Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel

We Have to Talk About Obama’s Ignorance

In the wake of the controversy over President Obama’s offensive labeling of anti-Semitic violence as “random,” it became clear that regardless of whether he chose his words carefully, he certainly chose his audience carefully. He was not challenged by his interviewer at Vox for his undeniably false characterization of the Paris attacks. And now, having given an interview to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, he has continued exposing his own ignorance in the hope that he would continue not to be called on it by his interviewers. He was in luck yet again.

Read More

In the wake of the controversy over President Obama’s offensive labeling of anti-Semitic violence as “random,” it became clear that regardless of whether he chose his words carefully, he certainly chose his audience carefully. He was not challenged by his interviewer at Vox for his undeniably false characterization of the Paris attacks. And now, having given an interview to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, he has continued exposing his own ignorance in the hope that he would continue not to be called on it by his interviewers. He was in luck yet again.

BuzzFeed has posted the transcript of the interview, and when the subject turns to Russia, Obama said this:

You know, I don’t want to psychoanalyze Mr. Putin. I will say that he has a foot very much in the Soviet past. That’s how he came of age. He ran the KGB. Those were his formative experiences. So I think he looks at problems through this Cold War lens, and, as a consequence, I think he’s missed some opportunities for Russia to diversify its economy, to strengthen its relationship with its neighbors, to represent something different than the old Soviet-style aggression. You know, I continue to hold out the prospect of Russia taking a diplomatic offering from what they’ve done in Ukraine. I think, to their credit, they’ve been able to compartmentalize and continue to work with us on issues like Iran’s nuclear program.

As people pointed out immediately, Obama is wrong about Putin and the KGB. Ben Judah, a journalist who recently wrote a book on Putin’s Russia, responded: “The interesting and informative thing about Obama’s view on Putin is how uninsightful and uniformed it is.”

Putin ran the FSB–the successor agency to the KGB–and the difference matters. But what also matters is the emerging pattern for Obama’s view of the world: he has no idea what he’s talking about. The president, as Sam Cooke sang, don’t know much about history. And it’s evident in each major area of conflict the president seeks to solve and ends up only exacerbating.

It is not my intention to run down a list of all Obama’s flubs. Everybody makes mistakes, and any politician whose words are as scrutinized as the president’s is going to have their share of slip-ups. Yes, Obama is a clumsy public speaker; but that’s not the problem, nor is it worth spending much time on.

The problem is that Obama tends to make mistakes that stem from a worldview often at odds with reality. Russia is a good example. Does it matter that Obama doesn’t know the basics of Vladimir Putin’s biography and the transition of post-Soviet state security? Yes, it does, because Obama’s habit of misreading Putin has been at the center of his administration’s failed Russia policy. And it matters with regard not only to Russia but to his broader foreign policy because Obama has a habit of not listening to anyone not named Jarrett. Obama appointed among the most qualified American ambassadors ever to represent the U.S. abroad in sending Michael McFaul to Moscow. But with or without McFaul, Obama let his own naïveté guide him.

Obama has also run into some trouble with history in the Middle East, where history is both exceedingly important and practically weaponized. The legitimacy of the Jewish state is of particular relevance to the conflict. So Obama was criticized widely for undermining that legitimacy in his famous 2009 Cairo speech, puzzling even Israel’s strident leftists. The speech was harder to defend than either his remarks to BuzzFeed or Vox because such speeches are not off the cuff; they are carefully scrutinized by the administration. When Obama could say exactly what he meant to say, in other words, this is what he chose to say.

It wasn’t the only time Obama revealed his ignorance of the Middle East and especially Israeli history, of course. And that ignorance has had consequences. Obama has learned nothing from the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a fact which was reflected quite clearly in his disastrous mishandling of the negotiations and their bloody aftermath. He didn’t understand Palestinian intentions, Israeli political reality, or the lessons from when the U.S. has played a beneficial role in the conflict in the past. The president can simply move on, but Israelis and Palestinians have to pay the price for his learning curve.

And the Vox errors echo throughout the president’s mishandling of the other great security challenge: Islamic terrorism. Such terrorism has contributed a great deal to the undoing of many of the gains in Iraq and the international state system. Here, for example, is a map tweeted out last week by Ian Bremmer, which shows, in his words, “Statelessness overlapping with radical Islam.” We can certainly argue over the chicken-or-egg quality to such an overlap, but the threat radical Islamic violence poses to global order is fairly obvious.

Yet it’s not just the history of Islam and of anti-Semitism that the president gets wrong when trying to spin away the threat of Islamist terror. He also created a firestorm with his faux history of the Crusades in order to draw a false moral equivalence that only obscures the threat.

In other words, it’s a comprehensive historical ignorance. And on matters of great significance–the major world religions, the Middle East, Russia. And the president’s unwillingness to grasp the past certainly gives reason for concern with Iran as well–a country whose government has used the façade of negotiations to its own anti-American ends for long enough to see the pattern.

They’re not just minor gaffes or verbal blunders. They serve as a window into the mind of a president who acts as if a history of the world before yesterday could fit on a postcard. We talk a lot about the defects of the president’s ideology, but not about his ignorance. The two are related, but the latter is lately the one causing a disproportionate amount of damage.

Read Less

Include Israel at ‘Countering Violent Extremism Summit’

On February 18, President Barack Obama will host a summit on “Countering Violent Extremism.” The summit, the White House says, will build on its earlier report, “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States.” In theory, such a summit could be important—or as important as any diplomatic powwow can be. But, once again, rather than lead, President Obama appears willing to follow.

Read More

On February 18, President Barack Obama will host a summit on “Countering Violent Extremism.” The summit, the White House says, will build on its earlier report, “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States.” In theory, such a summit could be important—or as important as any diplomatic powwow can be. But, once again, rather than lead, President Obama appears willing to follow.

During the previous incarnation of Obama’s “Global Counter Terrorism Forum,” the president acquiesced to Arab and Turkish demands that he exclude Israel. Just as Mary Robinson, while serving as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, transformed her flagship “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” into a platform celebrating racism, racial discrimination, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia, so too did Obama transform a counter terrorism forum into a celebration of those states most responsible for Islamist terror.

Unless he stands firm—and overcomes his apparent personal antipathy toward the Jewish state to ensure that Israel has a seat at the table—Obama will simply be affirming the success of violent extremism and furthering it rather than countering it.

Nor should Obama’s personal feelings toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu play any role in a decision to invite or exclude. After all, if whom Obama likes becomes the litmus test, then he will simply be affirming the worst suspicions of his administration: that he not only works with those like Turkey’s increasingly off-kilter President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, repressive Cuban dictator Raúl Castro, or Nigeria’s corrupt president Goodluck Jonathan, but actually approves of them.

The ball is in Obama’s court. Alas, it seems like the Countering Violent Extremism conference will be yet one more own-goal on Obama’s scorecard.

Read Less

What Keeps Palestinian Lovers Apart? It’s Their Leaders’ War, Not Israel

Who doesn’t sympathize with the plight of two lovers separated by a heartless bureaucracy? Certainly not Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times who, with the assistance of one of the paper’s stringers in Gaza, wrote a story published yesterday in which the star-crossed romance of a Gaza woman and a Nablus man serves to highlight Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians between the Hamas-run strip and the West Bank. The situation of teacher Dalia Shurrab and social media marketer Rashed Sameer Faddah is worthy of sympathy. But as much as the story Rudoren has written casts the Israelis as the villain of the piece, the real culprits are not to be found in the Jewish state. Palestinians who would like to see more liberal travel policies should address their anger to their leaders whose war on Israel is responsible for their inconvenience. Those who would like the borders of these areas to resemble the ones that separate Canada from the United States can’t at the same time support the ongoing war to extinguish the existence of the Jewish state.

Read More

Who doesn’t sympathize with the plight of two lovers separated by a heartless bureaucracy? Certainly not Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times who, with the assistance of one of the paper’s stringers in Gaza, wrote a story published yesterday in which the star-crossed romance of a Gaza woman and a Nablus man serves to highlight Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians between the Hamas-run strip and the West Bank. The situation of teacher Dalia Shurrab and social media marketer Rashed Sameer Faddah is worthy of sympathy. But as much as the story Rudoren has written casts the Israelis as the villain of the piece, the real culprits are not to be found in the Jewish state. Palestinians who would like to see more liberal travel policies should address their anger to their leaders whose war on Israel is responsible for their inconvenience. Those who would like the borders of these areas to resemble the ones that separate Canada from the United States can’t at the same time support the ongoing war to extinguish the existence of the Jewish state.

There’s no doubt that Shurrab and Faddah appear to be innocent victims of a struggle that has nothing to do with the efforts of two individuals to find happiness. But when you are a citizen of an area ruled by a terrorist group pledged to fight a genocidal terrorist war against your neighbor, is it really fair to cry foul when the government of that country isn’t particularly interested in facilitating your travel?

Palestinians and their foreign supporters apparently think so. They believe that Israel should let Palestinians from Gaza come and go as they please and settle in the West Bank if they like. In a better and more peaceful world, that shouldn’t be a problem. Indeed, if the Palestinian Authority that runs the West Bank and/or the Hamas government in Gaza were ever prepared to make peace with Israel, it might be possible. As Rudoren points out, a commitment to facilitating free travel between the two Palestinian areas was part of the original Oslo Accords. That seems to paint the Israelis as not only hard-hearted but also treaty breakers. But the truth is a little more complicated than that.

Were Israel and the territories as peaceful as the Israelis who helped draft the Oslo Accords assumed they would be once their deal was signed then free passage might make sense. But the reality of Oslo was very different from the “New Middle East” fantasies popularized more than 20 years ago by Shimon Peres and others who championed the accords. Under PA leader and arch terrorist Yasir Arafat, both regions became hotbeds of terror and incitement. Free passage, which was a matter of course during the pre-Oslo period of Israeli rule, was impossible under those circumstances. Once Arafat turned down then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s two offers of statehood and independence in 2000 and 2001 and launched a terrorist war of attrition, it become even less likely. After Hamas seized control of Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007, even Western nations that were not sympathetic to Israel agreed that the area had to be kept in quarantine lest the terrorists exploit travel to further their bloody ends.

It is in that context that any restrictions on the ability of Palestinians to move between the West Bank and Gaza must be seen. It is true that Israeli authorities have adopted passport policies regarding the West Bank that are not liberal with respect to the ability of Palestinians to come and go as they please. But is there another country in the world locked in a mortal struggle against an adversary that would be more lenient with respect to such policies? The answer to that question is a resounding “no.”

The Palestinians and their foreign friends consider all of the West Bank and Jerusalem as sovereign Palestinian territory from which the Israeli must be evicted. But there has never been such a sovereign Arab state there and Jews have rights there as well. Even if the current Israeli government and its predecessors have signaled a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal from much of this land, that does not mean it has no right, in the absence of a peace treaty, to ensure that Palestinian travel from the Gaza terrorist enclave should be only allowed for humanitarian purposes such as visits to hospitals.

Perhaps one could argue weddings should also constitute such an exception. But does Israel really want to be put in the position of verifying that every Palestinian couple that seeks such a waiver is actually going to be married rather than part of a ruse that might be used to facilitate illegal action? Israel has enough problems dealing with the West Bank without becoming the moral equivalent of American immigration inspectors trolling for information to deny illegal immigrants green cards obtained under false pretenses.

But the bottom line of this issue is not about Israeli rules. It’s about a Palestinian people and its leadership that has consistently rejected every opportunity for peace including four times in the last 15 years. When the Palestinians are prepared to give up their dream of Israel’s extinction and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, free passage between peaceful countries won’t be an issue. Until then, Palestinian lovers stuck in the two areas should send their complaints to Fatah and Hamas and not to Israel via the New York Times.

Read Less

Obama’s Blind Spot About Anti-Semitism

There has been a great deal of justified criticism about President Obama’s unwillingness to respond to terrorist outrages with the sort of moral leadership that can rally the West to fight back. His comments at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast in which he sought to create a false moral equivalency between ISIS’s horrific burning alive of a captured Jordanian pilot and the Christian West’s past sins during the Inquisition and even the Crusades have been rightly blasted for his tone-deaf approach to terrorism. The president seems so mired in his deep ambivalence about the West’s role in world history that he is unable to play his part as leader of the free world in what is, like it or not, a life-and-death struggle against truly evil forces. It is also revealed in his administration’s refusal to call Islamist terrorism by that name. But just as troubling is his unwillingness to address one of the primary characteristics of this brand of terror: anti-Semitism. In an interview with Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, he described the terror attack on a Paris kosher market as a “random” event rather than an act of murder motivated by Jew hatred. Though it won’t get the same attention as his outrageous speech last week, it gives us just as much insight into the president’s foreign-policy mindset.

Read More

There has been a great deal of justified criticism about President Obama’s unwillingness to respond to terrorist outrages with the sort of moral leadership that can rally the West to fight back. His comments at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast in which he sought to create a false moral equivalency between ISIS’s horrific burning alive of a captured Jordanian pilot and the Christian West’s past sins during the Inquisition and even the Crusades have been rightly blasted for his tone-deaf approach to terrorism. The president seems so mired in his deep ambivalence about the West’s role in world history that he is unable to play his part as leader of the free world in what is, like it or not, a life-and-death struggle against truly evil forces. It is also revealed in his administration’s refusal to call Islamist terrorism by that name. But just as troubling is his unwillingness to address one of the primary characteristics of this brand of terror: anti-Semitism. In an interview with Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, he described the terror attack on a Paris kosher market as a “random” event rather than an act of murder motivated by Jew hatred. Though it won’t get the same attention as his outrageous speech last week, it gives us just as much insight into the president’s foreign-policy mindset.

It should be recalled that in the immediate aftermath of the shootings at the Hyper Cacher market by killers associated with those who perpetrated the Charlie Hebdo massacre days earlier, President Obama also refused to call it an act of anti-Semitism. That was, in its own way, as shocking as the president’s decision to not send any high-ranking U.S. official to the Paris unity march that took place to protest the murders or to go himself as did many other Western leaders.

But official American statements that did mention anti-Semitism and the subsequent rally boycott overtook this controversy. The kerfuffle over that initial comment was soon forgotten. But the president’s return to this topic has brought that statement back to mind.

His Vox comments are, in fact, far worse than his initial reaction which was more a matter of omission than a conscious twisting of events. Here’s what the president said in response to a question about whether the media is blowing terrorist incidents out of proportion:

It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.

Let’s first note that his characterization of the assailants again omits their Islamist loyalties and the fact that religion was the motivating factor for their crime. This is consistent with administration policy that seeks to cleanse ISIS, al-Qaeda, or other Islamists of any connection with the Muslim faith. This is absurd not just because it is wrong. It also puts Obama in the position of trying to play the pope of Islam who can decide who is or is not a real Muslim, a responsibility that no American president should try to usurp.

But it is also significant that once again the president chooses to treat a deliberate targeting of a Jewish business filled with Jewish customers as something that is random rather than an overt act of anti-Semitism. Doing so once might be excused as an oversight. The second time makes it a pattern that can’t be ignored.

This is a peculiar talking point especially since the increase of anti-Semitism in Europe with violent incidents going up every year is something that even the Obama State Department has dubbed a “rising tide” of hate.

Why does the president have such a blind spot when it comes to anti-Semitism? His critics will jump to conclusions that will tell us more about their views of Obama than about his thinking. But suffice it to say that this is a president who finds it hard to focus on the siege of Jews in Europe or of the State of Israel in the Middle East. Nor can it be entirely coincidental that a president who treats Israeli self-defense and concerns for its security as a bothersome irritant to his foreign policy or seeks to blame the Jewish state’s leaders for obstructing a peace process that was actually blown up by the Palestinians would have a blind spot about anti-Semitism.

To address the spread of violent anti-Semitism in Europe would require the administration to connect the dots between slaughters such as the ones that took place at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher and the hate spread by the Islamists of Iran with whom Obama is so keen on negotiating a new détente. To put these awful events in a context that properly labels them an outbreak of violent Muslim Jew-hatred would require the administration to rethink its policies toward Israel as well as Iran. And that is something this president has no intention of doing.

You can’t defeat an enemy that you refuse to call by his right name. That’s why ignoring Islamism and calling ISIS and the Paris killers mere “zealots” or “extremists” not only misses the point but also hampers the West’s ability to resist them. By the same token, the omission of any discussion of anti-Semitism about an event that was an unambiguous act of Jew hatred similarly undermines the effort to strike back at such atrocities. When a president calls one of the more egregious acts of anti-Semitism in recent years a mere “random” shooting, it trivializes the victims and places the U.S. on the wrong side of the moral divide. In doing so, Obama does the nation and the cause of freedom a grave disservice.

Read Less

A Strategic Retreat for Netanyahu?

Reuters is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering making changes to his planned speech to Congress to placate his critics and lower the temperature on his split with the White House over Iran sanctions. If true, it’s the right call on Netanyahu’s part. And both possibilities floated in the article are reasonable alternatives to the initial plan.

Read More

Reuters is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering making changes to his planned speech to Congress to placate his critics and lower the temperature on his split with the White House over Iran sanctions. If true, it’s the right call on Netanyahu’s part. And both possibilities floated in the article are reasonable alternatives to the initial plan.

The fact that the story leaked at all is a good indication that Bibi’s office has been searching for a way out of this impasse and wants to quiet the furor over the speech. If he’s not going to give the address to a joint session of Congress, he certainly wants the press to stop acting like he is. As Jonathan pointed out last night, Netanyahu walked into a trap–but that doesn’t mean that, out of pique or pride or stubbornness, he has to stay there. Sometimes you just get beat, and the Obama White House, which created the drama by not objecting to the invitation until after Bibi accepted it and then throwing a public fit, won this round.

No matter how well Netanyahu and Ambassador Ron Dermer know American politics, partisan gamesmanship is pretty much all Obama’s team thinks about, and this is their home turf anyway. Being right isn’t always enough in politics–a lesson Netanyahu is re-learning now. As Reuters reports:

As a result, Israeli officials are considering whether Netanyahu should speak to a closed-door session of Congress, rather than in a prime-time TV address, so as to drain some of the intensity from the event, a source said.

Another option is for the prime minister to make his speech at the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington the same week, rather than in Congress.

“The issue has been under discussion for a week,” said a source close to the prime minister’s office. “(Netanyahu) is discussing it with Likud people. Some say he should give up on the speech, others that he should go through with it.”

A story like this getting to the media usually means one of two things: either Netanyahu is the force behind the u-turn and he wants to create some momentum and political space for it, or some of those close to him want to force his hand. The answer to that question is often irrelevant; the idea that Netanyahu plans to change the speech will take on a life of its own now.

The story can also serve another purpose: to help Netanyahu save face in retreat. The Reuters story warns it may be too late for Bibi to change course, because it’ll look like he’s being pushed around:

If he withdraws now it may make him look weak with core voters. Furthermore, he needs an opportunity to play up his tough-on-Iran credentials before election, with national security an overriding issue for voters.

The louder the opposition to Netanyahu’s speech became, the more it looked like giving in would be conceding to the mob. But leaking this now changes the story. Obama’s attack dogs in the mainstream press might simmer down a bit, and they may even want to run with this to box Netanyahu in by furthering the storyline that he’s a reasonable guy and is willing to back off and defer to Obama.

In other words, the Netanyahu administration could take advantage of American reporters’ desire to please their king in the White House. It’s part of what has worked against Netanyahu from the start here. Initially, the administration spun the New York Times into writing that Obama hadn’t been consulted before Netanyahu accepted Speaker Boehner’s invitation. That was false, but the White House knew the Times would print it even if it weren’t true if it painted Israel in a negative light. Which they did.

The Times has since corrected their story, in essence conceding the fact that this whole drama was cooked up by Obama. But the key for the White House was just to give the false story a head start so it became conventional wisdom. Which is what happened. So Politico’s recent story on the controversy contains this line: “The fact that neither Boehner nor Dermer cleared the speech first with the White House…” followed by another reference to claims that “Boehner politicized the speech by inviting Netanyahu behind the White House’s back.” Politico recently hired two veteran foreign-policy hands as editors, but you can tell even publications like Politico still look over the New York Times’s shoulder to copy the Grey Lady’s notes instead of digging for the truth.

Were Bibi to back down here, he would also highlight another fact the media is missing: Obama’s latest stunt, pressuring Democrats (and his vice president) to publicly spurn the Israeli prime minister, is one more example of the wrecking ball Obama has been taking to the pro-Israel left. This is another case of Netanyahu being right not being enough; he’s got to find a way to preserve bipartisan support for Israel despite Obama’s efforts to split Congress and align Democrats against Jerusalem.

If that means retreating, so be it. Sometimes that’s what it takes. And the ball is in Bibi’s court; Obama refuses to be the bigger man here, so someone has to step up.

Read Less

Netanyahu’s Counterproductive Theatrics

How can Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be so right and yet be so self-defeating on an issue as important as Iran’s nuclear-weapons ambitions?

Read More

How can Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be so right and yet be so self-defeating on an issue as important as Iran’s nuclear-weapons ambitions?

First, he is absolutely correct that a nuclear weapons-capable Islamic Republic of Iran poses an existential threat to the State of Israel. Let’s dispense with the notion that the red line for the international community should be Iranian production of nuclear weapons rather than nuclear-weapons capability. The difference between the two are a few turns of the screws, perhaps a few days to a week at most, should all the other parts of a nuclear program remain in place, as President Obama appears to accept. And while the intelligence community might be right to say the Iranian government hasn’t decided whether or not to move from capability to arsenal, the simple fact is that the United States does not have the human intelligence capability to know when such a decision is taken until it is too late.

And let’s also dispense with the notion that a nuclear Iran is containable because the Iranian regime isn’t suicidal. The problem with such calculations is that they do not take into account both who within the Islamic Republic would have command and control over a nuclear arsenal and what might happen if the regime becomes mortally ill. What if the Iranians again take to the streets in nationwide protests as they did in 1999, 2001, and 2009 and should some within the security services join in the protests in parallel to the collapse of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime in Romania so that it is clear to the world and to the Revolutionary Guards that Ayatollah Khomeini’s vision has just a day or two to survive? The most ideological pure unit of the Revolutionary Guards, which would control Iran’s nuclear arsenal, might simply decide to launch to fulfill the Islamic Republic’s ambition before its final demise. After all, who would retaliate against a country that already had regime change?

Netanyahu is also right to be concerned about U.S. resolve. Long before Obama showed American redlines to be meaningless with regard to chemical weapons, Hillary Clinton pioneered the notion of the disappearing redline. While secretary of state, she famously suggested to America’s Arab allies that they need not worry about American abandonment should Iran gain nuclear weapons; the United States would extend them a nuclear umbrella. The Gulf sheikhdoms correctly concluded then that American promises were meaningless; after all, why should they trust the new promise when the United States had consistently sworn that it would never allow Iran to go nuclear in the first place?

So the problem is acute, and Israel has every right to fear its future. How unfortunate it was, then, that Netanyahu brought with him to his United Nations General Assembly a silly, cartoon bomb. Netanyahu’s speech was serious, and the topic even more so, but his cartoon became a distraction. Rather than listen to the speech, those undecided or ignorant of the Iranian nuclear threat learned instead that Netanyahu had brought a cartoon bomb. And the media, deferential to the Obama administration and its positions vis-à-vis Iran and Israel, seized upon the incident to debate Netanyahu’s conduct instead of Iran’s illegal covert enrichment program.

Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation to address a Joint Session of Congress next month is déjà vu all over again. There was momentum within Congress among both Republicans and Democrats to ratchet up pressure on Iran in order to have leverage for a better deal. Even if tempted to exculpate Netanyahu—Obama and his close aides seem to have manufactured the crisis—Netanyahu is at fault for walking into the trap. Now instead of advancing discussion of the Iranian threat, Netanyahu has helped enable a situation whereby the discussion once again has shifted from Iran to Netanyahu himself.

There is a way out: Netanyahu can come as planned and address AIPAC, and seek to have Speaker John Boehner postpone the address to Congress until after the Israeli elections. It might mean two trips, but it will solve the problem.

Still, that will not be enough. Netanyahu spent much of his boyhood in suburban Philadelphia. He understands American politics, as do his close aides and associates like Israel’s current ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer. Neither Netanyahu nor Dermer can plead ignorance of American politics. That Netanyahu keeps allowing himself to fall into such traps is either an individual failure or a failure of Team Netanyahu. If the fault is not all Netanyahu’s, he must recognize that loyalty to his inner circle of advisors should not trump accountability for such bad advice and decisions.

Read Less

Give Jordan Drones

Jordan has formally requested that the United States provide it Predators for its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). Alas, true to the Obama doctrine of screwing over allies at every opportunity, the United States has refused the Jordanian request.

Read More

Jordan has formally requested that the United States provide it Predators for its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). Alas, true to the Obama doctrine of screwing over allies at every opportunity, the United States has refused the Jordanian request.

This is a mistake. King Abdullah II might have seized the momentum in the current crisis after the Islamic State released a video showing it burning alive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh, but as Kasasbeh’s crash shows in the first place, flying over enemy territory is always a risky endeavor. If Jordan loses another pilot in as barbaric a manner, all bets could be off with regard to the king. After all, the shifts in momentum in the fight against the Islamic State could give any observer whiplash.

It would be ironic if the Obama administration fell back over concerns regarding Israel’s qualitative military edge, given its increasing hostility to Israel’s security needs. Regardless, the qualitative military edge balance was originally crafted at a time when the security situation in the Middle East was far different: Israel faces far greater threats than a surprise Jordanian attack.

The icing on the cake, of course, is that Iran announced earlier this week that it would begin providing its own unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to its allies, a move calculated to erode regional security whereas providing Jordan with the equipment it needs to push back the nihilistic forces of the Islamic State would do the opposite.

It’s one thing if Obama doesn’t want the United States to lead, but is far more tragic if he actively seeks to tie the hands of American allies who are willing to step up to the plate.

Read Less

Illegal Settlements Must Be Stopped

The European Union’s opposition to Israel’s West Bank settlements is well known. Preventing Jews from having homes on the biblical hills of Judea and Samaria is apparently a top foreign-policy priority for Brussels. Of course in attempting to justify their fixation with this matter the Eurocrats generally appeal to international law, making mention of its stipulations in the gravest tones. But now it turns out that the EU has been flouting international law and backing illegal West Bank settlements after all. In fact, it’s been funding and building them directly. Only these West Bank settlements aren’t for Jews, they’re for Palestinians. So apparently the rules don’t apply.

Read More

The European Union’s opposition to Israel’s West Bank settlements is well known. Preventing Jews from having homes on the biblical hills of Judea and Samaria is apparently a top foreign-policy priority for Brussels. Of course in attempting to justify their fixation with this matter the Eurocrats generally appeal to international law, making mention of its stipulations in the gravest tones. But now it turns out that the EU has been flouting international law and backing illegal West Bank settlements after all. In fact, it’s been funding and building them directly. Only these West Bank settlements aren’t for Jews, they’re for Palestinians. So apparently the rules don’t apply.

A report by the Israeli NGO Regavim has revealed that in recent years the EU has funneled millions of euros into constructing more than 400 housing units in 17 illegal settlements. Somewhat bizarrely these outposts fly the EU federal flag and are staffed by EU personnel boldly dressed in EU uniform. But unlike Israel’s West Bank settlements which have a disputed legal status, there can be no doubt that these EU settlements are in clear and open breach of international law.

The settlements in question have been built by the EU in Area C of the West Bank. Under the Oslo II agreement signed in 1995, clause 2 of article 27 gives Israel full and exclusive authority over all planning and construction within Area C of the West Bank. This is an agreement that not only the Palestinian Authority signed up to, but one that the European Union is a signatory of as well. As such, that treaty has the status of binding international law which the EU is obliged to uphold. Worse still, these illegal settlements are guarded by aggressive EU workers who have been caught threatening Israeli soldiers and onlookers with rocks.

So what does the EU have to say in its defense? Well according to Jake Wallis Simons who broke this story for the Daily Mail, Brussels spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic simply denied that any of the above is taking place. And when presented with the photographic evidence of the EU flag fluttering over the illegal hilltop outposts she refused to make any further comment. Welcome to the Orwellian world of Brussels federalism.

Unfortunately for Maja Koncijancic, her EU comrades on the ground are not so tight lipped. When Simons questioned a spokesperson for the EU in the West Bank and Gaza, this time the spokesperson not only accepted that the construction was taking place but openly justified it on political grounds as part of an effort to secure the territory for a Palestinian state. A similar response came from Oxfam—a very worthy UK charity which like several others now seems to have gone rogue on the Israeli-Palestinian issue—which has also been involved with the EU’s illegal settlement project. An Oxfam spokesperson justified the illegal construction on “humanitarian” grounds. But it turns out that by humanitarian he actually just meant that in Oxfam’s opinion not enough construction permits were being issued to Palestinians in Area C. But if that counts as reason enough to break the law in Oxfam’s eyes, then every time there’s a construction freeze on Israeli settlements, the good people of Oxfam should be helping Israeli settlers build more housing units, all on “humanitarian” grounds.

It is of course baffling that at a time when Europe is so totally cash strapped and when a war rages in its own backyard (Ukraine), Brussels is funneling millions into illegal West Bank settlements. And all the while EU officials and European governments use accusations of settlement building to lambaste Israel. But what this really exposes is that all of the EU’s highminded talk about international law is just an excuse and a means of dressing up contempt for the Jewish state in acceptable language. Its own illegal settlement project demonstrates that the EU cares nothing for international law in the West Bank.

For some time now there has been something very disconcerting about the European Union’s activities in the West Bank. Back in 2013 when a French diplomat was filmed attacking an Israeli soldier, one couldn’t help but think that with so few Jews left in their own countries, those Europeans with the urge are now having to make the arduous journey to the West Bank to get into scuffles with Jews. Indeed, Tuvia Tenenbom’s exposure of how Germany in particular is funding a vast apparatus of anti-Israel NGO activity in the West Bank makes one wonder why it seems to be so impossible for these people to just leave the Jews alone.

Europe has been accused of hypocrisy before regarding its obsession with the settlement issue. Allegations that the EU has failed to muster the same fierce opposition to Moroccan settlements in occupied Western Sahara have simply been shrugged off by Brussels. But now that it turns out the EU has its own illegal settlement project in the West Bank, the hypocrisy allegation should really be made to stick.

Read Less

The Obama-Bibi Speech Row: Enough Blame to Go Around

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s high-profile speech before Congress has already backfired even before it was delivered. It is designed to rally support in Congress for extra sanctions on Iran in case nuclear talks fall through. But instead the controversy over the speech is driving Democrats to embrace President Obama’s soft-on-Iran position out of party loyalty if nothing else. Some are even talking about boycotting the speech. In a U.S.-Israel relationship that has already been deeply troubled during the Obama administration, this is another low point.

Read More

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s high-profile speech before Congress has already backfired even before it was delivered. It is designed to rally support in Congress for extra sanctions on Iran in case nuclear talks fall through. But instead the controversy over the speech is driving Democrats to embrace President Obama’s soft-on-Iran position out of party loyalty if nothing else. Some are even talking about boycotting the speech. In a U.S.-Israel relationship that has already been deeply troubled during the Obama administration, this is another low point.

Who’s fault is that? I would ascribe blame both to Netanyahu and Obama.

Start with the prime minister: As Jonathan and others have argued, his decision to accept a speaking invitation from Speaker Boehner without consulting with the administration first was a diplomatic and political blunder. It upset the normal protocol and allowed Obama’s aides to claim that Bibi is (a) posturing for political advantage in Israel just prior to an election and (b) interfering in American domestic politics–even if British Prime Minister David Cameron just did the same thing by lobbying lawmakers, at White House request, against imposing additional sanctions now.

Bibi would have been smart to emulate the Cameron example and limit his own actions and those of his representatives to quiet conversations with senators and representatives–there is no need for a high-profile address to a joint session of Congress when the Israeli government’s views are already known. Bibi has always prided himself on an insider’s knowledge of American politics and a sure touch in getting Israel’s message out. But in this case his political judgment deserted him.

However I believe that Obama also deserves a fair amount of opprobrium for turning this into such a high-profile blowup–indeed Bibi would never have been tempted to do an end-run around the president if didn’t feel that this particular president was inveterately hostile to Israel. The proper reaction for the president, when he found out about the address, would have been to call up Bibi privately and ream him out–while at the same time instructing his aides to leak word that he was perfectly supportive of the speech. That is how allies treat one another: confine differences of opinion to private communications while making a front of unity for public consumption.

But that’s not how Obama and his crew operate. These are, after all, the same folks who last year were quoted calling Netanyahu “chickenshit.” The same folks who are never satisfied with any concession that Bibi makes–whether a freeze on settlements or an apology to Turkey for the Israeli raid on the Gaza Flotilla. The same folks who perpetually apply pressure to Bibi while letting Abu Mazen, the Palestinian president, slide by for all his actions undermining the “peace process.”

So it is no surprise that the administration has been leaking word that Israel will pay a “price” for the speech and openly campaigning for the recall of Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer who is accused of being a Republican apparatchik.

As numerous commentators have noted, it would be nice if the famously cool Obama ever showed half the level of anger against Syria, Iran, North Korea, ISIS, or Russia that he routinely displays against Israel.

So I blame Obama for escalating this crisis–and I blame Netanyahu for playing into his hands.

Israel’s close relationship with the U.S. will survive this crisis and will, I predict, become much warmer under whoever succeeds Obama. Even under Obama, the U.S. remains the most pro-Israel country in the world simply because the American people are the most pro-Israel in the world. But there is no question that damage has been done to this “special relationship” and it could turn out to be long-lasting damage if this spat drives more Democratic politicians to become as critical of the Jewish state as many grass-roots leftist activists already are.

Read Less

Turning Security Lemons into High-Tech Lemonade

Bloomberg released its annual Global Innovation Index this week, and Israel was ranked fifth worldwide. Given Israel’s reputation as the “start-up nation,” that may not seem surprising (in fact, it should, but that’s a topic for another post). Yet “start-up nation” has become such a cliché that it often obscures one of the most important–and admirable–qualities behind Israel’s tech successes: a consistent determination to turn lemons into lemonade.

Read More

Bloomberg released its annual Global Innovation Index this week, and Israel was ranked fifth worldwide. Given Israel’s reputation as the “start-up nation,” that may not seem surprising (in fact, it should, but that’s a topic for another post). Yet “start-up nation” has become such a cliché that it often obscures one of the most important–and admirable–qualities behind Israel’s tech successes: a consistent determination to turn lemons into lemonade.

This is true in many walks of Israeli life. Back in 2007, for instance, I wrote a column about the astounding fact that after losing a child in a war or terror attack, Israeli parents had repeatedly responded not with a desire for revenge, but with a desire to commemorate their child by doing something to make the world a better place. Consequently, bereaved parents in Israel have set up everything from public parks to foundations that help families care for special-needs children.

In the high-tech field, this same quality has led Israel to respond to a horrendous security environment by creating products that not only serve immediate defense needs, but have the potential to benefit humanity as a whole. And this response has played a major role in fueling its tech boom.

Take, for instance, the Iron Dome anti-missile system, which was born of the grim need to deal with nonstop rocket fire from Hamas-run Gaza. Though the system proved spectacularly successful during last summer’s war, it initially seemed to have limited application; few other countries routinely suffer rocket attacks from their neighbors.

Now, however, an Israeli-Canadian partnership is busy turning the technology behind Iron Dome into a system for smart electrical grid management. As the Jerusalem Post reported last month, “The same algorithms that help Iron Dome respond to complex inputs quickly and efficiently were applied to monitoring and controlling the electric grid,” which will both save energy and help reduce blackouts. The new technology “has the potential to change grid management in North America and beyond,” according to Henri Rothschild, president of the Canada-Israel Industrial R&D Foundation, which helped broker the joint venture.

Another example is a start-up that literally makes potable water out of thin air. Founder Arye Kohavi, whom Foreign Policy named as one of its 100 leading global thinkers last year, said he first began mulling this issue during his compulsory military service, when he discovered that supplying water to frontline troops in Lebanon or Gaza was a major logistical problem. Thus his original idea was a portable kit that soldiers could take into the field with them, enabling them to generate their own water supply with no input other than air–an idea he successfully pitched to Israel’s Defense Ministry, which enthusiastically backed the venture.

But with growing areas of the globe increasingly threatened by shortages of fresh water, Kohavi’s invention clearly has uses far beyond the military. After the Philippines suffered a severe earthquake in 2013, for instance, the Israel Defense Forces used one of his Water-Gen company’s devices on its disaster-relief mission there. Kohavi is currently working on other civilian applications for his product.

And there are numerous other examples. Just last week, for instance, Reuters ran a story about Israeli tech firms that had designed products to help disabled veterans and are now adapting them to the civilian market.

Israel isn’t the only country in the world that has been at war for decades. But few other countries have taken this obvious drawback and leveraged it into a spate of high-tech development that is benefiting people all over the globe. That determination to turn lemons into lemonade is a major source of Israel’s success–and not just in high-tech.

Read Less

On the Death (and Life) of Martin Gilbert

Early in my career in Jewish journalism, I was working on a column about the ideological considerations of interwar Zionists’ appeals to Western leaders. Winston Churchill obviously figured in this story, and so I knew immediately the best person to reach out to for input: Martin Gilbert. His response to that inquiry always stuck with me, and it’s only added to the sadness of the news today that Gilbert has passed away.

Read More

Early in my career in Jewish journalism, I was working on a column about the ideological considerations of interwar Zionists’ appeals to Western leaders. Winston Churchill obviously figured in this story, and so I knew immediately the best person to reach out to for input: Martin Gilbert. His response to that inquiry always stuck with me, and it’s only added to the sadness of the news today that Gilbert has passed away.

I emailed Gilbert my question. He responded with a warm note and emailed me a digital copy of a page of his manuscript for his book Churchill and the Jews. The book was already published (indeed it was already in paperback), so he could have referred me to the book. Had he wanted to be even more helpful, he could have given me a page number. But he sent me the page from the manuscript that he thought might be of the most help to my column in part because the page had his own notes on it. He was giving me not just the finished copy, but the thought process that led to it.

A few things struck me about the exchange. The first was that Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill’s official biographer, had essentially volunteered to do my research for me. The second was that I had never met nor spoken to Gilbert before that, so it wasn’t as though he was taking this effort for a friend. Then I realized just how generous he must be with actual friends and colleagues.

But far more important for Gilbert’s legacy was what it said about his approach to historiography. Martin Gilbert had a rare combination of intellectual ambition and personal humility. On an issue related to Winston Churchill and also to the events leading up the founding of the State of Israel–two monumental subjects of the 20th century–there was absolutely no question that Gilbert was the man to ask. That is an accomplishment in itself.

It was made more impressive by the fact that Gilbert was very good at his job. Anyone seeking to understand the 20th century simply couldn’t avoid relying to varying degrees on the path Gilbert set. For example, among just the books currently sitting on my desk next to me are Gilbert’s one-volume biography of Churchill, his history of Israel, his history of the 20th century (another anthology that was also released as a single-volume edition), and two volumes he edited: one of Churchill’s speeches and writings, and the other a historical atlas of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Gilbert wrote a history of the Holocaust, a modern history of Jerusalem, and a history of the Jews living under Islamic rule, and he was the editor of Churchill’s papers. The higher the mountain, in other words, the more eager Gilbert was to climb it.

Gilbert’s books also had defining characteristics. For one, his books eschew the Western trend of self-flagellation while still remaining fully faithful to the historical record. They don’t drown in guilt and don’t whitewash either. For another, Gilbert’s humility found its way into his books.

One example of this is in his introduction to the Churchill biography. The great man lived a well chronicled life, and anyone writing a book on Churchill faces a similar question asked of American historians seeking to write about Abe Lincoln: What could you possibly add to the historical record?

For Gilbert, this was less of a problem because he had begun his work early on, while Churchill was still alive. He had less of a need, at least at the outset, to self-consciously distinguish himself. It was those who followed the path he cleared who had to do so. But he also made it clear that he took his job to be a historian first and foremost and thus he did not pretend to know his subject better than his subject knew himself. Gilbert allowed Sir Winston’s voice to remain more prominent than his own:

The record of Churchill’s life is a particularly full one, for which a vast mass of contemporary material survives. It is therefore possible, for almost every incident in which he was involved, to present his own words and arguments, his thinking, his true intentions, and his precise actions.

It may seem downright radical in this age of revisionism and reinterpretation, but Gilbert’s history was living history, not a lecture.

He was also willing to learn from his fellow historians. In reviewing Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s The Holocaust and the Historians for COMMENTARY in 1981, Gilbert opens with self-criticism. He notes that he had recently leafed through a new British biography of Hitler and was aghast at the shabby treatment of the Holocaust within its pages. But he said and did nothing else; he moved on. “Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s new book shows me how wrong it is to remain silent,” he writes, scolding himself for shirking a historian’s duty.

In reviewing Paul Johnson’s History of the Jews for COMMENTARY six years later, Gilbert treats his fellow historian’s work as a necessary corrective to the narrow lens through which many historians, himself included, view Jewish history. He writes that “what we now call the Holocaust has scarred, and will continue to scar, the Jewish consciousness, and will do so to such an extent that many students of universal Jewish themes, myself included, have already neglected, and will go on neglecting, the wider historical and cultural spheres for this one. It is for that reason as much as any that Paul Johnson’s new book is to be welcomed.”

This humility and sense of personal responsibility permeates Gilbert’s staggeringly accomplished career, and is one of the many reasons he will be sorrowfully missed and justly celebrated.

Read Less

Imad Mughniyah and Iran’s Covert War

Osama bin Laden may have been more famous, but arguably the most influential and successful terrorist of modern times was Imad Mughniyah. A poor Shiite boy from Lebanon, he exploded onto the scene in the early 1980s as a terrorist prodigy. Working for the organization that would become Hezbollah, and cooperating closely with Iran’s Quds Force, he was held responsible for the most significant terrorist attacks of the 1980s and 1990s including the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut in 1983 (63 dead), the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 (241 dead), the torture and murder of William Buckley, the CIA’s station chief in Beirut (1984), the hijacking of TWA flight 847 and the murder of a U.S. navy diver who was on board (1985), the suicide bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 (29 dead), the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 (85 dead), and the bombing of the U.S. Air Force Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996 (19 dead).

Read More

Osama bin Laden may have been more famous, but arguably the most influential and successful terrorist of modern times was Imad Mughniyah. A poor Shiite boy from Lebanon, he exploded onto the scene in the early 1980s as a terrorist prodigy. Working for the organization that would become Hezbollah, and cooperating closely with Iran’s Quds Force, he was held responsible for the most significant terrorist attacks of the 1980s and 1990s including the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut in 1983 (63 dead), the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 (241 dead), the torture and murder of William Buckley, the CIA’s station chief in Beirut (1984), the hijacking of TWA flight 847 and the murder of a U.S. navy diver who was on board (1985), the suicide bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 (29 dead), the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 (85 dead), and the bombing of the U.S. Air Force Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996 (19 dead).

Mughniyah pioneered suicide bombing, a malignant new trend in terrorism, which has since reached industrial size proportions in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only was Mughniyah an innovator, he was a proselytizer–he reportedly taught Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda as well as Shiite militias in Iraq which targeted American troops.

Mughniyah was as evil as any man can be, and therefore it was cause for celebration when his reign of terror was cut short in 2008: He was killed by a car bomb in Damascus. His end was fitting since the car bomb was his own weapon of choice, although the attack which killed him had a precision utterly lacking in his own blunderbuss assaults (no civilians were killed around Mughniyah).

It has long been speculated that Mossad was behind Mughniyah’s execution but now the Washington Post reports that the CIA was closely involved as well. It was the CIA which actually developed, tested, and installed the bomb, hidden in the spare wheel of a car, which killed Mughniyah. And a CIA team on the ground surveilled his movements.

The only shortcoming of the operation, according to the Post, was that the CIA-Mossad team could have killed not only Mughniyah but also Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, who is another terrorist mastermind, while the two were walking together. But in an excess of legalism, the CIA declined to pull the trigger because there had been no presidential finding to kill Soleimani as there was for Mughniyah. So Soleimani has been free to plan and carry out numerous atrocities in Syria, among other countries.

Nevertheless the operation was a huge success. It delivered justice for Mughniyah’s victims and it dealt a setback to the Iranian terrorist network. That is an example of effective action that should be kept in mind today when, as Michael Doran argues in Mosaic, President Obama is carrying out a secret strategy to court Iran. Instead of trying to woo Iran, the U.S. should be trying to stop its power grab across the Middle East. It should be waging covert war on Iranian operatives just as they wage covert war on the U.S. and our allies. The Mughniyah operation is only one example of what such a counteroffensive should look like–the U.S. also had a great deal of success in Iraq in 2007-2008 in exposing and uprooting an Iranian network. It’s a shame that this containment policy has been abandoned in favor of what Doran describes as Obama’s misguided determination “to encourage and augment Iran’s potential as a successful regional power and as a friend and partner to the United States.”

Read Less

Barry Rubin’s Improbable Journey

Today, February 3, marks one year since Barry Rubin, scholar and friend, lost his bout with an aggressive cancer. He was sixty-four. The many tributes published upon his passing celebrated him as a prolific and passionate advocate for his adopted country, Israel, and as a tireless scholar who generated a steady flow of writings and an astonishing array of initiatives: a think tank, several journals, and many conferences. His highly regarded expertise made him the go-to source on the Middle East for journalists, diplomats, and some Israeli public figures.
Read More

Today, February 3, marks one year since Barry Rubin, scholar and friend, lost his bout with an aggressive cancer. He was sixty-four. The many tributes published upon his passing celebrated him as a prolific and passionate advocate for his adopted country, Israel, and as a tireless scholar who generated a steady flow of writings and an astonishing array of initiatives: a think tank, several journals, and many conferences. His highly regarded expertise made him the go-to source on the Middle East for journalists, diplomats, and some Israeli public figures.

This was Barry Rubin, the finished product. Had you told me thirty-five years ago, when I first met him, that he would become not only “one of the great intellectual defenders of Israel,” but an Israeli, I would have dismissed you. Nothing would have seemed so improbable.

Barry grew up in northwest Washington to well-to-do parents who strived to assimilate. He later recalled having “no sense of my own history, coming from a family which had tried to obliterate its own past.” Barry had no Zionist upbringing whatsoever—no youth movement, no summer camp, no family trip to Israel. “When I attended one-day-a-week religious school at Washington’s premiere Reform synagogue,” he later wrote, “we were told that Jewish history began with the discovery of the New World. Hebrew was taught without any reference to the existence of the state of Israel.” (Personal experience would inspire the mature Barry to write a book-length critique of Jewish assimilation.)

Ron Radosh has noted that as a young student, Barry was “hard left—as left as they come.” Perhaps it was his youthful reaction to privilege. Barry’s father was a successful Washington property developer; his parents, Barry later wrote laconically, “changed their Thunderbirds every year or so [in the 1960s] and at some point, a few years later, would move into Mercedes.” Radosh tells of Barry’s enthusiasm for Castro’s Cuba, which he visited in 1975. (“You’ll love Cuba!” he told Radosh. “You’ll see how Castro is building a new socialist country right in our own backyard.”) But his radicalism extended to the Middle East. He published Marxist-inflected articles in the pro-Palestinian Journal of Palestine Studies and the far-left MERIP Reports. He even turned up in Beirut in 1974, in the company of his Georgetown mentor, the Palestinian professor Hisham Sharabi, whom Barry candidly described later as “one of the teachers who most influenced me.” “It is no secret,” he wrote in a 1977 letter to COMMENTARY, “that when I was young I was a leftist and anti-Zionist.”

By the time I met Barry in 1979, this was only a few years behind him. But he had already learned “what it’s like to believe in the totalitarian Left, to be misused and disillusioned, to go through difficult internal struggles, and finally to emerge from this dark period. Many of our finest intellectuals and journalists have had similar experiences.” The newly liberated Barry Rubin was about to forge a new persona as a serious researcher.

Walter Laqueur, the historian and author, had a major influence on Barry in the late 1970s, guiding him to a deeper understanding of the perils of the totalitarian mindset and serving as his model of a contemporary historian. Laqueur had closely dissected the vile ideological excesses of 20th-century Europe, from Nazism to Stalinism. He had written widely on the Holocaust and the Cold War, and had also authored a masterly history of Zionism. Barry’s later work showed the influence of Laqueur’s research agenda, his approachable prose, and his method of scholarly entrepreneurship. “He also taught me,” wrote Barry, “that being prolific is not a sin.” In a few cases they collaborated, and one of their joint projects, Barry’s revision and expansion of Laqueur’s Israel-Arab Reader, seems on track to stay in print forever.

According to Laqueur, he tried to dissuade Barry from specializing in the Middle East. But the unsettled region excited Barry’s own restless curiosity. Had he stayed on the left, and especially had he been willing to defame Israel, he would have been assured an academic position in the United States. Many radical Jewish academics did just that, and made comfortable careers in Middle Eastern studies. But Barry had progressed, and it left him unemployable. His only interview for a teaching position “was interrupted by one professor screaming at me, ‘How could you ever possibly represent the narrative of the Palestinian people?’ To which I responded that obviously, I didn’t think I was supposed to represent it, merely teach about it…. I think the problem was my last name.” Barry later wrote this about my own indictment of Middle Eastern studies, Ivory Towers on Sand: “When I first read it, I joked to Martin that it was my life story.”

Still, when Barry moved to Israel, in the early 1990s, I was surprised. It wasn’t as though Israel beckoned to him with open arms. Ironically, in Israel, too, Barry’s prospects of finding an academic position were slim: he hadn’t come up through the Israeli system, so he didn’t have a patron. For some years, he moved around Israeli academe in adjunct or research positions, and he did a long stretch at the Begin-Sadat Center (BESA) at Bar-Ilan University. It is to the credit of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya that it ultimately offered him a proper academic appointment.

Barry became best known not for his academic titles, but for his many book titles. The number of these books that appeared under the imprint of first-tier university presses exceeded the production of just about any Israeli academic. Oxford University Press published four of his books: Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran; Secrets of State: The State Department and the Struggle over U.S. Foreign Policy; Hating America; and Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography. Harvard University Press published two: Revolution Until Victory? The Politics and History of the PLO and The Transformation of Palestinian Politics: From Revolution to State-building. Yale University Press published two: Israel: An Introduction and, most recently, Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Syracuse University Press issued The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict, and Cambridge University Press published The Tragedy of the Middle East. When Barry wrote in a more journalistic style, he placed those books with commercial presses. My personal favorite is his Istanbul Intrigues, a historical study set in the Second World War that reads like a thriller.

At a memorial event for Barry held in Washington, Judith Colp Rubin—his devoted wife and occasional co-author—said that Barry would sometimes wonder aloud whether anyone was reading his books. I’m sure he carefully monitored the sales of all his books, and it’s sad to think that they disappointed him. But as a rule, books on the Middle East don’t find large audiences, unless publication neatly coincides with a crisis to which a book is immediately relevant. The closest Barry came was his 1980 book on Iran, Paved with Good Intentions (also the only book by him that I ever reviewed), which appeared in the midst of the Iran hostage crisis. It was widely and favorably reviewed (most prominently by Daniel Pipes in the New York Times Book Review), and it remains his most-cited work (so says Google Scholar).

But Barry was usually too prescient to get the timing right: his books often appeared before they became relevant. So it was with his study of Arab liberals, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, which preceded the “Arab Spring” by five years. No book came closer to predicting the explosions that eventually rocked the region. “If a large group in the Arab world,” Barry wrote, “whether a majority or sizeable minority, will someday speak and struggle for democracy, the views then expressed could confound all the public statements made in the last half-century about what people in Arab societies think.” Another book, The Truth About Syria, preceded the country’s breakup by three years. “With its mix of competing religious and ethnic groups,” Barry wrote in that book’s short description, “[Syria] is a 72,000-square-mile time bomb waiting to go off.” Contrary to other expert expectations, it did. Barry reached a broader audience through his journalism and blogging, and especially his long-running column in the Jerusalem Post. But he saw his fifteen books as his greater legacy, and one of his last projects was to make all but the newest pair freely available on the web. For students and younger scholars looking for a model of meticulous analysis combined with passionate prose, Barry Rubin’s virtual shelf is an excellent place to start. (It is maintained by the institute he founded, and which is soon to bear his name.)

Barry regarded his Tragedy of the Middle East as the book that best encapsulated his own view of the region. For Barry, the “tragedy” wasn’t simply the massive dysfunction of the region’s politics, but the compounding denial or deflection of blame, which made change nigh impossible. He came to his conclusions not by extensive travel (he traveled little in the Middle East, with the exception of Turkey), or by exhaustive reading (although he was very well read). Barry was informed by a vast network of Middle Easterners who knew they could share their opinions with him in total confidence. “Every single point you will read in this book,” he wrote in The Tragedy of the Middle East,

has been made a multitude of a thousand times in private conversation by Arabs of every description and location throughout the Middle East. Yet this hidden mountain of truth is invisible in public and ineffective in shaping the life of the nation.

“What you see is only a small portion of what goes on behind the scenes,” he insisted. Barry relied instead on his

contacts with people all over the region, sometimes people whose lives would be in danger if it were known they were talking to me…. As an Israeli, I often find it’s much easier to talk with Turks, Iranians and Arabs because we are on the same page—especially in private—about understanding the reality of the region compared to the fantasies often held in Western academic, media and governmental circles.

For Barry, the regimes of the Middle East were so many Cubas, deceptively concealing oppression behind a facade of revolution, and seducing gullible Westerners with lies. Why could others not see the “hidden mountain of truth” that seemed so obvious to him? They subscribed to those same radical shibboleths he himself had abandoned. The worst offenders were the denizens of Middle Eastern studies. “I cannot think of a single book of value on any subject regarding the Middle East produced by these hundreds of tenured radicals,” Barry once opined. It is a harsh verdict, to be sure, but it has the ring of truth.

Over the last decade, Barry reacquainted himself with America. Much of what he saw disturbed him. During a sabbatical stretch spent in the Washington area with Judy and the children, he saw how the educational curriculum had been emptied of any pride in America’s great achievements. To Barry’s mind, Barack Obama personified this abandonment of the American ethos, and in his posthumously published jeremiad against the left, Silent Revolution: How the Left Rose to Political Power and Cultural Dominance, he staked out his position clearly.

Yet he took heart from everyday Americans, such as the Civil War reenactors whose ranks he enthusiastically joined (on the Union side). Barry would go off almost annually to live for several days in tents with these history buffs—small contractors, office and construction workers, mechanics—and there he rediscovered the spirit of America that he so admired. They must have wondered at this eccentric man, and no more so than when Israel’s then-ambassador, Michael Oren, visited Gettysburg with an entourage for the 150th anniversary of the battle, and suddenly recognized and embraced a grizzled Union soldier. It was Barry in authentic uniform and kit, attending his very last reenactment.

Barry’s personal friendship, once given, was generous and enduring, and his love for Israel was unconditional. Born and raised in a cynical city at a troubled time, he embarked on a quest for a cause worthy of his fierce loyalty, and for people who would love him for who and what he was. After much trial and error, he found his place amidst his ancestral people, his true friends, and his adoring family. “I think it is likely that I will never leave Israel again,” he wrote to me during his illness, “but then with a country we love so much that’s not so bad. I am glad to have participated with you and so many others in trying to restore and preserve our nation, the miracle that we have made and has been given to us—with all of its flaws—after so many centuries of yearning.” Barry Rubin’s own improbable journey home was one of the more amazing small miracles of which Israel is the sum.

Read Less

New Chair Can’t Salvage UN Gaza Travesty

When the United Nations Human Rights Council announced its plan to convene a commission to investigate last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas, it didn’t even bother pretending to be fair to the Jewish state. The UNHRC spends most of its time ignoring all of the most egregious violations of human rights and atrocities around the world and, instead, concentrates almost all of its energies on demonizing Israel and its efforts to defend its citizens against terrorist attacks. The commission it impaneled reflected that same bias. At its head was William Schabas, a Canadian law professor who had already denounced Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a war criminal and stated his belief that Hamas was not a terrorist group. Schabas bitterly resented the criticism that rained down on his head from those who considered the commission to be a kangaroo court. But rather than continue, he has now resigned, still insisting on his fitness to lead the effort. That is to be commended, but Israel ought not to be suckered into taking the UNHRC’s bait. Though it is possible that his successor might be a less egregious pick, Israel should stick to its decision not to cooperate with this travesty.

Read More

When the United Nations Human Rights Council announced its plan to convene a commission to investigate last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas, it didn’t even bother pretending to be fair to the Jewish state. The UNHRC spends most of its time ignoring all of the most egregious violations of human rights and atrocities around the world and, instead, concentrates almost all of its energies on demonizing Israel and its efforts to defend its citizens against terrorist attacks. The commission it impaneled reflected that same bias. At its head was William Schabas, a Canadian law professor who had already denounced Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a war criminal and stated his belief that Hamas was not a terrorist group. Schabas bitterly resented the criticism that rained down on his head from those who considered the commission to be a kangaroo court. But rather than continue, he has now resigned, still insisting on his fitness to lead the effort. That is to be commended, but Israel ought not to be suckered into taking the UNHRC’s bait. Though it is possible that his successor might be a less egregious pick, Israel should stick to its decision not to cooperate with this travesty.

Israel was criticized for deciding not to play along with the UNHRC. It was asserted that by boycotting the panel, it was losing an opportunity to make its case to the world about its side of the story. The decision would, it was asserted, leave the field open for the Palestinians to paint the war as a tale of Jewish aggression against helpless Gaza civilians and completely ignoring the fact that Hamas not only used those people as human shields but also started the war by raining missiles down on Israeli cities and using tunnels to funnel terrorists across the border to kidnap and murder Israelis.

But anyone who has followed the UNHRC knows that no matter how much effort Israel puts into its defense the result won’t change. Schabas was an outrageous choice but he was merely the figurehead at the top of a UN structure that dictates an indictment of Israel, not its principle author.

It should be recalled that the UNHRC’s investigation of the 2008 war in Gaza—the Goldstone Commission—was a travesty that was focused almost entirely on delegitimizing Israeli self-defense while largely downplaying the actual war crimes committed by the Hamas rulers of Gaza. Ultimately Judge Richard Goldstone, the South African Jew who had been appointed to chair that commission, repudiated its findings. But that recantation came too late. The damage was already done. Whereas the UNHRC thought to put a more acceptable face on its Star Chamber investigation of Israel with Goldstone, naming Schabas showed it no longer thought it worth the bother to even put up a pretense of objectivity.

That’s why Schabas’s withdrawal changes nothing about the UNHRC’s prejudice or its methods. No one who is likely to be named to this post would be objective and anyone who was would quickly discover, as Goldstone eventually did, that the UNHRC’s staff has one objective with respect to Israel and it is not fairness or the truth.

But rather than focus solely on what is, in effect, a pro forma effort that will produce a raft of slanders and distortions no matter what evidence is presented to the panel, observers should be directing their attention to the UNHRC itself. Despite efforts to reform it, this agency remains one of the worst examples of UN bias against Israel and the Jews. Rather than helping to stem the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world, the UNHRC is aiding and abetting it. Rather than wring its hands about the likelihood of an unfair attack on Israel about the Gaza war, the United States ought to be pulling out of the UNHRC and leading efforts to isolate it so as to prevent the world body from doing even more damage. But since the Obama administration is led by a president who is infatuated with the UN and often enraged by the temerity of Israel’s leaders to both defend their country and to urge others to speak out against threats to its security—such as the Iranian nuclear threat—don’t expect common sense or courage from Washington on the UNHRC.

In the meantime, decent persons both here and elsewhere should be denouncing the UNHRC’s latest attempt to smear Israel, no matter who is at its head.

Read Less

Anti-Israel Feeling in Britain Reaching Dangerous Levels

Beyond Europe, the only country the British now dislike more than Israel is North Korea. That is the finding of a new survey by the foreign policy institute Chatham House. Even Iran is viewed more favorably than Israel. These findings come amidst a fraught debate over whether or not Britain is becoming more anti-Semitic. But because much of the British establishment and even significant sections of Britain’s Jewish community refuse to view anti-Israel feeling as synonymous with anti-Semitism, people are not taking this phenomenon nearly as seriously as they might one day wish they had.

Read More

Beyond Europe, the only country the British now dislike more than Israel is North Korea. That is the finding of a new survey by the foreign policy institute Chatham House. Even Iran is viewed more favorably than Israel. These findings come amidst a fraught debate over whether or not Britain is becoming more anti-Semitic. But because much of the British establishment and even significant sections of Britain’s Jewish community refuse to view anti-Israel feeling as synonymous with anti-Semitism, people are not taking this phenomenon nearly as seriously as they might one day wish they had.

In all, 35 percent said they viewed Israel unfavorably, as opposed to 33 percent who felt negatively toward Iran (down from 45 percent in the previous survey), 21 percent for Saudi Arabia, 9 percent for Egypt, and 2 percent for Indonesia. These other figures are an indication of just how warped attitudes toward the Jewish state have become.

What relation, if any, this has with rising anti-Semitism is now a fiercely debated subject. Indeed, there are plenty who dispute the premise that anti-Semitism even is rising in Britain. Something of the confusion was recently expressed by Michael Portillo—formerly a senior Conservative party figure—who told the BBC that while he thought anti-Semitism had diminished in Britain, Jews were still being identified with the policies of Israel. And Israel, Portillo noted, is becoming increasingly unpopular, something which he also stressed he didn’t believe to be justified. But there we have the contradiction. People hating Jews because of an unjustified loathing of Israel is the new anti-Semitism.

Besides, mounting evidence shows direct anti-Semitism is indeed on the rise. By the middle of 2014, British Jews had witnessed a 400 percent increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents compared to the previous year. And then there are the opinion surveys. One carried out at the beginning of this year by the European Jewish Congress found that 15 percent of young Brits approved of the idea that Jews should be forced to carry special identification and that Jewish businesses should be marked. A similar number said they needed more evidence to be convinced the Holocaust had happened. Another survey, this one commissioned by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, found that half of British people agreed with at least one of several anti-Semitic statements put before them.

There has been some recognition of this problem by the government—which has stepped up policing in Jewish areas—as well as by the media, even while no shortage of Jewish voices loudly insist that what is plainly happening in fact isn’t. But there are also other voices who would blame the Jewish state for causing this growing hostility toward British Jews. On Holocaust Memorial Day (no less) Britain’s chief rabbi was asked three times by Sky News reporter Adam Boulton whether Israeli policy was contributing to anti-Semitism in the UK. It is lost on people like Boulton that in a previous era they would have been asking the rabbi if it was not Jewish dishonesty in business, or their disloyalty to the host nation, that was in fact contributing to anti-Semitism.

Today Britain seems to be full of people who in one breath insist they oppose anti-Semitism wholeheartedly, only to then demonize Israel mercilessly in the next. One wonders if in 1930s Germany it was possible to find people who maintained they didn’t wish to see Jews mistreated, but endorsed the Nuremburg Race Laws nonetheless. During this week’s House of Lords debate on Palestinian statehood the now infamous Baroness Jenny Tonge complained that “critics” of Israel such as herself are often labelled anti-Semitic. However, the baroness swiftly proceeded to make a number of anti-Semitic assertions in the very same speech. Not only did she claim that injustices against Palestinians “sowed the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism” so putting all of us at risk, but she also urged Jewish leaders to condemn Israel so as to spare their community from suffering the same hatred Israel now receives. And what if they don’t? What if they continue to support Israel? Is the implication then that they deserve everything they get?

The more of this discourse one listens to the more apparent it becomes that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have not only become inseparably tangled, but worse still the two are perpetuating one another. As a result, 45 percent of British Jews say they fear Jews don’t have a future in Britain. Among those who say they are considering leaving is the actress Maureen Lipmann, yet some in her own community have labelled her an alarmist. Indeed, Jewish talk show host Esther Rantzen and the Guardian writer David Conn have even suggested that British Jews are being ungrateful with all their talk of anti-Semitism and thoughts of leaving.

To be sure, Britain is not France. Not yet, at least. But to avoid that, those who care must start saying unequivocally that demonization of Israel is the most dangerous form of anti-Semitism in the world today. Furthermore, it is time to recognize that Israel advocacy in Britain and Europe has failed. The only thing left to be done is to stop apologizing for Israel defending herself and to instead put those doing the attacking under the spotlight. If exposed to the full horror of Israel’s Islamist enemies, there are still many fair-minded people in Britain who could be persuaded to see things differently.

Read Less

Is Iran Preparing for a Two-Front War Against Israel?

The outbreak of violence along Israel’s northern border appeared to have died down by the end of the week. Hezbollah claimed a victory with a cross border shelling that left two Israeli soldiers dead. For the moment that appears to be enough for them and their Iranian paymasters as they contemplate their next move in a struggle that is as much about defending the Islamist regime’s gains in Syria and its nuclear program as anything else. But for residents of northern Israel, the attack was a reminder that at any moment, their lives could be turned upside down by a decision taken in Tehran to either turn up the heat on the Jewish state or perhaps even launch a war. The same is true of those living within range of Gaza, where terrorists also rule. Though those who claim to be Israel’s friends speak of its security concerns as if they were fictions created by Prime Minister Netanyahu to justify his policies, this week’s events once more made it clear that a two-front war in which both missiles and terror tunnels will play a major role are threats that cannot be dismissed.

Read More

The outbreak of violence along Israel’s northern border appeared to have died down by the end of the week. Hezbollah claimed a victory with a cross border shelling that left two Israeli soldiers dead. For the moment that appears to be enough for them and their Iranian paymasters as they contemplate their next move in a struggle that is as much about defending the Islamist regime’s gains in Syria and its nuclear program as anything else. But for residents of northern Israel, the attack was a reminder that at any moment, their lives could be turned upside down by a decision taken in Tehran to either turn up the heat on the Jewish state or perhaps even launch a war. The same is true of those living within range of Gaza, where terrorists also rule. Though those who claim to be Israel’s friends speak of its security concerns as if they were fictions created by Prime Minister Netanyahu to justify his policies, this week’s events once more made it clear that a two-front war in which both missiles and terror tunnels will play a major role are threats that cannot be dismissed.

The aftermath of the dustup along the Lebanese border has been characterized mostly by renewed Israeli efforts to search for evidence of tunnels being dug across the border to facilitate more terror attacks. The construction equipment that has been reported in the vicinity of this week’s assault was widely assumed to be a sign that Hezbollah is preparing for more attacks perhaps this time aimed at killing and kidnapping civilians as well as soldiers.

The context was not just the usual tensions with the terror group but signs that Iran was upping the ante with Israel as it continued to refuse to budge in nuclear talks with the United States and its Western allies. Far from being separate issues, the ability of Iran to deploy its Hezbollah auxiliaries to pressure Israel must be understood as integral to its overall goal of seeking regional hegemony via the chaos in Iraq and the survival of its ally Bashar Assad in Syria.

Tensions with Hamas along Israel’s southern border should be seen in the same light.

Hamas has recently begun moving to renew its alliance with Iran after their split because they backed rival sides in the Syrian civil war. Assad’s victory was achieved with Iranian and Hezbollah help and Hamas has now conceded it made a mistake when it threw in with Saudi Arabia and Turkey to back the rebels.

But it too, has been using the respite since last summer’s war to rebuild. But the rebuilding has not been of the homes of Palestinians who were used as human shields by Hamas. Rather it has been rebuilding its military infrastructure of tunnels and shelters designed to protect its leaders, fighters and arsenal. Talk about international donors being slow to pay their pledges for the costs of rebuilding Gaza should be understood in the context of Hamas using as much of the aid as it can for its own purposes rather than to help those who languish under their despotic rule.

As for the residents of Gaza, Hamas isn’t completely neglecting them. As the Times of Israel reports, the ruling Islamist group has been operating camps for children in recent months. But the kids aren’t learning sports, fitness or arts and crafts. Some 15,000 teenagers have been undergoing terrorist training by the Izaddin al-Qassam, Hamas’s “military wing.” Many of them graduated the course yesterday.

Drills included weapons training and exercises simulating kidnapping IDF soldiers and infiltration into Israel through tunnels. Portraits of Israeli leaders were used in target practice for sniper training.

In case, the International Criminal Court is interested in investigating a real war crime as opposed to compiling charges against Israel for having the temerity to defend itself against terrorist assault, using children in this manner is an atrocity.

But the point of these two stories is that Israel must brace itself for a two-front war if Iran thinks it is in its interest to start one. That should cause President Obama to rethink his reckless pursuit of détente with Iran in which he has already sacrificed his former goal of dismantling their nuclear program. Further appeasement of Tehran will not bring peace to the region. To the contrary, Iran seems bent on expanding its reach and terrorism is the way to do it. With more daylight opening up between Washington and Jerusalem these days, the temptation for Iran to use the leverage it has acquired on Israel’s northern and southern borders may prove irresistible. If the U.S. wants to prevent such an outcome, it needs to be more realistic about the nature of its negotiating partner and more supportive of an ally that remains under siege from Islamist terrorists on two fronts.

Read Less

Steven Salaita Sues

I have written here before about the case of Steven Salaita. The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign withdrew its offer of a tenured position in American Indian Studies to Salaita, an offer that had always been contingent on the approval of the Board of Trustees. That happened in August, after a series of disgusting public statements by Salaita, including one that wished Jewish settlers dead, came to the attention of the administration and the board. Salaita has now, not surprisingly, sued, hoping to compel the university to hire him. The university has announced that it will defend itself against Salaita’s “meritless claims” and has restated its position that “Dr. Salaita lacks the judgment, temperament and thoughtfulness to serve as a member of our faculty in any capacity, but particularly to teach courses related to the Middle East.”

Read More

I have written here before about the case of Steven Salaita. The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign withdrew its offer of a tenured position in American Indian Studies to Salaita, an offer that had always been contingent on the approval of the Board of Trustees. That happened in August, after a series of disgusting public statements by Salaita, including one that wished Jewish settlers dead, came to the attention of the administration and the board. Salaita has now, not surprisingly, sued, hoping to compel the university to hire him. The university has announced that it will defend itself against Salaita’s “meritless claims” and has restated its position that “Dr. Salaita lacks the judgment, temperament and thoughtfulness to serve as a member of our faculty in any capacity, but particularly to teach courses related to the Middle East.”

It is a legitimate matter of controversy whether the University of Illinois, for which trustee approval of faculty appointments is so routine that it frequently occurs after the prospective hire has already started teaching, is liable, as a matter of contract law, for some of the losses Salaita suffered as a result of U of I’s actions. But Salaita is not just suing the University of Illinois. He is also suing unnamed donors to the University of Illinois.

It has long been a contention of Salaita’s supporters that he was undone not by his own recklessness but by wealthy (read: Jewish) donors who pressured the university to dump him. There is no question that a few people claiming to be large donors, along with many other students and alums, objected strenuously in writing to the hire of Salaita. Those few also suggested that they would stop supporting the university if it persisted in hiring Salaita. Chancellor Phyllis Wise also met with at least two donors who wanted to discuss Salaita with her. The complaint, however, offers no evidence that donor influence was decisive. Indeed, team Salaita’s smoking gun is a meeting that took place between a donor and Wise the day Wise issued a letter to Salaita informing him that she would not be sending his appointment to the board. But, as the complaint acknowledges, the board had already decided to “support a decision to terminate Salaita’s appointment” a full week before the meeting in question.

From these letters and meetings Salaita’s lawyers make out a complaint that the donors and administrators “conspired to accomplish an unlawful purpose by unlawful means.” Moreover, the complaint charges that the donors, who “had knowledge of the university’s contract with Professor Salaita and their commitment to complete his appointment,” are liable, under Illinois law, for “tortious interference with contractual and business relations.”

I am not a lawyer, but it does not take a lawyer to see that these charges are baseless. To prove the conspiracy charge, Salaita’s lawyers would have to show that the donor and administrator defendants reached an agreement and acted in concert to deprive Salaita of his rights. Though the complaint alleges precisely this, it does not even attempt to present evidence of agreement or concerted action. It is preposterous to describe the donors who complained about Salaita and the administrators and trustees who ultimately decided to part ways with him as engaged in a conspiracy. As for tortious interference, with contractual relations, the plaintiffs under Illinois law would presumably have to show, among other things, “(1) the existence of a valid and enforceable contract between the plaintiff and another; (2) the defendant’s awareness of the contractual relationship; (3) the defendant’s intentional and unjustified inducement of a breach of the contract; (4) a subsequent breach by the other caused by the defendant’s wrongful conduct.” But in this case, whether Salaita had an enforceable contract at all, in the absence of approval by the Board of Trustees, is a matter of dispute among legal experts.

Even in the case of tortious interference with business relations, on which the lawyers do not focus, the plaintiff would have to establish that the interference was independently wrongful conduct. Although Salaita’s lawyers would like to establish that threatening to stop providing charitable contributions to an organization is intimidation under the law, it hardly seems likely that they will be able to do so.

Presumably, Salaita’s lawyers want to send a message to donors; don’t demand anything of the colleges and universities to which you donate. Even someone who thinks, as I do, that colleges and universities should not allow donor pressure to influence their decisions on curricular or personnel matters, cannot but be struck by the audacity of Salaita and his radical supporters. It is as if they are saying not only to colleges and universities, where they rightly enjoy academic freedom, but also to society at large: “I loathe you and seek to destroy you. Now pay me.”

Perhaps philosophy and law professor Brian Leiter is right that the Salaita team is counting on the fact that even weaker elements of the complaint, if they survive the expected motion to dismiss, will allow discovery, requiring the university to disclose things about its interactions with donors it would rather not disclose. That prospect may induce U of I to settle with Salaita on more favorable terms than it is presently willing to offer him. May the court put a stop to it.

Read Less

America’s Anti-Israeli President

I wanted to add to Jonathan’s post on President Obama and Israel, but perhaps sharpen some points just a bit.

Read More

I wanted to add to Jonathan’s post on President Obama and Israel, but perhaps sharpen some points just a bit.

The Obama administration is unusually petty and sophomoric. The attacks leveled against Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, are part of a troubling pattern in which officials in the Israeli government–including and especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–are vilified.

No world leader has been treated by President Obama and his administration with the contempt they have shown Prime Minister Netanyahu–from this snub in 2010 to being called a “coward” and “chickens*** prime minister” by senior administration officials.

But the problem goes much deeper than a personality clash. President Obama is, quite simply, anti-Israel. In every conceivable situation and circumstance, the president and his aides give the benefit of the doubt not to Israel but to its enemies. This despite the fact that Israel is among America’s longest and best allies, democratic, lawful, takes exquisite steps to prevent civilian deaths in nations committed to destroying it, and has made extraordinary sacrifices for peace. No matter; the pressure that’s applied is always applied most against Israel–even when, as in last year’s conflict with Hamas, Israel was the victim of lethal attacks.

This is morally shameful. In a world filled with despotic leaders and sadistic and ruthless regimes–North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, and on and on–which nation alone does Mr. Obama become “enraged” at? Which is the object of his disdain? Which provokes his white-hot anger?

Answer: Israel. Has it struck you, as it has struck me, that with every other nation, including the most repressive and anti-American on earth, Mr. Obama is careful never to give offense, to always extend the olive branch, and to treat their leaders with unusual deference and respect? Except for the Jewish State of Israel. It always seems to be in the Obama crosshair.

Because this attitude is so detached from objective circumstances and the actions of Israel and the actions of the adversaries of Israel, something else–and something rather disquieting–is going on here. Mr. Obama wouldn’t be the first world leader to have an irrational animus against Israel. He’s not even the first American president to have an irrational animus against Israel. (See: Jimmy Carter.) But it is fair to say, I think, that no American president has been this consistently hostile to Israel while in office or shown such palpable anger and scorn for it and for Israel’s leader.

Perhaps given President Obama’s history–including his intimate, 20-year relationship with the anti-Semitic minister Jeremiah Wright–this shouldn’t come as a surprise. But that doesn’t make it any less disturbing.

Read Less

Outsourcing Israel’s Security to Peacekeepers

Following yesterday’s attack by Hezbollah on an Israeli military convoy, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed, there have been growing concerns of a major escalation along the Lebanese border. During the exchange of fire between the IDF and Hezbollah that followed the attack, a United Nations peacekeeper was also killed. As fears grew that the attack by Hezbollah might signal the beginning of a major new conflagration to Israel’s north, the death of the peacekeeper was a reminder that in such circumstances the UN forces would be completely impotent in preventing such an escalation. Worse still, the UN in Lebanon will have contributed to the severity of any hostilities by allowing Hezbollah to have proliferated under its watch. This too should be a reminder of the ineffective nature of any international forces deployed on Israel’s borders.

Read More

Following yesterday’s attack by Hezbollah on an Israeli military convoy, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed, there have been growing concerns of a major escalation along the Lebanese border. During the exchange of fire between the IDF and Hezbollah that followed the attack, a United Nations peacekeeper was also killed. As fears grew that the attack by Hezbollah might signal the beginning of a major new conflagration to Israel’s north, the death of the peacekeeper was a reminder that in such circumstances the UN forces would be completely impotent in preventing such an escalation. Worse still, the UN in Lebanon will have contributed to the severity of any hostilities by allowing Hezbollah to have proliferated under its watch. This too should be a reminder of the ineffective nature of any international forces deployed on Israel’s borders.

UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which was created during Israel’s first Lebanon war, was subsequently emboldened with a reinforced mandate following the second Lebanon war in 2006. As well as maintaining the peace in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL was also tasked with assisting the Lebanese army in consolidating Lebanese government sovereignty throughout that part of the country. This presumably should necessitate the rolling back of the mini-state that Hezbollah terrorists have created for themselves in Lebanon’s south. Yet not only has UNIFIL utterly failed in that regard, but there are also serious questions about whether or not UNIFIL has in fact been complicit in assisting Hezbollah in various ways. Most egregious of all was UNIFIL’s conduct during the second Lebanon war itself, when UNIFIL publicly broadcast the movements of the IDF, knowingly exposing Israel’s troops to attack by Hezbollah fighters.

Ever since 2006 Hezbollah has been remilitarising well beyond the levels it had reached prior to the second Lebanon war, and it has been doing it directly under UNIFIL’s noses. UNIFIL therefore has not only failed to assist with reasserting the authority of the Lebanese state in the south of the country; it has allowed for the unfolding of a situation that will almost inevitably undermine a key aspect of UNIFIL’s mandate: to ensure peace and security in that territory.

Even before war broke out in Syria, Hezbollah had–with the assistance of Iran–been drastically increasing its stockpiles of weapons, the range and force of its missile capabilities, and the numbers of trained fighters within its ranks. Then, when Hezbollah was brought into Syria to help Assad retain power, a new channel for the flow of weapons opened as Hezbollah was able to move some of Assad’s weaponry into Lebanon itself. Indeed, from the outset of UNIFIL’s renewed mandate in 2006, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had always made clear that the force wouldn’t intervene to stop the flow of weapons from Syria unless specifically instructed to do so by the Lebanese government.

Just as UNIFIL would be completely incapable of preventing the outbreak of another war in Lebanon, so too have the UN personnel utterly failed in the Golan. This of course is in part because the international forces in that case primarily have an observational role. As such the strikes into the Israeli part of the Golan by Syrian rebels, and the Israeli retaliatory strikes, went on completely unimpeded by the UN troops there. However, the UN observer forces were at least supposed to keep the peace and prevent infiltration of the buffer zone that they control. Not only did they fail in this when the Syrian army began to engage rebels in the buffer zone, but in March 2013 21 Filipino peacekeepers managed to get themselves abducted by Syrian rebels. When the same happened to 45 Fijians in August of last year the UN’s forcers pulled back to the safety of the Israeli side and now carry out their work from Israeli lookout posts.

Given this abysmal record it is hard to believe that there are still those who would readily outsource Israel’s security to still more international peace keeping forces. Following this summer’s war in Gaza there had been talk of creating an EU force to police the Philadelphi corridor through which the majority of weapons are smuggled into Gaza from the Sinai. Still more alarming had been the proposal made during Kerry’s last round of peace talks that advocated for the IDF in the Jordan Valley being replaced with a foreign fighting force that would supposedly prevent a Palestinian state in the West Bank from becoming yet another terror hub.

From May 1967, when the UN willingly withdrew its peacekeepers from the Sinai so that General Nasser could remilitarize the territory in preparation for a war of annihilation against the young Jewish state, Israelis have always known that they need to be able to defend themselves by themselves. Quite apart from the fact that the UN appears to have a total disregard for the safety of Israelis–as seen with both UNIFIL and UNRWA–it will always be the case that international forces acting on behalf of international organizations, as opposed to national self-interest, will be woefully ineffective. A catalog of recent genocides are a sorry testament to the way UN forces are much better at observing and monitoring atrocities than they are at preventing them.

On the whole, most countries are simply not inclined to put their own troops at risk for the sake of other people’s peace and security. Israel knows this and should resist any pressure to outsource its security to coldly disinterested international forces in the future.

Read Less

U.S. Must Connect the Dots Between Iran Talks and Hezbollah Violence

The instinct in Washington is to dismiss the latest flare-up in violence along Israel’s northern border as just another incident in a long-running cycle of violence involving Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces. The State Department will condemn the attack on Israel but it will call for restraint and calm. Their expectation, echoed in much of the media, is that once the smoke clears, the combatants will return to an armed and hostile truce enabling diplomats to concentrate on more important things like the administration’s pursuit of détente with Iran. But whether or not the shooting continues in the coming days, this incident, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed by terrorists firing over an international border, must be understood as intrinsically connected to the broader issue of U.S. relations with Iran and its nuclear program. The fighting is a wake-up call to the West alerting it to the fact that Tehran’s real purpose is not, as President Obama hopes, “to get right with the world,” but to dominate the region and threaten Israel and moderate Arab nations.

Read More

The instinct in Washington is to dismiss the latest flare-up in violence along Israel’s northern border as just another incident in a long-running cycle of violence involving Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces. The State Department will condemn the attack on Israel but it will call for restraint and calm. Their expectation, echoed in much of the media, is that once the smoke clears, the combatants will return to an armed and hostile truce enabling diplomats to concentrate on more important things like the administration’s pursuit of détente with Iran. But whether or not the shooting continues in the coming days, this incident, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed by terrorists firing over an international border, must be understood as intrinsically connected to the broader issue of U.S. relations with Iran and its nuclear program. The fighting is a wake-up call to the West alerting it to the fact that Tehran’s real purpose is not, as President Obama hopes, “to get right with the world,” but to dominate the region and threaten Israel and moderate Arab nations.

The border violence is generally being reported as part of a tit-for-tat exchange between Hezbollah and Israel. Today’s incident, in which anti-tank shells were fired at Israeli vehicles travelling on a civilian road from three miles away inside Lebanon, is seen by many as retaliation for Israel’s strike at a Hezbollah missile base inside Syria last week in which, among others, an Iranian general was killed. Iran has warned Israel that it would retaliate and it is thought that today is proof that they meant what they said.

But there is more to this than the need for Hezbollah to do the bidding of its Iranian paymasters or even for it to gain revenge for the death of the terrorists slain with Tehran’s ballistic missile expert, one of whom was the son of a slain commander of the group. The point of setting up that base in Syria, near the Golan Heights, was to create a launching pad to hit the Jewish state without bringing down the wrath of the Israel Defense Forces on Lebanon, as was the case during the 2006 war that was set off by similar cross-border raids. But the reason why Hezbollah and Iran were so interested in strengthening their ability to rain down destruction on Israeli civilian targets is that Tehran sees itself as being locked in a permanent war with Israel as well as with Arab states in the region.

This is more than obvious to anyone who pays the slightest attention to Iranian policy as well as its use of terrorists to advance its policy goals. Hezbollah is an arm of Iranian foreign policy as proved by its use as shock troops in the effort to preserve the rule of Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad in Syria.

This exposes the fallacy that lies at the heart of the current U.S. approach to Iran. President Obama is convinced that sooner or later he will be able to persuade the Islamist regime to accept a weak nuclear deal that will enable him to withdraw sanctions on the regime and start working toward an amicable relationship. The idea of such an entente is ludicrous since the ideology of the Iranian regime is implacably hostile to the United States. Moreover, their goal is not integration into the region but rather domination of it, something that will be facilitated once it becomes clear it is a threshold nuclear state (even if no bomb is actually constructed) as well as by its use of its Hezbollah auxiliaries and a renewed alliance with Hamas.

Seen from that perspective, the administration’s zeal for a deal with Iran is not merely misguided because Iran has no intention of abiding by any agreement and that it will use the nuclear infrastructure that the West seems poised to allow it to keep to continue a pursuit of a weapon. Rather, what makes it truly disastrous is that an embrace of Iran will encourage its adventurism in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, as well as along Israel’s northern and southern borders. An Iran that is permitted to become a nuclear threshold state will not only be vastly more powerful than it is today but in a position to directly threaten Israeli security and that of Jordan and perhaps even Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The fighting along Israel’s northern border is just a tease of what may come once Hezbollah is protected by an Iran that believes the U.S. has granted it impunity to pursue its aggressive agenda.

Instead of dismissing the border fighting, the White House should be realizing that it is headed down a perilous path in its pursuit of friendship with Iran. If it doesn’t turn back soon, today’s violence may be just a foreshadowing of the atrocities that will follow.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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