Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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​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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Defending Israel and the Wounded Feelings of the Jewish Left

Can American Jews talk about Israel any longer? A lot of people don’t think so anymore. Left-wing writer Peter Beinart even proposed last week in a Haaretz column that they should stop trying to rebuild an imaginary position of unity and instead concentrate on building relationships with each other by talking about Torah, since religion is the one thing they have left that might bring them together. While more such study is, by definition, a good thing, that call is a more of a measure of his frustration about his failure to persuade more Americans to join his crusade to overturn the verdict of Israeli democracy since the left-wing positions he advocates on the peace process have been conclusively rejected again by the Jewish state’s voters than anything else. But it also is a reflection of a general conviction on the left that the so-called Jewish establishment has been trying to shut them up and stifle debate on Israel. While Israel has always and will continue to generate heated and sometimes intemperate discussions, the notion that the Jewish left is being silenced is a joke. More to the point, as Israel commemorates its annual Memorial and Independence Days this week, the effort by some to accelerate the process by which Americans are distancing themselves from Israel is not helping the Jewish state or American Jews.

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Can American Jews talk about Israel any longer? A lot of people don’t think so anymore. Left-wing writer Peter Beinart even proposed last week in a Haaretz column that they should stop trying to rebuild an imaginary position of unity and instead concentrate on building relationships with each other by talking about Torah, since religion is the one thing they have left that might bring them together. While more such study is, by definition, a good thing, that call is a more of a measure of his frustration about his failure to persuade more Americans to join his crusade to overturn the verdict of Israeli democracy since the left-wing positions he advocates on the peace process have been conclusively rejected again by the Jewish state’s voters than anything else. But it also is a reflection of a general conviction on the left that the so-called Jewish establishment has been trying to shut them up and stifle debate on Israel. While Israel has always and will continue to generate heated and sometimes intemperate discussions, the notion that the Jewish left is being silenced is a joke. More to the point, as Israel commemorates its annual Memorial and Independence Days this week, the effort by some to accelerate the process by which Americans are distancing themselves from Israel is not helping the Jewish state or American Jews.

At a time when Israel is increasingly under attack and a rising tide of anti-Semitism around the globe is making it harder for Jews to speak up in its defense, the notion that we should stop talking about it is an indefensible, if not risible notion. Jews are now being singled out on college campuses and pro-Israel students are finding it increasingly difficult and unpopular to speak out in opposition to a culture of intolerance for Zionism. Elsewhere, an Obama administration determined to downgrade the alliance and create distance between the two allies is seeking to appeal to the partisan instincts of many Jews to cause them to choose loyalty to President Obama and the Democrats over their pro-Israel instincts on issues like the nuclear threat from Iran and the Middle East peace process. Yet for many liberals, the real problem facing the Jewish community is the fact that some on the left are nursing hurt feelings from being told off by their opponents for their hubris in thinking they can save Israel from itself.

Debates about Israel should be conducted with respect and ad hominem attacks do nothing to persuade people or advance the cause of Israel. But let’s put these complaints in perspective. Leftist Jews can count on the sympathy of the Obama administration and the mainstream liberal press where attacks on Israel are always guaranteed a respectful hearing while defenses of it are seldom heard. And despite the myths about a monolithic Jewish establishment that is sympathetic to the right, liberals still dominate most Jewish organizations and their organs. At a moment in time when much of liberal popular culture libelously treats the defense of Israel as support for an apartheid state and an oppressor, it is the friends of Israel who require courage to speak up, not its detractors and its foes.

Equally risible is the notion increasingly voiced by mainstream Jewish thinkers that the problem with the discussion on Israel is that anti-Zionists and advocates of economic boycotts of Israel should be welcomed into community forums. Those who decry the use of Jewish institutions to promote anti-Israel agendas and economic warfare on the Jewish state are branded as censors and suppressors of the views of young Jews that must be heard.

While pro-BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) movement advocates have a right to be heard in a free country, they are not entitled to do so on the Jewish community’s dime. To claim that they should is to fetishize the concept of inclusion to the point of parody. A community that prioritizes inclusion even of those who seek to undermine its basic values such as support for Israel is one that stands for nothing. Indeed, such a community will render itself incapable of taking a pro-Israel stand on even the most anodyne terms.

Such debates do little to broaden the Jewish community since anti-Israel advocates (and by that I mean those opposed to a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn and Israel’s right of self-defense, not merely critics of the current government) are not interested in building a Jewish community or a pro-Israel consensus. They wish to destroy it.

The focus on inclusion of pro-BDS groups like Jewish Voice for Peace is a function of the obsession with the old left-right debates about Israel over territory and settlements that have been rendered obsolete by events on the ground. Repeated Palestinian rejections of peace offers have made it clear that such arguments are irrelevant to the current situation since Israel’s foes reject its existence under any circumstances.

So it’s little wonder that those who are most obsessed with the notion that peace can be obtained by more Israeli concessions despite the fact that all such attempts have led to a trade of land for terror, not peace, are asking us to talk about something else. But those who care about the fate of the Jewish people can’t afford to opt out of the conversation about Israel. Nor can they engage in fantasies about the real problem being the bruised feelings of those who have worked hard to undermine Israel’s political and diplomatic position.

As much as many of us prefer to avoid the subject, Israel still is living under the daily threat of terrorism from Hamas and Hezbollah and their ally Iran. And, as Prime Minister Netanyahu rightly said yesterday at the start of the country’s Memorial Day ceremonies, in such a dangerous and hostile world, the Jews have no future without Israel. We may have differing views about its politics and its policies, but the main argument today isn’t about settlements, it’s about whether the efforts of Israel’s foes and their anti-Semitic allies will succeed in destroying the one Jewish state.

At 67, Israel is not weak. Indeed, it is a great source of strength to an American Jewish community that, as the Pew Survey published in 2013 illustrated, is on the brink of a demographic catastrophe. But with a BDS movement that is dropping its veil and becoming more open about its anti-Semitism gaining traction, and defense of Israel’s security increasingly being abandoned by liberals, a vibrant conversation about Israel is more necessary than ever. But it must be one premised on the notion that singling out the one Jewish state for biased treatment and delegitimization not accorded any other country must be correctly labeled as hate speech even if it is being uttered by Jews. Efforts to divert us from this crucial question are part of the problem for the pro-Israel community, not the solution.

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A Plea for Sanity in the Battle over Bibi

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

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

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

But the question that confused people was as follows:

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

(Read options. Rotate.)

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

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

8            Not sure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Holocaust and History’s Many Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Much Israel-Bashing Will Liberal Jews Put Up With? Obama Wants to Find Out

Hindsight is 20/20, especially for an eventuality that was widely predicted in advance. As such, it’s pretty easy even for pro-Obama partisans to look back and see numerous red flags that should have told them the president’s “Bulworth” moment, in which he’d be fully honest about his feelings toward Israel, was going to precipitate a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. Nevertheless, there’s always been one red flag that, perhaps unfairly, stuck out in my mind from the 2008 election. And I’m reminded of it again as we read polls showing Obama’s approval rating among the Jewish community dropping during the somber week in which we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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Hindsight is 20/20, especially for an eventuality that was widely predicted in advance. As such, it’s pretty easy even for pro-Obama partisans to look back and see numerous red flags that should have told them the president’s “Bulworth” moment, in which he’d be fully honest about his feelings toward Israel, was going to precipitate a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. Nevertheless, there’s always been one red flag that, perhaps unfairly, stuck out in my mind from the 2008 election. And I’m reminded of it again as we read polls showing Obama’s approval rating among the Jewish community dropping during the somber week in which we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Leading up to the 2008 presidential election, both Barack Obama and John McCain sat for (separate) interviews with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, and the subject of their appreciation of Jewish thought and culture came up. Here was the relevant comment from Obama:

BO: I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.

And here’s the exchange from Goldberg’s interview with McCain:

JG: Not a big Philip Roth fan?

JM: No, I’m not. Leon Uris I enjoyed. Victor Frankl, that’s important. I read it before my captivity. It made me feel a lot less sorry for myself, my friend. A fundamental difference between my experience and the Holocaust was that the Vietnamese didn’t want us to die. They viewed us as a very valuable asset at the bargaining table. It was the opposite in the Holocaust, because they wanted to exterminate you. Sometimes when I felt sorry for myself, which was very frequently, I thought, “This is nothing compared to what Victor Frankl experienced.”

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying Roth’s work, of course. But Obama’s answer smacked of check-the-box pop blandness. When it came to discussions of philosophy and literature, Obama always seemed to be reading from Wikipedia summaries. McCain’s answer, on the other hand, demonstrated deep and true engagement with the subject matter, and it showed why his respect and affinity for the Jewish people came through so strongly.

Put simply, when it came to Jewish thought and history, McCain simply got it. Obama was lost at sea.

Which is why Obama’s flagging approval rating among Jews isn’t too surprising, whereas a major change in the presidential vote share would have been more surprising.

It makes sense for American Jews to register disapproval of Obama at this point in his presidency, for a few reasons. First, he’s earned it. Obama has never been able to fake a connection with the Jewish people that just wasn’t there, the way it was with Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. He never passed the “kishkes” test, so to speak, and never even really came close to passing it.

So he was always dependent on his policies speaking for him. Some of the president’s defenders try to point out that Obama has just pushed for a peace agreement along the lines of his predecessors, and that he is unfairly maligned for it. This is false: the differences may appear subtle to outsiders and rookies, but they are monumentally important.

Additionally, he has less of a margin for “error,” as it were, with his policies because he couldn’t make anyone believe that he truly loved the Jewish state and merely wanted what was best for it. Therefore, the trust in him was always going to be less when it came to throwing tantrums over Jewish residents of Jerusalem and the like.

The second reason it makes sense for Jews to make their voices heard now is that Obama has already been reelected, and so there won’t be any concern by left-leaning Jews that they may drive voters to (gasp!) vote Republican, or take other such action that would have actual consequences. This is a safe protest. It lets the president know his juvenile hounding of Israel and his overall incompetence are areas of genuine concern for a demographic group that has consistently been among his most reliable supporters.

And the third reason is that, as far as electoral coalitions are concerned, the Obama era is over. Not only are we past his reelection, but we’re also beyond the second-term congressional midterms. This, then, is a message to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party leadership for 2016.

In the end, it probably won’t matter much, especially because Hillary will no doubt say the right things over and over before Election Day 2016. That is, perhaps American Jews still haven’t reached their limit yet. But they can be sure that Obama, through trial and error, would like to discover precisely what that limit is.

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BDS Drops Its Veil: Campus Anti-Semitism

The most telling comment about the story of a Stanford University student who was quizzed about her Jewish faith when she tried to run for office came from her friend and campaign manager. Molly Horwitz, a Stanford junior, was running for the Student Senate and her campaign manager and friend Miriam Pollock told her what she had to do. According to the New York Times, Pollock advised Horwitz to “scrub” her personal Facebook page and remove anything that related to Israel or her support for the Jewish state. But that didn’t stop the Students of Color Coalition from demanding to know whether Horwitz’s “Jewish identity” impacted her stand on divestment—the economic war being waged against Israel. The episode in which some black and Latino students now think it is acceptable to treat Judaism as a disqualifying characteristic is a horrifying example of the way anti-Semitism—thinly disguised as anti-Zionism—has established a secure foothold on American college campuses.

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The most telling comment about the story of a Stanford University student who was quizzed about her Jewish faith when she tried to run for office came from her friend and campaign manager. Molly Horwitz, a Stanford junior, was running for the Student Senate and her campaign manager and friend Miriam Pollock told her what she had to do. According to the New York Times, Pollock advised Horwitz to “scrub” her personal Facebook page and remove anything that related to Israel or her support for the Jewish state. But that didn’t stop the Students of Color Coalition from demanding to know whether Horwitz’s “Jewish identity” impacted her stand on divestment—the economic war being waged against Israel. The episode in which some black and Latino students now think it is acceptable to treat Judaism as a disqualifying characteristic is a horrifying example of the way anti-Semitism—thinly disguised as anti-Zionism—has established a secure foothold on American college campuses.

Horwitz may have removed Israel from her Facebook persona but couldn’t escape being classified as a Jew and was therefore suspect in the eyes of those who have come to treat support for the war on Zionism as a litmus test of liberal bona fides. But the significance of the incident lies not so much in the snub of a Hispanic student (she was adopted from Paraguay and considers herself both a South American and a Jew) by a coalition that is supposed to exist to support such persons simply because she is also Jewish and unwilling to disavow Israel under questioning. Rather, it is the insouciance with which the members of the student group—including the chapter president of the NAACP—regarded the inquisition of a Jewish student about her faith as being not only acceptable but something that should be expected.

Horwitz has demanded a public apology, but she shouldn’t hold her breath waiting for it. Nor should she expect much comfort from the university that has also been asked to investigate what happened. The reason is that so long as support for a movement that singles out the one Jewish state in the world and its supporters for discriminatory treatment and opprobrium is not merely tolerated as an opinion but treated as a reasonable point of view about which decent people may differ, we can’t be surprised that Jew hatred is being normalized.

Had the coalition merely asked Horwitz about her stand about divestment without connecting it to her faith, that might pass the anti-Semitism smell test even if it would still be troubling that blacks and Hispanics have adopted the attack on Zionism as their own cause. But by linking this issue to Judaism they have acknowledged the fact that the divestment cause is not merely a political criticism of Israel’s government or its policies but primarily focused on singling out Jews for biased treatment.

Stanford’s Student Senate has already endorsed divestment from Israel, a move that places all supporters of the Jewish state on the defensive. But in the course of the battle over this attack on Israel, it’s clear that advocates of divestment have ceased being careful about trying to separate their campaign against the right of the Jews to have a state in their ancient homeland—a concept that is not denied to any other people on the planet—from one against anyone who openly identifies as a Jew. The Stanford Review has reported that the Students of Color has asked candidates for student offices to pledge not to affiliate with Jewish groups. In doing so, and in quizzing students about their Jewish faith, such persons are not merely advocating for a discriminatory practice—divestment—but making it clear that any Jew who chooses not to join the gang attack on the Jewish state will be stigmatized.

This is not the first time students at a major university have been caught practicing anti-Semitism. Earlier this year, a Jewish student at UCLA was similarly interrogated by a student committee interviewing candidates for a campus judicial committee and was asked if her Judaism would impact their conduct. That case was caught on film, making it easier to call out the offenders–something that didn’t happen at Stanford, thus allowing Horwitz’s inquisitors to claim they were misinterpreted.

The Anti-Defamation League is calling the Stanford incident “an important teaching moment” in which the “university needs to make it clear to students and student groups that singling out identity and questioning on those kind of issues is discriminatory.” They’re right about that, but the problem won’t be dealt with by ignoring the clear connection between the worldwide BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—movement and anti-Semitism. That’s a stand that many supporters of Israel have refused to take believing that crying anti-Semitism will cloud the issue and make it harder to advocate for Israel. But divestment advocates are making it increasingly obvious they have no scruples about the link between Jew hatred and treating Israel as a pariah state. BDS isn’t about a political dispute within Israel, its borders, or sympathy for the Palestinians. It’s a war on Jews.

So long as an ideology that is aimed solely at discriminating against the Jewish state is treated as acceptable opinion and not one rooted in bias, these incidents will not only keep popping up; they will spread and become the norm on campuses and in those parts of society where elite academic opinion has influence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ISIS and the Stalingradization of Yarmouk

In 2009, Jeffrey Goldberg recounted a conversation he had with a Kurdish leader who told him that his fellow Kurds had been cursed. Goldberg asked him to be more specific. Goldberg relates the response: “He said the Kurds were cursed because they didn’t have Jewish enemies. Only with Jewish enemies would the world pay attention to their plight.” It’s a principle proved over and over again, and the plight of the Palestinian residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp is yet our latest example.

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In 2009, Jeffrey Goldberg recounted a conversation he had with a Kurdish leader who told him that his fellow Kurds had been cursed. Goldberg asked him to be more specific. Goldberg relates the response: “He said the Kurds were cursed because they didn’t have Jewish enemies. Only with Jewish enemies would the world pay attention to their plight.” It’s a principle proved over and over again, and the plight of the Palestinian residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp is yet our latest example.

Yarmouk is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, not far from Damascus. The refugees, already struggling through Syria’s civil war, found themselves in an almost Stalingrad-like state this month when ISIS laid siege to the camp. CNN describes what happened next:

Besieged and bombed by Syrian forces for more than two years, the desperate residents of this Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus awoke in early April to a new, even more terrifying reality — ISIS militants seizing Yarmouk after defeating several militia groups operating in the area.

“They slaughtered them in the streets,” one Yarmouk resident, who asked not to be named, told CNN. “They (caught) three people and killed them in the street, in front of people. The Islamic State is now in control of almost all the camp.”

An estimated 18,000 refugees are now trapped inside Yarmouk, stuck between ISIS and Syrian regime forces in “the deepest circle of hell,” in the words of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. …

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says ISIS and the al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front control about 90% of the camp. The organization also claims that the Syrian government has dropped barrel bombs on the camp in an effort to drive out armed groups.

The plight of the Yarmouk camp isn’t exactly capturing the world’s attention. And a big reason for that, as even Israel’s critics are now acknowledging, mirrors the Kurdish complaint to Goldberg. The Palestinians of Yarmouk are cursed with three barbaric enemies, none of them Jews. And so the world yawns.

Mehdi Hasan, who would never be mistaken for a Zionist shill, takes to the pages of the Guardian, which would never be mistaken for a pro-Israel bullhorn, to call out the hypocrisy. He explains the terrible condition of the camp and the horrors endured by its residents throughout the civil war. Then he (of course) engages in the requisite throat-clearing about Israel’s “crimes” and the “occupation of Palestine.”

But he finally gets around to his point:

Can we afford to stay in our deep slumber, occasionally awakening to lavishly condemn only Israel? Let’s be honest: how different, how vocal and passionate, would our reaction be if the people besieging Yarmouk were wearing the uniforms of the IDF?

Our selective outrage is morally unsustainable.

That is the first of three lessons of the story of Yarmouk: that the world cares about Palestinian suffering when it can be blamed on the Jews. For the sake of posterity, Hasan even runs down a list of atrocities perpetrated on the Palestinians by other Arabs. It’s not a new phenomenon, nor would anybody in his right mind try to deny it. At least Hasan wants to change it.

The second lesson is that the Palestinians and their advocates often have unexpected allies, and rather than embrace even a temporary alliance they live in denial. Hasan illustrates this as well when he writes:

So what, if anything, can be done? The usual coalition of neoconservative hawks and so-called liberal interventionists in the west want to bomb first and ask questions later, while the rest of us resort to a collective shrug: a mixture of indifference and despair. Few are willing to make the tough and unpopular case for a negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict or, at least, a truce and a ceasefire, a temporary cessation of hostilities.

That is an Obama-level false choice hand in hand with a straw man. And it shows just how unwilling Hasan is to make common cause with people he dislikes politically. Neoconservatives are not nearly so pro-intervention in Syria as Hasan suggests (this is a common mistake that virtually every non-neoconservative who talks about the Syria conflict makes). But notice how quickly Hasan seems to change key: it’s a crisis, and has been a burgeoning disaster for years, and yet those who want to intervene are slammed as wanting to “ask questions later.”

Meanwhile, the negotiated track has failed. This is the reality: Assad has the upper hand, and ISIS has had success with their brutality, and neither one is ready to sit down at the table with representatives of Palestinian refugees to shake hands and end the war.

And that brings us to the third lesson, related to the second. Just as the Palestinians’ opponents are sometimes their best allies, the Palestinians’ friends often turn out to be anything but. There is no negotiated solution for the Palestinians of Yarmouk on the horizon because President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have already thrown them to the wolves.

The Obama administration, which happily hammers Israel for every perceived violation of Palestinian rights, has struck a bargain to reorder the Middle East by elevating Iran and its proxies, such as Assad. The plight of the Palestinians in Yarmouk does not interest this president and his team in the least. After all, it can’t be blamed on Israel.

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