Israel credit for the fact that incidents in which the Israel Defense Forces’ fire was deemed to be unjustified or wrongful due to the impact on civilians resulted in investigations and/or prosecutions of those involved. But it what failed to grasp was that two factors undermined most of the criticisms of Israel’s conduct in Gaza. One is that widespread infiltration of UNRWA by Hamas personnel who use UN facilities as storage depots. The other is the fact that the Hamas government of Gaza systematically exploits civilian buildings that are treated as off limits to Israeli fire for military purposes.

As Gantz detailed, it was well known, even during the war, that the Hamas leaders who were directing the rocket attacks on Israel were doing from the safety of hospital buildings. It was also clear throughout the campaign that Hamas was firing the thousands of rockets that were shot at Israeli cities from the immediate environs of shelters, schools and hospitals.

The IDF did its best to avoid hitting civilian targets and though there were casualties, the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey later noted that the conduct of the Israelis was exemplary, undermining much of the unfair criticisms of the war put forward by both the Obama White House and the State Department. But while the Israelis were subjected to a double standard not applied to any other modern combatant, it’s worth asking whether we need to think again about a code of military conduct that says a sovereign nation is obligated to let terrorists shoot at children so long as they are around a building that is designated as off-limits.

Were the world prepared to let Israel go into Gaza and capture these terrorists and the government in whose name they operate, it might be possible to say that there is no need to think about rules. But we know this isn’t so. The leaders of Gaza were able to sit out the war inside hospitals secure in the knowledge that the Israelis wouldn’t shoot at their hideouts or attempt to root out this criminal conspiracy. Indeed, the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name knows that operates with impunity and need never fear that the Israelis will seek to destroy it.

How then is a legitimate democratic government supposed to protect its people? Four-year-old Daniel Tragerman was killed because his family in Nahal Oz near the Gaza border had only a few seconds to seek shelter when a Palestinian shot a mortar shell at them from the safety of a UN building compound. But there is no outcry at the world body to bring to justice his murderer. Nor is there any effort to bring UNRWA — which exists to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem so as to use them as props in the war against Israel — to account for its involvement in the war against the Jews.

Gantz doesn’t seem to have any ready answers as to how rules of engagement for the military or those of war can be adjusted to account for Hamas. Ethicists can debate the obligation to avoid causing deaths to civilians against the one that declares that governments must defend their citizens. But the problem here goes deeper than a mere moral dilemma. So long as both sides aren’t playing by the same rules, no one is safe. Those Palestinians that were made homeless or wounded and killed because of the war their Islamist overlords launched ought to hold Hamas accountable. But they won’t because Palestinian political culture still treats the war on Zionism as the national priority even if it means sacrificing the lives of their own people.

Gantz is probably right when he says the inevitable next round of fighting with Hamas will be worse than the last one. So, too will the condemnations of Israeli self-defense. Each incident will probably be used to justify economic warfare via the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement against the Jewish state. You can count on Israel continuing to uphold high standards of conduct in which every effort will be made to spare innocent lives. But so long as terrorists are using UN buildings as launching pads for attacks on Jewish children, the IDF will have no choice but to shoot back. If that generates more UN reports and unfair criticism, so be it. No rule that gives a terrorist impunity to shoot at children should be treated as sacrosanct.

Read Less

When Students Vote on Israel’s Demise

William Jacobson reports that Bowdoin College’s undergraduates are in the midst of voting to support a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Voting closes on Wednesday. Bowdoin, located in Maine, is among the nation’s most prestigious small colleges.

Read More

William Jacobson reports that Bowdoin College’s undergraduates are in the midst of voting to support a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Voting closes on Wednesday. Bowdoin, located in Maine, is among the nation’s most prestigious small colleges.

As Jacobson points out, the resolution under consideration goes well beyond the more tepid, though still troubling divestment resolutions that have been considered at many colleges and universities over the past few years. The divestment resolutions target companies alleged to benefit from the suffering of Palestinians. This resolution directly targets Israeli academic and cultural institutions. And tellingly, the resolution adopts the strategically ambiguous language of the BDS movement. The boycott will continue until Israel “ends its occupation and colonization of all Palestinian lands.” This language enables the movement to take in those who think that Israel should not exist at all—“Palestinian lands” includes the whole of Israel—and those “moderates” who merely think that Israel should immediately withdraw from the West Bank, so that the West Bank can become another Gaza, then dismantle the wall that protects Israel’s civilians from people who have made no secret of their intention to kill them.

Supporters of BDS often speak as if they hope to ignite a conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This claim has always been disingenuous because such a conversation—if you consider persistent, obsessive, and often deeply misleading criticism of Israel to be a conversation—has been taking place on college campuses for a long time. In addition, the “anti-normalization” strategy that the BDS movement has adopted, considers calls for dialogue to be a mask for preserving the status quo.

But the way Bowdoin’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine is attempting to ram through this referendum, near the end of the academic year, when students are least likely to be paying close attention, shows as well as these other observations, that the movement is really about scoring a series of cheap propaganda victories to produce a phony impression of momentum and widespread support. Their undertaking is the very opposite of the Socratic spirit that ought to animate our colleges and universities: they want people who don’t know to claim that they do. To those who pretend to work toward discussion of Israel but in fact seek to manipulate students who know next to nothing about it, we can reply as Socrates did to one of his own prosecutors: they [jest] in a serious matter, easily bringing human beings to trial, pretending to be serious and concerned about things for which [they] never cared at all.”

As in the case of Socrates’s prosecutors, the claim that academic supporters of the boycott are joking is counterintuitive. They certainly seem angry, just as Socrates’s prosecutors did, and they talk about doing justice and serving humanity. But doing the just and humane thing requires an understanding and capacity for self-criticism that our zealots conspicuously lack. It is in this way that their earnest talk about justice, coupled with their blatant disregard for giving Israel and its people a fair hearing, appears ridiculous when viewed from afar.

Of course, from those who cannot look from afar, whose vocations are tied to colleges and universities understood as havens for serious inquiry, the handing over of college and university life to zealots is not altogether a laughing matter. They are making a joke out of something we hold dear.

Read Less

The Right Israeli Response to Young Arabs Loving Israel on Facebook

Responding to last week’s post about a poll showing that young Arabs no longer see Israel as the Mideast’s biggest problem, a reader pointed out that this doesn’t mean they’ve stopped hating Israel or wanting it to disappear. That’s unarguable; recognizing that Israel isn’t the source of all the region’s ills is merely the first step on a long road toward accepting its existence. But as one of the most remarkable stories I’ve read in years makes clear, it’s a very significant step. And how Israel responds to it will matter greatly.

Read More

Responding to last week’s post about a poll showing that young Arabs no longer see Israel as the Mideast’s biggest problem, a reader pointed out that this doesn’t mean they’ve stopped hating Israel or wanting it to disappear. That’s unarguable; recognizing that Israel isn’t the source of all the region’s ills is merely the first step on a long road toward accepting its existence. But as one of the most remarkable stories I’ve read in years makes clear, it’s a very significant step. And how Israel responds to it will matter greatly.

The story, reported by Shlomi Eldar in Al-Monitor, began with a Muslim Arab veteran of the Israel Defense Forces–a rarity in itself, since few Israeli Arabs enlist. Outraged at hearing his own community’s leaders vilifying the IDF, M. made a Facebook page aimed at convincing other Israeli Arabs that the IDF isn’t evil and more of them should enlist.

What he got instead was an outpouring of love for Israel from across the Arab world. A young Saudi woman, for instance, posted a video clip saying, “I’d like to send a message of peace and love to Israel and its dear citizens … I hope the Arabs will be sensible like me and recognize the fact that Israel also has rights to the lands of Palestine.” A young Iraqi man posted a clip saying, “I want to send a message of peace and love to the dear Israeli people … I believe that the number of people who support Israel here will grow consistently.”

Stunned by these messages–and there were “lots of them,” Eldar reported–M. began asking their authors what prompted them to support Israel. Some had personal reasons, like a Jordanian lesbian envious of Israel’s gay rights. But others cited the crucial realization of that poll data.

“There are a lot of young people here who think like me,” the Iraqi man said. “Everything that is happening to us here in Iraq — the killings, the terrorism, the veritable bloodbath — showed us that Israel has nothing to do with it.” In other words, his recognition that Israel wasn’t the cause of the Arab world’s problems is what enabled him to start seeing it as it actually is.

Or take the Egyptian police officer who wrote, “We love, love, love Israel and its army,” even adding a heart with a Star of David inside. Four years ago, that would have been unthinkable. But today, Egyptian policemen are on the front lines against the brutal terrorism of homegrown Islamic extremists, and the IDF is one of Egypt’s closest allies in this fight. So instead of seeing Israel as the problem, some Egyptians now see it as part of the solution.

None of this means a New Middle East will break out tomorrow; these young Arabs remain a minority. Moreover, the ones who still hate Israel passionately are often the ones with the guns and bombs and missiles, which means they’re the ones who will take over any territory up for grabs.

Hence the last conclusion to draw from this is the one leftists routinely do: that Israel should attempt to accelerate this budding rapprochement by making territorial concessions. That would actually be counterproductive: It would further empower the extremists against the moderates by giving them more territory to control, endanger Israel by giving the extremists new bases from which to attack it, and thereby ensure more Israeli-Arab bloodshed.

Instead, Israel should recognize that since this new openness stems entirely from internal changes in the Arab world; the Palestinian issue is largely irrelevant to it. As evidence, consider that repeated Israeli pullouts, from Sinai, Lebanon, and Gaza, produced no such upsurge in Arab affection, whereas the past four years did, despite two wars in Gaza, zero pullouts, and zero progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

That doesn’t mean Israel can do nothing; it can and should try to help Arabs improve their own lives. And in fact, it’s already doing that in numerous ways, from counterterrorism assistance to Egypt through economic aid to Jordan to medical care for wounded Syrians. But it shouldn’t forget that this change in Arab attitudes is merely the start of a long process of baby steps. Any attempt at a “great leap forward” is liable to end in a painful fall.

Read Less

Opening Game in Zion

It’s baseball season (with or without fans in the seats), which can mean only one thing: a Throwback Thursday post featuring an April 1949 COMMENTARY article by William Schack on the very first display of America’s national pastime in Zion. Pulled from the archives for your enjoyment, here’s “Opening Game in Zion”:

Read More

It’s baseball season (with or without fans in the seats), which can mean only one thing: a Throwback Thursday post featuring an April 1949 COMMENTARY article by William Schack on the very first display of America’s national pastime in Zion. Pulled from the archives for your enjoyment, here’s “Opening Game in Zion”:

One June day in 1927 the Americans in Jerusalem, hitherto outwardly respectable, were seen making their way to the open spaces of the city wearing common caps, old pants, and abraded shoes. People heard settlers and tourists from the United States, who had only casually greeted each before, jabbering together with lodgebrother intimacy about something which a good polyglot Palestinian, who averaged a sort-of-command of seven languages, including English, could not follow for a single sentence.

The meaning of all this unusual activity became clear when the Palestine Bulletin announced that, in honor of the Fourth of July, the American community was going to stage an exhibition of their national pastime—the first ever to be held in the country. The place, the Maccabee football field; the time, four o’clock; everybody welcome, admission free. Even the Hebrew press carried an announcement, though it could find no better equivalent for “umpire” in the ancient tongue than the watered-down shofet—judge.

Click here to read it all.

Read Less

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

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Gaza Casualties? Fault Hamas and UNRWA

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Why Pro-Israel Republicans Get Attention

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Why Ed Miliband’s Labor Is Losing the Jewish Vote

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

How the Iran Deal Helps Hezbollah

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Divestment from Israel Loses at Princeton

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Israel’s President Should Recognize the Armenian Genocide

The Armenian genocide, the centenary of which is marked today, is a wound that has yet to close, perhaps because of the lack of official recognition by some Western countries. So it’s encouraging, as well as interesting from a geopolitical perspective, to note that there are rumors that Israeli President Ruby Rivlin will officially recognize the Armenian genocide in a meeting with Armenian community leaders this weekend. Here, for example, is what the Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren tweeted out overnight:

The Armenian genocide, the centenary of which is marked today, is a wound that has yet to close, perhaps because of the lack of official recognition by some Western countries. So it’s encouraging, as well as interesting from a geopolitical perspective, to note that there are rumors that Israeli President Ruby Rivlin will officially recognize the Armenian genocide in a meeting with Armenian community leaders this weekend. Here, for example, is what the Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren tweeted out overnight:

I happen to think that what was done to the Armenians a century ago by their Ottoman rulers amounts to genocide. I’ve always been a bit less insistent that various congresses and parliaments officially designate it as such, though I do wish they would, and I think individual politicians, even presidents and prime ministers, should say it was genocide if they do indeed think it was (which most of them seem to). This is slightly different than passing parliamentary resolutions, for procedural reasons, but also for reasons of honesty: if you believe something was genocide, and you were asked point blank if it was, then you should say so. Lying about genocide is a less-than-sterling political act.

I was recently recounting my experiences on the “March of the Living,” the annual trip for high school seniors to the death camps in Poland and then to Israel to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day. My most vivid memory has to do with scheduling. After visiting our last of the camps in Poland (I believe for our group it was Majdanek) we went straight to the airport to catch our flight to Israel.

Thousands of kids attend the trip each year, so the different buses break up into groups and have slightly different itineraries, or at least visit places in different orders. My bus had the great fortune of going straight from Ben-Gurion airport to the Western Wall. So my group had gone from the camps to the Kotel with no stops (or sleep) in between.

As you might imagine, it is an overwhelming experience, going from a place that marks the low point of our people to the place that marks the high. But that trip from Majdanek to the Western Wall either goes right through the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem (I can’t remember which path we took), or at the very least right next to it. There is some glaring incongruity in that, due to Israel’s non-recognition of the Armenian genocide.

Is that too sentimental a basis on which to make policy? Maybe, but we’re talking about the return of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel after two thousand years wandering the earth. There’s really no eliminating sentiment here. (It was Ben-Gurion himself who said that in Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.)

What about geopolitical considerations? Well, they’re not nothing. But if it’s the right thing to do to recognize the genocide, then it’s the right thing to do. Also, geopolitical realities have shifted anyway, and Turkey’s drift into Erdogan’s Islamist nightmare should at least give some politicians an excuse now to lend a symbolic hand to the downtrodden.

Additionally, I believe that recognizing the Armenian genocide is, for the Jewish community, a strategic imperative. The Armenians were first subjected to mass demonization efforts to cast them as disloyal citizens. That laid the groundwork for the argument that they were thus a national-security risk, and that rounding them up was not simple bigotry but a sort of counteroffensive war measure.

There is no community more likely to be accused of imperfect loyalty, even–or especially!–in the “enlightened” West, than the Jews. And in every such country, they are a vulnerable minority. It does not make much sense, then, for the Jewish state to argue that the demonization and isolation campaigns against Jews even in Europe recall a dark genocidal chapter not too long ago, and yet not recognize it as such with regard to others.

Some argue that it could cheapen the designation of genocide to apply it to a situation that may not be so clear-cut. But I think, in the case of the Armenians, the opposite is true. I think it cheapens the term genocide to only use it, as the current American administration has, when it is easy to do so and to drum up support for military action, such as with the ISIS assault on the Yazidis.

It would be appropriate, therefore, for Israel to make this recognition. But it would also be appropriate for another reason. Ruby Rivlin has thus far had something of a remarkable presidency. The office of the president of Israel is mostly ceremonial. And Rivlin has used that to great effect. In October, he became the first Israeli president to attend the annual memorial ceremony for the victims of the 1956 massacre in the Arab village of Kafr Qasem. Israel has to “look straight at what happened in the Kafr Qasem massacre and teach all future generations about it,” Rivlin said. He’s also spoken out movingly against racism.

As a dedicated rightist, Rivlin caught many off-guard when he showed this appetite for atonement and reconciliation. So if any Israeli president were to recognize the Armenian genocide, it’s appropriate that it would be him.

At this point, they’re just rumors. But the reporting suggests that Rivlin is seriously considering it. He should, and he should walk through the Armenian quarter of his nation’s ancient capital with his head held high.

Read Less

Young Arabs Agree: Israel Isn’t Arab World’s Major Problem

One of the most positive strategic developments for Israel of the past few years has been its marked improvement in relations with significant parts of the Arab world. Three years ago, for instance, the most cockeyed optimist wouldn’t have predicted a letter like Israel received this week from a senior official of the Free Syrian Army, who congratulated it on its 67th anniversary and voiced hope that next year, Israel’s Independence Day would be celebrated at an Israeli embassy in Damascus.

Read More

One of the most positive strategic developments for Israel of the past few years has been its marked improvement in relations with significant parts of the Arab world. Three years ago, for instance, the most cockeyed optimist wouldn’t have predicted a letter like Israel received this week from a senior official of the Free Syrian Army, who congratulated it on its 67th anniversary and voiced hope that next year, Israel’s Independence Day would be celebrated at an Israeli embassy in Damascus.

Yet many analysts have cautioned that even if Arab leaders were quietly cooperating with Israel for reasons of realpolitik, anti-Israel hostility in the “Arab street” hadn’t abated. So a new poll showing that this, too, is changing came as a lovely Independence Day gift.

The ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, which has been conducted annually for the last seven years, polls 3,500 Arabs aged 18 to 24 from 16 Arab countries in face-to-face interviews. One of the standard questions is “What do you believe is the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East?”

This year, defying a long tradition of blaming all the Arab world’s problems on Israel, only 23 percent of respondents cited the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the region’s main obstacle. In fact, the conflict came in fourth, trailing ISIS (37 percent), terrorism (32 percent) and unemployment (29 percent). Given that respondents were evidently allowed to choose more than one of the 15 options (the total adds up to 235 percent rather than 100), it’s even more noteworthy that only 23 percent thought the conflict worth mentioning.

A comparison to previous surveys shows that this figure has been declining slowly but steadily for the past few years: In 2012, for instance, it was 27 percent, a statistically significant difference given the poll’s margin of error (1.65 percent). But the 2015 decline is particularly remarkable because last summer’s war in Gaza made the past year the conflict’s bloodiest in decades for Palestinians. Hence one would have expected Arab concern about the conflict to increase. Instead, it dropped.

The poll also highlights another encouraging fact: The issues young Arabs do see as their top concerns–ISIS, terrorism, and unemployment–are all issues on which cooperation with Israel could be beneficial, and in some cases, it’s already taking place. For instance, Israeli-Egyptian cooperation on counterterrorism is closer than it’s been in years–not only against Hamas, but also against the ISIS branch in Sinai, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. Israel and Jordan cooperate closely on counterterrorism as well, and it’s a safe bet that quiet cooperation is also occurring with certain other Arab states that officially have no relations with Israel.

Egypt and Israel have also ramped up economic cooperation, even manning a joint booth at a major trade fair earlier this year.

In short, the issues currently of greatest concern to young Arabs are precisely the issues most conducive to a further thawing of Israeli-Arab relations.

What the poll shows, in a nutshell, is that young Arabs have reached the same conclusion Arab leaders made glaringly evident at the last year’s inaugural session of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate: Israel simply isn’t one of the Arab world’s major problems anymore, if it ever was. Now all Israel needs is for the West to finally come to the same realization.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.