Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel

Gaza Flotilla Activists Brought Hate, Not Aid

We all knew that the latest Gaza flotilla that attempted to land on the coast was a publicity stunt rather than an actual effort to bring assistance to the Palestinians. After all, international organizations can ship genuine humanitarian aid into Gaza via the Israeli land route. But instead they chose to try and run the naval blockade put in place to ensure that shiploads of non-humanitarian supplies like Iranian-supplied weapons don’t reach the terrorist Hamas government. But it turns out that all these so-called human rights advocates were bringing to Gaza was moral support for the right of the Islamist regime there to oppress Palestinians and wage war on Israel. After the Swedish-registered ship Marianne was detained and brought to Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon dismissed the effort by revealing that the Navy discovered “there was no aid on the board” after examining the vessel. When queried about this by the Washington Post, members of the so-called Freedom Flotilla Coalition claimed Yaalon was wrong and sent a photograph to prove it. What did they bring? Two cardboard boxes.

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We all knew that the latest Gaza flotilla that attempted to land on the coast was a publicity stunt rather than an actual effort to bring assistance to the Palestinians. After all, international organizations can ship genuine humanitarian aid into Gaza via the Israeli land route. But instead they chose to try and run the naval blockade put in place to ensure that shiploads of non-humanitarian supplies like Iranian-supplied weapons don’t reach the terrorist Hamas government. But it turns out that all these so-called human rights advocates were bringing to Gaza was moral support for the right of the Islamist regime there to oppress Palestinians and wage war on Israel. After the Swedish-registered ship Marianne was detained and brought to Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon dismissed the effort by revealing that the Navy discovered “there was no aid on the board” after examining the vessel. When queried about this by the Washington Post, members of the so-called Freedom Flotilla Coalition claimed Yaalon was wrong and sent a photograph to prove it. What did they bring? Two cardboard boxes.

According to one member of the group, the two boxes contained a solar panel and a nebulizer. I’m sure Gazans appreciate the gesture and, it’s likely that, as they’ve done before, the Israelis will ensure that any genuine aid packages will reach Gaza. After all, even on days when Hamas is shooting rockets at Israeli cities, convoys of up to 500 trucks pass through the border bringing food and medicine to the Palestinians. Israel also supplies the water and electricity that Palestinians in Gaza use.

That’s why talk of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a lie. There is no shortage of supplies needed to keep Palestinians in Gaza alive. What Hamas wants, and what these faux human rights activists want to give it, is a shot in the arm for a propaganda war against Israel that will reinforce the legitimacy of the Islamist regime that brutally oppresses its own people and uses them as human shields in order to conduct terrorist operations.

But it is no more of a lie than the claim that the point of this flotilla was humanitarian aid. That’s not just because the activists didn’t actually bring much, if any, aid material with them. It’s because the whole point of the exercise is to claim that efforts of both Israel and Egypt to isolate the Hamas terrorists that run Gaza are illegitimate.

The talk of bringing help to the Palestinians in Gaza is a sham that extends beyond the two cardboard boxes on the so-called aid ship. The Palestinians already have an entire United Nations refugee agency — UNRWA — devoted to them while the uncounted millions of other refugees around the world must make do with sharing one to tend to their needs. UNRWA operates in Gaza with Israeli cooperation, despite the fact that it is a highly political group that is not only dedicated to preventing refugee resettlement — the normal task of a refugee aid group — but also allows Hamas to use their facilities and schools for storing armaments.

What Gaza needs is not a ship with or without superfluous aid material but a government that isn’t a terrorist organization. It needs foreign friends who genuinely care about the plight of Palestinians caught in the grip of such Islamist tyrants. But instead it gets people whose main purpose is providing moral encouragement and public relations stunts aimed at undermining Israel’s legitimacy and supporting Hamas’ war on the existence of the Jewish state.

The paltry two boxes of assistance on the Marianne don’t amount to much for the poor of Gaza. Yet there is a reason why flotillas go to Gaza rather than Syria, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week, where hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions have been made refugees. The flotilla activists don’t bother bring real aid to Gaza because the point of the flotilla wasn’t to promote “freedom” for the strip since their effort is aimed at bolstering Hamas and shaming the world into recognizing it. No, the “freedom” they are after is one that would allow Hamas to freely import weapons and construction materials that could be used to build fortifications and terror tunnels into Israel, such as the one that Hamas boasted about reconstructing this week.

You don’t need to bring actual aid if your goal is waging war on the existence of the sole Jewish state in the world. For that, you only need to be immersed in the anti-Semitic zeitgeist of a movement that thinks helping Hamas is a humanitarian gesture.

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Why the New “NIAC Action” Iran Lobby Will Fail

If there’s one rule-of-thumb in Washington, it’s that you know your foreign policy legacy isn’t great when even Jimmy Carter criticizes it as weak and ineffective. That’s like “Seinfeld” character George Costanza bragging that he could beat an NBA star in one-on-one hoops, with everyone in the media just nodding in agreement. Democrats may still go through the motions of defending the president’s strategy or lack thereof, but when all is said and done, even they acknowledge Barack Obama’s foreign policy will be an outlier. Whether a Democrat on Republican comes next, there will likely never again in our lifetimes be a president as cavalier toward American security or disdainful of America’s place in the world as Obama has been.

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If there’s one rule-of-thumb in Washington, it’s that you know your foreign policy legacy isn’t great when even Jimmy Carter criticizes it as weak and ineffective. That’s like “Seinfeld” character George Costanza bragging that he could beat an NBA star in one-on-one hoops, with everyone in the media just nodding in agreement. Democrats may still go through the motions of defending the president’s strategy or lack thereof, but when all is said and done, even they acknowledge Barack Obama’s foreign policy will be an outlier. Whether a Democrat on Republican comes next, there will likely never again in our lifetimes be a president as cavalier toward American security or disdainful of America’s place in the world as Obama has been.

To believe that time spent cultivating the Obama White House will translate into lasting influence, therefore, is risible. But that’s exactly what the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has done. The reality is that its access to the White House will end precipitously once the Obama administration ends, and its interaction with the State Department will peter out as diplomats increasingly recognize it for what it is: Through both rhetoric and action, NIAC has long acted as the Islamic Republic of Iran’s de facto lobby in Washington. Now, however, it plans to make it official. According to Politico:

NIAC Action aims to direct money from the Iranian-American community, which is relatively well-off compared to other immigrant groups, toward more concerted political activism. “We’ve got all this money on the table, all this political influence that’s not being utilized,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC Action’s executive director. “Now we can actually start playing the full political game…” Abdi and others make no secret of their desire to shift the political landscape in Washington away from groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has criticized the talks with Iran, and toward movements more inclined to pursue diplomacy with the longtime U.S. nemesis.

Trita Parsi, NIAC’s leader for life, and Abdi make several crucial mistakes, though, that will undercut the success of the Iran lobby they seek to launch:

  • For what exactly is NIAC to lobby? Israel is a democracy that has exported medical devices across the globe; Iran is a theocratic dictatorship that has exported explosively formed projectiles. Israel accepts gays; the Iranian government claim they simply don’t exist in Iran (and it executes them when it finds them). The Iranian regime regularly spews the vilest rhetoric and publicly executes dozens per month. The realist argument that through size and resources the Islamic Republic can be a partner also falls flat. David Verbeteen, at the time a doctoral candidate at King’s College, University of London, penned an important analysis in 2009 about why President Eisenhower and the State Department’s plan to shift the United States away from partnership with Israel and into the Arab camp failed. In short, the White House and even the State Department quickly realized that Israel simply made a better ally than most if not all Arab states. Business may be one thing, but should the United States really align its policy with the chief state sponsor of terrorism, one that holds Americans hostage and represses religious minorities? Pride in Iranian heritage should never mean apologia for the Iranian regime. Iranian Americans understand that, and most everyone in the national security community does as well.
  • NIAC is not bipartisan; it is hyper-partisan. NIAC has aligned itself consistently with groups like CodePink, Daily Kos, the Institute for Policy Studies, and WarisaCrime.org, and political radicals like Stephen Walt and Juan Cole. Parsi has antagonized a broad range of mainstream policymakers of both parties with partisan cheap shots and polemic, anti-Semitic aspersions, and policy prescriptions far outside the mainstream. His twitter feed is a repository for snark, conspiracy, and personal aspersion. He and NIAC spin conspiracy theories about inevitable plans for war against Iran simply to fundraise. AIPAC, conversely, has always cultivated broad, bipartisan appeal and is probably the most effective lobbyist not only for a strong U.S.-Israel partnership, but also for moderate Arab states like Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and the Gulf Cooperation Council emirates. Just the fact that NIAC casts itself as the anti-AIPAC suggests what a confrontational frame-of-reference the NIAC lobby espouses. Forget AIPAC. What about the Islamic Republic does NIAC really want to promote?
  • NIAC does not represent the broader Iranian-American community. The Iranian American community is diverse. As Ayatollah Khomeini led his Islamic Revolution, he ruthlessly purged political opponents and made life unbearable for religious minorities; many fled to Europe and the United States. Among the hundreds of thousands of Americans of Iranian descent are Baha’is, Christians, and Jews. NIAC’s fealty to the theocracy which oppressed them is unattractive to many, which is why NIAC remains relatively small compared to other Iranian-American organizations like the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) which already do what NIAC claims it wants to. The mistake NIAC makes is that it conflates pride in Iran and Iranian heritage with the Islamic Republic. Most Iranian Americans, however, recognize that the Islamic Republic is an anomaly and is not representative of the Iran most Iranians seek. And just as the Islamic Republic seeks to limit political discourse, so too does NIAC which remains incredibly hostile to monarchists and constitutional republicans on one hand, and the Mujahedin al-Khalq (MKO) on the other. Personally, I’m antagonistic to the MKO as well, but an organization that represents Iranian-Americans must take a big tent approach rather than allow Tehran to define political legitimacy.
  • Iranian-Americans should be Afraid to Donate to NIAC. Many Iranian-Americans, even those that agree with Parsi’s politics, recognize how careless NIAC can be. After launching a frivolous lawsuit to silence an Iranian-American journalist far from the mainstream, Parsi allowed reams of correspondence to be exposed to the press. Rather than acknowledge error, Parsi and NIAC have doubled down raising the possibility that they will treat confidential information frivolously in the future. Poor judgment can betray anonymity and betray donors. Also, while NIAC promises its donors anonymity, they should be aware that the government and journalists both will be putting NIAC fundraising under the microscope because of the suspicion, already voiced by many in the Iranian American community, that anonymous donations could provide a mechanism for other Iranian proxies or the Iranian government themselves to support NIAC. The FBI raid on the Alavi Foundation and subsequent convictions and confiscations provide a warning to those tempted to hide behind financial opacity.

Congratulations to NIAC for finally recognizing that, with the Obama administration ending, it could no longer risk violating lobbying rules. When it comes to foreign policy, however, democracy trumps theocracy every single time. Political tolerance will always trump polemic. And community representation can’t be fudged with empty platitudes. Nor can sleight-of-hand substitute for financial transparency.

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The Steep Costs of an Iran Nuclear Deal

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear talks with Iran: Read More

The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear talks with Iran:

Good morning from Vienna, where Zarif is back and talks have resumed. He either has the Supreme Leader’s permission to sign a deal or he doesn’t, and there’s not much left in between. The Americans have publicly collapsed on most of what was left vague at Lausanne — immediate cash windfalls, a robust inspection regime including military sites, full Iranian disclosure of its nuclear program — and are willing to shred the sanctions regime by redefining non-nuclear sanctions as nuclear so they can be lifted. The rest should be just details.

That said, morning meetings just began a couple hours ago, so news won’t begin to trickle out for a while.
In the meantime, this scoop-filled WSJ story is the 2nd huge article from the last few days outlining how the Obama administration very, very quietly sought to secure rapprochement with Iran. A few days ago, the AP assessed that cozy U.S.-Iran talks have become the “new normal” despite White House assurances that it distrusts the Iranians. Now this WSJ story reveals that the administration began making concessions to Tehran — aimed at achieving exactly that result — from day one. The President’s outreach included releasing Iranian arms dealers and blacklisting organizations that the Iranians considered hostile:

Iran secretly passed to the White House beginning in late 2009 the names of prisoners it wanted released from U.S. custody, part of a wish list to test President Barack Obama’s commitment to improving ties and a move that set off years of clandestine dispatches that helped open the door to nuclear negotiations. The secret messages… included a request to blacklist opposition groups hostile to Iran and increase U.S. visas for Iranian students, according to officials familiar with the matter. The U.S. eventually acceded to some of the requests… With a deal in sight, some worry the U.S. will give up too much without getting significant concessions in return. The Obama administration initially called for an end to Tehran’s nuclear fuel production, a dismantling of many of its facilities and a rollback of its missile program—goals that have been dropped… Over the past six years, U.S. allies in the Mideast say, Iran has expanded its influence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Now, they say, Tehran is set to maintain much of its nuclear infrastructure, while scoring an economic windfall.

The story will be get added to the list of things the administration has been willing to sacrifice in pursuit of its nuclear deal with Iran. That list already included:

China expansionism: Last week the NYT reported that the Obama administration has been loath to pressure China on a range of issues because they need the Chinese on Iran.

Russia expansionism: Articles have been circulating since 2014 suggesting the same thing is going on with Russia, and that Obama has taken a soft line on Ukraine because he needs the Russians on Iran (even Roger Cohen (!) rushed last November to editorialize against what he called the Iran-Ukraine tradeoff).

Middle East alliances: Differences over the Iran deal have badly undermined Washington’s traditional alliances with Jerusalem and Riyadh.

Syria/U.S. WMD credibility: The President declined to enforce his Syria red line against the reintroduction of weapons of mass destruction to modern battlefields, shredding the U.S.’s nonproliferation credibility and leaving the French seething in the process. Administration spokespeople have been left trying to convince reporters that chlorine bombs don’t count.

IAEA credibility: The IAEA has been kneecapped as the P5+1 global powers moved to conclude a deal with Iran, a country that still owes the agency answers on a dozen unresolved questions.

UN sanctions credibility: The U.S. has looked the other way while the Iranians busted through binding U.N. sanctions and has ceased providing information to a U.N. panel charged with monitoring the integrity of the U.N.’s sanction regime.

Iranian human rights: Obama administration officials kept the Green Revolution at arm’s length so as not to inflame Tehran’s paranoia about regime change.

Congress/Democrats: The President and his allies have repeatedly clashed with Congress, including with Congressional Democrats, over Iran diplomacy. There have been two full-blown media campaigns, each lasting several weeks, in which sitting Democratic lawmakers were accused of being warmongers beholden to Jewish money. Versions of those accusations came from administration spokespeople talking to reporters from White House and State Department podiums.

All of this happened while administration officials assured Congress that they were committed to constraining Iran. As the WSJ article points out, they went so far as to flat out deny that prisoner swaps were taking place. And, as the AP article pointed out, today they’re cozier with the Iranians on nuclear issues than they are with the U.S.’s traditional Middle East allies.

Lawmakers will have the obvious concern: Given that administration officials have sacrificed so much to cobble together even a weak agreement, it seems unlikely that they would identify and respond to Iranian violations of a final deal. It’s all they have left.

 

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Why Flotillas Sail to Gaza, Not Syria

Today, the latest publicity stunt by pro-Palestinian activists ended harmlessly as the Israel Navy intercepted a ship off the coast of Gaza that was attempting to break the blockade of the strip in order to draw attention to what is passengers claim is a humanitarian crisis. But, like previous Gaza flotillas, the effort has little to do with the plight of the people of Gaza and everything to do with the long war being waged to end Israel’s existence. More to the point, the continued focus on Gaza by those calling themselves advocates for human rights at the very moment that a genuine human catastrophe is occurring inside Syria without much of response from the international community tells us all we need to know about the hypocrisy of Israel-bashers.

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Today, the latest publicity stunt by pro-Palestinian activists ended harmlessly as the Israel Navy intercepted a ship off the coast of Gaza that was attempting to break the blockade of the strip in order to draw attention to what is passengers claim is a humanitarian crisis. But, like previous Gaza flotillas, the effort has little to do with the plight of the people of Gaza and everything to do with the long war being waged to end Israel’s existence. More to the point, the continued focus on Gaza by those calling themselves advocates for human rights at the very moment that a genuine human catastrophe is occurring inside Syria without much of response from the international community tells us all we need to know about the hypocrisy of Israel-bashers.

The fact that it was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who today pointed out the fact that flotillas aren’t sailing to Syria doesn’t make it any less valid. Hundreds of Syrians have been slaughtered by the Assad regime that is backed by Iran and Hezbollah terrorists with more being killed by its tacit ISIS allies. The carnage has created millions of refugees who are living in squalor inside the country or in camps in neighboring Jordan.

But as Netanyahu knows, there will be no peace activist flotilla to Syria to bring aid to people who really need it. Nor had those on the Swedish-registered Marianne that was diverted by the Israelis gotten lost on their way to help those truly in need. Instead, they were on the way to try and help the Hamas government of Gaza that has been rightly isolated by the international community since the bloody 2007 coup when the Islamist group seized power.

While the situation in Gaza isn’t pleasant, the popular notion of a humanitarian crisis there is a myth. That’s because there is no shortage of food or medicine in the strip since Israel allows daily convoys of such supplies into Gaza every day, including those when Hamas is shooting rockets over the border at cities and towns inside the Jewish state. It is true that there is a shortage of building materials inside Gaza. Given the scale of the destruction wrought by the war Hamas launched against Israel last year, that’s a problem. But the reason why such materials can’t be brought into the strip without restrictions was revealed anew when Hamas showcased a new terror tunnel that it claims reaches into Israel on Iranian TV on Sunday. Most of the concrete that is brought into Gaza is being used for such tunnels or for the construction of elaborate fortifications that will enable Hamas to shield its arsenal and other structures intended to make it harder for Israel to repress rocket fire aimed at civilians.

If Gaza is a mess, it is not because both Israel and Egypt understand that Hamas terrorism must be quarantined. Rather, it is because the international community stood by indifferently as Hamas transformed the congested strip into a terrorist state that believes it has the right to pursue its war on Israel by any means anytime it sees fit. Hamas not only commits war crimes by engaging in terrorism but by using the population of Gaza as human shields behind which its killers and their armaments find shelter.

Those who want to help Gazans need to think of ways to free them from the despotic control of Hamas, which executes its enemies without mercy and represses every kind of free expression as it enforces its ruthless Islamist ideas on the population. The independent Palestinian state in all but name that they govern is an experiment in tyranny that is particularly cruel. Yet somehow those who purport to care about the Palestinians think the real villain is an Israeli government that withdrew every single soldier, settler and settlement in 2005 and simply wishes in vain for quiet along the border.

Activists seek to go to Gaza, however, for one clear reason, and it has nothing to do with humanitarian concerns. Arabs who are engaged in conflicts with other Arabs don’t interest them no matter how many people are killed or how much suffering is caused. Even at the height of the fighting last year when hundreds of Palestinian civilians were unfortunately killed as they were caught in fighting provoked by Hamas, the casualties there were dwarfed by what is going on in Syria. But it is only when Jews are involved in defending their state that the human rights community discovers a crisis.

The double standard this sort of behavior illustrates has nothing to do with good works for a suffering people. It is nothing less than anti-Semitism, since it treats Israeli self-defense as inherently illegitimate and bolsters those who commit atrocities as valid forms of “resistance” against the presence of Jews inside the 1967 lines and not just in the West Bank. Those who seek to aid the efforts of Hamas to wage war on Israel and oppress their own people are not humanitarians. They are anti-Semites.

 

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Destroying International Law by Tying the West’s Hands

In the four days since the UN Human Rights Council published its report on last summer’s war in Gaza, commentators have pointed out numerous ways in which it is bad for Israel, the Palestinians and the prospects of a two-state solution. But focusing solely on the local consequences obscures the fact that this report is part of a broader campaign with much more ambitious goals: depriving the entire West of any conceivable weapon – military or nonmilitary – against terrorist organizations and thereby leaving it no choice but capitulation. And though the UN report captured all the attention, the assault on nonmilitary means was also active this week. Read More

In the four days since the UN Human Rights Council published its report on last summer’s war in Gaza, commentators have pointed out numerous ways in which it is bad for Israel, the Palestinians and the prospects of a two-state solution. But focusing solely on the local consequences obscures the fact that this report is part of a broader campaign with much more ambitious goals: depriving the entire West of any conceivable weapon – military or nonmilitary – against terrorist organizations and thereby leaving it no choice but capitulation. And though the UN report captured all the attention, the assault on nonmilitary means was also active this week.

On the military side, the goal was already clear last week, thanks to an interview by Israel’s Channel 2 television with international law expert William Schabas, who headed the HRC’s Gaza inquiry until being forced out in February over a conflict of interests. “It would be a very unusual war if only one side had committed violations of laws of war and the other had engaged perfectly,” he declared. “That would be an unusual situation and an unusual conclusion.”

In other words, it’s virtually impossible for any country fighting terrorists to avoid committing war crimes, however hard it tries, because as currently interpreted by experts like Schabas, the laws of war are impossible for any real-life army to comply with. Thus, a country that wants to avoid international prosecution for war crimes has no choice but to avoid all wars; its only option is capitulation to the terrorists attacking it.

The report ultimately issued by Mary McGowan Davis, who took over the inquiry after Schabas resigned, achieved his goal through a neat trick: replacing the presumption of innocence – the gold standard for ordinary criminal proceedings – with a presumption of guilt. As Benjamin Wittes and Yishai Schwartz noted in their scathing analysis for the Lawfare blog, despite admitting that Hamas routinely used civilian buildings for military purposes, the report nevertheless concluded that any attack on a civilian building is prima facie illegal absent solid proof that the building served military purposes.

But as the report itself admits in paragraph 215, in a quote attributed to “official Israeli sources,” such proof is virtually impossible to produce, because “forensic evidence that a particular site was used for military purposes is rarely available after an attack. Such evidence is usually destroyed in the attack or, if time allows, removed by the terrorist organisations who exploited the site in the first place.”

In short, it’s impossible for any country to comply with the laws of war when fighting terrorists, because it will be presumed guilty unless proven innocent, and the only evidence acceptable to prove its innocence is by definition unobtainable. And lest anyone miss the point – or labor under the delusion that this precedent won’t be applied to other countries as well – Davis underscored it in a subsequent interview with Haaretz. Asked what solution international law does offer “to a situation in which regular armies of democratic countries fight against terror organizations in the heart of populated areas,” she replied scornfully, “My job is not to tell them how to wage a war.” The claim that “international law needs to develop standards that more accurately deal with military operations” is unacceptable, she asserted; the only acceptable changes are “to make protection of civilians stronger” and thereby make waging war even more impossible.

But the self-appointed interpreters of international law are targeting nonmilitary tools against terrorism no less vigorously, as another development this week made clear. Responding to a bill approved by Israel’s cabinet last week to allow jailed terrorists on hunger strike to be force-fed, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political affairs declared that such legislation would be “a contravention of international standards.” The Israel Medical Association’s ethics chairman similarly declared the bill a violation of international law, saying force-feeding has been defined as a form of torture.

Yet letting hunger-striking prisoners die in detention is equally unacceptable to the self-appointed experts. So what solution does that leave? MK Michal Rozin of the left-wing Meretz party put it perfectly: “Instead of force-feeding them, which humiliates them and puts their lives at risk, we must address their demands.” After all, if you can neither force-feed them nor let them die, capitulation is the only option left.

Thus the bottom line is the same as that emerging from the UN’s Gaza inquiry: International law leaves democracies no options in the face of determined terrorists except capitulation. You can’t fight them, because then you’re guilty of war crimes. But you also can’t arrest and jail them, because they can simply start a hunger strike, which entitles them to a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The result, as Prof. Amichai Cohen perceptively noted in a report submitted to Davis’ commission, is that these self-appointed experts are destroying the very idea of international law with their own two hands. Because why should Israel – or any other country – make an effort to comply with international law “if the international system itself does not recognize [the effort’s] efficiency?”

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Palestinian Leaders Deserve to be Hauled Into the International Criminal Court

As expected, the Palestinian Authority made good on its threat to open a new front in its war on the state of Israel. By submitting material to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the PA is hoping to add to the campaign of demonization of the Jewish state in Europe and to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. While the ICC appears somewhat leery about diving headfirst into a political conflict that cannot be neatly contained, it’s likely that the PA provocation will reap it some of the benefits it seeks in terms of whipping up anti-Israel sentiment. But while there’s no doubt that such any international court will be biased against Israel and judge it by a double standard in terms of its measures of self-defense or settlement policy, the Palestinians also need to be reminded of an old truism: people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

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As expected, the Palestinian Authority made good on its threat to open a new front in its war on the state of Israel. By submitting material to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the PA is hoping to add to the campaign of demonization of the Jewish state in Europe and to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. While the ICC appears somewhat leery about diving headfirst into a political conflict that cannot be neatly contained, it’s likely that the PA provocation will reap it some of the benefits it seeks in terms of whipping up anti-Israel sentiment. But while there’s no doubt that such any international court will be biased against Israel and judge it by a double standard in terms of its measures of self-defense or settlement policy, the Palestinians also need to be reminded of an old truism: people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

The United States roundly condemned the Palestinian move today. The administration did so not out of affection for Israel, but because the decision to go to the court is evidence that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his ruling Fatah clique have no intention of returning to peace talks with Israel no matter what inducements the Obama administration offers them. The president is still hoping to embark on one more bout of pressure on Israel in order to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians even though every previous such effort has been met by indifference on the part of the PA. But another power play directed against Israel becomes that much harder to justify if the PA is directly contradicting its past commitments to the United States to refrain from seeking to litigate in court issues that must be decided by direct negotiations.

One element of the PA strategy that should be noted is that Israel is not the only potential target of this effort. Abbas knows that even if the court takes up bogus war crimes allegations against Israel, it will be obliged to address the far more substantial charges that can be laid at the door of his Hamas rivals. It was Hamas, after all, that started last summer’s war and launched thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli cities and town intended to kill and maim as many civilians as possible. While the PA won’t assist efforts to investigate Hamas, that would be a fringe benefit of incitement against Israel.

But Hamas is not the only Palestinian force that is guilty of crimes worthy of investigation. The PA has also funded terrorists and incited terror via its official media. Moreover, shining a light on the terrorism conducted by Palestinians last summer may also land Abbas and aide Jibril Rajoub in court. The Israel Law Center is preparing to send the ICC its own indictments of the PA leadership for acts of terror committed by Fatah affiliates directly under Abbas’s control.

Using their formidable propaganda machine assisted by an international press that is always prepared to judge Israel affair, Palestinians have been able to demonize the Jewish state in the court of international public opinion. But any real court, even one as biased as the ICC against Israel will also have to look at the far more credible criminal charges that can be laid at the feet of both sets of Palestinian tyrants. Once investigations begin, PA is as vulnerable as Hamas no matter how much sympathy they generate in a Europe where anti-Semitism is on the rise. By going to court, they have opened a Pandora’s Box with consequences that few can predict.

Meanwhile, even an administration that is as biased against Israel as that of President Obama must look on this pointless exercise with dismay. Those who refuse to admit that the Palestinians are not interested in peace have ignored their repeated refusals to accept offers of statehood from Israel. But ignoring an effort to prosecute Israel rather than negotiate with it won’t be quite as easy. It’s time for President Obama to do more than have spokespersons condemn the court gambit. He needs to warn Abbas that he stands to be finally cut loose by an administration that has wasted too much political capital and good will in fruitless efforts to aid the Palestinians at Israel’s expense.

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Common Sense Gas Decision a Triumph for Israel

Like most democracies but only more so, Israel’s political system is a confusing and often frustrating mess. So when the country began to develop the enormous reserves of offshore natural gas in recent years, the only impediment to the nation becoming an unlikely energy giant came from within, not from without. The legacy of the socialist economics practiced by it’s Labor Party founders and the cumbersome bureaucracy they created that existed more to regulate and retard development rather than speed stands as an ever-present threat to its ability to remain the world’s Start-Up Nation. The only obstacle to Israel successfully exploiting the seemingly miraculous discovery of vast reserves of gas within its grasp was always the government itself. Unfortunately, that fear was realized last December when an anti-trust regulator ruled that the Noble Energy and its Israeli partners, the Delek Group, were acting as a monopoly, putting an effective freeze on development of the Tamar and Leviathan fields. But after six months of inaction and negotiation, the Netanyahu government has invoked a never-before-used legal clause that allows the Security Cabinet to override an anti-trust commissioner by reason of national security. The result is that Israel’s progress towards becoming a major player in the energy field is back on track.

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Like most democracies but only more so, Israel’s political system is a confusing and often frustrating mess. So when the country began to develop the enormous reserves of offshore natural gas in recent years, the only impediment to the nation becoming an unlikely energy giant came from within, not from without. The legacy of the socialist economics practiced by it’s Labor Party founders and the cumbersome bureaucracy they created that existed more to regulate and retard development rather than speed stands as an ever-present threat to its ability to remain the world’s Start-Up Nation. The only obstacle to Israel successfully exploiting the seemingly miraculous discovery of vast reserves of gas within its grasp was always the government itself. Unfortunately, that fear was realized last December when an anti-trust regulator ruled that the Noble Energy and its Israeli partners, the Delek Group, were acting as a monopoly, putting an effective freeze on development of the Tamar and Leviathan fields. But after six months of inaction and negotiation, the Netanyahu government has invoked a never-before-used legal clause that allows the Security Cabinet to override an anti-trust commissioner by reason of national security. The result is that Israel’s progress towards becoming a major player in the energy field is back on track.

As Arthur Herman wrote in the March 2014 issue of COMMENTARY:

Israel is poised not only for future energy independence, but for becoming a major regional energy player—maybe even, if it uses its resources wisely, the next energy superpower. The looming question, however, is not whether the world is ready for Israel to be the next Texas. It’s whether the Israelis are ready.

Herman wrote that Noble Energy, a Houston-based company with expertise in deep water drilling, braved a possible Arab boycott (a not unreasonable fear in an industry dominated by companies that invariably do business in the Arab and Muslim worlds) responded to an Israeli offer to work on their offshore fields and to make some money while helping the Jewish state. But despite the obvious benefits of a nation without natural resources becoming rich in gas, there were plenty of critics of the project. Some objected on environmentalist grounds. Others feared that oil wealth would change the nature of the country. Still others worried about an oil boom that would be exploited too quickly and then leave the country’s economy worse off than it had been in the first place.

But it turned out the biggest obstacle to development came from a regulator who decided that the risky arrangement that Noble undertook was a restraint of free trade rather than a necessary deal without which the gas would stay in the ground.

Fortunately, the government has now ended this logjam and, after negotiations, resulted in a deal that will force Noble and Delek to give up control of smaller fields to competitors and dilute their hold on the two big ones that are under development. But it will still leave Noble with enough of a share that will justify their investment and risk.

For all of the pessimism that is often heard about Israel’s future from naysayers who lament the lack of peace with the Palestinians and the country’s internal divisions, natural gas offers the Jewish state and the region unprecedented opportunities for both development and cooperation. If properly exploited and managed, the Israeli natural gas fields will give the country energy independence as well as make it a significant exporter of energy to European markets that are currently dependent on Russia. It also offers the potential of cooperative economic relationships with both the Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries, assuming they are capable of holding up their ends of the bargain or of being willing to do business with Israel.

Neither natural gas nor the reserves of shale oil also awaiting development that have been discovered in Israel offer a panacea to the question of peace. A prosperous Israel is no more tolerable to those who wish to destroy it than a poor Jewish state. But these natural resources (in a country that once joked about Moses foolishly leading the Children of Israel to the one place in the region without oil) do give Israel the means to strengthen itself immeasurably and ensure that the Start-Up Nation remains a First World economy and democracy in a sea of Third World poverty and tyranny.

Prime Minister Netanyahu deserves credit for taking the bull by the horns and doing what needed to be done to get this project going again. It will be up to him and his government to see that nothing stops it again.

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Trade Bill Deals a Setback to Israel-Bashers

On Wednesday, the Senate passed a version of the Trade Promotion Authority bill sending it to President Obama’s desk where he will happily sign it in a rare legislative victory for the White House. That angered some on the left as well as the right who, for differing reasons, saw the trade bill as either a threat to union power or an unnecessary favor for an unpopular president. Due to the revolt by his party’s left-wing caucus, not everything that the president wanted was in the bill, but one point that was supported by friends of Israel did wind up in the final version that will become law: amendments that require U.S. negotiators to insist that European governments seeking to expand trade with the United States not take part in any boycotts Israel. This is a signal defeat for the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that has become a major factor in Europe and which has sought a foothold in the United States on college campuses. The trade bill’s anti-BDS provision is also a slap in the face to left-wing groups like the left-wing lobby J Street which opposed the measures because they drew no distinction between boycotts of West Bank settlements and those of the entire state of Israel.

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On Wednesday, the Senate passed a version of the Trade Promotion Authority bill sending it to President Obama’s desk where he will happily sign it in a rare legislative victory for the White House. That angered some on the left as well as the right who, for differing reasons, saw the trade bill as either a threat to union power or an unnecessary favor for an unpopular president. Due to the revolt by his party’s left-wing caucus, not everything that the president wanted was in the bill, but one point that was supported by friends of Israel did wind up in the final version that will become law: amendments that require U.S. negotiators to insist that European governments seeking to expand trade with the United States not take part in any boycotts Israel. This is a signal defeat for the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that has become a major factor in Europe and which has sought a foothold in the United States on college campuses. The trade bill’s anti-BDS provision is also a slap in the face to left-wing groups like the left-wing lobby J Street which opposed the measures because they drew no distinction between boycotts of West Bank settlements and those of the entire state of Israel.

As I noted last month, some, like J Street, who claim to friends of Israel, opposed the anti-BDS provision because they didn’t like the fact that it prohibited boycotts of Israel or “Israeli-controlled territories.” That interfered with their effort to promote a boycott that might only target Jewish communities in the West Bank. But the distinction between that kind of BDS and the economic war being waged against the existence of the Jewish state is an entirely false one. Indeed, that attempt to draw a line between boycotting Jews they don’t like and others is entirely lost on those backing an economic war on Israel. Such boycotts won’t bring peace one day closer nor foster a two-state solution that Palestinians have repeatedly rejected. Whether you support the retention of some settlements (the vast majority of which are in blocs that Israel would retain in any likely deal) or not, Israelis who live there are part of the Jewish state. Those who wish to push for a two-state solution should concentrate their energy on persuading the Palestinians to finally accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, not on forcing Israel to withdraw before they are sure they are not creating another terrorist-run state like Gaza.

Much like the laws that helped beat the Arab boycott of Israel a generation ago, the current legislation forces foreign nations and companies to realize that they cannot wage economic war on Israel while taking advantage of trade with the U.S. What Congress has done by placing the anti-BDS amendments in the trade bill is to put the United States on record that it will not acquiesce to a European effort to isolate and crush Israel’s growing economy. Nor will it let arguments about settlements that should be settled at the peace table to allow anti-Israel boycotts in through the back door. Fortunately, both Democrats and Republicans stepped in a manner that leaves President Obama no choice but to sign a bill with the anti-BDS language.

By opposing this bill, J Street and its leftists allies have once again demonstrated not only how out of touch they are with the pro-Israel consensus in Congress but how removed they are from the reality of the Middle East. The choice for Americans is whether they stand with the right of Israel to exist and to defend itself in freedom and prosperity. A bipartisan majority of Congress has just voted to demonstrate where it stands. Sadly, those on the left who disagreed showed us something very different.

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It’s Not France, But an Obama Diktat That Israel Fears

With Western nations concentrating on finalizing a nuclear deal with Iran this month, efforts to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace talks have been relegated to the diplomatic back burner. Even President Obama, who made the creation of a Palestinian state a priority from his first moment in office appears to have accepted that further efforts on that front will have to wait until after his cherished new entente with Tehran is safely signed and then ratified by Congress (or saved by a presidential veto). But Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister was in the Middle East this past weekend giving Israelis a sneak preview of what they can expect once appeasement of Iran is checked off on the West’s to-do-list. Once the dust settles on Iran, France is expected to propose a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would seek to impose a framework on future negotiations with the Palestinians. Such a framework would likely make the 1967 lines the basis of talks and treat Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem a foregone conclusion making it unlikely that the Palestinians would budge an inch on any vital issue. Israel would not have greeted this news happily under any circumstances, but it so happened that Fabius arrived just after a series of terror attacks on Jews that illustrated just how dangerous any such unilateral concessions on Israel’s part would be.

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With Western nations concentrating on finalizing a nuclear deal with Iran this month, efforts to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace talks have been relegated to the diplomatic back burner. Even President Obama, who made the creation of a Palestinian state a priority from his first moment in office appears to have accepted that further efforts on that front will have to wait until after his cherished new entente with Tehran is safely signed and then ratified by Congress (or saved by a presidential veto). But Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister was in the Middle East this past weekend giving Israelis a sneak preview of what they can expect once appeasement of Iran is checked off on the West’s to-do-list. Once the dust settles on Iran, France is expected to propose a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would seek to impose a framework on future negotiations with the Palestinians. Such a framework would likely make the 1967 lines the basis of talks and treat Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem a foregone conclusion making it unlikely that the Palestinians would budge an inch on any vital issue. Israel would not have greeted this news happily under any circumstances, but it so happened that Fabius arrived just after a series of terror attacks on Jews that illustrated just how dangerous any such unilateral concessions on Israel’s part would be.

On Friday, one Israeli was killed and another wounded in a shooting attack in the West Bank applauded by Hamas. On Sunday, a West Bank Palestinian stabbed an Israeli policeman in Jerusalem in another of what are actually fairly routine incidents of terror. Though the Netanyahu has recently relaxed security measures intended to forestall such attacks, Palestinian assaults on Israelis are so commonplace that U.S. newspapers like the New York Times mention them only in passing and sometimes not all.

While a two-state solution would be ideal and is favored, at least in principle, by most Israelis, terror incidents highlight why large majorities regard the prospect of a complete withdrawal from the West Bank or a partition of Jerusalem are seen as madness. It’s not just that the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly shown that it has no intention of ever recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Nor that Hamas, though it might endorse a continuation of the cease-fire along the Gaza border is utterly committed to war to destroy Israel. It’s also that both the PA and its Hamas rivals routinely broadcast hate and sympathy for terrorists who slaughter Jews. It is that culture of violence and rejection of coexistence still governs Palestinian politics making a two-state solution impossible even if their leaders were prepared to try to make peace.

As President Obama’s fruitless attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction showed over the last six years, more initiatives aimed at pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians actually lessened the chances of peace rather than strengthening them. That’s because each such gesture that demonstrated the unfortunate daylight that Michael Oren wrote about in his memoir only convinced the Palestinians that they need only wait for the West to deliver Israel’s surrender to them on a silver platter. That’s as true today as it has ever been.

The danger here is not just of French or European meddling that will encourage the Palestinians to keep refusing to return to direct negotiations with Israel. It’s that a proposal put forward in the next few months (assuming that Iran is off the table by then) will give President Obama a chance to demonstrate whether the off-the-record comments of administration aides that predict a U.S. abandonment of Israel at the UN are accurate. Obama has been sending clear signals to Israel and its supporters — even as he seeks to disarm their justified alarm at his Iran entente — that this administration intends to take at least one more shot at bludgeoning the Netanyahu government into submission,

Under the circumstances, Netanyahu’s warning to Fabius that Israel will never accept a “diktat” on matters that concern its security was entirely justified. In response, Fabius said diktat wasn’t a word that was part of his French vocabulary. But it’s not a French initiative that worries Netanyahu but the very real possibility of an Obama diktat that lurks behind it. Though President Obama may not speak German, Netanyahu is right to fear that the lame duck in the White House understands the word all too well.

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UN Gaza War Report Leaves No Room for Israeli Self-Defense

After months of anticipation, the report by the United Nations Human Rights Council about last summer’s Gaza war is out today and its contents are no surprise. While the UNHRC acknowledged that Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and towns were acts of terrorism, it concentrated most of its fire on Israel’s attempts to defend its territory and citizens. The UNHRC not only described Israeli actions as “disproportionate and indiscriminate” but also considers the blockade of Gaza to be a violation of Palestinian human rights and should be investigated by the International Criminal Court. But while the toll of Palestinian civilian deaths was a tragedy, the UN Gaza war report is predictably skewed not just in terms of its mischaracterization of what were, in fact, highly restrictive rules of engagement that often put Israel Defense Forces personnel in danger, but also seeming to grant Hamas impunity to wage a terror war against Israel’s existence. In effect, what the UNHRC is doing is to create rules that allow Hamas to hide amid a civilian population, using them as human shields, and then to claim those trying to stop terror are the real criminals. The United States must not only reject this dangerous precedent, but it ought to withdraw from a biased UN agency that seems to exist largely to single out the Jewish state for unfair treatment.

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After months of anticipation, the report by the United Nations Human Rights Council about last summer’s Gaza war is out today and its contents are no surprise. While the UNHRC acknowledged that Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and towns were acts of terrorism, it concentrated most of its fire on Israel’s attempts to defend its territory and citizens. The UNHRC not only described Israeli actions as “disproportionate and indiscriminate” but also considers the blockade of Gaza to be a violation of Palestinian human rights and should be investigated by the International Criminal Court. But while the toll of Palestinian civilian deaths was a tragedy, the UN Gaza war report is predictably skewed not just in terms of its mischaracterization of what were, in fact, highly restrictive rules of engagement that often put Israel Defense Forces personnel in danger, but also seeming to grant Hamas impunity to wage a terror war against Israel’s existence. In effect, what the UNHRC is doing is to create rules that allow Hamas to hide amid a civilian population, using them as human shields, and then to claim those trying to stop terror are the real criminals. The United States must not only reject this dangerous precedent, but it ought to withdraw from a biased UN agency that seems to exist largely to single out the Jewish state for unfair treatment.

The UNHRC takes the view that the large number of Palestinians who were killed by Israeli fire around or in their homes is, almost by definition, proof that the IDF misbehaved. Just as wrongheaded is the claim that Israel’s efforts to warn Palestinians to leave specific areas or even specific structures is insufficient to ward off charges of war crimes. But as this feature by Willy Stern published this month by the Weekly Standard shows, the legal process by which IDF strikes are approved is geared toward saving civilian lives goes beyond any notion of what international law requires. Indeed, the Israeli rules, which often endanger Israeli soldiers and allow terrorists to escape simply because of the possibility that civilians might be harmed, are such that they go well beyond the practices what other Western nations, including the United States in its conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq observe.

But when one boils down the UN report to its essentials, it comes to this: The only sort of Israeli action in Gaza that might pass the HRC’s test would be if Israeli soldiers knocked on every door and politely asked if there were any terrorists there and then left if they were told there weren’t. The fact that Hamas deliberately fires its rockets amid and from civilian structures places those in those buildings in harm’s way. Israel tries to warn civilians to leave and even goes to extreme measures such as firing duds at buildings in order to get noncombatants to evacuate them. But Hamas made it clear to civilians that those fleeing the fighting would be considered collaborators if they didn’t stay put. That’s a death threat that Gazans rightly treat as more worrisome than the prospect of being caught in a firefight involving the Israelis. The UNHRC standard is damaging to Israel, but it also hurts the Palestinians since it effectively leaves them at the mercy of the Islamist tyrants that have seized control of Gaza.

Moreover, asking the Israelis not to use heavy weapons in urban areas essentially gives Hamas a further incentive to dig in, as it did, in residential neighborhoods and then dare the Israelis to try to root them out. The results of such actions are sometimes tragic. Though any such deaths are awful, given the scale of the fighting initiated by Hamas, a death toll of even the number of civilians claimed by the UNHRC (other reports place the number of civilians much lower since the UN wrongly allows the Palestinians to declare many Hamas personnel to be noncombatants) is actually quite low. As I noted last week, the fact that other reports and even the verdict of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States is that Israel not only acted properly but also constituted a model for the conduct of armed forces in asymmetrical conflicts illustrates the UNHRC’s bias.

But the main question to be asked here is how a war launched by a terrorist organization operating an independent Palestinian state in all but name can be defended against by the victims of their attacks without incurring some civilian casualties. The point is not just that Hamas’s goal is to kill as many Jewish civilians as possible while the IDF goes to extreme lengths to avoid such deaths. Rather, it is that once a terrorist group sets up operations in an area under its control, sovereign nations attacked by these killers must have the right to conduct defensive operations intended to halt rocket fire and the use of tunnels for kidnapping and murder. If the soldiers of such nations are to be deemed war criminals for using heavy weapons or for mistakes that inevitably happen in the heat of battle amid the fog of war, then what the UNHRC is doing is to create rules that give the terrorists impunity.

Moreover, if blockades of areas run by such terrorists bent on destroying their neighbors — the purpose of Hamas’s “resistance to Israel is not to adjust its borders in the West Bank, but to eliminate the Jewish state — are also illegal, then such criminal groups will likewise be granted impunity to set up such states and conduct wars without fear of international sanctions. That Israel’s blockade of Gaza ensured that food and medical supplies continued to flow into the strip even during the war proves how absurd the UN standards are when applied to Israel.

It is that last phrase that is the operative concept at work here. We know that the UN would not dare label any military operation such as the one conducted by Israel as illegal were it carried out by any other nation. The UNHRC largely ignores real human rights crises elsewhere in the world (including next door to Israel in Syria where hundreds of thousands have died) in order to concentrate its condemnations on the Jewish state. The fact that the chair of this commission who guided it for most of its life was a bitter critic of Israel and issued statements prejudging its outcome made this bias even more explicit.

In the end, the UNHRC report does nothing to clarify how nations should conduct wars. But it does tell us everything we need to know about the need for civilized nations to cease supporting an agency that purports to speak in the name of human rights but instead bolsters hate.

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Will the United Church of Christ Declare Israel an Apartheid State?

Over at Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson draws attention to the latest anti-Israel extremism to emerge out of our dying mainline Protestant Churches. Last year, it was the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This year it is the United Church of Christ, representing 4/10 of one percent (and shrinking) of the adult U.S. population. At its 30th General Synod, taking place in Cleveland from June 26-30, three anti-Israel resolutions will be considered. Read More

Over at Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson draws attention to the latest anti-Israel extremism to emerge out of our dying mainline Protestant Churches. Last year, it was the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This year it is the United Church of Christ, representing 4/10 of one percent (and shrinking) of the adult U.S. population. At its 30th General Synod, taking place in Cleveland from June 26-30, three anti-Israel resolutions will be considered.

As Jacobson reports, two of the three resolutions are very similar. Both call for divestment from certain companies said to profit from the “occupation of Palestinian territories” and both call for a boycott of products of those territories. A third goes further, though it is perfectly in keeping with the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement that is in the background of the other resolutions, and calls on the Church to “recognize the actions of Israel against the Palestinians as apartheid.”

Having dealt with this sort of thing before, I will not address the substance of the resolutions here. Instead, I want to note that, as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has its Israel-Palestine Mission Network driving its anti-Israel activities, so the UCC has its Palestine/Israel Network, and its page is, or should be, an embarrassment to everyone involved in UCC. Consider what the Network considers a trustworthy source on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We get, among other things, an article from Countercurrents on “How U.S. Tax Breaks Fund Israeli Settlers.” Countercurrents has also published the authoritative “Why the World Should Not Be Controlled by the Zionist Jews,” which begins “the geopolitical situation demands that the world must confront Jews particularly the ones who hold absolute sway over arms sale [sic], media and the Zionists” (I can’t bring myself to link it, but if you don’t believe me, go to Countercurrents and search for “Jewish.”)

The site also links not once, not twice, but three times, to Counterpunch, a journal with its own issues with anti-Semitism. Although the divestment resolutions both refer to UCC’s 2001 resolution, confessing to the sin of anti-Semitism and denouncing it, the UCCers who are their primary movers appears not to have let that affect their reading habits. Of course, it’s not surprising that they would turn to alternative media sources because as the title of a video they link to, “The Zionists Won’t Let You See This On Your TV,” implies, they believe, or at least are happy to publicize the views of those who believe, that the Zionists control the mainstream media. The video is, by the way, about the Rachel Corrie story. Granted, the media blackout on her case has been disturbing; when you search the New York Times for mention of her, you get only 113 hits.

The gang that produced this helpful guide to educating oneself on the conflict is the gang that has been engaged in educating the United Church of Christ on the issue. I’d like to say that the Church will notice the stench. But as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) showed, many mainline Protestant leaders do not have strong senses of smell when it comes to anti-Semitism.

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Does Israel Spend More on Settlers Than Other Israelis? No!

Regardless of the subject, some people would always rather divert the conversation to Israel’s “relentless and deliberate program of settlement expansion,” as J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami did in response to Michael Oren’s revelations about the Obama Administration’s conduct toward Israel. So let’s honor their wishes and talk about the settlements – specifically, about how much Israel’s government spends on this “relentless program of expansion.” Because according to new data released by none other than the leader of the opposition, government spending on West Bank settlements and their residents is actually about 40 percent less per capita than Israel spends on all its other citizens.

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Regardless of the subject, some people would always rather divert the conversation to Israel’s “relentless and deliberate program of settlement expansion,” as J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami did in response to Michael Oren’s revelations about the Obama Administration’s conduct toward Israel. So let’s honor their wishes and talk about the settlements – specifically, about how much Israel’s government spends on this “relentless program of expansion.” Because according to new data released by none other than the leader of the opposition, government spending on West Bank settlements and their residents is actually about 40 percent less per capita than Israel spends on all its other citizens.

In an interview with Haaretz published last Friday, Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog – who opposes the settlements – was asked what “the annual cost of the occupation” is. His response: “From 2009 to 2014, Israel invested 10 billion shekels [$2.5 billion] in Judea and Samaria. That’s a huge amount of the state budget.”

But math clearly isn’t Herzog’s strong point, because 10 billion shekels is actually a trivial amount of the state budget, which totaled 408 billion shekels in 2014. So even assuming (which I do) that he meant 10 billion a year, not 10 billion over the course of five years, that still amounts to only 2.5 percent of the state budget.

According to data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, however, there were 341,800 Jewish settlers in 2013 (the last year for which data is available), out of a total Israeli population of 8.1345 million. In other words, settlers account for 4.2 percent of the population.

Thus if the government is spending 10 billion shekels a year on the settlers, then their proportional share of the state budget is 40 percent less than their share in the population. And most of that money would be spent regardless of where they lived, since all Israelis are entitled to healthcare, education, defense and various other government-funded services.

Of course, one could claim that Herzog’s figure is simply unreliable. But his predecessor as Labor Party chairman, who also opposes the settlements, similarly concluded that the government actually spends very little on them.

In a 2011 interview with Haaretz, Shelly Yacimovich was asked whether “the billions … invested in the settlements” weren’t coming at the expense of her dream of a welfare state within the Green Line. She flatly denied it:

I am familiar with that well-known equation: that if there were no settlements there would be a welfare state within Israel’s borders. I am familiar with the worldview that maintains that if we cut the defense budget in half there will be money for education. It’s a worldview with no connection to reality. I reject it; it is simply not factually correct, even though it is now perceived as axiomatic. A school that is located in a settlement and has X number of students would be located inside the Green Line and have the same number of children at the same cost.

Two weeks later, she wrote a follow-up for Haaretz in which she doubled down on her “rejection of the mathematics of ‘if there will be no settlements, there will be money for a welfare state.’ I plead guilty: I too thought this, six years ago.” But after “six intensive years as a member of the [Knesset] Finance Committee,” she became convinced that this assumption is simply false.

For diehard anti-Israel types, the facts are never relevant. But for the rest of the world, maybe it’s time to finally admit what two successive leaders of the opposition now have: Far from Israel engaging in “relentless settlement expansion,” state spending on the settlements is actually minuscule.

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Which Palestinian State Wants Peace?

In one of those seemingly inexplicable turnarounds that make the Middle East so confusing to naïve Westerners, it appears that, at least for the moment, Hamas is more interested in peace with Israel than is the Palestinian Authority. Of course, Hamas doesn’t actually want to accept Israel’s existence or end its religious crusade against it. The rulers of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza have apparently sent out feelers to Israel about strengthening the cease-fire that has held since the end of last summer’s war. The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of his Fatah Party are aghast about this and have folded their unity government with Hamas out of fear that the Islamist group will continue to gain ground in the West Bank. The juxtaposition of these two stories raises some issues about Israel’s dealings with both Hamas and the PA. But it also poses an important question to those who have been agitating for international recognition of a Palestinian state and urging boycotts of Israel: which Palestinian state do you support and what do either have to do with the quest for peace in the Middle East?

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In one of those seemingly inexplicable turnarounds that make the Middle East so confusing to naïve Westerners, it appears that, at least for the moment, Hamas is more interested in peace with Israel than is the Palestinian Authority. Of course, Hamas doesn’t actually want to accept Israel’s existence or end its religious crusade against it. The rulers of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza have apparently sent out feelers to Israel about strengthening the cease-fire that has held since the end of last summer’s war. The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of his Fatah Party are aghast about this and have folded their unity government with Hamas out of fear that the Islamist group will continue to gain ground in the West Bank. The juxtaposition of these two stories raises some issues about Israel’s dealings with both Hamas and the PA. But it also poses an important question to those who have been agitating for international recognition of a Palestinian state and urging boycotts of Israel: which Palestinian state do you support and what do either have to do with the quest for peace in the Middle East?

Israel’s willingness to engage in back channel talks with Hamas about ensuring the stability of the cease-fire will be cited by some as a reason for the U.S. to recognize or at least talk to the Islamist group. There is a certain superficial logic to the charge that supporters of Israel are being hypocritical when they call for Hamas’s isolation while the Israelis deal with them at least on some level. But the argument holds no water since Israel isn’t recognizing Hamas’s right to rule Gaza any more than the Islamists are prepared to accept Israel as a legitimate state even inside the 1967 lines. All that is happening in these indirect talks is that both parties are hoping to ensure that there is no rerun of the war Hamas launched last summer.

Israel’s government understands that it has no good options with respect to Gaza. The price of taking out Hamas would be too high both in terms of international condemnation and Israeli casualties. So the next best option is to maintain the relative quiet that has existed since the counter-offensive stopped Hamas’s firing of thousands of rockets at Israeli towns and cities as well as the use of tunnels to conduct terror attacks on border communities.

One might think the PA would applaud the continuation of the cease-fire since another round of fighting would lead to more casualties and devastation among the Palestinians in Gaza. Abbas still pretends to be the president of Gaza even though Fatah was thrown out of the strip in a 2007 coup. But his main worry is that his tyrannical grip on the West Bank is threatened by Hamas’s popularity. Abbas’s concerns about the cease-fire are to some extent counter-intuitive since the cheers for Hamas have always been the result of its willingness to spill Jewish blood while Fatah talks with Israel. But Abbas is clearly worried that a long-term cease-fire would strengthen a bankrupt Hamas regime. If such an agreement were to be made it might also improve the situation inside Gaza and lead to more rebuilding of homes in addition to the resources being expended on reconstruction of Hamas’s arsenal and fortifications. That in turn might lower the pressure on Israel to make concessions to Abbas in peace talks even though the PA has shown no interest in returning to the table since it blew up the last round of negotiations by signing a unity pact with Hamas.

While this seems confusing, the explanation for these maneuvers is easy to understand. Fatah and Hamas not only have different short-term goals. Hamas wants to hold onto Gaza. Fatah wants the West to recognize the PA as an independent state without first forcing it to make peace with Israel. Neither Hamas nor Fatah is interested or even capable of making a permanent peace with Israel, but each want the Jewish state to tolerate their continued rule even if both groups are corrupt, oppressive, and uninterested in improving the lives of the Palestinian people.

But since it isn’t possible for Israel to do away with either the PA or Hamas without paying an unacceptable price, the Netanyahu government must play the hand it is dealt. That means continuing to try and work with the PA on security cooperation (which is in Abbas’s interests as much as if not more than Israel’s) while hoping that eventually the political culture of the Palestinians will change enough to allow compromise and peace to become possible. As for Hamas, Israel must hope that eventually the people of Gaza (perhaps aided by neighboring Egypt, which sees Hamas as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that threatens their security) will eventually rid themselves of their Islamist tyrants. Until they do, Israel must seek to restrain these terrorists either through military action or deterrence that can produce a long-term cease-fire.

Rather than seeking to force Israel to make concessions to a PA that still won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn, the Obama administration should back Israel’s efforts to keep the cease-fire. And it should finally stop coddling the PA and start holding it accountable for obstruction of peace talks.

Just as important, those advocating unilateral recognition for Palestinian statehood need to draw some conclusions from these events. There are already two rival Palestinian entities that pretend to sovereignty but neither is truly representative or the least bit interested in ending the conflict. Indeed, the PA that is held out by the Obama administration as a champion of peace turns out to be even less enthusiastic about avoiding bloodshed than Hamas. If you are advocating a Palestinian state now without peace with Israel, the question remains which one do you want: a corrupt kleptocracy that is still incapable of making peace because of ideology and its fear of being outflanked by Islamists or a corrupt Islamist terrorist tyranny? For the foreseeable future, those are your only choices.

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The Pointless Battle of the Gaza War Reports

It’s not likely that many of Israel’s critics will pay much attention to the report issued on Sunday by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about last summer’s war in Gaza. Nor will they take notice of a separate report compiled by a multinational group of retired generals and admirals on the conflict that was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last week. Both of these reports say the Israel Defense Forces acted in a largely exemplary fashion during the 50 days of conflict. They conclude that charges of war crimes against the Israelis are false and that the primary responsibility for the entire conflict and the toll of civilian casualties belongs to the Hamas terrorists who started the Gaza war and used the population in the strip as human shields. Instead, Israel-bashers will wait for the report of the UNHRC, which is likely to condemn the IDF. But the problem here goes deeper than dueling reports from two parties — Israel and the HRC — whose bias is not in doubt. The battle over the reports provides a microcosm of the entire conflict precisely because the facts are irrelevant to the debate. It doesn’t matter how much care the IDF takes to avoid hurting noncombatants. If, like the HRC and other Israel-haters, you don’t think the Jewish state has a right to exist or to defend itself, everything it does is illegitimate. By the same token, it doesn’t matter how culpable Hamas is, their crimes are always going to be rationalized or even justified by those determined to smear Israel.

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It’s not likely that many of Israel’s critics will pay much attention to the report issued on Sunday by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about last summer’s war in Gaza. Nor will they take notice of a separate report compiled by a multinational group of retired generals and admirals on the conflict that was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last week. Both of these reports say the Israel Defense Forces acted in a largely exemplary fashion during the 50 days of conflict. They conclude that charges of war crimes against the Israelis are false and that the primary responsibility for the entire conflict and the toll of civilian casualties belongs to the Hamas terrorists who started the Gaza war and used the population in the strip as human shields. Instead, Israel-bashers will wait for the report of the UNHRC, which is likely to condemn the IDF. But the problem here goes deeper than dueling reports from two parties — Israel and the HRC — whose bias is not in doubt. The battle over the reports provides a microcosm of the entire conflict precisely because the facts are irrelevant to the debate. It doesn’t matter how much care the IDF takes to avoid hurting noncombatants. If, like the HRC and other Israel-haters, you don’t think the Jewish state has a right to exist or to defend itself, everything it does is illegitimate. By the same token, it doesn’t matter how culpable Hamas is, their crimes are always going to be rationalized or even justified by those determined to smear Israel.

The MFA report, like that of the group of foreign military leaders, examined the conflict soberly and admitted that, as in every war, there were plenty of mistakes made in the heat of battle. Though the rules of engagement for allowing a strike on a specific target in Gaza involved a formidable list of assurances that civilians were not put at risk, there are always going to be instances in which circumstances change in the short period between authorization of firing and when the shells land. Moreover, it is not always possible to distinguish between armed combatants and civilians when Hamas fighters are doing everything possible to blend in with their human shields. That is why, contrary to Hamas propaganda mimicked by much of the international press, sought to deny that nearly half of the Palestinians killed were actually terrorist personnel. Sometimes those who are warned to leave areas about to come under attack don’t do so (often at the demands of Hamas). Sometimes fire is inaccurate. But despite the attempt of Israel-haters to portray the IDF as bloodthirsty, even those incidents that were clearly errors cannot be said to be the result of deliberate action. Sometimes soldiers just make a mistake, as happens in every war in history.

It should be remembered that General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last year that the conduct of the IDF was a model for Americans forces to follow in their own fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. As these reports make clear, there isn’t a military in the world that is forced to observe such restrictive rules of engagement when fighting terrorists.

Nor should it be forgotten that the context of the Gaza war is not one in which Israel launched an unprovoked attack on innocents. To the contrary, the chain of events that led to war began with the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by a Hamas cell. The Hamas rulers of Gaza then escalated the conflict by firing thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and towns. They also attempted to use terror tunnels dug under the international border between Israel and Gaza to kidnap and murder other Israeli civilians.

Hamas runs what is for all intents and purposes an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza. But its conduct in the war consisted of acts of terrorism as well as war crimes against its own people because of its decision to launch missiles and conduct attacks against Israelis in the vicinity of civilians. Its leadership hid in secure bunkers under hospitals that Israel did not attack. Though, unlike Israelis, the people of Gaza had few places to which they could flee for safety, there were plenty of shelters in the strip. But those shelters were for Hamas’s bombs and fighters, not ordinary Palestinians.

The reports from the ministry and the generals contain plenty of important information and they should be read. But like the expected attack on Israel from the HRC (which devotes a vastly disproportionate amount of its time on Israel while ignoring real human rights tragedies elsewhere), they are almost beside the point.

As the Times of Israel rightly points out, the purpose of the Israeli report may in part be to head off a specious investigation of the war by the International Criminal Court (though Hamas would more to fear from a fair inquiry than Israel).

But those legal details are unfortunately not going to influence the battle for international opinion. The plain fact is that those who think Hamas has the right to shoot at Israeli civilians and consider it bad form that the Jewish state takes so much trouble to protect its people actually aren’t interested in the facts about the fighting. It doesn’t matter to them that no other country in the world would seek to stop attacks on its cities with the degree of care that Israel demonstrates. Nor does it matter that the point of Hamas’s “resistance” is not to adjust the border in the West Bank but to destroy Israel.

By any rational standard, Israel’s effort to stop Hamas missile fire and tunnels was a just war. But if you think Israelis deserve to be killed simply because they are Israelis and that the Jews are the one people in the world not entitled to a state or its defense, then it doesn’t matter how hard the IDF tries to save Palestinian lives. Such bias has a name and it applies to those who hold such views whether they are Arabs or Jews: anti-Semitism. That and not the details of the reports about Gaza is what will continue to drive the debate about the war.

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Israel’s ‘Hardline’ Government Unveils Major Benefits for Israeli Arabs

This must have been a trying week for all the people who wrongly believe that Israel’s prime minister is an unabashed anti-Arab racist: Over the past few days, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has unveiled not one, but two major initiatives to benefit Israeli Arabs – initiatives that even the far-left Haaretz, which loathes him, deemed “praiseworthy” and even “revolutionary.” Read More

This must have been a trying week for all the people who wrongly believe that Israel’s prime minister is an unabashed anti-Arab racist: Over the past few days, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has unveiled not one, but two major initiatives to benefit Israeli Arabs – initiatives that even the far-left Haaretz, which loathes him, deemed “praiseworthy” and even “revolutionary.”

Here’s how Haaretz’s report on the first initiative opens: “For the first time ever, an Israeli government team has documented the extent of the land and housing shortage in Israel’s Arab communities and proposed recommendations for ending it.”

Though the housing shortage has been one of the Arab community’s biggest gripes for decades, no other prime minister in Israel’s 67 years of existence has done much about it. But Netanyahu’s last government not only advanced the establishment of the first new Arab city in Israel’s history, it also created an interministerial task force to draft more comprehensive recommendations, which were presented to his current government this week.

Moreover, as Haaretz noted in a subsequent analysis, these recommendations are nothing less than “a revolution.” Inter alia, after decades in which the borders of Arab towns remained unchanged despite a sevenfold increase in population, the new proposal finally recommends expanding these borders to provide Arab communities with more land for residential construction.

The second initiative deals with education. Here, too, the previous Netanyahu government took significant steps, adopting a five-year plan to boost funding for Arab schools by a billion shekels (about $260 million). But many pundits predicted it would be scrapped by the new education minister, Naftali Bennett of the rightist Jewish Home party.

Instead, Bennett not only announced its continuation this week, but added an important new element. All preschools – Jewish and Arab – will be henceforth be entitled to a second aide, rather than having only one teacher and one aide for classes of up to 35 children. But in well-off communities, the government will underwrite only 50% of the cost while, in poor communities, it will cover 90%. As a Haaretz analysis noted, most of the poorest communities are Arab, so this decision will give a huge boost to early-childhood education in Arab towns. That prompted the paper, which loathes Bennett as well, to headline its analysis, “Naftali Bennett: Unlikely champion of Arab education.”

These initiatives shouldn’t actually surprise anybody. While the far-right fringes may enjoy making Arabs miserable, mainstream conservative politicians, like Netanyahu and Bennett, are generally far more interested in ensuring that 20 percent of the country’s population will be productive, self-supporting citizens rather than wards of the welfare system. And that means ensuring they have access to such basics as quality education, jobs, and housing, which is why Netanyahu’s previous governments also invested heavily in Arab integration in other ways.

Yet there’s another reason why Netanyahu’s allegedly “hardline” governments are precisely the ones taking revolutionary steps to increase Arab integration: Politicians who remain under the delusion that Israeli-Palestinian peace is imminently achievable tend to view all other issues as lower priority, on the theory that once peace is achieved, many of those other issues will largely solve themselves. First, they expect peace to produce huge financial dividends, giving Israel much more money to throw at all its other problems. Second, they expect Arab-Jewish tensions within Israel to largely dissipate since they consider the lack of Palestinian statehood to be Israeli Arabs’ main grievance.

Even assuming both propositions were true (which I don’t), they’re obviously irrelevant if peace isn’t imminently achievable. Thus a government that doesn’t believe peace is around the corner can’t afford to postpone addressing the country’s other pressing problems; it needs to do the best it can with the resources it has right now. With regard to Israeli Arabs, that means trying to address their real educational, employment and housing needs even while recognizing that tensions over the Palestinian conflict will persist – especially since repeated polls have shown that not only do Israeli Arabs actually consider these bread-and-butter issues their top priority, but that addressing them does boost their identification with the state. One survey last May, for instance, found that 65% of Israeli Arabs now declare themselves proud to be Israeli; another this February found that 55% identify with the Israeli flag.

But why let the facts disturb a longstanding liberal dogma? After all, we all know “right-wing” governments can’t possibly be good for Israeli Arabs – even when they’re taking unprecedented steps to rectify discrimination against them.

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The Nation Smears David Blatt For Being A Proud Jew

The toxic mix of sports and politics, especially when it came to the treatment of Israel, soured me on the Olympics a long time ago. But even in professional sports where teams are often composed of athletes from around the globe there is no immunity to the virus of hate. While the success of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavalier’s first-year coach David Blatt has been cheered by Israelis, supporters of efforts to deprive that nation of its right to self-defense have a different take. Those who can’t stand the idea of a proud and patriotic Jew being willing to associate himself with his adopted country are bombarding Blatt with abuse because he served his country and is reportedly on speaking terms with Israel’s prime minister. When you consider that NBA players have over the years represented a variety of nations, not all of which everyone loves, without being subjected to political litmus tests, the decision of The Nation to launch a full-scale attack on Blatt for embracing Israeli identity is outrageous. In doing so, the left-wing magazine is demonstrating that the line that supposedly divides anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism is a myth.

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The toxic mix of sports and politics, especially when it came to the treatment of Israel, soured me on the Olympics a long time ago. But even in professional sports where teams are often composed of athletes from around the globe there is no immunity to the virus of hate. While the success of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavalier’s first-year coach David Blatt has been cheered by Israelis, supporters of efforts to deprive that nation of its right to self-defense have a different take. Those who can’t stand the idea of a proud and patriotic Jew being willing to associate himself with his adopted country are bombarding Blatt with abuse because he served his country and is reportedly on speaking terms with Israel’s prime minister. When you consider that NBA players have over the years represented a variety of nations, not all of which everyone loves, without being subjected to political litmus tests, the decision of The Nation to launch a full-scale attack on Blatt for embracing Israeli identity is outrageous. In doing so, the left-wing magazine is demonstrating that the line that supposedly divides anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism is a myth.

Ironically, the New York Times, whose sports pages have often been used by its editors to pursue political causes (the paper bore a great deal of the responsibility for promoting a false and racially-tinged narrative about a rape hoax that led to the Duke Lacrosse team being temporarily disbanded) treated the story about the differing paths to the NBA finals taken by the two coaches both fairly and honestly. The connection between Blatt and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr is that both have ties to the Middle East. Kerr’s father Malcolm was president of the American University of Beirut before he was kidnapped and murdered by the Islamic Jihad terror group. Kerr, who speaks Arabic, was born in Lebanon and lived in the Middle East with his family before going back to the United States to play both college and professional basketball. He wanted to hire Blatt as his assistant before the man who led Maccabi Tel Aviv to championships was lured to Cleveland. The juxtaposition of their connections to the region and their nearly being on the same side makes for an interesting sports story.

But The Nation’s Dave Zirin considers their backgrounds an excuse for a rehearsal of the left’s vicious slanders against Israel and its government. In his reading, Malcolm Kerr is a hero who is rightly honored by the Middle East Studies Association, a blatantly biased academic group that promotes boycotts against both Israel and Israelis. On the other, he considers Blatt reprehensible because he is a Zionist who believes in the right of the Jews to their own country and served in the Israeli Army defending it against Arab terrorists. Even worse in his eyes is that Blatt is reportedly on a first-name basis with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom The Nation blasts as a racist.

Let’s leave aside the distortions about Netanyahu as well as the foolishness involved in blaming a celebrity for saying that he knows his country’s leader. Zirin’s real beef with Blatt isn’t the Bibi connection; it’s for being a Zionist and saying this about last summer’s war with Hamas terrorists:

“In my opinion, this war is Israel’s most justified war I can remember in recent years. I’m really sorry about what’s happening in Gaza, but there’s no doubt that we had to act there, so that Israel will have quiet there once and for all.”

Blatt was right, but for Zirin this is outrageous because of the number of Palestinian civilian casualties who were being used as human shields by Hamas terrorists. Zirin forgets to include in his account of the fighting the fact that Hamas and its Islamic Jihad allies launched several thousand rockets at Israeli cities and towns and used tunnels dug under the border to facilitate attempts to kidnap and kill Jews.

He contrasts Blatt’s Israeli patriotism and belief in his country’s people to live without being subjected to constant, deadly terrorism to some quotes from Steve Kerr in which he rightly says not all Arabs or Muslims should be blamed for terrorism before making some less defensible comments about Americans needing to ask why the terrorists hate us.

Kerr grew up in an atmosphere in which such views were mainstream and though I find them worrisome, like almost all sports fans, I’m not any more interested in his politics than I am in Blatt’s affiliations. Both should be seen as sports figures, not politicians, and accordingly cheered or jeered on the work of their teams on the court and nothing else.

But, of course, that spirit of fair competition is of no interest to sports columnists like Zirin who, in the grand tradition of Marxist journalism, uses athletics as an excuse to ride political hobbyhorses. But in the case of Blatt and his unabashed Zionism, Zirin goes farther than merely putting a political slant on a feel-good story of an American who found coaching success abroad before coming home to triumph in the NBA. For left-wing anti-Zionists, Blatt needs to be singled out for opprobrium in a way that no other coach or player from a foreign country has ever been because of what he sees as the unique villainy of Israel. No player from China who had his picture taken with his country’s tyrants has gotten this kind of treatment. Nor has any other NBA player. Only a Jew who says the Jews deserve a country and ought not to be slaughtered by terrorists must be smeared.

Whatever his sympathies in the Middle East conflict might be, Kerr understands the cost of terrorism on a personal basis. So do all too many Israelis who have suffered as he did as a result of attacks by Islamic Jihad and other Islamist and Palestinian groups. The death of Malcolm Kerr ought to be held as an example of what happens when groups like Hamas are granted impunity by their foreign cheerleaders like Dave Zinn. But what Zirin, who cannot use his Jewish origin as a defense, is doing is judging Israelis and Jews by a different standard than any other people. Though he may admit to anti-Zionism, the more accurate term for his brand of bias is anti-Semitism.

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The Prospect of Profits Won’t Buy Middle East Peace

There are some things that are so obvious that perhaps it takes an intellectual to think that stating them constitutes penetrating insight. Perhaps that’s why some are treating the release of a new report on the costs of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the potential benefits of a stable two-state solution by the Rand Corporation as a profound contribution to the discussion about peace. The report is being extolled by some on the left as yet another sign of the Israeli government’s poor judgment since it has supposedly chosen investment in West Bank settlements and the military over decisions that could lead to a deal that would bring the country greater prosperity. But the problem with this formulation is that the history of the last hundred years, and even of the opening years of the 21st century, shows that while Israelis have always hoped that peace could be built around economic cooperation, Palestinian Arabs have always viewed the standoff with the Jews as a zero-sum conflict into which financial considerations have never been allowed to intrude.

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There are some things that are so obvious that perhaps it takes an intellectual to think that stating them constitutes penetrating insight. Perhaps that’s why some are treating the release of a new report on the costs of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the potential benefits of a stable two-state solution by the Rand Corporation as a profound contribution to the discussion about peace. The report is being extolled by some on the left as yet another sign of the Israeli government’s poor judgment since it has supposedly chosen investment in West Bank settlements and the military over decisions that could lead to a deal that would bring the country greater prosperity. But the problem with this formulation is that the history of the last hundred years, and even of the opening years of the 21st century, shows that while Israelis have always hoped that peace could be built around economic cooperation, Palestinian Arabs have always viewed the standoff with the Jews as a zero-sum conflict into which financial considerations have never been allowed to intrude.

We need to start any discussion about this report or a two-state solution that the economic benefits of such an idea require more than merely the establishment of a Palestinian state along with the withdrawal of some or all of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank or even a re-partition of Jerusalem. The economic benefits of peace are real but they require more than merely a piece of paper. Just as Israel must be willing to cede territory and allow the Palestinians sovereignty over it, the Palestinians are going to have to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where the border between the two countries is drawn. To date, that is something that not even the supposed moderates of Fatah who run the West Bank are willing to do. The Hamas rulers of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza may be willing to temporarily observe cease-fires with Israel, but actual peace that would lead to cooperation and prosperity is nothing they care to contemplate.

Still, something so sensible as a peace that would increase the average per capita income of each Palestinian by $1,000 (a rise of 36 percent over current levels) and boost the average Israeli income by $2,200 (up by 5 percent) seems worth a try. That’s especially true when Rand tells us that another intifada that would put the Palestinians into a state of armed conflict with Israel would decrease Palestinian incomes by an average $1,130 and Israelis by $4,330.00.

Why then won’t they do it? The answer is simple. The Palestinians have always viewed this discussion as one in which they were being asked to sell their homes and national honor for money. And that is something that a majority of them have never been willing to do.

The Rand Report is brand new but this topic is not.

From the very beginnings of modern Zionism, optimists have always asserted that the building up required for the movement’s success would be an economic bonanza for the country and benefit their Arab neighbors as much as that of the returning Jews. They were right about that. Zionism transformed a backwater region into an economic powerhouse creating jobs and wealth that brought an influx of immigrants from neighboring Arab countries into Ottoman and then British-ruled Palestine. Each new instance of development, from the creation of an electricity grid to the building up of the cities was thought to provide advantages for both sides so great that it would be impossible for Arab leaders to continue to whip up hatred for the Zionists. But on that score, those optimists were dead wrong. Right-wing Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky warned his fellow Jews that Arabs would not be bought off by economics but instead must be fought until they ceased resisting the new reality. Labor Zionists, who commanded the support of more Jews up until Menachem Begin’s election as Israeli prime minister in 1977, disagreed. They thought Palestinian workers and peasants would unite with them to shake off the influence of Arab elites who were thought to be whipping up nationalist and religious outrage about the influx of so many Jews.

That hoped-for economic revolution never happened. But hopes that finance would prevail over hate never died. Support among Israelis and their foreign friends for the 1993 Oslo Accords was driven in no small measure by a belief that the economic benefits of peace would prevail over ancient hates. It would take years of terrorism that culminated in the second intifada for most Israelis to finally shake off their delusions about the Palestinians embracing peace and prosperity. That intifada was, after all, preceded by an Israeli peace offer that would have given them an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem and Gaza.

That intifada not only cost the lives of more than a thousand Jews and many more Arabs but also nearly destroyed a Palestinian economy that seemed on the rise after Oslo. By choosing a terrorist war of attrition over peace with Israel and statehood, the Palestinian leadership didn’t merely set off a bloodbath, it set back the living standards of their people by decades. But rather than rise up against such a leadership, Palestinians instead began to turn more to Hamas, which offered an even more uncompromising view of the conflict. Since then American-trained economist Salam Fayyad tried to offer the Palestinian Authority more cooperation and a vision of good government, he soon realized that he was virtually a party of one.

Seen from that perspective, it’s no good telling Israelis that they’ll be better off with two states and Middle East peace. They know that but have already tried it and learned their potential peace partners have other ideas. We can hope that eventually the Palestinians will create a political culture that doesn’t regard violence against the Jews as praiseworthy and will embrace ideas like those Rand is offering them. Until then, this report, like so many others will remain moldering on the shelf as the Palestinians continue to pursue their dream of eliminating Israel.

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Israel-Saudi Cooperation Debunks Obama’s Foreign Policy Vision

President Obama came into office promising to change the world, a pledge that has largely been unfilled. But in one significant respect, he has achieved a truly revolutionary change. His misguided pursuit of détente with Iran has united two nations that were the most bitter of enemies only a few years ago: Israel and Saudi Arabia. But unfortunately for the administration, the rapprochement between two very different U.S. allies has only been achieved as a result of their mutual opposition to the president’s Middle East policy. So while the president can take credit for achieving something that was once unimaginable but in doing so, he has debunked some of the key assumptions about his view of the world.

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President Obama came into office promising to change the world, a pledge that has largely been unfilled. But in one significant respect, he has achieved a truly revolutionary change. His misguided pursuit of détente with Iran has united two nations that were the most bitter of enemies only a few years ago: Israel and Saudi Arabia. But unfortunately for the administration, the rapprochement between two very different U.S. allies has only been achieved as a result of their mutual opposition to the president’s Middle East policy. So while the president can take credit for achieving something that was once unimaginable but in doing so, he has debunked some of the key assumptions about his view of the world.

That Israel and Saudi Arabia are now united in seeking to derail Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is not a secret. But for the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry to share a stage at a Council on Foreign Relations event in Washington with a former top advisor to the government of Saudi Arabia confirms this amazing turnabout. As Eli Lake reports in Bloomberg, Dore Gold, a key advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and retired Saudi general Anwar Majed Eshki both largely agreed with each other on Iran. Both see Tehran as bent on achieving hegemony in the Middle East and must be stopped.

Despite the bellicose reputation of the Netanyahu government, it was actually the Saudi who sounded more extreme in his prescription for a solution to the problem. Eshki recommended a seven-point plan that starts with regime change in Iran as well as creating an independent Kurdistan form territory carved out of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Gold endorsed neither proposal.

It must be noted that the two were not in complete accord on everything. The Saudi general said that Israel would have to accept the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative before cooperation between the two nations could be formalized. But if you want to know why Netanyahu spoke in praise of that proposal last week in which he said he liked the general idea behind it, you now understand why he’s changed his mind about something he once rightly dismissed as a stunt with no real substance. The Saudis have yet to recognize Israel’s existence, let alone endorsed its legitimacy. Moreover, as Lake points out, 12 years ago, Gold wrote a book detailing Saudi involvement in financing Palestinian terror and hatred.

But thanks to Obama, the behind-the-scenes relationship between Israel and the Saudi has now come out into the open.

The two nations have little in common. Israel is a vibrant democracy while the Saudi kingdom is a theocratic oligarchy with little freedom. But both understand that Obama’s Iran-centric foreign policy threatens their security. With the Iranians financing and providing military assistance to Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Assad regime in Syria, its axis of influence is growing. Once it signs a deal with the United States and the rest of the West, it will become a threshold nuclear power and have two different pathways to a bomb, one by cheating and one by patiently waiting for Obama’s deal to expire. All that places Israel and the Gulf states in jeopardy, requiring them to begin working together on finding a way to put the region back into balance now that the president has destabilized it.

That America’s two key allies feel they have no choice but to begin tentatively working together to thwart U.S. policy isn’t merely ironic. It’s tangible evidence to the bad faith of an administration that has always been obsessed with appeasing enemies and discarding friends. But there is more to be unpacked from that CFR event than that obvious fact about the danger from Iran.

Obama came into office convinced that U.S. influence in the Middle East, as well as regional stability, revolved around one problem: the plight of the Palestinians. Resolving their conflict with Israel was the president’s top foreign policy from his first day in office. His belief that the U.S. was too close to Israel and that by establishing more daylight between the two allies, he could help broker an end to the long war between Jews and Arabs. To accomplish that goal, he picked fights with Israel, undermined its diplomatic position, and did his best to pressure the Israelis into making concessions that would please the Palestinians. The failure of this policy was foreordained since the Palestinians are still unable to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

But the events of the past six years have also shown that his focus on the Palestinians as the source of the problem was a disastrous mistake. The Arab spring, civil war in Syria, the rise of ISIS, and the Iranian nuclear threat proved that the Palestinians had little or nothing to do with the most serious problems in the region. Indeed, by forcing Israel and the Saudis to cooperate against Iran with little attention being paid to the dead end peace process with the Palestinians, Obama has effectively debunked the core idea at the heart of his foreign policy.

Israel-Saudi cooperation is certainly an example of how a president of the United States can create change. But it’s also proof of the bankruptcy of Obama’s dangerous vision for American foreign policy. His legacy won’t be so much an entente with Iran as it is the necessity of American allies having to band together to try to avoid the consequences of his disastrous misjudgments.

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Europe’s Anti-Israel Obsession Trumping Both Its Democracy and Its Economy

Even as President Barack Obama was arguing that Iranian anti-Semitism would never trump the country’s interests (as he defines them), an interesting case study in that theory was playing out in a very different venue: Europe. True, the European version doesn’t involve the classic anti-Semite’s obsession with individual Jews, but only the “new” anti-Semitism’s obsession with the Jewish state. Nevertheless, the results aren’t encouraging. In the past week alone, in the name of that obsession, one European country has gutted its own constitution and a second has endangered several of its leading commercial companies. Read More

Even as President Barack Obama was arguing that Iranian anti-Semitism would never trump the country’s interests (as he defines them), an interesting case study in that theory was playing out in a very different venue: Europe. True, the European version doesn’t involve the classic anti-Semite’s obsession with individual Jews, but only the “new” anti-Semitism’s obsession with the Jewish state. Nevertheless, the results aren’t encouraging. In the past week alone, in the name of that obsession, one European country has gutted its own constitution and a second has endangered several of its leading commercial companies.

The first case involved a report by the Swedish parliament’s Committee on the Constitution, which concluded that Prime Minister Stefan Loefvan’s government violated proper legal procedure in its recognition of “Palestine” last year. The report said the government announced the decision and even instructed Swedish embassies worldwide to put it into practice without consulting parliament’s Advisory Council on Foreign Affairs, as required, and without taking other necessary preparatory steps, such as consulting with the European Union. The report was issued unanimously; even members of Loefvan’s own party signed it.

And then, having unequivocally declared the decision to be in procedural violation of Swedish constitutional law, the committee said the recognition of “Palestine” should nevertheless stand, because that’s a “political” issue on which the panel can’t intervene. In other words, it declared that not only can Loefvan violate Swedish law with impunity, but the illegal decision he made won’t be overturned.

Thus for the sake of catering to Sweden’s pervasive anti-Israel sentiment, Swedish parliamentarians have created a precedent that future premiers will be able to use to justify violating constitutional procedure in other cases. After all, if this unconstitutional move was allowed to stand, why shouldn’t others be? And letting a constitution to be violated with impunity is the surest way to destroy it.

That’s a very high price to pay for indulging anti-Israel animus, but Sweden is evidently willing to pay it.

Case number two involved the statement by a French cellphone company’s CEO that he would like to stop doing business in Israel in order to appease anti-Israel boycotters. Some French government officials promptly leapt to his defense: French Ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud, for instance, argued that Orange’s Israeli franchisee operates in the settlements and, under the Fourth Geneva Convention, “settlement policy in occupied territories is illegal. It is illegal to contribute to it in any way.” In other words, Orange’s Israeli operations violate international law.

Nor is Araud exceptional: Many European officials are increasingly pushing this view. In 2013, for instance, the Dutch water company Vitens canceled a deal with Israeli company Mekorot after the Dutch government warned of potential legal problems stemming from Mekorot’s operations in the settlements.

As law professor Eugene Kontorovich pointed out, this happens to be false: Even if you consider the West Bank occupied territory, neither international law nor European law bans private companies from doing business in occupied territory.

But Kontorovich also noted that many leading European companies do business in other occupied territories, including French oil company Total in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara and French tire giant Michelin in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus. So if any European country actually succeeds in declaring private business in “Israeli-occupied territory” illegal, activists in places like Western Sahara and Northern Cyprus will pounce on that precedent to sue European businesses operating in their territories.

Araud, for one, clearly doesn’t get this. When Kontorovich pointed it out to him on Twitter, he offered the following astonishing response: “I speak of one occupied territory. I am answered on other territories.”

But if something is the law for one occupied territory, then it’s the law for all occupied territories; as Kontorovich noted, law by definition is “a rule that applies to similar situations.” Thus by pushing the line that business activity in “Israeli-occupied territory” is illegal, European officials are making their own companies vulnerable to lawsuits from occupied territories ’round the world.

Again, that seems like a high price to pay for indulging anti-Israel animus, but many European officials are evidently willing to pay it.

I’ve written before about cases of European officials undermining cherished values and interests for the sake of indulging anti-Israel animus, but such cases used to be exceptional. Now, if the past week is any indication, they are rapidly becoming the norm. A growing number of Europeans are evidently willing to sacrifice both their democracies and their economies on the altar of their obsession with Israel.

But not to worry – Obama says anti-Semites are rational. And why let the facts interfere with a good story?

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Liberalism and Obama’s Jewish Pretensions

So it turns out that President Obama not only thinks he understands Israel better than the Israelis, he also sees himself as being “the closest thing to a Jew” that has ever served as president. That quote comes from David Axelrod, the former Obama political adviser, who told Israel’s Channel 2 the president said this in the context of complaining about how hurtful it was to him that some Israelis and American Jews consider him an opponent of the Jewish state or even an anti-Semite. That Obama has a very thin skin is something that has been apparent throughout his presidency. But the idea that he somehow considers himself at least as, if not more, Jewish than the leaders of the Jewish state and its supporters is a remarkable insight into his thinking. The question is not so much whether to accept this bizarre formulation as it is to what would lead the president to come to such a mistaken conclusion. The only answer is that he, like some of his Jewish supporters, actually thinks Jewish identity is a function of modern American political liberalism rather than a faith or a people.

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So it turns out that President Obama not only thinks he understands Israel better than the Israelis, he also sees himself as being “the closest thing to a Jew” that has ever served as president. That quote comes from David Axelrod, the former Obama political adviser, who told Israel’s Channel 2 the president said this in the context of complaining about how hurtful it was to him that some Israelis and American Jews consider him an opponent of the Jewish state or even an anti-Semite. That Obama has a very thin skin is something that has been apparent throughout his presidency. But the idea that he somehow considers himself at least as, if not more, Jewish than the leaders of the Jewish state and its supporters is a remarkable insight into his thinking. The question is not so much whether to accept this bizarre formulation as it is to what would lead the president to come to such a mistaken conclusion. The only answer is that he, like some of his Jewish supporters, actually thinks Jewish identity is a function of modern American political liberalism rather than a faith or a people.

The debate over the Iran nuclear deal that the president has championed is the reason the president has embarked upon another Jewish charm offensive. But the Axelrod quote makes it clear that the president’s sense of himself as being somehow above criticism from Israel’s friends is animating his unwillingness to listen to them. These few words show that the problem here is not so much spirited disagreements over the details of the Iran deal or a policy of pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, but a president that feels uniquely entitled to tell the Jewish state what it should be doing.

For over a century, American Jewish liberals have been building a case that their political views were not merely justified by their faith, but actually mandated by it.This was rooted in the natural predilection of a religious minority as well as one that was largely composed of immigrants to identify with the underdog and the disadvantaged. It was primarily based on a belief that expanding the power of the state to provide services and benefits was a natural extension of Jewish religious law.

Social justice is a key element of Judaism. But the notion that the only way its vision can be realized is via the creation of a massive welfare state that arrogates to itself vast power that is ultimately unaccountable to the people is a function of the political theories of 20th century America, not Jewish traditions or its religious law. As Eric Cohen wrote in his April essay in Mosaicmagazine.com and as others who have subsequently responded to it have pointed out, there is a strong case to be made for Jewish conservatism as a more authentic and ultimately more compelling approach to interpreting Judaism in contemporary society. But, as Norman Podhoretz pointed out in his book Why Are Jews Liberals, for a critical mass of secular Jews, Jewish identity has become merely a vehicle for liberal politics or it is virtually nothing at all.

Under the circumstances, it is, perhaps, understandable, if lamentable, that an African-American man who belonged to a Christian church with a radical left-wing pastor and who had a long history of making anti-Israel comments would consider himself almost a Jew or America’s most Jewish president ever just because he was a liberal.

But if even liberals are somewhat nonplussed by Obama’s profession of Jewish identity, they probably share his view that an Israel that is not always perfectly in accord with their political views cannot be as authentically Jewish as a black man who supports government health care legislation or views Palestinians as largely blameless for the war they’ve waging on Zionism for the past century.

As he noted in his speech last month at a Washington, D.C. synagogue, Obama has to a large extent bought into the myth that Israel used to a liberal country, but is now descending into nationalist barbarism from which both Americans and Jews should disassociate themselves. If those sentiments were widely applauded by liberal Jews, it is not just because they don’t understand that their views about the distinctions between Israel’s Labor Zionist governments of the country’s first decades and its current coalition are largely unfounded. It is because many of them also judge Israel’s actions through the lens of an American political prism that has little to do with the realities of the Middle East or that of a country that is faced with the task of navigating between faith and national identity while under siege. Indeed, perhaps it is possible to judge President Obama’s clueless approach to the peace process and even Iran a bit less harshly if we remember that many of his liberal Jewish supporters are just as naïve as he is about these subjects.

It is of course entirely possible to hold liberal political views while also understanding that détente with Iran is a foolish gambit that will make the Middle East far more dangerous. It is also possible to agree with the president on domestic issues while still being sensible enough to understand that pressuring Israel to make concessions to a Palestinian Authority that is both unwilling and incapable of making peace is a fool’s errand that actually lessen the chances of ending the conflict rather than achieving that goal. But for Obama and his inner circle, these bits of common sense go unacknowledged in no small measure because of their false conception of Judaism as a theological vessel for modern liberal politics. Under the circumstances, it would appear that the last thing Israel needs is a Jewish president, or at least one whose identity is defined by adherence to the catechism of American liberalism.

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