Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel

A Plea for Sanity in the Battle over Bibi

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

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

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

But the question that confused people was as follows:

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

(Read options. Rotate.)

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

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

8            Not sure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Holocaust and History’s Many Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JG: Not a big Philip Roth fan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BDS Drops Its Veil: Campus Anti-Semitism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ISIS and the Stalingradization of Yarmouk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he finally gets around to his point:

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

Our selective outrage is morally unsustainable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iran Sanctions and Missile Defense

That didn’t take long. It’s been less than two weeks since the unveiling of the “framework” agreement at Lausanne between Iran and the West, and already we are seeing one of the consequences of lifting sanctions, with Russia’s announcement that it would finally begin to deliver components of the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Tehran. The Iranians had bought the S-300 in 2007 for $800 million but the deal was suspended because of United Nations sanctions. Now, with the end of sanctions in sight, Russia is predictably rushing in to reap the benefits, regardless of the consequences of further beefing up Iran’s military might.

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That didn’t take long. It’s been less than two weeks since the unveiling of the “framework” agreement at Lausanne between Iran and the West, and already we are seeing one of the consequences of lifting sanctions, with Russia’s announcement that it would finally begin to deliver components of the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Tehran. The Iranians had bought the S-300 in 2007 for $800 million but the deal was suspended because of United Nations sanctions. Now, with the end of sanctions in sight, Russia is predictably rushing in to reap the benefits, regardless of the consequences of further beefing up Iran’s military might.

A couple of points are worth making.

First, this shows how easily sanctions crumble and how hard it is reassemble them in the future. The administration brags about “snap back” provisions in its negotiations with the Iranians, but does anyone seriously believe that a nation like Russia will ever vote on the UN Security Council to hold Iran accountable for violations of a nuclear accord, when by doing so Moscow would be hurting its own economic interests?

Second, this shows how much more formidable Iran will be with sanctions lifted. If Iran ever gets the S-300 operational, that will make air strikes on the Iranian nuclear complex much harder for the United States or Israel. And that’s just a start. Imagine how much military hardware—everything from rockets to tanks to complex cyber weapons—the Iranians will be able to buy with all sanctions lifted. Already Iran is a potent threat to its neighbors. Already Iran is on the verge of dominating the region from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. All of those trends will accelerate with Iran having billions more to spend on its hegemonic power grab.

As a result, the lifting of sanctions, should it occur, will be an irreversible step with momentous consequences for the future. No responsible leader in the West should contemplate such a drastic move unless Iran, at a minimum, makes a full accounting of its past nuclear-weapons work (without which it is impossible to judge its future compliance), agrees to export the uranium it has already enriched, agrees to permanent limits on its nuclear activities, and allows completely unfettered access to international inspections—none of which Iran has yet agreed to, at least not according to the public comments of the supreme leader.

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Obama to Bibi: The Jerk Store Called, They’re Running Out of You!

After State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed Henry Kissinger and George Shultz’s critique of the Iran framework deal as “a lot of big words and big thoughts,” David Brooks responded by asking, “Are we in nursery school?” The evidence for answering that question in the affirmative continued to mount yesterday. Following on last month’s Twitter trolling of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (broadly criticized as mortifyingly undignified), the Obama administration did it again, proving once again the administration’s embarrassing immaturity and the fact that it is Obama who is keeping the public feud with Israel alive.

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After State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed Henry Kissinger and George Shultz’s critique of the Iran framework deal as “a lot of big words and big thoughts,” David Brooks responded by asking, “Are we in nursery school?” The evidence for answering that question in the affirmative continued to mount yesterday. Following on last month’s Twitter trolling of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (broadly criticized as mortifyingly undignified), the Obama administration did it again, proving once again the administration’s embarrassing immaturity and the fact that it is Obama who is keeping the public feud with Israel alive.

This time the White House tweeted out a picture that was expressly intended to mock Netanyahu’s famous bomb diagram at the UN in September 2012. At that time, Netanyahu used the picture to illustrate Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. The cartoon bomb appeared to backfire because it looked like something out of a Warner Bros. cartoon, no doubt leading the White House to hope an Acme anvil would drop out of the sky and onto the podium at that moment. But the illustration did at least draw attention to Netanyahu’s message, and succeeded in driving the conversation in the media.

Yesterday, the White House tweeted out the following picture:

whbomb

The “facts” in the diagram are mostly spin, though I don’t think anyone expects anything accurate out of the Obama administration’s press shop. The point of the diagram–the only point, since the picture isn’t actually informative and the president could have put out this information any number of ways–was to mock the Israeli prime minister on Twitter for something that happened in 2012.

Obama is essentially George Castanza finally coming up with what he believes is a great, though hilariously delayed, response to an earlier insult. Obama’s message to Bibi is: “The jerk store called, they’re running out of you!”

On a more serious note–though at this part we’ll surely lose the president and his spokespersons–does the Obama administration consider how this looks to the world? I doubt it. For example, the Russians just loved it–not because it was funny, but because the Kremlin-directed media expressed what appears to be Vladimir Putin’s uncontainable glee at watching the supposed leader of the free world (or at least Stephen Harper’s deputy leader of the free world, at this point) throw food at the Israeli prime minister in public.

If you’re an American adversary, you don’t even really have to do anything at this point. You can just sit and watch the Obama administration melt down under the weight of its own childish ignorance. Here’s Sputnik:

In three hours, the image had been retweeted nearly 700 times, with one user quipping “Apparently, the #WhiteHouse has hired #Netanyahu ‘s graphic design team.”

All in good fun. Except, you know, for the fact that the Obama administration apparently thinks a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is a big joke.

The last time the Obama administration did this was in early March. Its trolling then was more explicitly aimed at picking a fight with Netanyahu but, unlike this latest trolling, was at least above the intellectual maturity of a preschooler. The National Security Council tweeted out a column by Fareed Zakaria attempting to rebut Netanyahu. But the NSC’s tweet was more than just a link; it also added this administration’s trademark bitterness:

Yesterday’s trolling, ironically, actually confirmed Netanyahu’s success at controlling the conversation about Iranian nukes. The president has been trying to think of a comeback for two and a half years. And the picture, clearly, stuck in the minds of those who saw it.

If you’re thinking that, for an Ivy League-educated president of the United States, we’re sure using the word “trolling” an awful lot–well, yes. That’s one lesson of this whole affair. The president likes to troll allies on Twitter. Is there a better use of his time? I would imagine so.

But to realize that he would need a certain degree of self-awareness. It’s times like this the president’s tendency to hire young communications officials, inexperienced campaign hacks, and a Cabinet and inner circle of yes-men catches up with him.

The other lesson here is that it shows beyond all doubt (if anyone still had doubts) that Obama is the one who wants to keep this feud going, and publicly. At this point it’s obvious that Obama’s obsessive focus on Netanyahu’s campaign comments were merely a pretext to threaten to take action the administration was always planning on taking.

But this makes it crystal clear that when the administration gets all the mileage possible out of one manufactured controversy, and the prime minister hasn’t said anything they could harp on again, they’ll merely drop all pretense and just start taking potshots. Obama does not want this feud dropped, and he does not want reconciliation. He just wants to keep fighting. And our adversaries are just enjoying the show.

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Imagining a Jewish Conservatism

There is a remarkable expression of market economics in the Mishnah, the Jewish law book, in the discussion of fast days, and it’s worth revisiting when reading this month’s typically incisive Mosaic essay on Jewish conservatism. The Mishnah discusses the establishment of communal fast days when the rains don’t arrive by a certain point in the season in which they are needed. If the drought continues, the leaders declare three such fast days in two weeks, with the fasts taking place on consecutive Mondays and Thursdays. The mishnaic text reads:

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There is a remarkable expression of market economics in the Mishnah, the Jewish law book, in the discussion of fast days, and it’s worth revisiting when reading this month’s typically incisive Mosaic essay on Jewish conservatism. The Mishnah discusses the establishment of communal fast days when the rains don’t arrive by a certain point in the season in which they are needed. If the drought continues, the leaders declare three such fast days in two weeks, with the fasts taking place on consecutive Mondays and Thursdays. The mishnaic text reads:

Public fasts are not to be ordered to commence on a Thursday, in order not to raise the price of victuals in the markets; but the first fasts are to be on Monday, Thursday, and [the following] Monday; but the second three fasts may follow on Thursday, Monday, and [the following] Thursday. R. José says, “Even as the first fasts are not to be commenced on Thursday, so also are the second and last fasts not to commence on that day.”

Beginning an unscheduled fast on Thursday would raise prices just when people need to begin their grocery shopping for Shabbat. According to this logic the second fast can be a Thursday because it’s known in advance, giving shoppers time to prepare ahead of time and causing less havoc in the markets.

What we have here is a rather amazing case of Jewish law being set according to market economics and the principle of unintended consequences. You could call such ideas “conservative” or “classically liberal,” such as they are–but of course they preceded thinkers like Milton Friedman by almost two thousand years.

We’ll come back to Friedman in a moment, but first: this month’s fantastic Mosaic essay. In it, Eric Cohen argues for a Jewish conservatism as a political project in response to the threats–demographic, security, and otherwise–the Jews face today. A summary can’t really do the essay justice, so read the whole thing. Cohen talks about the role of the family in fostering continuity; the purpose of Jewish nationalism; the primacy of economics; and other conceptual areas of this political program. But he also says, as well he should, that: “What such an agenda would look like—its programmatic content—is a task for a separate essay and another occasion.”

Cohen’s purpose is to establish the principles, and he does so with great insight and erudition.

But we should still think about how to fill in the blanks, and also make one important distinction. Cohen’s essay is so valuable because it weaves together disparate elements into a “Jewish conservatism.” Yet part of any program of “Jewish conservatism” will also be conservatism as practiced by Jews. And for that, we really do have some idea how it would look.

Israel is the most obvious testing ground for Jewish conservatism. It is a country ever in the process of breaking free from its socialist shackles, but the seeds were planted earlier.

When we discuss the promotion of democracy abroad, we often hear objections like: “There are no Thomas Jeffersons and James Madisons in Iraq.” True. And what makes the United States and Israel such easy allies is the fact that Israel did have Thomas Jeffersons and James Madisons (though it needed more of them; it could have used a full constitution, for example). One such founder was Vladimir Jabotinsky.

Jabotinsky rejected socialism and had a fuller appreciation of individual liberty than virtually any other Israeli founding father. Here is Jabotinsky on representative democracy:

What is especially difficult to understand is the mentality of those who yearn for “leaders.” The situation was completely different and better in my youth. We believed that every movement was made of people of equal worth. Each one was a prince, each one was a king. When election time came, they chose, not people, but programs. Those who were chosen were nothing but the executors of the program. We, the masses, would follow them and listen to them, not because they were “leaders,” but specifically because they were our “servants”; when you, of your own free will, chose a group of people and order to them to work for you, you had to help them–or remove them. Because you were obeying not their will, but only your own will, which was expressed in the election. … This philosophy of my youth was perhaps a complete fiction (like all human philosophies), but I much prefer it; it had more genius and more noblesse, even though it bore the name, whose prestige has declined–democracy.

When your nationalist movement has such men at the forefront, democracy and freedom are in the DNA of the state that eventually comes into being. Jabotinsky’s vision might not have been described as “conservative” then, but it sure is now. This focus on nationalism and democratic accountability is falling out of favor in the West, but any aspiring political program would do well to swim against that tide.

But we can get more specific than that, with examples, once the state was actually founded–actually, when the right finally won an election nearly thirty years after the founding of the country. Shedding the country’s socialist skin was not easy. But Israeli rightists were willing to take on the challenge, at least incrementally. Menachem Begin was the Likud’s first prime minister after the 1977 elections. He called on–you guessed it–Milton Friedman for assistance.

Avi Shilon’s biography of Begin probably has the best rundown of the Begin government’s economic plans. A brief summary is as follows.

Begin wanted Friedman’s help with his New Economic Reversal. Friedman called Begin’s reform plans as “daring as the raid on Entebbe.” Subsidies were eliminated. This was politically brave, since lower-income earners were a crucial voting bloc in Begin’s electoral triumph. Also cancelled were foreign-currency controls to open up trade and investment. In order to try to alleviate the deficit, Begin also raised the value-added tax.

But Begin still did not go far enough, and inflation hit. Shilon writes:

The desire to create a free market in an economy that had not known many changes since the establishment of the state was expressed, among other things, in the fact that the linkage mechanism that compensated wage earners for price increases and that had been in existence since the days of Mapai was not eliminated, thus negating the effect of the built-in mechanism of inflation, by which rising prices were supposed to reduce demand and inflationary pressures.

He was also hesitant to push a fuller privatization program. Additionally, he wouldn’t cut government spending where it needed to be cut to help manage the debt. “I want social justice without socialism,” he had said. It was a start, anyway.

Israel took a big step forward with the Economic Stabilization Program beginning in 1985. Though Labor’s Shimon Peres was prime minister that year, he was heading a national unity government at a time when Likud had the upper hand, and the program was overseen by the Likud finance minister, Yitzhak Moda’i. It was instituted to boost the shekel, and rein in government spending through various mechanisms. It also had the assistance of the Reagan administration.

The stabilization was successful. More such programs finally took place in 2003 when Benjamin Netanyahu, at the time the finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s government, instituted more reforms by cutting taxes and increasing privatization while keeping government spending in check. And of course we can’t forget Israel’s reputation as a “start-up nation,” in which the opportunity to take risks and innovate is a mark of pride.

Back in the U.S., many American Jews are already positively disposed toward market economics, which has given them unprecedented freedom and prosperity. But other issues, such as school choice and religious liberty, will play an increasingly significant role in their lives. On those issues, the conservative positions may become more attractive to practicing Jews.

I’ve deliberately left off support for Israel. Although these days the American right is far friendlier to Israel than is the left, there is nothing specifically “conservative,” just as there is nothing specifically “liberal,” about support for an ally and a fellow democracy like Israel. It ought to be part of any conservative political program, but I hesitate to say it’s conceptually conservative.

There are other examples I’m sure I’m missing, but it will only help to put meat on the bones of a Jewish conservatism that we have so many real-world examples of Jews practicing political conservatism. With that combination, a real Jewish conservatism can take shape.

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A Bad Nuclear Deal? Never Mind!

Rather than merely inveigh against the seeming betrayal of the U.S.-Israel alliance represented by President Obama’s pursuit of détente with Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is attempting to reason with the administration. It has issued a detailed list of shortcomings with the as-yet-unwritten deal with Tehran that illustrate just how flimsy are the assurances about the nuclear threat the administration has been giving the nation. The president has dismissed some of them but for the most part the White House has ignored, at least in public, the specific problems with the pact. But the New York Times editorial page, which continues to serve as the president’s chief cheerleader, did deign to notice the Israeli list today. And while the editors of the Times acknowledged that all of the Israeli points were troubling, their response was straight out of a classic Saturday Night Live comedy routine: Never mind. While this is quite a commentary on the poor reasoning of the deal’s chief advocates, it also illustrates that their boasts about the agreement’s worth are as hollow as the president’s assurances that it will stop Iran from getting a bomb.

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Rather than merely inveigh against the seeming betrayal of the U.S.-Israel alliance represented by President Obama’s pursuit of détente with Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is attempting to reason with the administration. It has issued a detailed list of shortcomings with the as-yet-unwritten deal with Tehran that illustrate just how flimsy are the assurances about the nuclear threat the administration has been giving the nation. The president has dismissed some of them but for the most part the White House has ignored, at least in public, the specific problems with the pact. But the New York Times editorial page, which continues to serve as the president’s chief cheerleader, did deign to notice the Israeli list today. And while the editors of the Times acknowledged that all of the Israeli points were troubling, their response was straight out of a classic Saturday Night Live comedy routine: Never mind. While this is quite a commentary on the poor reasoning of the deal’s chief advocates, it also illustrates that their boasts about the agreement’s worth are as hollow as the president’s assurances that it will stop Iran from getting a bomb.

Though the Times terms the deal “surprisingly comprehensive,” the most interesting thing about the editorial is that it can’t dismiss the list of problems that Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz has produced. On each point, even the Times, which has been consistently and scathingly critical of the Netanyahu government on Iran as well as every other possible issue, admits the Israelis generally have a good argument.

The Times admits that eliminating Iran’s centrifuges, closing down the impregnable mountainside facility at Fordow, and mandating inspections anytime and anywhere would be preferable to what President Obama has accepted.

On other points, the Times notes Israel’s objections, but disingenuously claims that the agreement satisfies them. One such is the question of the stockpile of enriched uranium that, contrary to the expectations of even critics of the administration’s negotiating strategy, will not be shipped out of Iran and will instead remain under the regime’s control. The Times says that this stockpile, like the continued operation of the thousands of centrifuges that will continue to operate, means that “Iran can’t enrich material for nuclear weapons.” But that is not true since the stockpile can be easily and quickly reconverted to use for nuclear fuel. So, too, can any centrifuges that are being reconfigured for other uses.

Elsewhere, the Times merely engages in wishful thinking. That is especially true in its reaction to the Israelis pointing out that Iran has continued to stonewall the International Atomic Energy Agency on its past research on military use of nuclear material. The fact that the deal does not require Iran to tell the truth about this is a fatal flaw since without knowing how much progress they’ve made, all estimates about the time needed for a nuclear “breakout” are uninformed guesses. To this point, the Times merely breezily pretends that the written final version of the agreement will ensure that Iran does open up on this issue.

That is nonsense, since Iran has already learned that when faced with a refusal in a negotiation, the Obama administration always folds. And that is the entire point of both the editorial and the cogent criticisms that have been made about the deal.

It is true that, as the Times states, negotiations require compromises. But if the goal of this agreement is to ensure that Iran doesn’t either cheat its way to a bomb, or, as is just as likely, get one by abiding by a pact whose restrictions will expire in 15 years, then compromise that allows either scenario to happen is counter-productive.

The administration and the Times claims that to insist on any of the Israeli points would be to scuttle the deal. But all that tells us is that, as has been evident since the start of the negotiations, President Obama’s main purpose was to get a deal at any price, not to insist on one that would fulfill his campaign promises about eliminating Iran’s nuclear program. To claim that a deal that would fit Israel’s parameters is “unworkable” is merely to cravenly accept Iran’s frame of reference about the nuclear issue.

The Israeli objections are a viable alternative because they provide a path to a deal that would actually fulfill the avowed purpose of the negotiations. An agreement that would impose inspections, reduce Iran’s nuclear infrastructure to a bare minimum, and remove all possibility of their ever breaking out would do just that. So, too, would one that wouldn’t expire in a few years which, given the huge nuclear establishment left in place, almost guarantees that the Islamist regime will be in possession of a bomb sooner or later.

The gap between Israel and the United States is not so much about the details but as to goals. The administration and its supporters have abandoned the quest to stop Iran or decided that it’s just too heavy a lift to keep trying. Israel and rational critics of the president in Congress understand that the alternative is to demand a good deal or to ratchet up sanctions and isolation that would force Iran to give way. It is true that in the absence of a leader with the intestinal fortitude to push the Iranians hard and to credibly threaten force, that may be impossible.

But the Times editorial shows us there is no substantive debate about the shortcomings of the deal with Iran. If even the president’s most ardent backers seem to understand that it is a flimsy check on Tehran even if they continue to describe it with meaningless laudatory phrases about it being “groundbreaking” and even having “potential” (a piece of unintended comedy if ever there was one), then how can open-minded observers take their defense of it seriously?

Supporters of the administration understand that their only real talking point is one that claims that even a weak deal is better than none at all. That is not a compelling argument about any issue and certainly not one that involves giving a vicious, aggressive anti-Semitic regime the status of a threshold nuclear power.

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Iran Announces Film to Celebrate Israel’s Coming Destruction

President Barack Obama has dismissed arguments that U.S. negotiators should demand that Iran recognize Israel and Israel’s right to exist as part of any final agreement. To do so would be too difficult, the president argues, and not relevant to the narrow goal at hand which is simply to strike an accord to constrain Iran’s nuclear breakout ability for a decade or so. Perhaps no statement better illustrates the moral and cultural equivalence that infuses President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

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President Barack Obama has dismissed arguments that U.S. negotiators should demand that Iran recognize Israel and Israel’s right to exist as part of any final agreement. To do so would be too difficult, the president argues, and not relevant to the narrow goal at hand which is simply to strike an accord to constrain Iran’s nuclear breakout ability for a decade or so. Perhaps no statement better illustrates the moral and cultural equivalence that infuses President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

It is akin to saying North Korea seeks South Korea’s destruction and it would be too complicated to impede Pyongyang’s murderous intent. Russian President Vladimir Putin has expansionist intent? Well, let’s not let his imperialist ambitions toward the Baltics, Poland, and the rest of Ukraine get in the way of our diplomacy.

The Iranian regime’s character isn’t some inconvenient detail; it is the central problem. And as if to underline the problem, the Islamic Republic has announced a new documentary film which will celebrate the life of Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. It’s bad enough lionizing a master terrorist responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the description of the film is even more telling: The film Commander will depict Iran’s and Soleimani’s strategic approach to destroy not only the Islamic State but also “the Zionist regime.” Importantly, the article describing the film was published after agreement on a nuclear framework between the P5+1 and Iran. Let’s hope that with their willful naivete, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry don’t get credit for small but important bit roles.

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Another Palestinian Statehood Bid?

Just three months since the UN Security Council rejected a resolution on Palestinian statehood, it appears another such resolution is being drafted. Back in December the Palestinian bid was rejected outright with no cause for a U.S. veto, but since then the membership of the Security Council has altered to include nations far more likely to support such a resolution. Added to that is the fact that this somewhat toned down French proposal may well win wider backing. Not to mention the growing threats from the Obama administration to withhold America’s veto and abandon Israel at the UN.

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Just three months since the UN Security Council rejected a resolution on Palestinian statehood, it appears another such resolution is being drafted. Back in December the Palestinian bid was rejected outright with no cause for a U.S. veto, but since then the membership of the Security Council has altered to include nations far more likely to support such a resolution. Added to that is the fact that this somewhat toned down French proposal may well win wider backing. Not to mention the growing threats from the Obama administration to withhold America’s veto and abandon Israel at the UN.

The very fact that the French are even planning to submit this resolution so soon after a similar one was rejected is itself an outrageous move. The French had been working closely with the Palestinian Authority regarding December’s statehood bid at the Security Council. The French had lobbied without success in an effort to get the Palestinians to submit a bid that the Europeans on the council could actually vote for. Yet astonishingly, when the Palestinians stuck to their guns and put forward a typically uncompromising text, both France and Luxembourg went ahead and voted in favor of the resolution anyway.

Now France is doing things its own way. This resolution calls for the old 1949/1967 Jordanian armistice lines to be the basis for borders, as well as making part of Jerusalem a Palestinian capital, and finding a “fair” solution for Palestinian refugees. There are conflicting reports on whether the resolution will recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Either way, only the other day President Abbas reiterated before the Executive Committee of the PLO that he would never recognize the Jewish state. So will the Obama administration now be threatening to abandon the Palestinians at the UN as they did following Netanyahu’s comparably milder comments during the Israeli elections?

Whatever the French actually decide to put in the final version, the fact that any such resolution is being put forward by France is itself bizarre. It is often asked why, of all the pressing concerns in the world today, is it the very much not pressing matter of Palestinian statehood that is awarded so much prominence? But one might just as well ask why, of all countries, is it France that has become so taken with forcing a Palestinian state into existence. What possible national advantage could there be for France in seeing a particularly dubious incarnation of a Palestinian state established—not alongside but rather right in the middle of the Jewish state?

Well, for one thing France’s Hollande-led government is desperately unpopular right now. And for another, the country has a large Muslim population that appears to be growing in both size and fury. And that’s the point: this does nothing to significantly advance French interests internationally, but it could do a great deal to improve the prospects of Hollande’s government at home.

This relationship between France’s domestic predicament and its actions on the world stage for the Palestinians is particularly unsettling. Because on the French domestic scene, the situation for Jews is becoming progressively worse.  And as French Jewry is being murdered and hounded out of the country, many are choosing to take refuge in the State of Israel. And yet it is the security of that very Jewish refuge that the French government now seems committed to jeopardizing.

Whether Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius realize it or not, there has never been a worse time to pursue Palestinian statehood. Frankly, it appears that they don’t care. Yet if a small, unstable, financially unviable Palestinian state was imposed on the West Bank tomorrow, there’s a very real chance that it would be well on the way to becoming just another of the region’s Iranian satellites the day after. Worse still, since the French proposal—like the Obama administration—seems determined to make the 1949 armistice lines Israel’s easternmost border, and not the more defensible Jordan valley, there is a very real threat of Islamist groups such as ISIS infiltrating the area from the east.

It is hard to comprehend that at a time when the Middle East is so perilously unstable, permanent Security Council members are hellbent on pursuing a policy that if implemented would make it radically more unstable. Similarly, it is mystifying that at a time when the West’s allies in the region already have their backs against the wall, Western countries appear prepared to push them still further. And all for the sake of feeding the deranged obsession for achieving imminent Palestinian statehood, no matter the cost.

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The Holocaust, White Privilege, and American Jewry

This morning the Times of Israel reported on the fascinating archeological work of Caroline Sturdy Colls, an associate professor at England’s Staffordshire University. Colls just published a book on applying non-invasive, “CSI-like” forensic methods to archeological research at sensitive Holocaust-related grounds. It is a hopeful peek into the future, though that future has a cloud hanging over it too: we’ll need better forensic tools in part because we’re going to need to show the world what happened without survivors to guide us. Intellectually, however, educating people on the non-obvious lingering effects of the Holocaust will be even more challenging, as a bizarre piece in today’s New Republic reminds us.

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This morning the Times of Israel reported on the fascinating archeological work of Caroline Sturdy Colls, an associate professor at England’s Staffordshire University. Colls just published a book on applying non-invasive, “CSI-like” forensic methods to archeological research at sensitive Holocaust-related grounds. It is a hopeful peek into the future, though that future has a cloud hanging over it too: we’ll need better forensic tools in part because we’re going to need to show the world what happened without survivors to guide us. Intellectually, however, educating people on the non-obvious lingering effects of the Holocaust will be even more challenging, as a bizarre piece in today’s New Republic reminds us.

The column, by Phoebe Maltz Bovy, was titled “The Holocaust Doesn’t Discount Jewish White Privilege Today” (it appears to have been changed at some point to “Does the Holocaust Discount Jewish White Privilege?”) and is specifically responding to two points in a recent Tablet column by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. The general thrust of the piece was about being pro-Israel in liberal environments and how some Jews in such situations feel safer closeting their Zionism. Bovy’s critique of it is an exercise in missing the point.

The first point Bovy is responding to is Brodesser-Akner’s assertion that many pro-Israel Jews suffer in silence: “My DM boxes on Twitter and Facebook are filled with people like me—liberals, culture reporters, economics reporters—baffled and sad at the way the cause of Jews avoiding another attempt at our genocide has gone from a liberal one to a capital-c Conservative one.”

Bovy’s response is to find fault in the imputation of achdus:

When it comes to Israeli policy especially, it seems not just inaccurate but dangerous to suggest that the American Jews who aren’t, say, rah-rah for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in public are thus in private. It would play into stereotypes of Jews having dual loyalties, or all holding the same (far-right) views when it comes to Israel.

You’ll notice Bovy got everything in that excerpt wrong, from Brodesser-Akner’s intended point, to its implications, to conflating support for Israel with loyalty to Israel’s government, and even to the mistaken characterization of the views in question.

The second point Bovy is responding to, and which is relevant to the question of the Holocaust, is the following tweet, which Brodesser-Akner sent out recently and expounded on in her essay:

Bovy then does what all helpful leftists do: declare someone else’s privilege and minimize their suffering. Here’s the crux of her case against Brodesser-Akner:

It’s entirely possible for a Jew whose relatives were killed in the Holocaust to benefit from certain aspects of (for lack of a better term) white privilege. That the Nazis wouldn’t have considered you white doesn’t mean that store clerks, taxi drivers, prospective employers, and others in the contemporary United States won’t accord you the unearned advantages white people, Jewish and otherwise, enjoy. That your ancestors were victims of genocide in a different place and at a different time doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the victimizing caste in your own society, any more than having had impoverished forbears means that you can’t have been born into money. (Not, to be clear, that all Jews are!)

Again, talk about missing the point. But what I think many of Bovy’s critics are missing is that her argument, crucially, fails on her own terms too, and those of the social-justice warriors of the left. If you think “white privilege” can be reduced to the ability to get a taxi, then sure, Brodesser-Akner is probably privileged. Bovy is making what seems like an obvious point: if you’re one of the many Jews who don’t wear identifying garments, you can make white America think you’re one of them.

Bovy is also surely not the first to tell Brodesser-Akner that her ancestors might have been victims but she can also “be part of the victimizing caste in [her] own society”–this is the accusation leveled at Israel and its supporters every day, though in far uglier ways than this. More interesting is that the arguments of the social-justice left have become so rote and mechanized that they no longer seem to understand them as intellectual concepts, just bumper-sticker slogans to be deployed as trump cards.

And understanding a fuller picture of what is usually meant by white privilege–beyond benefiting from the supposed casual racism of cab drivers–is helpful here. One of the better pieces on white privilege in recent months was Reihan Salam’s column in Slate back in December. He was writing after the controversial grand jury decisions, in Ferguson and New York, not to indict police officers who killed a black man while on duty. Salam noted that white privilege was not just about law enforcement, but that there was an economic element to it as well.

I recommend reading the whole thing, but here is the part that jumps out at me in the context of Bovy’s Holocaust remark:

Even white Americans of modest means are more likely to have inherited something, in the form of housing wealth or useful professional connections, than the descendants of slaves. In his influential 2005 book When Affirmative Action Was White, Ira Katznelson recounts in fascinating detail the various ways in which the New Deal and Fair Deal social programs of the 1930s and 1940s expanded economic opportunities for whites while doing so unevenly at best for blacks, particularly in the segregated South. Many rural whites who had known nothing but the direst poverty saw their lives transformed as everything from rural electrification to generous educational benefits for veterans allowed them to build human capital, earn higher incomes, and accumulate savings. This legacy, in ways large and small, continues to enrich the children and grandchildren of the whites of that era. This is the stuff of white privilege.

He also points out that “all kinds of valuable social goods are transmitted through social networks.” How is this relevant to Brodesser-Akner? Well, if you’re an American Jew in Brodesser-Akner’s age range you probably descend from parents or grandparents who were less the beneficiaries of white affirmative action and more the targets of anti-Semitism, in their professional lives at least, that greatly reduced your family’s share of the wealth and access that could be passed to future generations. You are, in other words, on the outside of white privilege looking in.

And specifically, someone with few surviving relatives due to the Holocaust is someone who might not have the extended network–familial and otherwise–that would facilitate economic advancement, especially for someone dealing with the generational legacy of past discrimination.

Of course, Jews have been quite good at building networks, a skill picked up in response to societal exclusion. In this, they have much more in common with other recent immigrant groups than with “the victimizing caste” in white America.

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Obama’s Right

Whenever Barack Obama says, as he often does, that another war in the Middle East is the only alternative to the deal he is making with Iran, his critics immediately accuse him of setting up a straw man, which indeed he also often does. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the sternest and most effective critic of Obama’s deal, declares that the true alternative to it is not war but “a better deal.” So, too, leading domestic opponents like Senators Lindsay Graham and Tom Cotton.

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Whenever Barack Obama says, as he often does, that another war in the Middle East is the only alternative to the deal he is making with Iran, his critics immediately accuse him of setting up a straw man, which indeed he also often does. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the sternest and most effective critic of Obama’s deal, declares that the true alternative to it is not war but “a better deal.” So, too, leading domestic opponents like Senators Lindsay Graham and Tom Cotton.

Now I consider the agreement Obama has negotiated a dishonorable and dangerous product of appeasement, and so it pains me to side with him against political figures I admire and generally support. Nevertheless, I have to confess that I think he is right in arguing that the only alternative to a deal is war.

By this I do not mean that war is the only alternative to Obama’s deal alone. What I mean is that war is the only alternative to any deal the Iranians would be willing to sign–if, that is, the purpose is really to prevent them from getting the bomb. Obama keeps insisting that this is what his deal will accomplish. But it seems increasingly clear that he no longer thinks, if he ever did, that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would be so dangerous that it must be prevented at all costs from getting them.

Up until a few years ago, there was hardly any dissent from this conviction. Yet while just about every political leader and pundit throughout the West agreed that the threat of military force had to be “kept on the table” in order for peaceful means to succeed, most of them were confident that a judicious combination of carrots and sticks would do the trick and that military force would never need to be taken off the table and actually used.

There was, however, a small minority–myself included–who contended that the Iranians were so determined to build a nuclear arsenal that nothing, not sanctions and not the chance (in Barack Obama’s words) to “get right with the world,” could ever induce them to give up their pursuit of it. And since we were convinced that negotiations could accomplish nothing but buy the Iranians more time to forge ahead, we also thought that the sooner we bombed their nuclear facilities the better.

We were fully aware that such a course was very risky. It would almost certainly trigger Iranian retaliation against our troops in the region and against Israel, and it might well lead to the dire economic consequences that Iran could let loose by blocking the flow of oil. Yet in our view all this was as nothing compared with the nuclear arms race that an Iranian bomb would set off throughout the Middle East.

Even worse, there was also the high probability that Iran–once possessed of the means to make good on their openly and repeatedly stated dream of “wiping Israel off the map”–would either provoke the Israelis into a preemptive nuclear strike or try to beat them to the punch with a preemptive nuclear strike of its own. Either way, the casualties and the destruction would reach unimaginable heights.

Our position was summed up in the slogan “the only thing worse than bombing Iran is letting Iran get the bomb.” And to those like President Obama who charged us with warmongering, our response was that the choice was not between a negotiated settlement and war. It was between a conventional war now and a nuclear war later.

As for the Obama deal, if its purpose were really to prevent the Iranians from getting the bomb, it would be a total failure, if only because it leaves their nuclear infrastructure intact and gives them plenty of room to cheat. But judging by deeds rather than words, it is reasonable to conclude that what Obama is trying to do is not to keep Iran from getting the bomb but to further his quest for a detente, or even a de facto alliance, with Iran. Already we see the foreshadowing of such an alliance in his willingness to cooperate with the Iranians in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and his reluctance to take any steps in the Middle East (against their ally Syria, for example) that might displease them.

At this point, the slogan that best applies comes from Winston Churchill’s devastating comment on Neville Chamberlain’s pact with Hitler at Munich in 1938: “You were given a choice between dishonor and war. You have chosen dishonor and now you will get war”–and this time a nuclear war at that. Unless, that is, the Israelis were to choose conventional war now over nuclear war later. My guess is that they will, but it is just as likely that Obama, despite his repeated assurances that he “has Israel’s back,” will stop them by threatening to withhold the diplomatic support and the resupply of lost weaponry they would need. In that case God help us all.

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The Most Troubling Line in Obama’s NYT Interview

Barack Obama sat down with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman over the weekend to defend his framework nuclear deal. Obama argues that he had a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and so he gave it a chance. And he also suggests that it was a risk worth taking. “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand,” he said. This, of course, is ironic because the outside world often accuses Americans of navel-gazing and not caring about reverberations in the rest of the world. Here, however, the president once embraced as a multilateralist messiah—and a leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize on rhetoric alone—pretty much acknowledges that he discounts regional reverberations to his actions.

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Barack Obama sat down with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman over the weekend to defend his framework nuclear deal. Obama argues that he had a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and so he gave it a chance. And he also suggests that it was a risk worth taking. “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand,” he said. This, of course, is ironic because the outside world often accuses Americans of navel-gazing and not caring about reverberations in the rest of the world. Here, however, the president once embraced as a multilateralist messiah—and a leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize on rhetoric alone—pretty much acknowledges that he discounts regional reverberations to his actions.

It’s almost as if Gerald Ford held an olive branch out to the Khmer Rouge, saying, “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk,” never mind the regime’s genocidal ideology. Obama and supporters of his deal, of course, would argue that such a characterization isn’t fair: Obama took pains to tell Friedman how hurt he was that so many in Israel and the United States believed the U.S. president was willing to throw the Jewish state under the bus.

Obama also subtly changes U.S. policy. While across administrations, the policy of the United States was that Iran would not get a nuclear weapon, President Obama now seems to envision a Plan B of nuclear deterrence:

The notion that Iran is undeterrable — “it’s simply not the case,” he added. “And so for us to say, ‘Let’s try’ — understanding that we’re preserving all our options, that we’re not naïve — but if in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies, and who knows? Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place.

First of all, Obama’s confidence is misplaced. The Iranian regime may not be suicidal, but what if it’s terminally ill? The most ideologically pure elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps would have custody over any nuclear arsenal, and if the regime were collapsing around them, they might launch for ideological reasons knowing the regime was over anyway. This is one of the reasons why America’s Gulf allies were so upset when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised a trial balloon of a nuclear umbrella should Iran achieve a nuclear weapon.

The most troubling line in Obama’s interview—and one upon which Friedman didn’t push the president—was this:

I’ve been very clear that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on my watch, and I think they should understand that we mean it.

Here’s the problem: Obama’s watch will last just over another 20 months. The job of a U.S. president isn’t to squander tremendous diplomatic capital and leverage to kick the can down the road for 20 months and then claim, well, “it didn’t happen on my watch.” With this statement, Obama is effectively acknowledging that Iran very well develop a military nuclear capacity during the next administration. After all, the so-called nuclear fatwa which Obama repeatedly cites very specifically avoids the word never.

Obama’s political career may end in 2017. He may be short-sighted enough to care only about what such a deal would mean for him. Alas, neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia nor the rest of the world has the ability to force its security to conform to the exigencies of a Washington political calendar. It’s not Obama’s watch—or any politician’s tenure—that should be the basis for judging a deal’s success. It should be whether or not the deal allows Tehran to pursue a nuclear weapon should it so choose. Alas, it seems, Obama has just acknowledged voiding another red line.

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Steven Salaita at the University of Washington

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” By and large organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) have encouraged that way of dealing with offensive speech. So, for example, when Steven Salaita, then of Virginia Tech, tweeted his wish that “all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing” as a desperate search was underway for three kidnapped Jewish teens already feared dead, a principled defender of academic freedom could reasonably think that Salaita’s words were despicable but protected. If you thought, as I do not, that Steven Salaita had a binding contract with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, you might also think that the University violated Salaita’s academic freedom when it decided not to go through with hiring him for a tenured position there.

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“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” By and large organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) have encouraged that way of dealing with offensive speech. So, for example, when Steven Salaita, then of Virginia Tech, tweeted his wish that “all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing” as a desperate search was underway for three kidnapped Jewish teens already feared dead, a principled defender of academic freedom could reasonably think that Salaita’s words were despicable but protected. If you thought, as I do not, that Steven Salaita had a binding contract with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, you might also think that the University violated Salaita’s academic freedom when it decided not to go through with hiring him for a tenured position there.

Supporters of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement have gone much further than that, as I have reported here, hosting Salaita at venue after venue as if he were a hero. That is not surprising, since, despite their official nonviolent stance, BDS supporters have been known to stand with figures and organizations who preach and sometimes practice violence against Israeli civilians.

What is surprising is that one local branch of the AAUP, at the University of Washington, has also decided to fete Salaita. To be more precise, they are co-sponsoring an April 6 lecture by Salaita. This lecture takes place just a little more than a month after BDS leader Omar Bhargouti’s appearance, which I wrote about here.

The University of Washington AAUP insists that it is not endorsing Salaita’s views but merely taking a position that both the national AAUP and FIRE have taken: that the University of Illinois did Salaita wrong. Sponsoring Salaita is simply signaling UW-AAUP’s “unwavering support of the core principles of our profession and the academy.” This defense is, of course, preposterous. The AAUP and FIRE defend all kinds of people who say terrible things. Presumably UW-AAUP would not sponsor a talk by a person who had been fired for uttering racial slurs or denying the Holocaust, even if its members considered the firing unwarranted. Even a child can tell the difference between sponsoring an advocate of academic freedom who thinks that even neo-Nazi speeches and writings require protection, and sponsoring a neo-Nazi.

If this distinction is lost on this particular AAUP chapter, that may have something to do with the anti-Israel views of some of its members. As is par for the course of anti-Israel efforts in academia, these members have attempted to use the AAUP to attack Israel, even though the mission of the organization has absolutely nothing to do with the Middle East conflict.

In April 2013, the UW-AAUP circulated a resolution urging TIAA-CREF, which handles retirement funds for many colleges and universities, to drop four companies from its “social choice” fund. These companies, according to the resolution, produce military equipment used to “oppress the Palestinian people.” In other words, UW-AAUP was urging a divestment action directed solely against Israeli policies. Although some members questioned “the focus on Israel,” a vote went ahead, and the resolution just barely failed to gain a majority, with six votes for and six votes against.

Also in 2013, Robert Wood, professor of atmospheric science, president of UW-AAUP, and amateur Middle East policy maker signed a letter denouncing Caterpillar Inc. for selling to the Israel military.

Professor Wood is, of course, entitled to his opinions, but dues paying members of UW-AAUP should be asking why their organization is being used to prop up Salaita, whose comments have been called “loathsome,” “incendiary,” “violent,” and “racist” even by those inclined to defend his academic freedom. I’m afraid this kind of thing is unlikely to end until people start withholding their dues.

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Repercussions from Bad Iran Deal Go Beyond Region

It’s become conventional wisdom—rightly—to assume that a bad Iran deal will unleash a cascade of proliferation across the region. Saudi Arabia has made no secret that it will purchase a nuclear weapon (or capability) should a deal confirm Iran’s nuclear-weapons capability. And if Saudi Arabia goes nuclear, then so too will Egypt and Turkey. But, as my American Enterprise Institute colleagues Dan Blumenthal and Ed Linczer have pointed out, the reverberations will go far beyond the region. Indeed, to look into the crystal ball on the Iran deal is simply to see North Korea today. North Korea often plays “Look at me” when it feels ignored or slighted. The Iran deal already appears far more generous than that offered to Pyongyang twenty years ago by the Clinton administration, and so it is natural that North Korea will now sabre-rattle in order to extract a far higher price than even that unwisely offered by Clinton two decades ago.

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It’s become conventional wisdom—rightly—to assume that a bad Iran deal will unleash a cascade of proliferation across the region. Saudi Arabia has made no secret that it will purchase a nuclear weapon (or capability) should a deal confirm Iran’s nuclear-weapons capability. And if Saudi Arabia goes nuclear, then so too will Egypt and Turkey. But, as my American Enterprise Institute colleagues Dan Blumenthal and Ed Linczer have pointed out, the reverberations will go far beyond the region. Indeed, to look into the crystal ball on the Iran deal is simply to see North Korea today. North Korea often plays “Look at me” when it feels ignored or slighted. The Iran deal already appears far more generous than that offered to Pyongyang twenty years ago by the Clinton administration, and so it is natural that North Korea will now sabre-rattle in order to extract a far higher price than even that unwisely offered by Clinton two decades ago.

The question is whether that will be a price the United States can afford. After all, Obama’s “pivot to Asia” has been rhetorical only; the U.S. Navy had more ships in the Pacific Ocean under President Jimmy Carter than it has in its entire arsenal today. And, while Iran’s ability to eradicate Israel is today merely theoretically, the South Korean capital Seoul is well within North Korean artillery range.

Secretary of State John Kerry may celebrate an agreement to reach an agreement. And, if that’s the only metric by which he judges international security, then he will have been successful. But if the goal was to prevent an Iranian nuclear breakout and to make the world safer, he has failed, and failed miserably.

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The Menendez Indictment and the Future of the Pro-Israel, Hawkish Democrat

To adapt the old saying about luck: It sometimes seems as though if New Jersey residents had no corrupt politicians, we’d have no politicians at all. That perception of ever-present corruption can warp the expectations game. And it can also work against accused politicians: the astounding power of federal prosecutors is no doubt abused and sometimes the accused is innocent. This is what the Jewish supporters of Bob Menendez, who was indicted on corruption charges today, are struggling with as they face losing an increasingly rare pro-Israel liberal.

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To adapt the old saying about luck: It sometimes seems as though if New Jersey residents had no corrupt politicians, we’d have no politicians at all. That perception of ever-present corruption can warp the expectations game. And it can also work against accused politicians: the astounding power of federal prosecutors is no doubt abused and sometimes the accused is innocent. This is what the Jewish supporters of Bob Menendez, who was indicted on corruption charges today, are struggling with as they face losing an increasingly rare pro-Israel liberal.

There are several clouds hanging over this situation, complicating the issue. The first is the horrid behavior of federal prosecutors in recent years. There was the witch hunt over the Valerie Plame leak, in which prosecutors turned their attention to hounding, harassing, and threatening to jail and bankrupt Karl Rove and in the end jailing Scooter Libby (on perjury) while ignoring the actual leaker in the case, Richard Armitage.

More recently, we saw the appalling case of Ted Stevens, the long-serving Republican senator from Alaska. In 2008, just a few months before Election Day, federal prosecutors indicted him on false charges relying on allegations coaxed from a cooperating witness who was saving his own skin. He was convicted a week before the election, which he lost. Roll Call recounts what happened next:

After trial we learned that government prosecutors concealed compelling evidence from the defense. The cooperating witness did not come up with the “covering his ass” testimony until right before trial and his previous inconsistent statements were hidden from the defense. Likewise, the government concealed evidence that its star witness had suborned perjury from an underage prostitute with whom the star witness had an illegal sexual relationship. And the government concealed evidence that another witness — whom the government flew back to Alaska away from the Washington, D.C., trial after their mock cross-examination of him went poorly — had told the senator that the bills he received and promptly paid included all of the work that was done.

Stevens was finally cleared after the election, and died in a 2010 plane crash. It is this behavior that reminds us someone must be watching the watchers, that the abuses of a government prosecutor with an axe to grind won’t be hypothetical, they will be real and they will cost innocent people dearly. The case against Menendez will also probably hinge on getting the cooperation of his associate Salomon Melgen, who was also indicted and therefore will be pressured to make a deal and turn on Menendez, and the all-too-real corruption of federal prosecutors should loom in the public’s imagination before they jump to conclusions and declare Menendez guilty from the start.

Another cloud over this case is the timing. There is no evidence that the charges against Menendez, who has been the most strident critic of President Obama’s appeasement of Iran, were ginned up to silence him. And it’s quite likely that the statute of limitations on bringing charges is the deciding factor here. Just because he’s being prosecuted does not mean he’s being persecuted.

Nonetheless, losing a powerful Democrat who is both a dedicated friend of Israel and an opponent of capitulation on Iranian nukes right at the moment a deal appears to be taking shape leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of the Jewish community. President Obama has gone on a public campaign against Israel’s government and even downgraded the U.S.-Israel military alliance while Israel was at war, and he has had success in his campaign to turn Israel into a partisan issue to drive a wedge between the remaining pro-Israel Democrats and the Jewish state.

All of which is why the Jewish community hasn’t been shy in voicing its support for Menendez. This support was the subject of a New York Times article this week:

By the end of 2014, Mr. Menendez had raised more than $200,000 for his legal fund — nearly a quarter of all its receipts — from political donors who have also given to pro-Israel political action committees, according to an examination of financial documents filed by the Robert Menendez Legal Expense Trust.

The Times gets at why the Israel issue is so important:

That line of thinking frustrates some Jewish and pro-Israel Democrats, who say Mr. Menendez has earned their gratitude but who will not go quite as far in alleging a conspiracy against him.

What’s more, Jewish leaders said, Mr. Menendez has won over the community on issues outside Iran’s nuclear program. He has been a staunchly liberal voice on matters of social policy; as the Senate’s only Hispanic Democrat, Mr. Menendez has been a champion of immigration reform, a popular measure in the Jewish community.

Certainly true. But if Menendez goes away, whoever replaces him in the Senate will hold the liberal line on immigration and social policy anyway. Much of the Jewish community adheres to a liberal policy agenda that is a dime a dozen in New Jersey. What bothers Jewish Democrats about all this is the suggestion–wholly and completely true–that Menendez’s approach to Israel and Iran policy sets him apart.

He is not the only pro-Israel Democrat, far from it. And he is not the only Democrat with concerns about Obama’s détente with Iran or the president’s relentless sniping at the Israelis. But as ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and with his willingness to publicly dress down the president from the floor of the Senate, he represents a species of Democrat that is going quickly extinct.

A voting record only tells part of the story (much of the Obama presidency has been spent trying to stop Iran bills from coming to the floor in the first place). When Jewish Democrats see the adulation for Menendez in their community, especially one that crosses party lines, they know it’s not because of immigration, even if they’d like it to be.

It’s understandable for the Jewish community to show Menendez their support, especially before a trial even takes place. But it’s also important for Democrats to realize how their party will look to that same community if there’s no one to fill his shoes.

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Israeli Peace Gestures Not Only Don’t Work. They Make Things Worse.

For those Americans who care about Israel, this is a time of crisis. The Obama administration’s reckless pursuit of détente with Iran and its anger over the reelection of Prime Minister Netanyahu has brought us to a critical moment in which it is now possible to imagine the United States abandoning Israel at the United Nations and taking steps to further distance itself from the Jewish state. Many in this country place most of the blame for the problem on Netanyahu because of his willingness to directly challenge the president on Iran and his statements about the two-state solution and the Arab vote prior to his victory that have undermined his reputation among non-Israelis. In response some well-meaning thinkers are proposing that the answer to the problem lies in gestures that Netanyahu could undertake that would both improve Israel’s image and lower tensions with the United States. But Netanyahu is right to not think the effort worth the bother. The recent history of the conflict illustrates that Israeli concessions intended to prove their devotion to peace don’t impress either the Arabs or foreign critics. In fact, they may make things worse.

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For those Americans who care about Israel, this is a time of crisis. The Obama administration’s reckless pursuit of détente with Iran and its anger over the reelection of Prime Minister Netanyahu has brought us to a critical moment in which it is now possible to imagine the United States abandoning Israel at the United Nations and taking steps to further distance itself from the Jewish state. Many in this country place most of the blame for the problem on Netanyahu because of his willingness to directly challenge the president on Iran and his statements about the two-state solution and the Arab vote prior to his victory that have undermined his reputation among non-Israelis. In response some well-meaning thinkers are proposing that the answer to the problem lies in gestures that Netanyahu could undertake that would both improve Israel’s image and lower tensions with the United States. But Netanyahu is right to not think the effort worth the bother. The recent history of the conflict illustrates that Israeli concessions intended to prove their devotion to peace don’t impress either the Arabs or foreign critics. In fact, they may make things worse.

While President Obama has been spoiling for fights with Israel’s government since he took office in 2009, his temper tantrum about Netanyahu’s victory now threatens to make his previous tilt toward the Palestinians seem trivial. So it is hardly surprising that veteran peace processers would think the time is right for Netanyahu to do something to appease the president’s wrath. That’s the conceit of a Politico Magazine article jointly credited to former State Department official Dennis Ross and think tank figures David Makovsky and Ghaith Al-Omari that lays out a series of suggestions intended to calm things down and get Israel out of the presidential dog house as well as to calm the waters with both Europe and the Palestinians.

Ross, Makovsky, and Al-Omari are smart enough to realize that the time isn’t right to revive a peace process that is dead in the water. The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected peace offers and show no sign that they are any more willing to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside one of their own no matter where its borders are drawn.

But they think it would be wise for Netanyahu to freeze building in settlements beyond the blocs that most concede would remain inside Israel in the event of a peace agreement. Allowing the Palestinians the right to build more in parts of the West Bank that would, at least in theory, be part of their state would calm the waters as would less confrontational rhetoric from Netanyahu. This would, they say, counter the campaign to delegitimize the prime minister and his nation and might prompt similar gestures from the Palestinians, such as a promise to avoid bringing their complaints to the United Nations instead of negotiating as they are committed to do under the Oslo Accords.

It all sounds very smart. Fair or not, Netanyahu is perceived as politically radioactive in Europe and, despite Israel’s popularity in the United States, President Obama’s efforts to turn both Iran and Israel into political footballs has undermined the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition. Gestures aimed at restoring Israel’s good name seem the only answer to a crisis of these dimensions.

But as logical as that sounds, such a course of action not only wouldn’t improve Israel’s image, they would probably further damage it.

How can that be?

Because the recent history of the conflict teaches us that gestures even more far reaching than those suggested for Netanyahu have the opposite effect on both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders.

Back in 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasir Arafat an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Arafat turned him down flat and then launched a terrorist war of attrition known as the Second Intifada. After it began, I heard then Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, an ardent peace processor, take some consolation from this depressing turn of events by saying that at least after this, no one in the world could fairly accuse Israel again of being the one responsible for the breakdown of the peace process. But, contrary to his predictions, Israel’s willingness to give so much and Palestinian terrorism only increased the level of vituperation against the Jewish state both in the Arab and Muslim worlds and in Europe. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry about Ben-Ami’s naïveté.

The same thing happened after Ariel Sharon withdrew every last Israeli soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in 2005. Instead of proving for the whole world that Israel was ready to once again trade land for peace, that grand gesture did nothing to improve the country’s image. Nothing, not the destruction of the green houses left behind by the Israelis for the Palestinians nor the conversion of Gaza into a terrorist base and then a Hamas-run independent state-in-all-but-name altered the conviction of a hostile world that the trouble was all the fault of the Israelis.

Indeed, it should be understood that the same dynamic was in place even before Barak and Sharon’s gestures since the Oslo Accords themselves in which Israel brought Arafat back into the country, empowered him, and led to withdrawals that gave the Palestinians functional autonomy did little to improve Israel’s image. As our Evelyn Gordon wrote in a prescient COMMENTARY article published in January 2010, by signaling its willingness to withdraw from some territory, the Israelis did not convince anyone of their good intentions. To the contrary, such concessions reinforced the conviction that Israel was a thief in possession of stolen property. The reaction from the Palestinians and hostile Europeans was not gratitude for the generosity of the Israelis in giving up land to which they too had a claim but a demand that it be forced to give up even more. Land for peace schemes and a belief in two states on the part of Israelis has always led most Palestinians to believe that their goal of forcing the Jews out of the entire country was more realistic, not less so.

The same dynamic applies to Netanyahu’s gestures. It was he who endorsed a two-state solution and then backed up his statement with a settlement freeze in the West Bank for ten months. But Netanyahu got no credit for this or any concessions in return from the Palestinians.

Netanyahu would do well to lower the tone of his rhetoric. A cautious leader, he has been rightly accused of carrying a small stick while speaking very loudly. But the expectation that settlement freezes or similar gestures will ease tensions with President Obama is a pipe dream. Even worse, along with Obama’s hostility, these moves may only encourage Hamas to see it, as they have always viewed such gestures, as weakness and an invitation to another round of violence such as the one that led to thousands of rockets being launched from Gaza at Israeli cities.

The diplomatic isolation of Israel that Obama is contemplating is a serious problem. But Israelis have had enough of futile unilateral gestures and rightly so. They have accomplished nothing in the past. Nor will they ameliorate the animosity for Israel in the Muslim and Arab worlds as well as Europe that is rooted more in anti-Semitism than in complaints about the location of the borders of the Jewish state. Until a sea change occurs in Palestinian political culture, Israel’s leaders would be wise to make no more concessions that will only whet the appetite of the terrorists for more Jewish blood. Nor should Netanyahu be under the illusion that President Obama will react with any more generosity toward Israel in the next two years than he has in the previous six. Far from staving off destruction as Ross and his friends think, their advice will likely lead to more diplomatic problems as well as more violence. Just as doctors are advised by their Hippocratic oaths to do no harm, so, too, should Israel’s prime minister be wise enough to eschew a repetition of the mistakes that he and his predecessors have made in the not-so-distant past.

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An Unconscionable Smear: Israel, Race, and the American Left

If the steady, but manageable flow of ignorant commentary on Israel of late has turned into a flood, it’s because of a particular tactic of the left employed in abundance since the Israeli elections. A surefire way to misunderstand Israeli politics is to view it through the stable lens of America’s two-party system. And one meme that has gained traction on the left during Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership is the lazy, obtuse narrative that he acts as some sort of representative of the Republican Party rather than his own party and country. Such self-refuting nonsense doesn’t generally need to be dignified with attention. But the latest version represents a despicable smear that demands a response.

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If the steady, but manageable flow of ignorant commentary on Israel of late has turned into a flood, it’s because of a particular tactic of the left employed in abundance since the Israeli elections. A surefire way to misunderstand Israeli politics is to view it through the stable lens of America’s two-party system. And one meme that has gained traction on the left during Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership is the lazy, obtuse narrative that he acts as some sort of representative of the Republican Party rather than his own party and country. Such self-refuting nonsense doesn’t generally need to be dignified with attention. But the latest version represents a despicable smear that demands a response.

Juan Williams’s column in The Hill changes the attack in two ways. The first is that he joins some of his more doltish peers in the new belief that congressional Republicans are now responsible for Netanyahu’s words and actions. This is merely an escalation of the Democrats’ recent campaign to turn Israel into a partisan issue and demand the left break with Israel to show appropriate loyalty to Barack Obama. In doing so Williams and others are now pawning Israel off on the Republicans: they don’t even want to deal with the Jewish state except to periodically upbraid it.

This is toxic, but it pales in comparison to Williams’s next trick. Once he’s assigned Republicans blame for Bibi, he then transfers the left’s racial grievances to Netanyahu as well. And he thereby threatens not only to rewrite recent Israeli history but to do so in a way that attacks the history of black-Jewish relations in the U.S. and agitates for the crumbling of African-American support for Israel in the future, all in a deeply dishonest way.

It should be noted that while reasonable people can disagree about Netanyahu’s Facebook comments about Arabs voting “in droves,” it’s perfectly understandable to object to them. In truth, the comments, while inartful, were aimed more at the fact that foreign groups, including American-funded anti-Bibi efforts, were busing leftist voters in to improve turnout, thus raising the vote count a party like Likud would need in order to keep pace with its share of the overall vote.

That was lost on many, and that’s not a surprise. But Williams goes completely off the rails:

Obama’s spokesman condemned the use of such noxious rhetoric as a “cynical” tactic. But there has been no comment from Boehner or other top Republicans.

There is a terrible history of race-based political appeals in the United States. As a civil rights historian, I know the sharp edges of racial politics as revealed in coded campaign language, gerrymandering, voter suppression and even today’s strong black-white split when it comes to views of how police deal with poor black communities.

But both major American political parties reject having their candidates directly and openly play on racial tensions for short-term political gain.

It is dangerous politics, at odds with maintaining a socially and economically stable nation of many different races, as well as a rising number of immigrants. It is also not in keeping with America’s democratic values, specifically the Declaration of Independence’s promise that “All men are created equal.”

To overlook Netanyahu’s racial politics is to send a troubling message to Americans at a time when blacks and Hispanics are overwhelmingly Democrats and the Republican Party is almost all white.

And thus does Juan Williams, in a fit of rancid political sour grapes, connect Benjamin Netanyahu with America’s civil-rights era racial politics and voter suppression. When you are a liberal hammer, every problem is a nail with Bull Connor’s face on it.

First, some facts. There was no voter suppression of Arabs in Israel’s election. The joint Arab list won the third-most seats in the Knesset, behind the two major parties. Arab turnout was the highest it’s been since at least 1999, and among the highest it’s been in decades. Bibi did nothing to derail Arab voting, nor was he even trying to scare voters to the polls in a traditional sense. He wanted Israelis who were already planning on voting and who supported Israel’s right wing to vote Likud instead of a minor party further to the right, because the increased turnout on the left meant the right needed a stronger anchor party to be able to build a coalition around.

Additionally, as Evelyn Gordon wrote in the March issue of COMMENTARY, “Israel doesn’t have a law banning minarets, as Switzerland does, or a law barring civil servants from wearing headscarves, as France does; nor does it deny citizenship to Arabs just because they can’t speak the majority’s language, as Latvia does to some 300,000 ethnic Russians born and bred there. But over the past two decades, successive Israeli governments have invested heavily in trying to create de facto as well as de jure equality.”

Statistics on Arab education have improved dramatically. Employment in the high-tech sector “almost sextupled from 2009 to 2014”–and who was prime minister during that time? Arab consumption patterns are improving, integration is on the rise, and all without increasing anti-Arab prejudice, despite what some in the media would like to believe.

That’s not to solely credit Bibi or any one single politician, but Netanyahu’s time in office has undoubtedly been good for Israel’s Arabs. Even if you choose to believe the worst interpretation of Netanyahu’s Facebook comment (for which he apologized), the picture Williams paints of Likud’s relationship with Israeli Arabs is so distorted as to be unrecognizable as the reality of modern Israel.

But Williams has another purpose: not only to falsely explain the present and the past but also the future. The tension between the Jewish and black communities is a source of great tsuris to the Jews, who felt called by God to stand with African-Americans in their times of trouble and to march with them to assert their inalienable rights which were denied for so long. But too many influential black leaders–think Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton (who was at the forefront of the closest thing America ever had to a pogrom), and even Jeremiah Wright, whose church guided our current president for so long–have sought to discourage such solidarity, and resorted to anti-Semitism to do so.

I imagine this greatly pains Williams. He spends some time in his column recounting the lack of support for Israel among America’s minorities, principally African-Americans and Hispanics, and he seems fairly unhappy about it. But he notes, correctly, that the Democratic drift away from Israel threatens to be even more profound among these minority communities. And so he blames Bibi:

This disagreement among American racial groups is reflected in the split between Republicans and Democrats over Israel. …

These divisions are likely even deeper now, after Netanyahu’s racial political appeal.

Going forward, it will now be gentler on the consciences of Democrats like Williams if support for Israel deteriorates among minority communities. From here on out, they’ll say it was inevitable after this election. That’s much simpler than taking on the Sharptons and the Jacksons and the Wrights, and the president whose ear they have had.

And it’s much simpler than swimming against the tide of leftist hostility to Israel. It’s the easy way out, and there’s nothing principled or noble about it.

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