Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel

Zero Tolerance for Jewish and Arab Terror in the Middle East

Israel was shaken today by the news that last night what is believed to be a group of Jewish terrorists conducted an arson attack in the West Bank village of Duma that left an 18-month-old child dead and his four-year-old brother gravely injured. This atrocity has been roundly condemned by the Israeli government and authorities have promised that those responsible will be caught and punished to the full extent of the law. Yet the likely fate of these terrorists is not the most important issue at the moment. For many the crime calls into question what is believed to be a lenient attitude on the part of Israeli authorities to violent extremists living in West Bank settlements thought to be behind the attack. While the situation in the settlements is far more complex than that conclusion, Palestinians are already branding the Israeli government as being somehow responsible for the murder, a stance that will no doubt be echoed by Israel-haters around the world. But while such charges are rooted more in prejudice against Israel than the facts, the Jewish state must seize this moment to engage in more than just the routine soul searching that occurs anytime an Israeli does something awful.

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Israel was shaken today by the news that last night what is believed to be a group of Jewish terrorists conducted an arson attack in the West Bank village of Duma that left an 18-month-old child dead and his four-year-old brother gravely injured. This atrocity has been roundly condemned by the Israeli government and authorities have promised that those responsible will be caught and punished to the full extent of the law. Yet the likely fate of these terrorists is not the most important issue at the moment. For many the crime calls into question what is believed to be a lenient attitude on the part of Israeli authorities to violent extremists living in West Bank settlements thought to be behind the attack. While the situation in the settlements is far more complex than that conclusion, Palestinians are already branding the Israeli government as being somehow responsible for the murder, a stance that will no doubt be echoed by Israel-haters around the world. But while such charges are rooted more in prejudice against Israel than the facts, the Jewish state must seize this moment to engage in more than just the routine soul searching that occurs anytime an Israeli does something awful.

The arson murder came at the end of a week when a dispute over the status of illegally built structures in the West Bank settlement of Beit El threatened to escalate from verbal violence to something far worse. Fortunately, that standoff between settlers and the army was settled with a political compromise though that solution did little to enhance the credibility of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government that depends on supporters of the settlements for its narrow majority.

Only yesterday, Israelis were disturbed by the way residents of the community and some of their political supporters abused soldiers sent to the place to enforce the law and keep the peace. Many were shocked when one member of the Knesset threatened to “raze the Supreme Court” in retaliation for the destruction of a few buildings that had been erected without proper legal permission. Netanyahu assuaged the settlers with promises to build elsewhere in Beit El, something that highlighted the fact that his narrow majority rests on right-wing support. That all of this took place in the days after Tisha B’Av — the annual commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans that is attributed by Jewish tradition to disunity and senseless hatred — heightened the divisive nature of the incident. As the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz wrote, the willingness of some Jews to demonize their fellow citizens in uniform who defend them was outrageous. Indeed, at moments like this, the divisions within Israeli society seem as great as those that separate it from its Arab and Muslim foes.

But the attack on the Arab village made plain an even greater problem. Though the overwhelming majority of those Jews who live in the West Bank are peaceful and condemn violence against both Jews and Arabs, a minority of extremists also exists. They were the ones inciting hate and violence at Beit El earlier this week and it is likely from their ranks that the even smaller group of Jews who are prepared to act on those beliefs can be found.

Is the government of Israel at fault here?

To the extent that the authorities failed to sufficiently monitor and stop potential killers before they acted, there is probably plenty of blame to pass around. But it is wrong to say that the government has not acted against settler extremists where their actions escalated from mere rhetoric to actual terrorism. Indeed, if you listen to many settlers, they believe that the Israel Defense Forces are more interested in stopping Jews from attacking Arabs than in protecting settlers from Arab terror.

But the problem here goes deeper than one of law enforcement. The situation that led to the tragedy in Duma is one in which those in the West Bank live under constant threat of terrorism. As even the New York Times noted today, the village where the arson murder took place was close to the site of an attack where a Jew was fatally shot by Arab terrorists when he was driving home from a basketball game. Indeed, terror attacks on Jews in the West Bank are so commonplace that they are rarely covered at all by the Western press.

For some settlers, the crimes committed against them rationalize if not justify similar violence directed at Arabs. That is a position that is rightly rejected by the overwhelming majority of Israelis as well as their government. But at this point, as was the case after the heinous 1994 mass killing of Arab worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron by a settler, more than lip service is needed for the effort to combat Jewish extremism. The settler movement, as well as its political supporters, must come to grips with the virus of Jewish terror and thoroughly wipe it out. Tolerance for those who might justify such horrible acts — especially the radical minority that do so in the name of Judaism — must come to an end.

But even as those who care about Israel condemn Jewish violence and applaud efforts to ensure that the extremists are isolated and, where necessary, prosecuted, we should not lose sight of the fact that much of what is being said about the crime in Duma from Palestinian and anti-Israeli sources is deeply hypocritical.

Unlike the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the Israeli government does not applaud terrorists; it seeks to prosecute them. There will be no parks or sports teams named after those who killed a child in Duma as there are for Palestinians who kill Jews. Nor will there be programs on Israeli television and radio extolling the deeds of the killers.

It is little consolation to either the Arab victims or dismayed Israeli onlookers to note that the culture of hate among Jewish extremists is a minority phenomenon while the one that prevails among Palestinians embraces a wide consensus of opinion and, indeed, is integral to their national identity. But it should not escape the notice of the world that the reaction of Israelis and their government to the death of an Arab child is shame while Palestinians routinely cheer the many instances where Jewish children are slain by Arabs. The three-fingered social media meme among Palestinians last year that mocked the plight of the three Israeli teenagers that were kidnaped and murdered by Hamas last summer was an indication of the moral chasm that divides these two societies.

The attack on Duma does also raise troubling questions about how peace might ever be attained. For some critics of Israel and many Jewish left-wingers, the answer is easy: get rid of the settlements and separate the two peoples. But even if Israel were to do so, the history of the past 20 years of attempts to make peace shows that this wouldn’t solve the problem.

Ten years ago Israel removed every single soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in the hope that that the separation would end the violence if not foster peace. But instead Israelis watched Gaza become a launching pad for terror attacks via rockets and tunnels. Far from fostering peace, the withdrawal seemed to encourage Palestinians to continue their war on Israel’s existence. If the overwhelming majority of Israelis consider such a withdrawal from the far more strategic West Bank to be unimaginable it is because they know that it would likely lead to the creation of another and even more dangerous terror base on their doorstep, not mutual coexistence. Even the so-called “moderates” among the Palestinians reject the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter its borders are drawn. So long as Palestinians view their national identity as inextricably linked to a violent war on Zionism, terror will continue and peace will be impossible.

But the events of the last week show that it isn’t good enough for Jews to merely condemn an Arab and Muslim political culture that will not allow peace to happen. It is also incumbent on Israelis and their friends to acknowledge that horrors such as those that occurred at Duma only serve to justify Arab hatred and serve the cause of the Islamist haters that are gaining ground throughout the Middle East. Just as we are right to ask Muslims to police their extremists, so, too, must Jews also act against their haters.

There should be zero tolerance for hate and terror among both Arabs and Jews. Unfortunately, there seems little chance that Palestinians will isolate and reject Fatah-linked terrorists, Hamas and Islamic Jihad the way Israelis are condemning the Duma killers. Indeed, the calls for more terror attacks on Jews in response to Duma from the government of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza have already begun. But the answer begins with appropriate action against the terrorists and those who support them by the Israeli government.

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When Is It a War Crime to Defend Yourself? If You’re an Israeli.

Yesterday, Amnesty International issued its latest broadside at the State of Israel. The group’s report, titled “Black Friday: Carnage in Rafah” dutifully reported at length by the New York Times, seeks to portray an incident from last summer’s war in Gaza as an example of  particularly awful Israeli war crimes involving shelling of civilian areas and egregious loss of life. But, as with most such accusations, the closer you look at the charge the more it becomes clear that the point of the exercise isn’t merely a supposed quest for justice for dead Palestinians. While this must be seen in the context of a campaign to prepare war crimes charges against the Israel Defense Forces before the International Criminal Court that was recently joined by the Palestinian Authority, the effort has a broader purpose than merely beginning a human rights prosecution before that body. By expending a great deal of its limited resources on this one incident, Amnesty is seeking to make a much broader political point: delegitimizing Israeli self-defense under virtually any circumstances.

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Yesterday, Amnesty International issued its latest broadside at the State of Israel. The group’s report, titled “Black Friday: Carnage in Rafah” dutifully reported at length by the New York Times, seeks to portray an incident from last summer’s war in Gaza as an example of  particularly awful Israeli war crimes involving shelling of civilian areas and egregious loss of life. But, as with most such accusations, the closer you look at the charge the more it becomes clear that the point of the exercise isn’t merely a supposed quest for justice for dead Palestinians. While this must be seen in the context of a campaign to prepare war crimes charges against the Israel Defense Forces before the International Criminal Court that was recently joined by the Palestinian Authority, the effort has a broader purpose than merely beginning a human rights prosecution before that body. By expending a great deal of its limited resources on this one incident, Amnesty is seeking to make a much broader political point: delegitimizing Israeli self-defense under virtually any circumstances.

The incident that generated the reported took place on August 1, 2014. On that morning, a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was put into effect that sought to end the war that had begun a month earlier. The conflict started when a Hamas terror cell kidnaped and murdered three Israeli teenagers and then escalated when the group began firing rockets at Israeli cities and towns. Several thousand of these missiles would be launched at Israel before the war ended. In addition to that, Hamas attempted to employ tunnels it had dug underneath the border with Israel to conduct more such kidnap/murder raids. Though the Israelis tried at first to halt the attacks with air power, when that didn’t work, ground forces were required to stop the terrorists. Though the August 1st cease-fire — like the one that later finally did end the shooting — left Hamas in place and in possession of its rocket arsenal, Israel agreed to it.

But only an hour after the fighting was supposed to stop, a Hamas terror squad ambushed a group of Israeli soldiers in the city of Rafah along the border with Israel. Two were killed and the body of one, Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, was dragged into the tunnel from which his attackers had emerged. That set off a desperate search and counter-attack aimed at recovering him and/or his body. That directive, known by the code name, “Hannibal” aims to use maximum force to prevent terrorists from escaping with a hostage. The order is always controversial because some interpret it as encouraging Israeli forces to even endanger the life of the captured soldier rather than standing down and subjecting both the individual and his country to a protracted hostage negotiation that inevitably involves the release of a disproportionate number of terrorist murderers.

In this case, Amnesty accuses Israel of using artillery fire in such a way as to conduct “disproportionate or otherwise indiscriminate attacks” on civilian areas with no regard for the lives of innocents who might be killed in the barrage. According to Amnesty and its Palestinian sources, the Israelis fired 1,000 shells and 40 bombs on the area where the Hamas assault took place resulting in 135 Palestinian deaths.

But while the loss of life during this battle was regrettable, the focus of the Amnesty report is remarkably skewed.

After all, the one war crime that we can be sure that took place was the attack on Goldin and his squad. It was a deliberate violation of a cease-fire that might have been a godsend for ordinary Palestinians, but which didn’t serve the purposes of Hamas. Having bled Gaza white for weeks, the leaders of the terrorist group were not yet satisfied with the toll of casualties among their own people. Hamas places its missile launchers and terror squads among civilians in order to deliberately expose them to Israeli fire. While there are plenty of fortified shelters in the strip for Hamas fighters and their massive arsenal, there are few for civilians. In Hamas-run Gaza, the shelters are for the bombs, not the people.

That means that any fair-minded observer of the events of August 1, 2014 must concede that the responsibility for all of the casualties the ensued as Israeli and Hamas forces fought in Rafah that day belongs to those who cynically ordered the attack on the Israeli soldiers that ended the cease-fire. The tunnel they used ran through residential areas, and the flight of these terrorists was such that they deliberately and with malice aforethought endangered the lives of all those who lived in the area. Their goal was not only to spirit away a hostage but also to create the kind of havoc that would result in more accusations against Israel.

But the minute analysis of every round fired by the Israelis by Amnesty not only doesn’t take that into account or put their accusations in a reasonable context. It also treats the effort to rescue Goldin — who probably did not survive the initial attack — as wrong while treating the assault on the Israelis as a reasonable and even legal action. But even in the course of its effort to demonize the Israeli actions by pouring on the details of bullets and shells fired amid a chaotic battle amid the fog of war, Amnesty cannot help falsifying their indictment. The report fails to take into account that along with the civilians who were sadly killed or wounded as a result of terrorist actions, some of the casualties they lament were actually Hamas or Islamic Jihad personnel.

But no matter how you break down the battle, the talk of disproportionate fire frames the discussion in a way that inevitably skews it toward treating the Israelis as the transgressors rather than a combatant. Would any nation, including Western democracies or the United States, be any less “indiscriminate” in its fire on terrorists attacking its cities and its troops than the Israelis? The answer is obviously not. As General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in his comments about the Gaza war, the conduct of the Israelis in the fighting was a model that U.S. forces seek to emulate in their own conflicts in the Middle East. Indeed, the same accusations of “disproportionate” fire are often, and sometimes with more reason, lodged against Americans fighting in Afghanistan or bombing Taliban or al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan.

As for the “Hannibal” directive, the discussion is a controversial one even within Israel. But the assumption that it means that soldiers are ordered to kill one of their own rather than let them be taken is probably a misunderstanding. Any hostage in a war zone is, by definition, in harm’s way and faces a good chance of becoming a casualty. The Israelis rightly seek to prevent the capture of their people. Doing so spares the country and the individual from a terrible ordeal. Efforts to prevent these crimes deserve the praise of fair-minded people, not their condemnation.

The effort to turn the effort to save Hadar Goldin was, like the entire counter-offensive that Israel conducted in Gaza last summer, entirely justified. The blame for the deaths of Palestinians needs to be placed at the door of the Hamas terrorists that started the conflict and then broke a cease-fire in a conscious effort to set in motion the tragic events that then unfolded.

In the meantime, the family of Lt. Goldin still awaits the return of his body from Hamas that may be holding his remains in order to exact another gruesome exchange for live killers. If Amnesty wants to live up to its claim of advocacy for human rights, it might want to get involved in that issue. More to the point, the group and its financial backers need to understand that by conducting such attacks on Israel, it cannot pretend that is rationalizing the actions of one side in the conflict. In this case, their version of human rights advocacy appears to be indistinguishable from rationalizing the crimes of terrorists and seeking to hamstring the efforts of those seeking to stop them.

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Israel Reaches Consensus on Gaza, Diaspora Jews Reject It

Israel marked the 10th anniversary of its unilateral pullout from Gaza this week with a rare consensus: The disengagement was a disaster. Even opposition leader and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog admitted that “from a security perspective, the disengagement was a mistake. While he still considers it “essential” demographically, he isn’t sure he would have voted for it had he known then what he knows now. And this is the man who, back in 2005, declared that, thanks to the disengagement, “for the first time in decades there is genuine hope” for “lasting peace.” Read More

Israel marked the 10th anniversary of its unilateral pullout from Gaza this week with a rare consensus: The disengagement was a disaster. Even opposition leader and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog admitted that “from a security perspective, the disengagement was a mistake. While he still considers it “essential” demographically, he isn’t sure he would have voted for it had he known then what he knows now. And this is the man who, back in 2005, declared that, thanks to the disengagement, “for the first time in decades there is genuine hope” for “lasting peace.”

Equally remarkable was a poll of Israeli Jews earlier this month asking whether they supported or opposed the pullout at the time. An overwhelming majority of respondents – 59 percent – asserted that they had opposed it, while only 34 percent admitted to having supported it. That, of course, is far from the truth; polls at the time consistently showed solid pluralities or majorities favoring the disengagement, while only about a third of Israelis opposed it. But this revisionist history accurately reflects Israelis’ current view of the withdrawal: Many of those who once backed it are now convinced they must actually have opposed it, because they simply can’t imagine they would have supported any idea as disastrous as this one proved to be. And even among those still willing to admit they once supported it, almost one-fifth now regret doing so.

It’s not just the obvious fact that the Palestinians turned Gaza into a giant launch pad from which some 16,500 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel over the past decade, whereas exactly zero have been fired from the Israeli-controlled West Bank over the same period. It’s not just that quitting Gaza has resulted in more Israeli soldiers being killed, and also more Palestinians, than occupying Gaza ever did. It’s not just that after Israel withdrew every last settler and soldier from Gaza, the world has sought to deny it the right to defend itself against the ensuing rocket attacks by greeting every military operation with escalating condemnation, accusations of war crimes, and attempts to prosecute it in the International Criminal Court. It’s not just that the withdrawal ended up worsening global anti-Semitism, since every military operation in Gaza has served as an excuse for a massive upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks worldwide. It’s not just that Israel received zero diplomatic credit for the pullout, with most of the world not only still insisting that Gaza is “Israeli-occupied territory,” but excoriating Israel with escalating ferocity, and even threatening sanctions, for its reluctance to repeat this disastrous experiment in the West Bank, while assigning Palestinians zero responsibility for the impasse.

All these are certainly reasons enough to consider the pullout a disaster. But there’s one final negative outcome, as reflected in another poll released last week: Due to this Israeli reluctance, born of hard experience, a majority of overseas Jews now deems Israel insufficiently committed to peace. And that, in some ways, is the worst betrayal of all. Most Israelis don’t expect much from the Palestinians or the UN or Europe. But they do expect their fellow Jews to sympathize with their fear that withdrawing from the West Bank would simply replicate the Gaza disaster on a much larger scale.

After all, none of the negative consequences that ensued in Gaza can be blamed on the popular distinction between the “moderate” Fatah, led by Mahmoud Abbas, and the “hardline” Hamas. For Gaza wasn’t handed over to Hamas, but to Abbas. He’s the one who first enabled the escalation by refusing to use his forces to stop it; consequently, there were more than four times as many rocket attacks in 2006, the first year after the disengagement, as in either of the previous two years. And he’s the one who lost Gaza to Hamas in a bloody coup in mid-2007 when the latter decided it no longer needed a fig leaf.

Thus Israel has no reason whatsoever to think giving Abbas the West Bank wouldn’t produce the same result, except with even more disastrous consequences. Hitting major Israeli population centers from Gaza requires long-range rockets; from the West Bank, easily produced short-range rockets suffice. Nor should we forget suicide bombings, which, during the second intifada (2000-2005), caused more Israeli casualties in four years than all the terror attacks of the entire previous 53 years combined. Those attacks were launched almost exclusively from parts of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and they stopped only when the Israeli army retook control of these areas – meaning Israel’s previous experiment with ceding parts of the West Bank was even less encouraging than the Gaza experiment has been.

Most Israelis would still be willing to trade land for peace, but they’ve had enough of trading land for terror. And until overseas Jews can produce a convincing argument for why the next pullout would be any different than all the previous ones, it would be nice if they instead practiced the traditional Jewish value of giving fellow Jews the benefit of the doubt. To interpret caution born of grim experience as disinterest in peace isn’t merely unfair; it’s downright malicious.

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Jonathan Pollard’s Release Shouldn’t Placate Iran Deal Critics

Unlike many Israelis and American Jews, I have never found myself in the Jonathan Pollard rooting section. He was a traitor and a spy and he got what was coming to him, even if he did receive an unusually long sentence for passing along secret information to an ally of the United States rather than an enemy. But he has served 30 years now, and there is no good reason not to grant him parole. It now appears that he will, in fact, be released at the end of November. Read More

Unlike many Israelis and American Jews, I have never found myself in the Jonathan Pollard rooting section. He was a traitor and a spy and he got what was coming to him, even if he did receive an unusually long sentence for passing along secret information to an ally of the United States rather than an enemy. But he has served 30 years now, and there is no good reason not to grant him parole. It now appears that he will, in fact, be released at the end of November.

The Obama administration says this is the normal process of the legal system in action. The Wall Street Journal, by contrast, claimed that this was a politically motivated decision by the administration in the “hope the move will smooth relations with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.” I don’t know whom to believe here; I certainly hope that his release was not akin to the pork-barrel projects that are dangled in front of lawmakers to win their assent to important pieces of legislation.

In any case, whatever the motivation behind Pollard’s release, it has no bearing on the merits of the Iranian nuclear deal, which is a terrible deal not only for the United States and our Arab allies but especially for Israel. While Iran poses a threat to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and other states — to say nothing of the people of Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen who are suffering under the oppression of Iranian-backed militias — it does not seek to destroy any of those states. By contrast, ever since the Iranian revolution, Tehran has dedicated itself to the eradication of the “Zionist entity,” a genocidal goal that it has pursued by funneling arms and money to terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The mullahs’ capacity for such attacks will increase exponentially once sanctions are lifted and more than $100 billion in extra funding floods their coffers.

Hezbollah is now said to have some 70,000-80,000 missiles aimed at Israel. How many more will Hezbollah have in a few years, once Iran is even richer, and free of the embargoes on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles? Hezbollah can already, no doubt, target every part of Israel; before long, it will be able to assign multiple rockets to each target. It’s true that Israel has missile defenses such as Iron Dome and the PAC-3, but missile defenses can and probably will be overwhelmed by such a barrage, especially if it is supplemented by rockets emanating from the Gaza Strip.

Mike Huckabee may be guilty of overblown and distasteful rhetoric when he claims that the deal will march Israelis “to the door of the oven,” a formulation that is offensive in no small part because it presumes that Israelis are helpless victims who would allow themselves to be subject to another Holocaust without resisting. But the reality is that the Iranian nuclear deal will greatly increase the danger to Israel — and it will be an existential danger once Iran acquires nuclear weapons, which it is practically guaranteed to do by the end of this deal, in roughly ten years’ time. By that time, Israel probably will not even have the option of bombing the Iranian nuclear facilities because they will be well-defended by advanced air-defense systems legally provided by Russia and possibly other states as well.

So while Israelis will no doubt celebrate Pollard’s release, I very much doubt it will lead many of them to moderate their opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal. Nor should it. Pollard is a feel-good story from the Israeli perspective; Iran is a matter of life or death. Israelis are right to speak out in opposition to the Iranian accord even if doing so greatly displeases President Obama and Secretary Kerry. The views of our closest allies deserve a close hearing when the U.S. government is contemplating actions that will greatly affect their well being.

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Things the Media Won’t Tell You About Israel

If you’ve ever wondered why so many overseas Jews view democratic Israel as irredeemably racist, consider the following story: Knesset member Robert Ilatov justifiably made headlines last Thursday by declaring that Arabs who refuse to sing the national anthem, “Hatikva,” shouldn’t be appointed as judges. But several prominent English-language Israeli news sites didn’t even bother mentioning the swift, uncompromising rejection of his view by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked; you won’t, for instance, find a word of her response in Haaretz’s report, while the left-wing +972 website dismissed it as a “weak protestation” by omitting all the most significant parts of her statement. Read More

If you’ve ever wondered why so many overseas Jews view democratic Israel as irredeemably racist, consider the following story: Knesset member Robert Ilatov justifiably made headlines last Thursday by declaring that Arabs who refuse to sing the national anthem, “Hatikva,” shouldn’t be appointed as judges. But several prominent English-language Israeli news sites didn’t even bother mentioning the swift, uncompromising rejection of his view by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked; you won’t, for instance, find a word of her response in Haaretz’s report, while the left-wing +972 website dismissed it as a “weak protestation” by omitting all the most significant parts of her statement.

Shaked’s response matters not only because of her position, but because she herself is no bleeding-heart liberal; she’s second-in-command of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party, the right flank of what the media routinely term a “hardline” government. And that’s precisely the point: While extremists always get headlines, the mainstream rejection of their views is ignored – even when that rejection is so sweeping that it encompasses the leadership of the most right-wing party in the governing center-right coalition.

Granted, Ilatov’s views can’t be dismissed as an insignificant; the opposition back-bencher made his statement right after the Knesset chose him as one of the Judicial Appointments Committee’s nine members. But surely the contrary views of the other eight members – and especially Shaked, the panel’s chairwoman – should be considered no less significant when assessing Israel’s character.

Shaked, in her response, endorsed the compromise employed by Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran during his own swearing-in ceremony: Arab judges should stand for the anthem, because state officials must respect the state’s symbols, but they shouldn’t be required to sing along if they can’t identify with lyrics that, after all, are about the Jewish yearning for Zion. “A judge needs to stand during the national anthem, but I won’t be looking to see if he is mouthing the words to Hatikva or not,” she said.

She also endorsed the importance of maintaining the judiciary’s professionalism: “A judge needs to be selected first and foremost according to skills and criteria,” she stressed. Finally, she underscored the importance of having Arab judges in the system: “The fact that we have Arab judges is an admirable thing in a country where 20 percent of the population are minorities.”

In other words, the second-in-command of one of Israel’s most right-wing parties, who also happens to be the justice minister, said exactly what she should have said regarding Arab sensitivities, Arab representation in state institutions and judicial professionalism. But liberals who get their news from Haaretz or +972 will never know it; reading those reports, a well-meaning liberal would legitimately conclude that anti-Arab extremists are running around Israel unopposed.

The same is true of another important news item this week: Two brothers who torched Jerusalem’s Jewish-Arab Hand in Hand School last year were sentenced to 24 and 30 months in jail, respectively (the sentence reflects the fact that the attack endangered no lives, since it occurred overnight). The arson made headlines worldwide as evidence of Israel’s “racism.” But how many international media outlets bothered reporting the fact that the perpetrators were caught, indicted and sentenced to jail?

This isn’t a minor detail. No country on earth has ever managed to eradicate hate crimes; thus the difference between a decent society and an intolerant one is not whether such crimes occur, but how society responds. Are the perpetrators lionized and allowed to walk free – as, for instance, Palestinian terrorists are? Or are they universally condemned, brought to trial and given heavy sentences?

Israel is in the latter category: Not only was the arson universally condemned at the time, but the perpetrators are now doing jail time. But because the initial attack made headlines overseas while the subsequent sentence was either ignored or merited at most a brief mention, the impression left is the opposite: that Israel is a place where hate crimes are tolerated.

Neither Israel nor its supporters can change the media coverage. But liberal Jews who care about Israel can and must try to educate their fellows about the distorted image this coverage conveys. Because criticizing Israel for its minority of extremists while never even acknowledging the majority’s efforts to fight them isn’t “tough love”; it’s sheer dishonesty.

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EU Should Be Pushed on Treatment of ‘Occupied Territories’

Responding to today’s Times of Israel interview with Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, legal expert Eugene Kontorovich tweeted, “you got to ask #Bensaouda questions & didnt ask about an inquiry into settlements in Cypru[s]?” But Bensouda could actually offer a reasonable response to this challenge about double standards. The people who couldn’t – and who should therefore be hounded about it at every conceivable opportunity – are senior European Union officials who insist that any facilitation of Israeli activity in the “occupied West Bank” is illegal, yet happily facilitate Turkish activity in occupied Northern Cyprus, Moroccan activity in occupied Western Sahara, Chinese activity in occupied Tibet, and much more. Read More

Responding to today’s Times of Israel interview with Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, legal expert Eugene Kontorovich tweeted, “you got to ask #Bensaouda questions & didnt ask about an inquiry into settlements in Cypru[s]?” But Bensouda could actually offer a reasonable response to this challenge about double standards. The people who couldn’t – and who should therefore be hounded about it at every conceivable opportunity – are senior European Union officials who insist that any facilitation of Israeli activity in the “occupied West Bank” is illegal, yet happily facilitate Turkish activity in occupied Northern Cyprus, Moroccan activity in occupied Western Sahara, Chinese activity in occupied Tibet, and much more.

Just today, Reuters revealed that an influential European think tank is urging the EU to go beyond its current drive to label Israeli settlement products and impose numerous additional sanctions, from restricting interaction between European banks and Israeli banks that do business in the settlements (i.e. all of them) to refusing to recognize degrees from Israeli educational institutions in the West Bank. The European Council of Foreign Relations is technically an independent organization, but, as Reuters correctly noted, its “proposals frequently inform EU policy-making.” In 2013, the council proposed five different measures against Israeli activity in the West Bank; two years later, three of the five have been largely adopted, either by the EU itself or by individual member states: excluding settlement produce from EU-Israel trade agreements, severing contact with Ariel University (which is barred from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research program) and advising European companies against doing business in the settlements.

But as Kontorovich has pointed out repeatedly, the EU has no qualms about facilitating activity in other territories that it deems occupied. For instance, the EU has an entire program to direct funding to Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus; inter alia, the program finances infrastructure projects, scholarships for students and grants to businesses. And lest one think this is equivalent to EU projects to help Palestinians, think again: Turkish settlers, who constitute anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of the population (depending on whose estimates you believe), are eligible; nor is the program barred from funding projects that directly or indirectly benefit these settlers. That’s in sharp contrast to the West Bank, where European countries refuse to fund any project that might benefit Israeli settlers, even if it benefits the Palestinians far more.

Similarly, Kontorovich noted, the EU reached an agreement with Morocco in which it actually pays Morocco for access to fisheries in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. In short, the EU is paying the occupier for the right to deplete the occupied territory’s natural resources.

And, of course, numerous European companies and organizations do business in such territories; from French conglomerates like Total and Michelin to British universities.

Nor can the EU argue that Palestinians are unique in objecting to such activity. Indeed, the PLO’s Western Saharan counterpart, the Frente Polisario, is currently suing in the Court of Justice of the European Union over the Morocco fisheries agreement, yet the EU is vigorously defending the deal.

Moreover, Israel has a far stronger legal claim to the West Bank than do any of the “occupiers” the EU has no problem doing business with. The League of Nations awarded this land to a “Jewish national home,” and that international mandate was preserved by the UN Charter’s Article 80; the territory had no other recognized sovereign when Israel captured it from an illegal occupier (Jordan) in a defensive war; and UN Security Council Resolution 242 explicitly reaffirmed Israel’s right to keep at least part of the captured territory. Thus if the EU were going to discriminate among “occupied territories,” it should by rights discriminate in Israel’s favor rather than against it.

Bensouda could reasonably respond that a prosecutor has no business commenting on hypotheticals; she can only address actual cases that arrive on her doorstep. But the EU can’t use the excuse that the issue is hypothetical; it’s already neck-deep in discriminatory treatment.

This issue should, therefore, be raised with every EU official at every possible opportunity – by Israeli officials, journalists, and American Jewish leaders. It might not influence EU policy, but at least it would lay bare to the world what actually lies behind it. There’s a name for treating Jews differently than all other peoples. It’s called anti-Semitism.

 

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Anti-Israelism and Anti-Semitism in South Africa

The student anti-Israel movement in South Africa is more extreme than most. In February, the student government at the Durban University of Technology called for the expulsion of Jewish students, particularly supporters of Israel. In March, the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) responded to a protest in which the lives of Jews were threatened by denouncing the presence of the Community Security Organization, whose purpose is to protect Jews and who were cooperating with local police. The COSAS called the South African Board of Jewish Deputies, an organization that represents South Africa’s Jews, “the Jewish ISIS” that “threatens our sovereignty through, illegal [sic], mercenaries, militia and invasion.” They hastened to add that they had nothing against Jews, but only against those who have long represented them in South Africa, and concluded with this flourish: “Away racist Jewish deputies away!” Read More

The student anti-Israel movement in South Africa is more extreme than most. In February, the student government at the Durban University of Technology called for the expulsion of Jewish students, particularly supporters of Israel. In March, the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) responded to a protest in which the lives of Jews were threatened by denouncing the presence of the Community Security Organization, whose purpose is to protect Jews and who were cooperating with local police. The COSAS called the South African Board of Jewish Deputies, an organization that represents South Africa’s Jews, “the Jewish ISIS” that “threatens our sovereignty through, illegal [sic], mercenaries, militia and invasion.” They hastened to add that they had nothing against Jews, but only against those who have long represented them in South Africa, and concluded with this flourish: “Away racist Jewish deputies away!”

It is, therefore, no surprise that the South African Students Congress (SASCO) has gotten into the act by suspending three student members for visiting Israel on a trip sponsored by the South Africa Israel forum. “We view an act by some of our members to visit Israel as crossing the picket line.” This move is more surprising than it seems. As offensive as boycotts like the one adopted by the American Studies Association are, no one there has proposed to discipline members who buck it. SASCO on the other hand, wishes “to state categorically that SASCO is a voluntary organization where members join and subordinate themselves to its constitution, its policies, and its resolutions. Therefore [they] urge all [their] members to respect, defend and advance all decisions of the organization without exception.” SASCO may be an extreme organization, officially aiming to “ensure the destruction of capitalist relations of production and the ushering of a socialist society.” But it is by no means marginal; Haaretz calls it the “biggest South African student organization.”

There is no adult in the room here. Obed Bapela, a deputy minister for Performance, Monitoring, and Evaluation in the President’s office, has said that the ruling African National Congress will investigate the students for bringing the ANC into “disrepute” Bapela, by the way was present at the February protest I mentioned, in which the crowd chanted, among other things, “You Jews do not belong here in South Africa.”  Bapela apparently had no problem with that, but did find time to complain of the “foreign force” brought in by the South African Board of Jewish Deputies, reminding the crowd that “South Africa is our country.”

Not all critics of Israel, even harsh critics, are anti-Semitic, but there can be no question about the running together of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment in South Africa, a nation in which, according to the Anti-Defamation League, 50 percent of respondents to its survey on attitudes toward Jews agreed that “People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.” Let’s try to remember that the next time South Africa’s leaders try to school us on solidarity.

 

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How to Gut the Principles of Law in One Easy Verdict

Any legal case has two main components – the facts and the law. In my last post, I analyzed the International Criminal Court’s disregard of salient facts in its ruling on Thursday overturning the chief prosecutor’s decision not to investigate Israel’s botched raid on a 2010 flotilla to Gaza. But the ruling was equally contemptuous of several fundamental legal principles. Read More

Any legal case has two main components – the facts and the law. In my last post, I analyzed the International Criminal Court’s disregard of salient facts in its ruling on Thursday overturning the chief prosecutor’s decision not to investigate Israel’s botched raid on a 2010 flotilla to Gaza. But the ruling was equally contemptuous of several fundamental legal principles.

The first of these is that judicial decisions should be dictated by law, not politics. The majority judges threw this principle out the window when they asserted that whether the alleged crime was sufficiently grave to merit ICC attention should depend not on what actually happened, but on the amount of “attention and concern that these events attracted” from the international community, as reflected in “several fact-finding efforts on behalf of States and the United Nations.” In other words, the ICC’s choice of cases will depend not on their objective legal merits, but on how many resolutions the dictators who dominate the U.N. Human Rights Council decide to devote to it.

As legal scholar Eugene Kontorovich aptly noted, the ICC is thereby “saying ‘drop dead’ to victims U.N. not interested in,” which is a travesty in and of itself: It means the court will spend its scarce resources investigating 10 people killed while attacking soldiers intercepting a blockade-busting flotilla, but ignore – to cite just one example – the tens of thousands of Syrian civilians killed by their own government’s barrel bombs.

No less appalling, however, is that this is a standard of justice used only in the most benighted regimes: Prosecutions will be based on neither facts nor law, but solely on whether they serve the interests of the politicians in power.

The second fundamental legal principle the decision guts is that the same person shouldn’t be prosecutor, judge and jury. Since a prosecutor is obviously invested in his own case, he cannot be an impartial judge.

But the ICC judges, sitting as a “pre-trial chamber,” decided to actively force the prosecutor to pursue an investigation she considered unjustified (technically, they only ordered her to “reconsider” her decision, but in practice, that order leaves her little choice). Thus the court is no longer an impartial arbiter between prosecution and defense; it is now actively invested in the success of the case.

This blurring of boundaries is justifiable only in extraordinary circumstances. That is why, as Judge Peter Kovacs noted in his dissent, “the Pre-Trial Chamber’s role is merely to make sure that the Prosecutor has not abused her discretion” – or at least, it ought to be. Instead, the majority decided to leave her no discretion at all.

Finally, the court ignored the law itself. As Kovacs also noted in his dissent, customary international law explicitly allows countries to enforce a lawful blockade, including by force if necessary. The blockade of Gaza is legal according to one of the very U.N. fact-finding committees the majority cited in its decision. And force was necessary in this case, since the ship refused repeated orders to halt and then attacked the Israeli boarding party with “fists, knives, chains, wooden clubs, iron rods, and slingshots with metal and glass projectiles.” Thus the casualties “were apparently incidental to lawful action taken in conjunction with protection of the blockade,” and as such, it’s likely that “most if not all of those acts will not qualify as war crimes.”

Yet the majority judges’ opinion doesn’t even mention the laws of blockade much less discuss their application to this case. Evidently, they consider customary international law irrelevant to their decisions.

In my earlier post, I compared the majority ruling to something out of Alice in Wonderland. And in fact, the three elements cited above are precisely the elements that make the Queen of Hearts’ courtroom so arbitrary: The law is irrelevant; judgment depends solely on the whim of the rulers; and the same person is prosecutor, judge and jury.

But the Queen of Hearts is actually preferable, because at least she’s honest about the arbitrary nature of her decisions: “Sentence first – verdict afterwards.” The ICC maintains an expensive taxpayer-funded legal bureaucracy in an effort to disguise it.

 

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Iran Can No Longer Be Contained

The more honest defenders of the president’s Iran diplomacy know there are loopholes in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action big enough to drive a car bomb through. So they are calling for some pretty vigorous enforcement. Read More

The more honest defenders of the president’s Iran diplomacy know there are loopholes in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action big enough to drive a car bomb through. So they are calling for some pretty vigorous enforcement.

Dennis Ross, who worked for the Obama administration, concedes the agreement will leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state, and “the gap between threshold and weapons status is small and will not take long to bridge.” His solution? Deterrence. “Iran must have no doubts that if we see it moving toward a weapon that would trigger the use of force. Declaring that is a must even now. Proving that every transgression will produce a price will demonstrate that we mean what we say.” To bolster deterrence, he even suggests giving Israel B-52 bombers, even though the Israeli Air Force has not asked for these long-range bombers and does not want them.

Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, while denouncing “shrill Republican attacks on the nuclear deal” as an “embarrassment,” concedes that the agreement will enhance “Iran’s meddling in the region.” “What’s the best way to confront Tehran on these regional issues?” he asks. According to him, “The right strategy is to present Tehran with a sharp choice: Either join serious negotiations to end the regional wars in Syria and Yemen, or face the prospect of much stiffer, U.S.-led resistance.”

Wait a minute.  If we have not been successful in deterring Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons and “meddling in the region” before the advent of this deal, what makes anyone think we will have more success after the deal is done? Quite the contrary: This deal will make it considerably harder to contain Iran.

After all, even if Iran complies with the accord, it will, as Ross notes, be left a turn of the wrench away from being a nuclear-armed state. And it will be armed, in addition, with a fearsome arsenal of conventional weapons and ballistic missiles, because the arms embargos are going to be lifted. That will substantially reduce our deterrence. Even if Israel acquires B-52s, they could easily be shot down by the new S-300 air defense system that Russia is keen to sell to Tehran — and now the sale can go through.

Moreover, there is little doubt that some substantial portion of the $100 billion-plus that Iran will get as a signing bonus, probably in the next six months, will wind up in the coffers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is charged not only with overseeing the nuclear program, but also with exporting the Iranian revolution abroad — i.e., exporting terrorism and subverting neighboring states.

The intelligence community may think otherwise; apparently they are convinced that “Iran’s government will pump most of an expected $100-billion windfall from the lifting of international sanctions into the country’s flagging economy and won’t significantly boost funding for militant groups it supports in the Middle East.” But such assessments should be taken with a grain of salt. This is the same intelligence community, after all, that delivered an estimate on September 19, 1962, claiming:  “The establishment on Cuban soil of Soviet nuclear striking forces which could be used against the U.S. would be incompatible with Soviet policy as we presently estimate it.” This was just weeks before the Cuban Missile Crisis. The intelligence community has, of course, been equally wrong about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, about whether Saddam would invade Kuwait in 1990, and a host of other issues. It takes a truly Pollyannaish mindset to convince oneself that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not use any of its lucre to boost the revolutionary movements that are so integral to its identity.

If we haven’t had any success in stopping Iran from supporting its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and other places under the current sanctions regime, it’s hard to imagine why we will have more luck in stopping an Iran newly fattened with vast financial resources and protected by a plethora of new weapons. Thus far President Obama has shown himself willing to overlook just about any Iranian transgression — from failing to answer the IAEA’s 12 queries about “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear program to paying for barrel bombs to be dropped on Syrian civilians to subverting the Iraqi state — because he has been so determined to deliver an agreement on Iran’s nuclear accord. It is hardly realistic to imagine that, having now achieved an accord, he will suddenly turn into a tough guy with Iran. The signing of the agreement, after all, is just the first step. Obama will now be anxious to make sure that Iran abides by its terms, and thus he will hardly engage in the kind of brinksmanship with Iran that might prompt the mullahs to exist the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in a huff once they have pocketed their $100 billion windfall.

The era of American deterrence and containment of Iran is over, at least while this president is in office. We have moved from becoming Iran’s enemy to its enabler. This is based on Obama’s risky proposition that enriching Iran will liberalize it. I can see why the more hard-headed supporters of the deal are skeptical of this logic, but they are engaged in wishful thinking if they imagine that the U.S. will do much, at least for the next 18 months, to stop Iran’s inevitable onslaught.

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The ICC Channels the Queen of Hearts on Israel

If the International Criminal Court ever had any pretensions of being a serious legal institution, they were effectively demolished by yesterday’s ruling overturning Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s decision not to investigate Israel’s botched raid on a 2010 flotilla to Gaza. Reading the ruling feels like falling down the rabbit hole straight into the Queen of Hearts’ courtroom, for many reasons. But here’s the one I found most astonishing: In a 27-page document devoted almost entirely to discussing whether the alleged Israeli crimes were grave enough to merit the court’s attention, not once did the majority judges mention one the most salient facts of the case: that flotilla passengers had attacked the Israeli soldiers with “fists, knives, chains, wooden clubs, iron rods, and slingshots with metal and glass projectiles,” causing nine soldiers serious injuries. Read More

If the International Criminal Court ever had any pretensions of being a serious legal institution, they were effectively demolished by yesterday’s ruling overturning Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s decision not to investigate Israel’s botched raid on a 2010 flotilla to Gaza. Reading the ruling feels like falling down the rabbit hole straight into the Queen of Hearts’ courtroom, for many reasons. But here’s the one I found most astonishing: In a 27-page document devoted almost entirely to discussing whether the alleged Israeli crimes were grave enough to merit the court’s attention, not once did the majority judges mention one the most salient facts of the case: that flotilla passengers had attacked the Israeli soldiers with “fists, knives, chains, wooden clubs, iron rods, and slingshots with metal and glass projectiles,” causing nine soldiers serious injuries.

That fact appeared only in Judge Peter Kovacs’ dissent. Anyone reading the majority decision would conclude that the soldiers opened fire no reason whatsoever.

This is not a minor detail; it was central to Bensouda’s decision to close the case. She noted that the soldiers opened fire, ultimately killing 10 passengers, aboard only one of the flotilla’s seven ships – the one where passengers attacked them. That strongly indicates there was no deliberate plan to kill civilians; rather, the soldiers intended to peacefully intercept all the vessels, and the killings were the unpremeditated result of a chaotic combat situation that unexpectedly developed aboard one ship. Or in her words, “none of the information available suggests […] the intended object of the attack was the civilian passengers on board these vessels.”

The majority judges, however, dismiss that conclusion, asserting that the lack of casualties aboard the other ships doesn’t preclude the possibility that soldiers intended from the outset to kill the Mavi Marmara’s passengers. They then offer a string of wild suppositions to explain why soldiers might have wanted to perpetrate a massacre aboard that ship but not the others. Perhaps, they suggest gravely, it’s because the Mavi Marmara carried the most passengers. Or, perhaps because it carried no humanitarian aid. In any event, the soldiers clearly used more violence against the Mavi Marmara than against other ships that also refused their orders to halt, so “It is reasonable to consider these circumstances as possibly explaining that the Mavi Marmara was treated by the IDF differently from the other vessels of the flotilla from the outset.”

But of course, the only way to make that unsupported speculation remotely plausible is by ignoring the fact that the Mavi Marmara was the only ship whose passengers brutally attacked the soldiers. Once you acknowledge this fact, it’s obvious that it’s a far more likely explanation for the ship’s different treatment than any of the majority judges’ outlandish theories.

So how do they get around this problem? Very simply: by refusing to admit the fact’s existence. At no point in those 27 pages do they ever acknowledge that the passengers attacked the soldiers. And then, having obliterated the actual reason why the soldiers opened fire from the record, they can accuse Bensouda of having erred by not considering their alternate-universe theory that the soldiers opened fire out of malice aforethought.

In the Queen of Hearts’ courtroom, the rule is “Sentence first – verdict afterwards.” The ICC judges, in contrast, are perfectly willing to let the verdict precede the sentence; they merely insist that said verdict exclude any evidence which might contradict their preconceived conclusions.

And, in that case, the Queen of Hearts’ approach actually makes much more sense. If you already know what the verdict is going to be, it’s much more efficient to move straight to the sentence. At least that way you don’t waste taxpayers’ time and money on lengthy legal proceedings.

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The Deal Wasn’t About Iran’s Nukes

If you think the United States just struck a poor nuclear deal with Iran, you’re right; but if that’s your key takeaway, you’re missing the point. Iran’s nuclear program was last on the list of the Obama administration’s priorities in talking to Tehran. The administration readily caved on Iran’s nukes because it viewed the matter only as a timely pretense for achieving other cherished aims. These were: (1) preventing an Israeli attack on Iran; (2) transforming the United States into a more forgiving, less imposing power; (3) establishing diplomacy as a great American good in itself; (4) making Iran into a great regional power; and (5), ensuring the legacies of the president and secretary of state as men of vision and peace.

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If you think the United States just struck a poor nuclear deal with Iran, you’re right; but if that’s your key takeaway, you’re missing the point. Iran’s nuclear program was last on the list of the Obama administration’s priorities in talking to Tehran. The administration readily caved on Iran’s nukes because it viewed the matter only as a timely pretense for achieving other cherished aims. These were: (1) preventing an Israeli attack on Iran; (2) transforming the United States into a more forgiving, less imposing power; (3) establishing diplomacy as a great American good in itself; (4) making Iran into a great regional power; and (5), ensuring the legacies of the president and secretary of state as men of vision and peace.

The administration has always viewed Israel as an intractable troublemaker and the main catalyst for the region’s woes. An Israeli strike on Iran, especially if supported by the United States, would have been yet another display of destabilizing Israeli aggression that put Middle East peace further out of reach. Barack Obama, therefore, repeatedly warned Israel against attacking Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu complied, and for his compliance White House officials taunted him in 2014 as a “chickenshit” whose window of opportunity had closed. That window is now barred. The Iran deal states that the U.S. will train Iranians to counter any sabotage attempts on its nuclear facilities and systems. This is aimed at frustrating Israeli action.

Obama came to office promising to limit American action as well. In his standard progressive view, the United States has been too eager to throw its weight around and impose its norms on other countries without giving sufficient thought to the resentment it might sow. He ended the war in Iraq and sought to remake the United States as a humble power. “Too often the United States starts by dictating,” he told a Saudi news outlet soon after being elected. He, by contrast, would do a lot of “listening.” The Iran negotiations became Obama’s magnum opus on the theme of listening. Americans listened to Iranians dictate terms, shoot down offers, insult the United States, and threaten allies. America has been humbled indeed.

But such humility is necessary if diplomacy is to be made into a nation-defining ethos. And if we could successfully negotiate with theocratic Iran, then surely Americans would see that diplomacy could conquer all. So, for the sake of proving this abstract principle, Obama foreclosed any non-diplomatic approach to Iran before a deal was reached. As he told Tom Friedman in April, “there is no formula, there is no option, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon that will be more effective than the diplomatic initiative and framework that we put forward — and that’s demonstrable.” So declared, so demonstrated.

Like the preeminence of diplomacy, the notion of Iran’s potential as a levelheaded regional power was a treasured abstract principle Obama hoped to substantiate through the nuclear talks. Once again, first came the declaration. Last December Obama speculated on the outcome of a completed nuclear deal: “There’s incredible talent and resources and sophistication inside of Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules, and that would be good for everybody.”

If Iran’s fanatical anti-Semitism called this sanguine view into question, that too could be explained. “Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival,” he told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. “It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations.” That the United States and Iran have now come to an agreement—whatever the details—is supposed to demonstrate the soundness of that principle.

As far as legacy, what politician doesn’t want one? For Obama, a nominal nuclear deal may make him feel as if he’s earned the Nobel Prize once furnished him as election swag. John Kerry’s own efforts to earn a Nobel by brokering Middle East peace became another footnote in the story of Palestinian obstinacy. He too had something to prove.

From the administration’s standpoint, the deal was a grand slam. If it left Iran as an official nuclear power on the perpetual verge of a breakout, well, that was always the bargaining chip to get everything else. And with the United States having shown extraordinary cooperation and forgiveness, the thinking goes, even a nuclear Iran will become a less bellicose and more collegial member of the community of nations. What good the deal has already done, the administration believes, will continue to pay dividends. As is his wont, Obama is now declaring as much. But by the time his vision is upended by facts, he’ll be out of office, and we won’t have the luxury of fighting reality with abstractions.

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Israel’s Ambassador: ‘This Deal is a Disaster’

Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer gave the principal address last night at the “Night to Honor Israel” at the Washington Summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI). He told more than 5,000 delegates that “the collapse of the positions of the P5+1” has been “breathtaking.” “So many red lines have already been crossed”: Read More

Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer gave the principal address last night at the “Night to Honor Israel” at the Washington Summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI). He told more than 5,000 delegates that “the collapse of the positions of the P5+1” has been “breathtaking.” “So many red lines have already been crossed”:

The promise of “anytime, anywhere” inspections looks more like “sometime, somewhere” inspections that will enable Iran to continue the cat and mouse game that it has played with IAEA inspectors for years.

The promise of phased sanctions relief looks more like a one-time jackpot for the Ayatollah regime. In a few months, this deal would give Iran 150 billion dollars. Iran has a 300 to 400 billion dollar economy. A 150 billion dollar infusion of cash into Iran’s coffers is like 8 trillion dollars flowing into the US treasury. … [B]illions of dollars will be used to replenish the Iranian regime’s ATMs in the region. Those ATMs are the Ayatollah Terror Machines – the Shiite militia in Iraq, Assad’s regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and the many other Iranian’s terror proxies throughout the region. …

[I]t is hard to believe that two years ago we were promised that the sanctions regime would only be dismantled if and when Iran’s illicit nuclear program was dismantled. Instead, this deal dismantles the sanctions regime in exchange for partial and temporary constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. Partial, because Iran will be allowed to continue R&D on advanced centrifuges and will continue to develop ICBMs, whose sole purpose is to carry nuclear payloads. I’ve got a newsflash for you. Israel is on the same continent as Iran. So those intercontinental ballistic missiles are not for us. They’re for you.

The constraints on Iran’s nuclear program are only temporary because the most important ones will be removed in a decade. And those constraints will be removed whether or not Iran changes its behavior. In ten years, Iran could be even more aggressive, an even greater sponsor of terror, an even greater threat to Israel and America, and the constraints on Iran’s nuclear program would still be removed. … In 13 or 14 years, Iran’s breakout time would be “almost down to zero.” Those are not my words. Those are the words of President Obama. And that candid statement is all you need to know about why this deal is so bad.

But it gets worse. …

Much worse.

Dermer noted that “Israelis across the political spectrum are united in their view that this deal is a disaster.” The full text of the speech is here.

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German Textbooks and Anti-Israel Liberal Elites

Pollster Frank Luntz briefly generated shock waves this week with a survey showing the abysmal view of Israel held by Democratic opinion leaders. Inter alia, 47 percent deemed Israel racist, with only 32 percent disagreeing, and a whopping 76 percent said Israel has too much influence on U.S. foreign policy. But in truth, it shouldn’t be news to anyone by now that anti-Israel sentiment, like its kissing cousin anti-Semitism, is primarily the province of the liberal elites. I’ve written before about a German study showing that educated elites, rather than the far-right fringes, are the wellspring of anti-Semitism in that country; just last month, another study found that the same is true for anti-Israel sentiment. And the reason for this goes beyond the obvious fact that anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism are related. Read More

Pollster Frank Luntz briefly generated shock waves this week with a survey showing the abysmal view of Israel held by Democratic opinion leaders. Inter alia, 47 percent deemed Israel racist, with only 32 percent disagreeing, and a whopping 76 percent said Israel has too much influence on U.S. foreign policy. But in truth, it shouldn’t be news to anyone by now that anti-Israel sentiment, like its kissing cousin anti-Semitism, is primarily the province of the liberal elites. I’ve written before about a German study showing that educated elites, rather than the far-right fringes, are the wellspring of anti-Semitism in that country; just last month, another study found that the same is true for anti-Israel sentiment. And the reason for this goes beyond the obvious fact that anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism are related.

The background to the new German study is a series of polls showing shocking levels of anti-Israel sentiment among ordinary Germans: For instance, fully 35 percent “equate Israeli policies toward the Palestinians with Nazi policies toward the Jews.” Given the vaunted “special relationship” between Germany and Israel, such findings raise obvious questions about how so many Germans developed such warped views.

So a group of German and Israeli researchers decided to analyze German textbooks to see what exactly German schools are teaching their students. They examined 1,200 history, geography and social studies textbooks from five German states, and concluded that these books portray Israel almost exclusively as a militarist, warmongering society.

Israel’s robust democracy, respect for human rights and other achievements are absent in these books. The illustrations consist of “tendentious and one-sided photographic presentations” of Israeli soldiers threatening or inflicting violence on Palestinians.

“Occupation and settlements” are depicted as the main obstacles to peace; the fact that both Israelis and Palestinians have claims to the land goes unmentioned, and Palestinian terror gets a free pass – or as the report puts it, most of the authors “find it difficult to unequivocally call Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians acts of terror.”

In short, it’s not surprising that so many Germans have such negative views of Israel, because that’s precisely what they are taught in school. True, the textbooks don’t actually compare Israel to the Nazis, but the comparison doesn’t require a big leap of logic for graduates of these schools; after all, to a German, the paradigmatic example of a militarist, warmongering society is Nazi Germany. So once you tell students that Israel, too, is a militarist, warmongering society, the Nazi analogy comes naturally.

But who writes the textbooks that give these pupils such a warped view of Israel? Hint: It’s not the neo-Nazi skinheads. It’s the liberal elites.

This brings us to the question of why liberal elites so loathe the only Mideast country that, as Julie Burchill once wrote, any of them “could bear to live under.” The answer can be found in a comment made by “a senior European diplomat” last month about a seemingly unrelated topic: the upcoming British referendum on whether to stay in the European Union.

“The nation state is a very old concept and perhaps the British have not fully recognized that it may be slightly out of date,” the diplomat declared. And that, as I’ve noted before, is the heart of the matter: In the dogma of the modern liberal elites, the nation-state is passé.

The fact that most of the world still consists of nation-states in no way challenges this dogma; after all, you can’t expect benighted regimes to have reached this level of enlightenment yet. Israel, however, is a potent challenge to the dogma: It’s a modern, Western, democratic, human-rights-respecting country that nevertheless proudly proclaims itself the nation-state of the Jewish people.

And there’s only one way for liberal elites to resolve the cognitive dissonance this causes without sacrificing their cherished dogma: by sacrificing Israel. Or, in other words, by painting as a racist, warmongering, benighted country no different from all the other unenlightened nation-states.

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Religious Pluralism is a Strategic Problem for Israel

When Israel’s current government was formed this spring after the March Knesset elections, there were a number of clear winners and losers in terms of the country’s political rivals. But one of the big losers from the reshuffling of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet was the overwhelming majority of American Jews who do not identify with Orthodox Jewry. Since then, a number of incidents have occurred in which government officials have made statements that have further alienated the many Diaspora Jews who bitterly resent the way their denominations are treated as non-Jewish religions rather than equal partners in the Jewish future. To date, Netanyahu, like his predecessors in both Likud and Labor, have tried to mollify American Jews with conciliatory statements. But after the latest such insult, it is clearly time for him to do more. Israelis on the left and the right, secular as well as religious need to come to grips with the fact that attacks on pluralism are more than an annoying public relations problem. They constitute a strategic problem for the Jewish state that needs to be addressed.

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When Israel’s current government was formed this spring after the March Knesset elections, there were a number of clear winners and losers in terms of the country’s political rivals. But one of the big losers from the reshuffling of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet was the overwhelming majority of American Jews who do not identify with Orthodox Jewry. Since then, a number of incidents have occurred in which government officials have made statements that have further alienated the many Diaspora Jews who bitterly resent the way their denominations are treated as non-Jewish religions rather than equal partners in the Jewish future. To date, Netanyahu, like his predecessors in both Likud and Labor, have tried to mollify American Jews with conciliatory statements. But after the latest such insult, it is clearly time for him to do more. Israelis on the left and the right, secular as well as religious need to come to grips with the fact that attacks on pluralism are more than an annoying public relations problem. They constitute a strategic problem for the Jewish state that needs to be addressed.

Though the Israeli political establishment, both on the right and the left, were primarily focused on the other implications of the new coalition, its formation ended a brief two-year period when the ultra-Orthodox political parties were left out of the government and attempts were made to ease the path to conversion as well as other efforts to begin to ease the country into acceptance of Jewish religious pluralism. This was a great opportunity for a country whose decisions on a variety of issues have often been held hostage by the views of the “black hat” minority. Though the collapse of the previous government had little if anything to do with the issue, the return of the two religious parties ended these experiments, returning Israel to a situation where the non-Orthodox rightly feel slighted.

As I wrote back in May, when I attempted to explain the situation in terms of Israeli political realities, the core problem is really not one in which there is a disagreement about “who is a Jew,” but rather who is a rabbi. That’s because the lack of a separation between synagogue and state means that in Israel the government pays rabbinic salaries making the right to be accorded official status is a political and economic issue rather than a purely religious one. Thus the right of the non-Orthodox streams to be recognized hinges on an ability to mobilize political support. Since they command the allegiance of few Israelis and the ultra-Orthodox constitute a powerful voting bloc in the Knesset due to the country’s proportional representation, the non-Orthodox inevitably are the losers in this tug of war.

Though a majority of Israelis are secular and most dislike the treatment they get from the rabbinate, the question of pluralism has always been secondary to a desire for civil marriage and disestablishment.

This is difficult for Americans who are unused to the lack of separation between religion and state in Israel to understand. To the extent that Israeli leaders understand how the Diaspora feels about this, they have still given it short shrift since the issue is always going to be overshadowed by the great debates over war and peace issues as well as those about economics.

While I agree with Reform and Conservative leaders who protest the lack of pluralism, I’ve also tried to counsel Jews living here to try to look at Israeli society in its own context rather than judging it by the standards of Jewish life in the United States. Until the non-Orthodox movements are able to convince more Israelis to back their appeal for equal treatment, an unsatisfactory status quo is likely to stay in place.

But in the wake of the collapse of the new effort to ease the path to conversion, as well as by the recent appalling statement of the country’s new Religious Affairs Minister that he does not consider Reform Jews to be Jewish, as well as another incident involving President Reuven Rivlin’s snub of Conservative rabbis, it’s time for a more pro-active response to the problem.

Orthodox Jews may take a dim view of their Reform or Conservative cousins because of doctrinal differences. They may also point, with justice, to the potential demographic collapse of Reform and especially Conservative Jewry in the United States that the Pew Survey highlighted in 2013. But what they and Israelis of all stripes must remember is that for all of the problems of the non-Orthodox, they still constitute approximately 90 percent of American Jewry. The Orthodox share of the American Jewish population may go up in the coming decades, but their triumphalism notwithstanding, they are going to be a minority here for a very long time to come. For the foreseeable future, the vast majority of people who call themselves Jewish in the United States are not going to be Orthodox.

In its questions about support for Israel, the Pew Survey illustrated that the decline of Jewish peoplehood and the rise of a new large unaffiliated group within the community in the United States is having a serious impact on identification with Zionism or the need to speak out in defense of Israel even at times when the media and the political left are attacking it. There is no magic bullet that will solve that problem, and there is little doubt that support for Israel is declining among the liberal Democratic constituencies that non-Orthodox Jewry support. But attacks on Reform and Conservative Judaism don’t help ameliorate the problem. To the contrary, the willingness of some Israeli leaders to speak of the bulk of American Jewry as alien outsiders deepen the already growing gulf between the two communities that need each other so badly.

American Jews need Israel because it is the spiritual center of Judaism and the place where the core principles of Jewish identity flourish. But Israel needs American Jews too, not least because of the vital political support they can furnish for a Jewish state that remains under siege. To those who say Reform and Conservative Jews must be written off because most support President Obama, I would answer that they still are the core of Jewish life here and political support for Israel. Moreover, growing numbers of secular and even religious Israelis are starting to recognize that their appeals for pluralism are justified.

Thus, the dustups between Haredi leaders and American sensibilities aren’t just meaningless spats but part of a genuine strategic threat to Israel’s security.

What can be done? American Jews can’t compel Israeli politicians to treat their needs as priorities when the electoral math points in the other direction. Yet Netanyahu must do more than merely publicly disagree when insults are hurled at the non-Orthodox. The prime minister and others in power must make it clear to the ultra-Orthodox parties that what they are doing is endangering the nation’s ability to mobilize support that props up the country’s vital alliance with the United States. That means Netanyahu must take some key issues, like the future of renovations to the Western Wall plaza in order to follow through on Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky’s plan to create a non-Orthodox section, out of the hands of the Haredim.

Genuine pluralism may not be in the cards in the immediate future. But unless Israel’s political establishment starts acting as if it cares about maintaining support from most American Jews, they will be worsening a problem that is undermining communal unity and making it harder to maintain a united front behind the defense of the Jewish state.

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The Next Time Hamas Must Be Destroyed

One year ago, Hamas terrorists launched a war against Israel that lasted 50 days. When the dust settled, both sides were forced to accept a return to the status quo that had prevailed before the fighting began. But as both sides to the conflict continue to prepare for what seems to be an inevitable next round, Israeli leaders must consider whether the change in tactics by Hamas last time requires them to adjust their own strategy. If, as Mitch Ginsburg writes in the Times of Israel, Hamas’s approach is no longer purely defensive but rather predicated on a belief that carrying the fight into Israel will bring them victory, that may lead Jerusalem to start thinking the heretofore unthinkable about a Gaza war plan that could hinge on decapitating the Hamas leadership and/or ending its rule.

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One year ago, Hamas terrorists launched a war against Israel that lasted 50 days. When the dust settled, both sides were forced to accept a return to the status quo that had prevailed before the fighting began. But as both sides to the conflict continue to prepare for what seems to be an inevitable next round, Israeli leaders must consider whether the change in tactics by Hamas last time requires them to adjust their own strategy. If, as Mitch Ginsburg writes in the Times of Israel, Hamas’s approach is no longer purely defensive but rather predicated on a belief that carrying the fight into Israel will bring them victory, that may lead Jerusalem to start thinking the heretofore unthinkable about a Gaza war plan that could hinge on decapitating the Hamas leadership and/or ending its rule.

Last year’s war was a summer-long nightmare for Israelis who spent much of it scurrying into shelters during air raids. But after thousands of Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli cities and the use of terror tunnels not much had changed other than the loss of more than 2,000 Palestinians (including several hundred civilians) dead and the fact that much of the strip was left in ruins. Hamas paid no political price for its cynical decision to go to war or its continued use of civilians as human shields. To the contrary, Israel was battered by unfair criticisms of its tactics, including some from an Obama administration that failed to listen to the statement from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that said its actions were a model for U.S. forces.

Hamas has signaled at times during the past months that it would like to extend the cease-fire with Israel that went back into effect after the shooting stopped. But a combination of factors may lead it to change course and launch another terror offensive. The increased pressure on its rule from Egypt that rightly sees it as an ally of Muslim Brotherhood terrorists that seek to overthrow the Sisi government and the revived support from Iran could lead the Hamas leadership to think that another war would further undermine support for the Fatah rivals that rule the West Bank. They also may think the hostile attitude of the Obama administration toward the Netanyahu government is a green light to action that might further divide the two allies.

If so, the Israel Defense Forces is prepared. As Ginsburg writes, the IDF is seeking to learn the lessons of the last war and is working hard to be ready to counter terror tunnels into Israel as well as what appeared to be a shift in Hamas tactics that prioritized offensive actions aimed at taking the fight into the Jewish state rather than sitting back and waiting for their foes to exhaust themselves in Gaza.

But there may be more to their calculations than new tactics designed to thwart tunnels, more special forces operations or the latest technology to knock down rockets intended to kill random civilians. Part of Israel’s deterrence is the way the Israeli population united in the face of the assault from Hamas and carried on with normal life despite weeks of rocket attacks. So, too, is the Jewish state’s willingness to keep fighting what may be a generations-long war against Islamist terror that can yield no clear outcome. But the debate about the endgame with Gaza that was resolved in favor of avoiding a counter-offensive that would have ended Hamas rule may be decided differently this time.

Given Prime Minister Netanyahu’s innate caution when it comes to the use of force as well as the high casualties that would be inevitable should Israel seek to take out Hamas that seems unlikely. But if Gaza forces Israel’s hand again, the only answer may be, as Ginsburg quotes some military analysts saying, an effort to insert IDF troops deep inside Gaza at the start of the next war rather than the long wait the preceded the limited ground offensive last year.

More to the point, the presence of ISIS in Gaza and the very real possibility that Hamas is cooperating with them against Egypt in the Sinai may create an opportunity for the two countries to cooperate in an effort to end a threat to both of them of a deadly threat. Hamas must take into consideration the chance that the next war won’t be a limited one in which it can rely on international pressure and fear of casualties to force Israel to accept its continued control of Gaza. But the only way to stop what many see as an inevitable rematch in Gaza will be to convince Hamas that the next war will be its last. That may be a course of action that the Obama administration will oppose as it seeks to revive a peace process that has no chance of succeeding after the Iran nuclear deal has been signed and ratified by Congress. But it is exactly what U.S. Middle East policy ought to be if it was being conducted in a manner that prioritized peace rather than the president’s fantasies about bringing peace to the world.

 

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Iran and the Battle for the Soul of the Democratic Party

As the Iran nuclear talks head down the home stretch, it is increasingly obvious that Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments about walking away from the negotiations if a “good agreement” isn’t obtained are not credible. A deal or, as Omri Ceren predicts, a “non-agreement agreement” is inevitable even as the deadline was extended to the end of the week. That means the focus will soon change from the standoff in Vienna to Washington where a Congressional debate on the deal that comes out of this process will soon begin. The result of a vote on the deal is by no means certain but most observers believe that although there will be majorities in both Houses that will vote against it, opponents will fall well short of the two thirds they need to override President Obama’s expected veto. Such an outcome will be made possible by the decision of a critical mass of Democrats in the Senate and especially the House to back the president’s deal even though it will not satisfy the administration’s own stated goal of preventing the Islamist regime from getting a weapon. If so, that will be explained by partisan loyalty and the hold the president still has over much of his party. But there’s no escaping an answer that is just as obvious that was highlighted in a new poll conducted by Frank Luntz that was reported today in the Times of Israel that sees Israel losing Democrats across the board.

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As the Iran nuclear talks head down the home stretch, it is increasingly obvious that Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments about walking away from the negotiations if a “good agreement” isn’t obtained are not credible. A deal or, as Omri Ceren predicts, a “non-agreement agreement” is inevitable even as the deadline was extended to the end of the week. That means the focus will soon change from the standoff in Vienna to Washington where a Congressional debate on the deal that comes out of this process will soon begin. The result of a vote on the deal is by no means certain but most observers believe that although there will be majorities in both Houses that will vote against it, opponents will fall well short of the two thirds they need to override President Obama’s expected veto. Such an outcome will be made possible by the decision of a critical mass of Democrats in the Senate and especially the House to back the president’s deal even though it will not satisfy the administration’s own stated goal of preventing the Islamist regime from getting a weapon. If so, that will be explained by partisan loyalty and the hold the president still has over much of his party. But there’s no escaping an answer that is just as obvious that was highlighted in a new poll conducted by Frank Luntz that was reported today in the Times of Israel that sees Israel losing Democrats across the board.

It should not be forgotten that the issue of the nuclear threat from Iran transcends that of support for Israel. A nuclear Iran or even one that has attained the status of a threshold nuclear power with Western approval — which the president’s deal will assure — presents a clear and present danger to the Arab world, including U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia as much as it does to Israel. The boost such an outcome would give terrorist groups allied with Iran, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen as well as the Assad regime in Syria would undermine the regional balance of power and help Tehran in its quest for regional hegemony. Moreover, Iranian nukes are also a threat to the United States and Europe, especially if Iran’s ballistic missile program is not halted; an aspect of the problem that the agreement is as unlikely to address as the regime’s state sponsorship of terror.

But there is no ignoring the fact that it will be the pull of the alliance with Israel that will determine more votes in Congress than general qualms about regional or even U.S. security. The existential threat to Israel from an Iranian weapon is obvious, a point brought home again today by the published comments of former Iranian President Rafsanjani who repeated what many others in power — including the country’s Supreme Leader — have already said: that Israel “will be erased soon.”

If Democrats are going to buck Obama, it will be because their instinctual support for Israel makes it impossible for them to vote to approve a weak nuclear deal that, as this one does, provides Iran with two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on its easily evaded rules and one by patiently waiting for it to expire in ten years.

But if, as Luntz points out, a growing number of Democrats are ready to abandon Israel, it will be that much easier for the White House to rally the president’s party behind a détente with Iran that he considers integral to his foreign policy legacy.

Luntz’s poll, which was sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, is consistent with other surveys that have showed a growing gap between Republicans and Democrats about Israel. But the highlights he provided still ought to shock pro-Israel Democrats:

* 76 percent of Democrats but only 20 percent of Republicans say Israel “has too much influence” on U.S. foreign policy.

* Asked whether Israel was a “racist country,” 47 percent of Democrats agreed, 32 percent disagreed and 21 percent either didn’t know or were neutral. By contrast, 76 percent of Republicans disagreed while only 13 percent agreed and 12 percent didn’t know or were neutral about this canard.

* When queried as to whether Israel wanted peace, only 48 percent of Democrats agreed while 31 disagreed and 21 percent didn’t know or were neutral. By contrast, 88 percent of Republicans agreed while only five percent thought it didn’t and seven percent didn’t know or were neutral.

* 88 percent of Republicans also termed themselves “pro-Israel,” a label that only 46 percent applied that label to themselves.

* Most important for those looking to handicap a vote on a deal with Iran were those questions relating to support for politicians who are perceived as friendly or hostile to Israel. Only 18 percent of Democrats said they would be more likely to vote for a politician who defended Israel’s right to self-defense while 76 percent of Republicans said they would. 32 percent of Democrats and only seven percent of Republicans said they would be less likely to back such a politician. On the other hand, 45 percent of Democrats and only 6 percent of Republicans said they would be more likely to vote for a politician who criticized Israel. 75 percent of Republicans and only 23 percent of Democrats said they would be less likely to vote for such a politician.

* For those looking for a link to anti-Semitism, while a majority of both parties saw anti-Semitism as a problem in the United States, fully 50 percent of Democrats but only 18 percent of Republicans agreed with the proposition that, “Jewish people are too hyper-sensitive and too often label legitimate criticisms of Israel as an anti-Semitic attack.”

This data confirms what has already become obvious. While clear majorities of both parties in Congress are part of a strong pro-Israel coalition, support for that consensus among rank and file Democrats is weak and growing weaker all that time. That means Democrats inclined to choose partisan loyalty to Obama over support for Israel’s survival face fewer critics within their party. Where a Republican inclined to throw Israel under the bus would face a wall of opposition from his party, Democrats may have no such fears.

Though the agreement the president will present to Congress will almost certainly fall short of the same criteria that the administration presented before the negotiations began, the soft support for Israel among Democrats will be Obama’s trump card as he twists arms and hands out favors in search of Democratic votes to sustain a veto of the Iran deal. This means the debate on Iran will not be so much one about policy as a battle for the soul of a Democratic Party that has lost its way on Israel.

Some will blame this state of affairs on the Israeli government or even Republicans for “politicizing” support for the Jewish state. But such arguments are entirely disingenuous. The fault here lies entirely with Obama and the left-wing of the Democrats who have embraced positions attacking Israel and, in the case of Iran, prioritized détente with the Islamist regime over support for America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East.

It is true, as I wrote earlier this year, that both Republicans and Democrats failed when they passed the lamentable Corker-Cardin bill that created an approval procedure for the Iran deal that turned the treaty confirmation process on its head. The president should have been forced to present the agreement as a treaty that requires two thirds of the Senate to vote yes for it to be ratified. Instead, distracted by Obama’s disingenuous designation of the deal and bullied by the president’s rhetoric, they voted for a bill that allows it to become law with only the one-third plus one of one of the two Houses of Congress to sustain a veto.

But any chance to vote on the most important foreign treaty in a generation should have caused both the Republican and Democratic caucuses to stand firm on an issue on which there has always been a clear consensus. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened despite obvious evidence that the president has decided any Iran deal, even an indefensible one, is better than none at all. If Obama succeeds in getting his Iran deal, and the odds favor it, blame Democrats for abandoning their pro-Israel principles, not Republicans or the Israelis.

 

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Israel Should Stop Courting Europe, Turn to Asia

European officials and European civil society often like to think of themselves as the pinnacle of human rights and morality. In reality, Europe has become a moral vacuum and, once again, a breeding ground for casual hate, racism, and anti-Semitism. This has become clear not only through the example of sophisticated elites like former Irish President Mary Robinson, British Labor politician Jeremy Corbyn, or Daniel Bernard, the late French ambassador to the United Kingdom, but also in the increasing European obsession with stable, democratic Israel, while countries surrounding Israel degenerate into anarchy, generate millions of refugees, promote genocide, and incite and sponsor terrorism. Read More

European officials and European civil society often like to think of themselves as the pinnacle of human rights and morality. In reality, Europe has become a moral vacuum and, once again, a breeding ground for casual hate, racism, and anti-Semitism. This has become clear not only through the example of sophisticated elites like former Irish President Mary Robinson, British Labor politician Jeremy Corbyn, or Daniel Bernard, the late French ambassador to the United Kingdom, but also in the increasing European obsession with stable, democratic Israel, while countries surrounding Israel degenerate into anarchy, generate millions of refugees, promote genocide, and incite and sponsor terrorism.

A lot can be written about why so many in Europe — or, for that matter, within the Obama administration and increasingly among other Democratic stalwarts — have become so hostile to Israel and its ability to defend itself against threats ranging from Hamas, to Hezbollah, to Islamic State and Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and the Sinai. Perhaps it was the end of conscription in many countries which widened the divide between those with military service and understanding, and those without. Perhaps it was the insulation that developed from having outside powers guarantee security so that individual states seldom had to. Perhaps it’s the legacy of European anti-Semitism, the most virulent kind, which can no longer be masked by European smug self-righteousness. And perhaps it’s the “old Europe, new Europe” divide once described by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Poles, Czechs, and Romanians remember what it is like to live under tyranny while time has diluted “Old Europe’s” understanding of reality.

Israel has long considered itself almost a European country; the European immigration that marked early Zionism shaped that character, even if geography and immigration from Turkey, Iran, India, and the Arab world also bestowed Israel with a Middle Eastern character. Indeed, Tel Aviv is much like Alexandria and Beirut once were, and like Istanbul still is, at least for the time being: a veritable mixing grounds of east and west.

For too long, however, Israel has if not ignored Asia than put it on the backburner. Sure, there was been sporadic outreach to China, but this was both half-hearted and misguided: When it comes to the Middle East, Beijing is the ultimate realist. Immediate commercial concerns means everything, broader principle mean little if anything.

India—the world’s largest democracy—was largely hostile to the Jewish state for the same reason it was hostile to the United States. Indian nationalist diplomat Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon coined the term ‘non-alignment’ in a 1953 United Nations speech, and the following year Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement. In theory, it sought a third path separate from the Cold War rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States but in practice it was marked by disproportionate hostility to the West.

Non-alignment, a fondness for socialism, and a suffocating bureaucracy hostile both to direct foreign investment and free market enterprises long restrained India’s economic potential. While India still has a way to go, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to bring India’s economy, political culture, and foreign into the 21st century. He recognizes how much India and Israel have in common. They are both democracies in a region where democracies otherwise have not thrived. And Islamist radicals target them both. In the case of both, land disputes — be they have Jerusalem and its environs in Israel’s case, or the Kashmir in India’s — are only an excuse for a far more murderous agenda.

Earlier this year, Modi announced that he would become the first Indian leader to visit Israel. Among tech-savvy Indians, the twitter hashtag #IndiaWithIsrael is trending. Nor does it seem that Modi’s looming visit will be the end-all and be-all of warming ties. As COMMENTARY readers know, the UN Human Rights Council has long been a cesspool of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bias. Consider these statistics of cumulative Council condemnations from its founding in 2006 to the present: Israel has been condemned more than 60 times, yet slave-holding Mauritania, blogger-whipping Saudi Arabia, journalist-repressing Turkey, freedom-extinguishing China, migrant worker-killing Qatar, and expansionist Russia have faced no condemnation. Condemning Israel has become a knee-jerk reaction around the world and, for decades, it has been India’s position as well. But on Friday, July 3, India shocked the Council by abstaining on its condemnation of Israeli actions in last year’s Gaza War. Now an abstention isn’t the same as a vote against, but clearly India-Israel relations are on the upswing, or could be if Israeli leaders are willing to work hard to cultivate them.

But India is not alone. The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) has long sought to cultivate ties between Israel and other Southeast Asian countries—Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, and even Malaysia. The momentum is promising, as have been the results considering the relatively small scale. If Israel made a concerted effort to cultivate these ties, they might find a much more receptive audience than in past years. Not only would this create a strategic buffer, but it might also correct the narrative that all Muslims embrace the radical, anti-peace positions put forward by more rejectionist Arab states and European and American proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. After all, Indonesia is the largest Muslim country on earth by population, and India the second largest, even though it is not even majority Muslim.

Such diplomacy need not be an either-or scenario, but just as Washington navel-gazes and forgets that the United States and the targets of our interest are not alone in the sandbox, so, too, do Europeans forget that they are not the world’s moral barometer or the doyens of the elite club with which everyone wants favor. Not only is Southeast Asia booming as many of its countries largely abandon ruinous socialist practices and authoritarianism, but many now also face the same Islamist terror threat which Israel has been confronting for decades. There is a convergence of interests; let us hope that Israeli officials stop wasting undue energy on the Sisyphean task of pleasing European officials inclined to dislike them and recognize that such efforts might lead to greater results with a new eastern push.

 

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Don’t Lose any Sleep Over United Church of Christ Divestment

As I just reported, the Mennonite and Episcopal churches voted to reject or table divestment resolutions this week. But, at its 2015 Synod, the United Church of Christ voted overwhelmingly to divest from companies said to “profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories.” The vote took place on Tuesday. On the same day, a resolution declaring Israel an apartheid state failed, but only because it needed a 2/3 majority to pass. That a narrow majority of delegates voted for even this latter resolution is astounding, not least because its preamble treats as an act of aggression  Israel’s War of Independence, in which Israel repulsed the attack of Palestinian Arabs and of five Arab armies, joined in a determination not to see the British Mandate in Palestine divided between Jews and Arabs. But then, UCC leaders are evidently prepared to be swayed by the church’s Palestine-Israel network which, as I have documented here, directs those who wish to educate themselves about the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts to a site that publishes such gems as “Why the World Should Not Be Controlled by the Zionist Jews.” One cannot escape the conclusion that the majority of the UCC delegates are either very radical or very ignorant; or perhaps one needn’t choose. Read More

As I just reported, the Mennonite and Episcopal churches voted to reject or table divestment resolutions this week. But, at its 2015 Synod, the United Church of Christ voted overwhelmingly to divest from companies said to “profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories.” The vote took place on Tuesday. On the same day, a resolution declaring Israel an apartheid state failed, but only because it needed a 2/3 majority to pass. That a narrow majority of delegates voted for even this latter resolution is astounding, not least because its preamble treats as an act of aggression  Israel’s War of Independence, in which Israel repulsed the attack of Palestinian Arabs and of five Arab armies, joined in a determination not to see the British Mandate in Palestine divided between Jews and Arabs. But then, UCC leaders are evidently prepared to be swayed by the church’s Palestine-Israel network which, as I have documented here, directs those who wish to educate themselves about the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts to a site that publishes such gems as “Why the World Should Not Be Controlled by the Zionist Jews.” One cannot escape the conclusion that the majority of the UCC delegates are either very radical or very ignorant; or perhaps one needn’t choose.

Although one cannot deny that this turn of events is a victory for the movement to boycott Israel, I doubt it is a significant one. First, as Jonathan Rynhold has explained in his recent The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Political Culture, hostility toward Israel is a great mainline Protestant tradition. Henry Van Dusen, no fringe figure he, was more provocative than but not unrepresentative of elite mainline opinion when he described Israel’s actions in the Six Day Way as “the most violent, ruthless (and successful) aggression since Hitler’s blitzkrieg across Western Europe in the summer of 1940, aiming not at victory but at annihilation.”

Second, as the reference to mainline “elite” opinion is meant to suggest, there is no reason to think that the actions of the delegates, any more than the divestment actions of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) last year, represent the opinion of mainline rank and file. An April 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of white mainline Protestants sympathized with Israel more than the Palestinians, compared to just 11 percent who sympathized more with the Palestinians. That is not much different from the U.S. average. Similarly, although the delegates at the Synod plainly think that even the Obama administration is not hostile enough to Israel, the poll finds that a plurality of white mainline Protestants (42 percent) think the Obama administration’s level of support is right. Twenty-four percent think President Obama supports the Palestinians too much and only 7 percent think he supports Israel too much. Again, this is hardly different from all Americans polled. A February 2015 poll, also conducted by Pew, found that 43 percent of white mainline Protestants held a favorable view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared to 24 percent who held an unfavorable opinion. That’s slightly better than Netanyahu fared with the U.S. adult population overall. In short, mainline leadership appears far, indeed, from mainline non-elites on Israel.

Third and finally, the UCC is small and getting smaller, presently accounting for four-tenths of one percent of the adult U.S. population. Between 2000 and 2010, the UCC lost over 300,000 members, an astronomical loss for a group that, in fall 2014, put its membership at less than a million. Of those who remain, 67% are 50 or over.

No one should be losing any sleep over this.

 

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Pro-Palestinian Activists Only Respect the U.N. When It Suits Them

The hypocrisy of the claim that flotillas to Gaza are a “humanitarian” endeavor has now been fully exposed: As Jonathan Tobin noted last week, the latest proved to be carrying a mere two cardboard boxes worth of aid. But pro-Palestinian activists are also guilty of an even more egregious form of hypocrisy: They proclaim all anti-Israel U.N. decisions to be binding international law, but openly flout U.N. decisions that happen to be in Israel’s favor. The Gaza flotillas are a perfect example. Read More

The hypocrisy of the claim that flotillas to Gaza are a “humanitarian” endeavor has now been fully exposed: As Jonathan Tobin noted last week, the latest proved to be carrying a mere two cardboard boxes worth of aid. But pro-Palestinian activists are also guilty of an even more egregious form of hypocrisy: They proclaim all anti-Israel U.N. decisions to be binding international law, but openly flout U.N. decisions that happen to be in Israel’s favor. The Gaza flotillas are a perfect example.

According to the flotilla activists, their goal was “to break the illegal blockade on Gaza.” But a blue-ribbon international commission appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2010 concluded that the blockade is in fact a “legitimate security measure” that fully complies with international law. So the same activists who lambaste Israel for noncompliance with anti-Israel U.N. resolutions – like those against the settlements, or the one ostensibly granting Palestinian refugees a “right of return” to Israel – feel it’s perfectly fine for them to ignore U.N. decisions that don’t serve their cause.

Nor is the Gaza blockade the worst example. Far more egregious is the way pro-Palestinian activists – and indeed, every country in the world except Israel – simply ignores U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, despite it being hands-down the most frequently cited resolution relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

That resolution was deliberately worded to allow Israel to retain some of the territory it captured in 1967. This isn’t mere speculation; the American and British ambassadors to the U.N. at the time, who drafted the resolution, both said explicitly that this was the purpose of its wording. And as legal expert Eugene Kontorovich noted in a terrific analysis in December, the same conclusion emerges from a comparison of 242 to 18 other U.N. resolutions demanding territorial withdrawals. He discovered that 242’s demand for a withdrawal from unspecified “territories,” rather than from “the territories” or “all the territories” or “the whole territory” or to the status quo ante, is unique. And this reinforces the conclusion that the drafters indeed intended to allow Israel to retain some of the territory rather than ceding it all.

Yet today, both America and Britain – along with the entire rest of the world – simply ignore this resolution and insist that Israel must retreat to the pre-1967 lines.

To be clear, I would have no problem with ignoring the U.N. altogether; it’s an organization dominated by dictators that no self-respecting democracy should legitimize, so a principled refusal to honor any of its decisions would be eminently understandable. I’d also have no problem with a position rooted in genuine international law, which is that U.N. decisions are binding and enforceable only when adopted by the U.N. Security Council under Chapter VII. That’s what’s actually written in the U.N. Charter, and what U.N. member states agreed to when they signed the charter, and therefore, no state ever made a legal commitment to obey any other U.N. decision.

But pro-Palestinian activists selectively treat U.N. decisions that favor their cause as “binding international law” while simply ignoring decisions that don’t favor their cause. And that position makes a travesty of the most fundamental principle of any kind of law: that it must apply equally to all parties in all cases, regardless of whether it helps or hurts a particular cause.

Thus, anyone who claims to support international law should be the first to denounce this abuse of U.N. decisions. And the fact that so many self-proclaimed advocates of international law instead lend tacit support to this travesty is precisely why no self-respecting person should accept their interpretation of anything.

 

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BDS Rejected by Episcopal and Mennonite Churches

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement has a history of claiming victories prematurely, and Jewish Voice for Peace activist Seth Morrison has supplied us with an amusing example of the phenomenon. Read More

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement has a history of claiming victories prematurely, and Jewish Voice for Peace activist Seth Morrison has supplied us with an amusing example of the phenomenon.

Morrison just penned a piece entitled “Does Church Vote Signal BDS Tipping Point?” The question mark notwithstanding, Morrison plainly thought the answer was yes.  Reflecting on last week’s gay marriage victory and this week’s pro-BDS vote by the United Church of Christ, Morrison exulted at length:

Another movement for equal rights, the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom from Israeli occupation, is currently facing significant opposition. But as with the LGBTQ movement just a few years ago, the tides seem to be shifting.

The United Church of Christ has just voted to boycott and divest from Israeli occupation, becoming the second mainline U.S. church to take action to end its complicity with Israeli human rights abuses. Last summer, the Presbyterian Church voted to divest, and two more churches, the Episcopal Church and Mennonite Church, are considering similar steps at their conventions this week.

And then he spiked the football: “Mahatma Gandhi said it best: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

That was on July 1st. On July 2d, as Legal Insurrection has reported, the Episcopal Church voted down a BDS resolution and the Mennonite Church voted to table one until the next meeting, which takes place in two years.

It was disingenuous of Morrison to claim that BDS seeks only to push Israel out of the West Bank, rather than the end of Israel as a Jewish state. And it was silly for Morrison to think that the hyper-liberal leadership of the very liberal United Church of Christ is a major trendsetter. Indeed, even if every aging and shrinking mainline denomination were to declare for BDS, it would hardly constitute a tipping point—the mainline church leaders have been among Israeli’s harsher critics for the past forty years. But one could hardly have hoped—I for one thought the Mennonite Church was sure to pass BDS–the comeuppance would arrive so swiftly.

Correction (of Morrison): I quote Seth Morrison quoting Gandhi. However, as Legal Insurrection has observed, there is no evidence that Gandhi said the words Morrison and other BDSers attribute to him

 

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