Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Liberalism and Obama’s Jewish Pretensions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s Ongoing Obsession with Netanyahu

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TV Network that aired on Tuesday, President Obama said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position on Palestinian statehood undermines the credibility of his country.

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In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TV Network that aired on Tuesday, President Obama said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position on Palestinian statehood undermines the credibility of his country.

As The Hill reports

Netanyahu has recently expressed willingness to re-enter talks with Palestinians, but Obama said his stance contains “so many caveats, so many conditions, that it is not realistic to think that those conditions would be met any time in the near future.”

“The danger here is that Israel as a whole loses credibility,” Obama said….

The story went on to say, “the president suggested Palestinian officials and others might not see Netanyahu as a reliable negotiating partner.”

Now that is rich. Palestinian officials don’t see Israel as a reliable negotiating partner. If only our president was able to distinguish the fire brigade from the fire.

I’ve written before that Mr. Obama is quite simply anti-Israel. There’s no need here to recapitulate the case I’ve made to prove that proposition. For now, I simply want to comment on the president’s obsession with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

It is striking how much Mr. Netanyahu seems to occupy Obama’s thoughts, and how much the Israeli Prime Minister has become the target of the president’s petty rage. One gets the sense that a psychological drama is playing itself out on the world stage; that Mr. Obama sees in Mr. Netanyahu qualities that Obama himself lacks — leadership, moral clarity, toughness and fortitude, and a passion to publicly defend the nation he leads. This may have left the president smoldering with resentment. In addition, Obama isn’t used to being stood up to and pushed back on, which Netanyahu is willing to do.

But beyond all that, it tells us a very great deal about the president that he is so eager to criticize Netanyahu while he is so solicitous and delicate when it comes to the Iranian leadership. Mr. Obama is bending over backwards to get a nuclear arms deal — a truly awful nuclear arms deal — with one of the most malevolent regimes on earth, even as he routinely castigates America’s greatest ally and one of the most magnificent nations in history. When it comes to Obama’s approach to Israel versus the enemies of Israel, we are seeing a stunning moral inversion.

There is something deeply wrong and troubling going on here.

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Gaza is Broke But Still Preparing for War

If you believe the reporting of the New York Times, some people in Gaza are fed up with what passes for a government in the strip. The decision of the Hamas terrorists who run Gaza as an independent Palestinian state in all but name to impose new taxes on their beleaguered subjects was not received with much pleasure. It turns out the levies are required for the Islamist group to pay their 40,000 employees. Though food, medicine and other supplies are shipped into Gaza every day by Israel, a fact that debunks claims of a humanitarian crisis, there’s no question that times are hard for the people who live there. But the cash shortage in Gaza hasn’t changed Hamas’s priorities. One of their main complaints is that a shortage of construction materials caused by Israel has made reconstruction of homes destroyed in last summer’s war impossible. But that hasn’t stopped Hamas from building a new road near the border with Israel in order to facilitate future terror attacks.

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If you believe the reporting of the New York Times, some people in Gaza are fed up with what passes for a government in the strip. The decision of the Hamas terrorists who run Gaza as an independent Palestinian state in all but name to impose new taxes on their beleaguered subjects was not received with much pleasure. It turns out the levies are required for the Islamist group to pay their 40,000 employees. Though food, medicine and other supplies are shipped into Gaza every day by Israel, a fact that debunks claims of a humanitarian crisis, there’s no question that times are hard for the people who live there. But the cash shortage in Gaza hasn’t changed Hamas’s priorities. One of their main complaints is that a shortage of construction materials caused by Israel has made reconstruction of homes destroyed in last summer’s war impossible. But that hasn’t stopped Hamas from building a new road near the border with Israel in order to facilitate future terror attacks.

The construction is going on directly across the border from Nahal Oz, the Israeli kibbutz that was the target of Hamas terror tunnels during last summer’s war. While there have been steady reports of Iran helping to fund Hamas efforts to rebuild both the tunnels and the Islamists’ fortified strongholds inside the strip, a Hamas official actually said over the weekend that the purpose of the work being done on the Palestinian side of the border was “to create for ourselves convenient opportunities to attack the Zionist enemy.”

Hamas lost its main source of income when Egypt shut down the smuggling tunnels through which it brought in construction materials, luxury items as well as arms and cash to operate. Moreover, much of the money that comes into the strip is from the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank but which also pays 70,000 no show employees in Gaza. The inability to square that expenditure with the funds used for Hamas’ largely duplicate force of civil servants was one of the sticking points in the implementation of last year’s Fatah–Hamas unity agreement.

But the juxtaposition of the heartrending Times story about shortages in Gaza with other reports detailing Hamas’s preparations for another terror war should alarm those who purport to care about the plight of the people of the strip. With discontent rising against their rule (in contrast to their popularity in the West Bank, whose people suffer under a different group of tyrants but which didn’t pay the cost of last summer’s pointless fighting), the possibility of another outbreak this summer must be consider possible if not probable. Focusing Palestinians on hatred of Israel is a convenient way of distracting them from the corruption and misplaced priorities of an Islamist ruling group that is willing to fight to the last civilian in order to continue its war on Zionism.

As broke and as isolated as they may be, Hamas still thinks it won the war for international public opinion because so many Palestinians died or were made homeless by Israeli efforts to stop the firing of thousands of rockets on its cities and towns. Moreover, the message they have gotten since last summer from the United States is that the Obama administration is doing its best to put daylight between Washington and Jerusalem. That’s a standing invitation for Israel’s foes to attack because they assume the Israelis will be left to face them alone.

It is imperative for the Obama administration to speak clearly now that if, motivated by the need to distract their subjects and subsidized by Iran as well the fact that they are beset by inroads recently made by ISIS in Gaza, Hamas feels like having another go at the Israelis, the United States won’t shut down the resupply of arms and ammunition as it did during last summer’s war. Just as important, the U.S. and all those who claim to worry about the situation in Gaza must denounce the use of aid materials for war preparations. Though the plight of Gaza is a rallying cry for Israel’s critics, the reality of life there illustrates the toxic nature of a Palestinian political culture that prizes hostility to the Jews over bettering the lives of Arabs. Gaza’s friends should demand an end to the rule of Hamas. Until that happens, there’s not much hope for the hapless people who must live under their rule, and another Gaza Strip war looms large.

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Obama Assures Iran It Has Nothing to Fear

At this point, there is virtually no one in Israel or the United States who thinks it is remotely possible that the Obama administration would ever, under virtually any circumstances, use force against Iran. Though President Obama and his foreign policy team have always claimed that “all options,” including force, are always on the table in the event that Iran refuses to back down and seeks to produce a nuclear weapon, that is a threat that few took seriously. But President Obama has never been quite as explicit about this before as he was in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 in which he reportedly said there is no military option to stop Iran. If Obama wanted to telegraph Iran that it could be as tough as it likes in the talks over the final text of the nuclear deal being negotiated this month this statement certainly did the job. Though they had little worry about Obama’s toughness or resolve, the ayatollahs will be pleased to note that the president no longer even bothers to pretend he is prepared to do whatever is necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear ambition.

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At this point, there is virtually no one in Israel or the United States who thinks it is remotely possible that the Obama administration would ever, under virtually any circumstances, use force against Iran. Though President Obama and his foreign policy team have always claimed that “all options,” including force, are always on the table in the event that Iran refuses to back down and seeks to produce a nuclear weapon, that is a threat that few took seriously. But President Obama has never been quite as explicit about this before as he was in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 in which he reportedly said there is no military option to stop Iran. If Obama wanted to telegraph Iran that it could be as tough as it likes in the talks over the final text of the nuclear deal being negotiated this month this statement certainly did the job. Though they had little worry about Obama’s toughness or resolve, the ayatollahs will be pleased to note that the president no longer even bothers to pretend he is prepared to do whatever is necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear ambition.

According to the Times of Israel, Obama said:

“A military solution will not fix it. Even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program but it will not eliminate it.”

Though he continued to use rhetoric that left force as an option, the implicit threat of American action if a nuclear weapon were a possibility has lacked credibility since the president began his second term. Once he embarked upon secret back-channel talks in which, one by one, he abandoned his previous pledges about forcing Iran to shut down its program in concessions and virtually every other U.S. position on the issue, force was never a real possibility. The signing of a weak interim deal in November, 2013, and then the framework agreed upon this spring signaled the end of any idea that the U.S. was prepared to act. That is especially so because the current deal leaves Tehran in possession of its nuclear infrastructure and with no guarantees about inspections or the re-imposition of sanctions in the event the agreement collapsed. The current deal, even with so many crucial details left unspecified makes Iran a U.S. partner and, in effect, the centerpiece of a new U.S. Middle East policy that essentially sidelines traditional allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel that are directly threatened by Iran.

Moreover, it must be conceded that the use of force against Iran would be problematic even for the United States and its vast military resources. As for Israel, despite a lot of bold talk by some in the Jewish state, there has always been skepticism that its outstanding air force had the ability to sustain an air campaign for the length of time that would be required to make a difference. Nevertheless, the notion that force would not be effective in forestalling an Iranian bomb is mistaken. Serious damage could put off the threat for a long time and, if sanctions were kept in place or made stricter as they should have been to strengthen the West’s bargaining position, the possibility of an Iranian nuke could have been put off for the foreseeable future.

Yet, while talk about using force has been largely obsolete once the interim deal was signed in 2013, for the president to send such a clear signal that he will not under any circumstances walk away from the current talks, no matter what Iran does, is significant.

After all, some of the most important elements of the deal have yet to be nailed down. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has publicly stated that he will never allow the sort of inspections that would make a deal verifiable. He has also demanded that sanctions be lifted permanently on the day the agreement is signed, and that there should be no provision for them to be snapped back. Nor are the Iranians conceding that their stockpile of nuclear fuel be taken out of their hands.

So if Obama is to get the “verifiable tough agreement” he told Channel 2 he seeks, the U.S. must somehow convince the Iranians to back down on all these points. That’s going to be difficult since the past two years of negotiations with Obama have taught them to wait for him to give up since he always does so sooner or later. The president’s statement makes it clear that, no matter how obdurate the Iranians remain, he will never walk away from the talks. And since this deal is the lynchpin of his foreign policy legacy, they know very well that all they have to do is to be patient.

Iran already knows that the deal in its current form allows them two clear paths to a bomb. One is by cheating on its easily evaded terms. The other is by waiting patiently for it to expire, the sunset provision being another astonishing concession by Obama.

If a tough deal were even a possibility, this would have been the moment for the president to sound tough. But throughout this process, the only toughness the president has shown has been toward Israel as he sought to disparage and dismiss its justifiable worries about his course of action. Merely saying now, as he does in the Channel 2 interview, that he understands Israel’s fears is mere lip service, especially since it comes along with a virtual guarantee to Iran that it needn’t worry about a U.S. strike under any circumstance.

With only weeks to go until the June 30 deadline for an Iran deal, there is no question that Obama’s statement makes an unsatisfactory final text even more certain than it was before. That’s good news for Tehran and very bad news for an Israeli people who have no reason to trust the president’s promises or believe in his good intentions.

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More Water Won’t Solve the Middle East Conflict

Yesterday’s New York Times front-page feature about the amazing advances made in desalinization by the state of Israel provided some hope for those who believe that global warming and the prospect of more droughts leaves humanity with a grim future. Only a few years ago, Israelis were concerned about the question of how they could continue to grow their first world economy with a growing population in a country where there simply wasn’t enough water. What followed was a major investment in technology and enactment of sensible policies about water use that led to this startling fact. As the Times states, “More than 50 percent of the water for Israeli households, agriculture and industry is now artificially produced.” Though water is expensive, the prospect that the country will run out is gone. In a region that is in desperate need of Israel’s expertise, you would think this development would lead to better relations with the Palestinians and the Arab world. But what is missing from the Times’ story is the fact that there is little sign of any interest in cooperation on the part of Israel’s antagonists. As much as they ought to take advantage of the Jewish state’s advances, such concerns are always secondary to their main priority: fighting Israel.

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Yesterday’s New York Times front-page feature about the amazing advances made in desalinization by the state of Israel provided some hope for those who believe that global warming and the prospect of more droughts leaves humanity with a grim future. Only a few years ago, Israelis were concerned about the question of how they could continue to grow their first world economy with a growing population in a country where there simply wasn’t enough water. What followed was a major investment in technology and enactment of sensible policies about water use that led to this startling fact. As the Times states, “More than 50 percent of the water for Israeli households, agriculture and industry is now artificially produced.” Though water is expensive, the prospect that the country will run out is gone. In a region that is in desperate need of Israel’s expertise, you would think this development would lead to better relations with the Palestinians and the Arab world. But what is missing from the Times’ story is the fact that there is little sign of any interest in cooperation on the part of Israel’s antagonists. As much as they ought to take advantage of the Jewish state’s advances, such concerns are always secondary to their main priority: fighting Israel.

The story of how Israel revolutionized its production and use of water is another proud chapter in the country’s history. In the past couple of decades as attacks on Israel’s legitimacy have multiplied, we haven’t heard much about Jews making the desert bloom. That old line about the rebirth of this old land under the care of a returned people has been treated as an outdated cliché by biased journalists who preferred story lines that reinforced the libels about Israel being an apartheid state. That theme was also part of the narrative about water.

To the extent that water has been mentioned much in the news, it generally served as another point of attack as Palestinian claims that Israel was “stealing” their water in the West Bank was often reported as fact rather than a political talking point. As even the Times notes in its feature, Israel continues to supply the Palestinians with more water than it is required to do under the Oslo Accords. Israel shares the mountain aquifer that runs through the West Bank with the Palestinians. But the Palestinians position is that they are entitled to all of it, not just their share. The underlying problem of that discussion has always been the assumption that all of the territory is “Palestinian land’ to which Israel has no legitimate claim. But even if you think Israel ought to cede much of that territory if the Palestinians are ever willing to make peace, the problem with this argument is that the Arabs still don’t recognize Israeli rights to any water except the sea into which they have been trying to push the Jews ever since they began returning to their ancient homeland.

It might make sense for Israelis and Arabs to cooperate about water. But if water remains an issue that exacerbates the conflict rather than solving it, it’s not because the Israelis aren’t willing to share their expertise or even some of the water they are desalinizing or treating for further use. It’s because water, like economic development, has always been beside the point to Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims.

Most of the early leaders of the modern Zionist movement believed that conflict with the Arabs would be solved or rendered marginal by the realization that the Jewish revival would be an economic godsend to their Arab neighbors. Every major advance in the history of the country’s development in the past century such as the creation of its power grid, the growth of industry or agricultural advances were at least initially hailed as harbingers of cooperation if not peace. But the conflict worsened. That was not because these things did not hold the potential to bridge the divide between the two peoples but because the Arabs were less interested in development than they were in ensuring that there should never be a Jewish state in any part of the country. Indeed, sabotaging economic advances was viewed as a laudable Arab goal even if that meant that the plight of their people would suffer as a result.

For all that has changed in the last century, the decisions that have been made by both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and their Hamas rivals that rule Gaza as an independent Palestinian state in all but name illustrate that this basic equation remains the same. So long as the former remains incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and the latter is implacably committed to a terrorist war whose aim is Israel’s eradication, no technological or scientific innovation by Israel will ease relations between the two peoples.

Israel’s friends should be celebrating its water solutions and it is to the credit of the Times, whose generally biased coverage aims usually to back up the false narrative of it as an oppressor, that it would highlight this story. But let no one think this miracle produced by Jewish brains, skill and determination will play much of a role in ending the conflict. Israel’s enemies don’t care that it is a role model for the world (including the United States) on water any more than any of its other laudable achievements have caused them to drop their prejudicial belief that only the Jews should not have the right to sovereignty in part of their homeland. Until the Palestinians are willing to concede that a Jewish state is legitimate and must be accepted, they will continue to fight it even if it means they must be poor, hungry or thirsty.

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What the Palestinian Soccer Attack Meant

In the end, the Palestinians backed down on their attempt to get Israel expelled from FIFA, international soccer’s ruling body. Former terrorist Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian soccer federation, told the FIFA Congress today that, under pressure from other countries, he withdrew the request for a vote on Israel’s expulsion. For the moment, that ends the threat the Jewish state will be thrown out of the governing body of the world’s most popular sport. That’s a great relief to Israelis who were rightly concerned about the possibility of a step that would be an emotional blow to the country as well as a highly symbolic move that would accelerate the movement to isolate it. But no one should think this marks the end of the campaign against Israeli soccer. More to the point, it’s important to unravel the origins of this dispute and what it means. The effort to kick the Israelis out of world soccer is just one more indication that the Middle East conflict isn’t about borders or settlements but a desire to wipe Israel off the map.

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In the end, the Palestinians backed down on their attempt to get Israel expelled from FIFA, international soccer’s ruling body. Former terrorist Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian soccer federation, told the FIFA Congress today that, under pressure from other countries, he withdrew the request for a vote on Israel’s expulsion. For the moment, that ends the threat the Jewish state will be thrown out of the governing body of the world’s most popular sport. That’s a great relief to Israelis who were rightly concerned about the possibility of a step that would be an emotional blow to the country as well as a highly symbolic move that would accelerate the movement to isolate it. But no one should think this marks the end of the campaign against Israeli soccer. More to the point, it’s important to unravel the origins of this dispute and what it means. The effort to kick the Israelis out of world soccer is just one more indication that the Middle East conflict isn’t about borders or settlements but a desire to wipe Israel off the map.

In the end, as Ben Cohen predicted here earlier this week, the corruption scandal that has devastated FIFA may have played a role in the pressure exerted on the Palestinians to stand down. With the entire structure of world soccer tottering, the last thing FIFA needed was a boycott of Israel that might have triggered counter-measures by friends of the Jewish state and embroiled it in a dispute that would have done it little good.

Moreover, the core dispute between Israel and those in charge of Palestinian soccer had already been resolved before the FIFA Congress convened. The Israeli government offered to set up a process by which Palestinian soccer players could move more easily between the West Bank and Gaza as well as between the territories and Israel. The difficulties players encounter is an annoyance but was caused by the constant threat of Palestinian terrorism directed against Israel. Moreover, on top of that the Israelis also offered to make it easier to import soccer equipment into the West Bank and to help facilitate the construction of sports facilities for Palestinians. Those moves, which went above and beyond what reasonable observers, would expect Israel to make under the circumstances. But the resolution of the transit issue wasn’t the Palestinian goal since they persisted in their expulsion effort even after these concessions were offered.

This is important because it shows that this dispute is no different from any other element of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Every time Israel makes a concession, whether by setting up the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Accords, offering statehood as it first did in 2000 or withdrawing from all of Gaza, it not only gets no credit. Israel’s willingness to be compromise only seems to generate more hostility from its foes and their foreign cheerleaders.

The problems of athletes was only a pretext for another straightforward effort to ostracize the Jewish state and stemmed from a political culture that regards the war on Zionism to be indistinguishable from the assertion of Palestinian identity. Indeed, after Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian soccer federation announced at the FIFA Congress that he was backing off on the expulsion effort, his Israeli counterpart Ofer Eini asked him to join him on the podium and shake hands. Rajoub refused and went on to insist on what was really the core demand that he was shooting for: Forcing the Israelis to disband five youth teams that exist in West Bank settlements.

It’s instructive to note that of the five teams, only one (in Kiryat Arba) is located in a place that is not in a Jerusalem suburb or settlement bloc close to the 1967 lines that everyone, even President Obama, concedes would remain part of Israel in the event that a peace deal was ever signed. But what the Palestinians want is to delegitimize these players as well as all those in Israel. Doing so does nothing for Palestinian sports but it does advance an agenda whose only purpose is to falsely brand Israel a pariah state.

As I wrote earlier this month, Rajoub is no former jock or veteran sports executive but rather someone who earned his prestigious post by taking part in and planning terror attacks as well as serving as an aide to Yasir Arafat. For the Palestinians, sport is, like every other aspect of society, just another venue for pursuing their goal of eradicating Israel. Rajoub said himself that “resistance” — which Palestinians define as the effort to destroy Israel and not force it out of the West Bank — will continue. Rajoub’s stand is part of a general campaign among Palestinians to stamp out all efforts to foster co-existence even as Israelis try to reach across the divide between the two peoples.

It is to be hoped that FIFA will continue to refuse to be co-opted into the war on Israel, but optimism about that may be unfounded. The effort to ostracize Israel is fueled by a rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout Europe and Asia. If, at a future FIFA Congress, a secret ballot vote is taken on expelling Israel, there’s no telling whether it would succeed. But before that happens, the United States and other Western countries that claim to support peace should send a clear message to the Palestinians that they will pay a price in terms of aid and diplomatic support if they persist in such efforts. The failure to do so will not only ensure future soccer disputes but also explains why the Palestinians believe there is no cost attached to their obstruction of peace talks and support for terrorism.

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Amnesty’s Reports on Hamas Refute Its Allegations Against Israel

Over the past two months, Amnesty International has quietly confirmed nearly all of Israel’s main claims about Hamas’s conduct during last summer’s war in Gaza. Yet the organization still lacks the intellectual honesty to admit that its findings about Hamas completely undercut its main allegations against Israel – made vociferously both at the time and in a series of reports last fall and winter.

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Over the past two months, Amnesty International has quietly confirmed nearly all of Israel’s main claims about Hamas’s conduct during last summer’s war in Gaza. Yet the organization still lacks the intellectual honesty to admit that its findings about Hamas completely undercut its main allegations against Israel – made vociferously both at the time and in a series of reports last fall and winter.

Amnesty turned its attention to Hamas only after months of reporting on alleged Israeli crimes. First came a March report on Hamas’s rocket fire, then one this week on its extrajudicial killings of alleged collaborators. Each undercuts a key claim against Israel.

The most interesting finding in the March report was that Hamas’s rockets killed more civilians in Gaza than they did in Israel. Altogether, Amnesty said, the rockets killed six Israeli civilians and “at least” 13 Palestinian civilians. Where did the latter figure come from? From a single misfired rocket that killed 13 civilians in the Al-Shati refugee camp. In other words, Amnesty didn’t bother checking to see whether other Hamas rockets also killed civilians; it simply cited the one case it couldn’t possibly ignore, because it was reported in real time by a foreign journalist at the scene.

But according to Israel Defense Forces figures, roughly 550 rockets and mortars fired at Israel fell short and landed in Gaza, including 119 that hit urban areas. And it defies belief to think those other 549 rockets and mortars produced no casualties.

After all, unlike Israel, Gaza has no civil defense system whatsoever. A 2014 study found that Israel’s civil defense measures reduced casualties from the rocket fire on sparsely populated southern Israel by a whopping 86%. But Gaza has no Iron Dome to intercept missiles, no warning sirens to alert civilians to incoming rockets, and no bomb shelters for civilians to run to even if they were warned. Thus in densely populated Gaza, with no civil defense measures, those misfired rockets would almost certainly have killed at least dozens, and quite possibly hundreds, of civilians.

One of the main claims against Israel made by Amnesty and other human rights groups is that it caused excessive civilian casualties. Most such groups simply parrot the UN claim (which came straight from Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry) that 67% of the 2,200 casualties were civilians; Israel has consistently said the civilian-to-combatant kill ratio was roughly 1:1. While there are many reasons to think the Israeli figure is closer to the truth, even the UN/Palestinian ratio of 2:1 would be drastically lower than the international norm of 3:1.

But once you acknowledge that some portion of those civilian casualties was actually caused by misfired Hamas rockets rather than Israeli strikes, then the claim of excessive civilian casualties becomes even more untenable. Indeed, it means the civilian-to-combatant fatality ratio from Israeli strikes was likely even below 1:1.

Then there’s Amnesty’s report this week on Hamas’s extrajudicial executions. Its most interesting finding, as Elhanan Miller reported in the Times of Israel, is that “Hamas used abandoned sections of Gaza’s main hospital, Shifa, ‘to detain, interrogate, torture and otherwise ill-treat suspects, even as other parts of the hospital continued to function as a medical center.’”

That goes to the heart of the other main allegation against Israel made by Amnesty and its fellows: that Israel repeatedly targeted civilian buildings rather sticking to military targets. Israel countered that these “civilian” buildings doubled as military facilities – weapons storehouses, command and control centers, etc. – and were, therefore, legitimate military targets, but human rights groups pooh-poohed that claim.

Now, however, Amnesty has admitted that Hamas used Gaza’s main hospital as a detention, interrogation and torture center. And if Hamas was misusing a hospital in this way, it defies belief to think it wasn’t similarly misusing other civilian buildings for military purposes. Once you admit that Hamas did so once, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t do so again. And, in that case, the allegation that Israel wantonly attacked civilian structures also collapses.

Thus in its reports on Hamas, Amnesty has effectively demolished its two main allegations against Israel. And if it had a shred of honor and decency left, it would admit it. But, needless to say, I’m not holding my breath.

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As Jews Worldwide Go Conservative, How Long Will U.S. Jews Buck the Trend?

There has been a spate of articles recently about how Jews in liberal democracies round the world have moved politically rightward in response to the global left’s increasing antipathy toward Israel. In a handy round-up of the trend over at FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Greenfield cites data showing that in Britain, Canada, Australia and France, a majority of Jews now vote conservative. The one glaring exception, of course, is America – which begs the question why.

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There has been a spate of articles recently about how Jews in liberal democracies round the world have moved politically rightward in response to the global left’s increasing antipathy toward Israel. In a handy round-up of the trend over at FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Greenfield cites data showing that in Britain, Canada, Australia and France, a majority of Jews now vote conservative. The one glaring exception, of course, is America – which begs the question why.

Greenfield’s answer is that non-Orthodox American Jews care less about Judaism that their counterparts overseas, and therefore inevitably care less about Israel. And certainly, that’s part of the answer: A 2013 Pew poll showed that Jewish affiliation has declined markedly among American Jews, with only 68% of Jews born after 1980 considering themselves “Jews by religion,” compared to 93% of those born in 1914-27. And among the 32% that define themselves as “Jews of no religion,” a whopping 67% raise their children “not Jewish,” 79% have non-Jewish spouses, 54% say being Jewish is of little or no importance to them, and 55% feel little or no attachment to Israel.

Nevertheless, young Jews in other countries also intermarry more and are less Jewishly identified than their grandparents. So even if the decline has been steeper in America than elsewhere – an assumption for which Greenfield brings no evidence – it’s hard to see that alone as sufficient to explain this political divergence.

What’s missing from Greenfield’s answer, of course, is America itself: the anomalous fact that non-Jewish Americans are overwhelmingly pro-Israel. That certainly isn’t the case in Europe. And as an annual BBC poll shows, it isn’t even true in Canada and Australia, whose current conservative governments are staunchly pro-Israel.

Consequently, Democratic politicians are rarely as anti-Israel as their counterparts overseas, because being anti-Israel is still bad politics in America. Thus, for instance, they routinely support arms sales to Israel, whereas left-wing politicians abroad routinely oppose them. Nor does the American left’s animus against Israel spill over into blatant anti-Semitism as often as it does in, say, Europe. So for now, liberal American Jews still feel as if they can support the left without having to repudiate their Zionism or their Judaism – something that’s increasingly no longer possible overseas.

But even in America, that may not be true for long. As Sohrab Ahmari and Noah Pollak explained in detail in COMMENTARY this month, the Obama Administration and its Democratic cheerleaders have been steadily defining pro-Israel downward. During last summer’s Gaza war, for instance, the administration relentlessly criticized Israel over Palestinian civilian casualties, halted arms shipments in the middle of the fighting and urged Israel to accept a cease-fire dictated by Hamas patrons Qatar and Turkey, all while declaring itself to be unstintingly pro-Israel.

And on American college campuses, the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is rapidly disappearing. See, for instance, the case of UCLA student Rachel Beyda, who was rejected for a post on the university’s judicial board solely because she was Jewish, until a faculty adviser intervened.

Thus if American Jewish liberals don’t want to go the way of their counterparts overseas – i.e., if they want to be able to continue voting left without feeling that they are thereby sacrificing their Jewish and Zionist identity – they need to mount an urgent campaign to convince their own political camp that any good liberal should also be pro-Israel. That’s far from an impossible case to make, since it has the advantage of being true, as I explained in detail in a COMMENTARY article in March. But conservatives can’t do the job for them; only liberals can persuade their fellow liberals.

And if American Jewish liberals don’t make that case, then in another decade or two, those that still care about Judaism and Israel are liable to find themselves exactly where their British, Canadian, Australian and French counterparts are now: forced to hold their nose and vote conservative, because anything else would be a betrayal of their Jewish identity.

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Sorry, Your Holiness, But Abbas is No Angel

Those who forget that the Vatican is a city-state and not just the home office of the Catholic Church got a reminder this past week of just how its sovereignty works. Its decision to formally recognize “Palestine” as an independent nation was not a theological position but one in keeping with the policies of the rest of Europe which has chosen to promote the Palestinian Authority’s ambitions despite its repeated refusal to make peace and its lack of control of much of the territory it claims. The announcement of the planned treaty was timed to coincide with the canonization of two 19th century Arab nuns who lived in Ottoman-ruled Palestine. Yet despite that religious gloss on an otherwise realpolitik move the nuns were upstaged when Pope Francis embraced PA leader Mahmoud Abbas on his visit to Rome and pronounced him “an angel of peace.” Such hyperbole may be par for the course in exchanges between heads of state but for the pope to say something that is so patently false damages his credibility in a way that does the church more harm than might have occurred than had it decided not to join in the rush to recognize the Palestinians. Abbas may be many things but he is no angel as well as not being a champion of peace.

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Those who forget that the Vatican is a city-state and not just the home office of the Catholic Church got a reminder this past week of just how its sovereignty works. Its decision to formally recognize “Palestine” as an independent nation was not a theological position but one in keeping with the policies of the rest of Europe which has chosen to promote the Palestinian Authority’s ambitions despite its repeated refusal to make peace and its lack of control of much of the territory it claims. The announcement of the planned treaty was timed to coincide with the canonization of two 19th century Arab nuns who lived in Ottoman-ruled Palestine. Yet despite that religious gloss on an otherwise realpolitik move the nuns were upstaged when Pope Francis embraced PA leader Mahmoud Abbas on his visit to Rome and pronounced him “an angel of peace.” Such hyperbole may be par for the course in exchanges between heads of state but for the pope to say something that is so patently false damages his credibility in a way that does the church more harm than might have occurred than had it decided not to join in the rush to recognize the Palestinians. Abbas may be many things but he is no angel as well as not being a champion of peace.

As I noted last week, the decisions being taken by the Vatican and other European states won’t advance peace. To the contrary, such moves only encourage Abbas to continue to refuse to negotiate with Israel. The only path forward for a two state solution to the conflict is for the Palestinians to be given statehood only after they have made peace with Israel and not before. Abbas and his predecessor Yasir Arafat have repeatedly refused Israeli offers of peace and statehood. To this day, he refuses to sign any deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

That alone should be enough to deny Abbas the title of “angel of peace.” But that isn’t the only reason. Abbas was a longtime deputy to arch-terrorist Arafat and played a role in organizing and financing many acts of brutal terrorism. But unlike other world leaders who might have employed violence in his youth and then became a statesman, Abbas has never really changed. He is the same man who wrote a doctoral thesis that centered on Holocaust denial at Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University that was published in 1984. He continues to embrace and honor terrorists, such as the murderers with the blood of innocent civilians on their hands that were released by Israel in order to ransom Gilad Shalit from his Hamas captors. Just as important, though he occasionally makes statements about wanting peace when speaking to Western audiences or the international media, his official PA media incites hatred against Jews and Israel on a regular basis.

Let’s concede that part of the Vatican’s motivation for all the love being shown the Palestinians is a desire to position the church to protect Middle East Christians at a time when they are under siege from radical Islam in the region. That ISIS is slaughtering Christians with impunity is well known. Less talked about is the every day pressure that Christian communities are under throughout the region. The result is that ancient Christian communities are disappearing as its members flee for safety in the West rather than face increasing marginalization and discrimination if not violence.

That Christian institutions like the Church would choose to ingratiate themselves with the Muslim world by attacking Israel in this manner is not altogether surprising. Arab Christians have long sought to gain acceptance from Muslims by being in the forefront of the struggle against Zionism. It hasn’t worked as Arab Christians continue to be attacked no matter how ardently they demonstrate their antipathy for Israel and Jews. Religious minorities in the Muslim have a natural ally in Israel but Arab Christians and some of their Western supporters continue to cling to the myth that they can win acceptance from Muslims by joining in attacks on the Jews. That Western Christians also adopt such attitudes is equally foolish. But it can also be explained by anti-Semitic attitudes that persist in Europe despite the heroic efforts of Pope Francis’ predecessors, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II to eradicate the vestiges of the Church’s past errors.

The pope might be forgiven for this flight of fancy if he were to give an equally egregious title to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during a meeting with him. But given the animosity that Europeans direct toward the democratically elected leader of the Jewish state such a similar papal embrace is highly unlikely.

Pope Francis’s statement about Abbas can be dismissed as mere window dressing to the Vatican’s diplomatic initiative. But the damage the pope does when he says things that are so blatantly false goes beyond the assault on the truth that so often occurs when world leaders are polite to each other. The power of the papacy remains great. During the last decade of the Cold War, Pope John Paul II proved that Stalin was wrong when he mocked a previous pope by asking how many divisions he controlled. But that power must rest in truth if it is to be more than just talk.

The pope is a good man whose intentions should not be questioned. But just as the Vatican should refrain from acts that harm peace such as its recognition of Palestine, so, too, should the pope not utter falsehoods. That Pope Francis must meet with Abbas is to be expected but when he says something so obviously untrue about him, it hurts the papacy and undermines good relations between the church and the Jewish people more than it helps the corrupt, tyrannical and undemocratic leader of a Palestinian kleptocracy.

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Good Deeds Won’t Win Israel Any Friends

In recent weeks, a fair amount of publicity has been given to the fact that Israel’s efforts to aid the victims of the Nepal earthquakes have been far out of proportion to its size. Far larger countries have done much less or nothing at all to assist the Himalayan nation deal with this terrible tragedy. In fact, Israel’s humanitarian delegation to Katmandu, which numbered more than 250 persons including medical personnel and experts in rescue and recovery operations, is the second largest of any country that sent assistance to Nepal. As with similar instances in which the Jewish state donated so generously to countries in need, both Israel and its friends around the world have felt a great deal of pride in this fact. But it has not altered the opinions of those who wish to see it destroyed. Indeed, as the Times of Israel notes, some of the country’s foes have taken to label the aid effort “rubble-washing,” deeming it a transparent attempt to distract the world from the country’s alleged sins. This is a monstrous charge and those who make it deserve to be treated with contempt. But the issue here goes further than such libels. So long as the pro-Israel community neglects efforts to highlight the justice of its cause in the conflict with the Palestinians, highlighting the Jewish state’s accomplishments and attractions won’t help.

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In recent weeks, a fair amount of publicity has been given to the fact that Israel’s efforts to aid the victims of the Nepal earthquakes have been far out of proportion to its size. Far larger countries have done much less or nothing at all to assist the Himalayan nation deal with this terrible tragedy. In fact, Israel’s humanitarian delegation to Katmandu, which numbered more than 250 persons including medical personnel and experts in rescue and recovery operations, is the second largest of any country that sent assistance to Nepal. As with similar instances in which the Jewish state donated so generously to countries in need, both Israel and its friends around the world have felt a great deal of pride in this fact. But it has not altered the opinions of those who wish to see it destroyed. Indeed, as the Times of Israel notes, some of the country’s foes have taken to label the aid effort “rubble-washing,” deeming it a transparent attempt to distract the world from the country’s alleged sins. This is a monstrous charge and those who make it deserve to be treated with contempt. But the issue here goes further than such libels. So long as the pro-Israel community neglects efforts to highlight the justice of its cause in the conflict with the Palestinians, highlighting the Jewish state’s accomplishments and attractions won’t help.

There’s something particularly egregious about those who actually criticize Israeli aid efforts to a prostrate Third World nation. Apparently nothing, not even a humanitarian crisis, is enough to cause those who wish to see the Jewish state brought down to call a timeout in their campaign of delegitimization. That’s bad enough when it comes from bottom feeder websites like Mondoweiss. But when it comes from supposedly legitimate figures within the human rights community, it bridges the gap between the absurd and the pathological. Much like those who advocate gay rights but who react furiously when it is pointed out that Israel is a haven of freedom and equal rights for the gay community (called “pinkwashing”) the criticism of Israel’s generous humanitarian aid efforts says more about rigid ideology, if not outright hatred, of the people making such bizarre charges than it does about Israel.

But this nasty business aside, the fact that aid to Nepal doesn’t endear Israel to a world that continues to single it out for condemnation about debatable charges while ignoring actual human rights catastrophes elsewhere such as the slaughter in Syria or tyranny in Iran (a far larger country that, of course, sent no aid to Nepal) still frustrates a lot of well meaning supporters of the Jewish state. For years, many in the pro-Israel community as well as some in the country’s Foreign Ministry have been obsessed with the idea that Israel’s problem is primarily one of  negative images. They rightly point out that many people only associate it with stories about conflict and violence as well as allegations about violating the rights of Palestinians or slanders about it being an “apartheid state.” They say the answer to that is an effort to “rebrand” the country. If only, they have asserted, people associated Israel more with beautiful beaches (and pretty girls frolicking on the beaches), the lifesaving medical advances that have been discovered by its brilliant scientific community or the fact that it is truly the Start-Up Nation that has a high-tech industry second only in many respects to that of the United States, people would stop listening to the attacks.

But while there is plenty of good news to be disseminated about Israel’s many accomplishments and genuine attractions, as well as its humanitarian bona fides, the discussion of these topics won’t change a single mind about the attacks on the country’s legitimacy or its behavior. As I noted in a COMMENTARY feature back in October 2009, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s rebranding campaign was not only doomed to failure; it was a distraction from its real job of combating the lies about the conflict.

It’s satisfying for both Israelis and their foreign friends who are sick of being bashed in the media and tired of the old arguments about territory and settlements, to see attention focused on publicizing the good things about Israel, whether it is gay rights, medicine or humanitarian aid. But the problem is that a rival branding program has overtaken this effort. Israel’s foes have devoted themselves to the apartheid libel, effectively convincing much of the world that only the Palestinians have rights and that the terror threat as well as the ongoing siege of the Jewish state is irrelevant to discussions about the peace process. By establishing the notion that all of the West Bank and Jerusalem is stolen property rather than just land to which both sides have legitimate claims, Israel is branded as an oppressor and thief of other people’s property. This dovetails with the rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout Europe and the world.

The only thing that will convince the world that Israel does not deserve the opprobrium directed at it is a case for the justice of its cause in its fight against the Palestinians. That means Israel’s advocates must still directly address the case for its right to be where it is as well as its right to defend itself against those who are only interested in its elimination and not a two-state solution.

Just like its gay rights policy, scientific advances, vibrant economy, beautiful scenery and pretty girls, Israeli humanitarian efforts deserve to be celebrated by the world. Moreover, like those other aspects of its national life that illustrate the country’s basic character and values, a willingness to help others is worth doing because it is right, not to win popularity contests. But none of this will prevent the country from being smeared with the apartheid label. Only direct answers to those charges as well as an effort to turn the tables on the Palestinians and to highlight the truth about their support for terrorism and refusal to make peace on any terms but Israel’s destruction, will help to alter its image.

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Vatican Recognition of Palestine Won’t Bring Peace Closer

Israel’s critics will celebrate the news today that the Vatican will recognize Palestinian statehood as a rebuke of the Jewish state’s government and policies. The move is line with the international community’s push for Palestinian statehood. It also is part of the Vatican’s efforts to appease the Arab and Muslim worlds as part of a campaign to improve the plight of embattled and dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East. As such, its impact will be mostly symbolic though it will certainly be considered yet another blow to Israel’s uphill efforts to maintain good relations with European countries that are increasingly hostile to Jerusalem. But the one thing we can be sure it won’t do is to improve the chances for peace. By granting the Palestinians official recognition without first requiring them to make peace with Israel, Pope Francis and the Church have only made it less likely that this will ever happen.

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Israel’s critics will celebrate the news today that the Vatican will recognize Palestinian statehood as a rebuke of the Jewish state’s government and policies. The move is line with the international community’s push for Palestinian statehood. It also is part of the Vatican’s efforts to appease the Arab and Muslim worlds as part of a campaign to improve the plight of embattled and dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East. As such, its impact will be mostly symbolic though it will certainly be considered yet another blow to Israel’s uphill efforts to maintain good relations with European countries that are increasingly hostile to Jerusalem. But the one thing we can be sure it won’t do is to improve the chances for peace. By granting the Palestinians official recognition without first requiring them to make peace with Israel, Pope Francis and the Church have only made it less likely that this will ever happen.

It should not be forgotten that the Catholic Church has undergone a remarkable transformation in the last generation with regard to its attitude toward Jews, Judaism and the state of Israel. The historic efforts of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II created a revolution in Jewish-Catholic relations that consigned the disrespect and tolerance for anti-Semitism to the past. The Second Vatican Conference in 1961 broke with the past in terms of rejecting the myth of Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus and set the Church on the path of reconciliation with Judaism. Pope John Paul II continued that effort and under his tutelage Catholic educational efforts discarded the contempt for Judaism that had formerly characterized the Church’s attitude. He added to that legacy when the Vatican formerly recognized Israel in 1993, putting an end to the Church’s official opposition to Zionism that was rooted in a belief that the Jews were cursed to wander and had forfeited the right to their historic homeland.

Since then relations between the Jewish state and the church have not always been rosy. Disputes that stemmed from the anti-Israel attitudes of Palestinian Christians have continued to pop up. As part of an effort to ingratiate itself with Arab countries, the Church has also adopted policies that were hostile to Israel. It’s effort to wrongly blame the Israelis for the decline in the Palestinian Christian community — a trend that is the result of the growing influence of Islamists — has been particularly egregious. But despite all of that, it would be a mistake to consider the Church or the Vatican a particularly avid foe of Israel. Catholics around the world and especially those in the United States have become some of the Jewish state’s best friends and most staunch allies.

Moreover, it is likely that Pope Francis considers his gesture toward the Palestinians to be one intended to encourage peace. The pontiff seems to consider it an effort to be even-handed between the two parties to the conflict and is probably entirely sincere in his hopes that this move will jumpstart the moribund peace process.

But, for all of his good will, the pope is mistaken to think that giving the Palestinians such recognition will advance the peace process. To the contrary, by granting them official status in this way only encourages Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to continue to stonewall efforts to make peace.

After all, if Abbas’s real goal been an independent Palestinian state, he could have had one in 2000, 2001 when his former boss Yasir Arafat rejected an Israeli offer of statehood including almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Abbas rejected an even better offer in 2008 and then refused to negotiate seriously in 2013 and 2014 even after the Israelis had accepted an American framework whose goal was a two state solution.

The Palestinian campaign to get recognition from the United Nations and other countries is motivated by a desire to avoid peace talks, not to make them more successful. The Palestinians want a state but not one that is prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside it, not matter where its borders are drawn. By telling the Palestinians, the Church recognizes his faux state; it is making it easier for Abbas to refuse to negotiate. To the extent that this recognition grants the Palestinians rights to all of the disputed 1967 territories, the Vatican and other European states that have done the same thing, is prejudging negotiations that should be conducted by the parties, not outsiders.

Just as important, the Church ignores the fact that an independent Palestinian state in all but name already exists in Gaza under the tyrannical rule of Hamas terrorists. Which “Palestine” is the Church recognizing? Hamasistan or Fatah’s corrupt kleptocracy that Abbas presides over? With Hamas growing more popular, the prospect of it gaining power in an independent West Bank makes an Israeli withdrawal a fantasy rather than a viable policy option.

While no one should question the pope’s good intentions, the Vatican move will only serve to make peace less likely and do nothing for Middle East Christians who are under unbearable pressure from Islamists, not Israel. In this case, being even-handed undermines the already dwindling hopes for a two state solution.

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When the ICRC Feels It Must Apologize for Telling the Truth

It’s not hard to find examples of double standards against Israel; COMMENTARY has published two examples, from academia and sport, just in the last two days. But it’s worth reiterating that such incidents are made possible not by the rabid Israel-haters, who remain a small minority, but by all the “good” people who know better yet are too intimidated to speak out. Nowhere is this more evident than in the so-called human rights community. And Exhibit A is the exception that proves the rule: Jacques de Maio, who heads the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in “Israel and the Occupied Territories.”

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It’s not hard to find examples of double standards against Israel; COMMENTARY has published two examples, from academia and sport, just in the last two days. But it’s worth reiterating that such incidents are made possible not by the rabid Israel-haters, who remain a small minority, but by all the “good” people who know better yet are too intimidated to speak out. Nowhere is this more evident than in the so-called human rights community. And Exhibit A is the exception that proves the rule: Jacques de Maio, who heads the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in “Israel and the Occupied Territories.”

The ICRC has produced its share of Israel-haters, but De Maio certainly isn’t one of them. Not only does he realize that Israel isn’t the Great Satan it’s generally portrayed as by “human rights” activists, but he’s even willing to say so occasionally – which makes him far braver than many of his colleagues. Yet even this braver-than-average member of the human rights community feels so intimidated that whenever he does say something positive about Israel, he feels the need to apologize. So you get astounding statements like this tweet from last November: “It may seem provocative, but I would contend that humanitarian access in Israel & OT is, comparatively, outstandingly good.”

The mind simply boggles. It’s “provocative” to state the simple fact that Israel, like any Western democracy, allows humanitarian aid groups relatively unfettered access? In his next tweet, De Maio added, “I can think of no other context where we operate worldwide where access for humanitarian organizations is as good as it is here.” Yet if that’s the truth, why should it be “provocative” to say so? Shouldn’t it be as natural for human rights organizations to praise countries for enabling their access as it is to criticize them for not doing so?

But of course, when it comes to Israel, it isn’t. After all, in the “human rights” community to which De Maio belongs, the loudest voices are people like Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth, who famously criticized Israel last month for sending the world’s largest medical team, 30 percent of all foreign medical personnel, to help victims of Nepal’s earthquake. In a world where “human rights activists” slam Israel even for providing humanitarian relief – though Roth has yet to explain how he thinks the world would be a better place had Israel failed to do so – it’s clearly not a given to praise it for enabling humanitarian access. So De Maio apologizes for telling the truth. And untold numbers of his less courageous colleagues choose the easier route of not telling it at all.

Nor is it Israel alone that pays the price for their silence – something else De Maio understands quite well. “Why is there so much more focus on Israel than on Syria [and] other places where many more civilians are dying?” he demanded in December. “In other ongoing wars, more civilians die in one week than in Israeli wars in a full year.” Yet even the braver-than-average De Maio made that statement at a conference in Israel, the one place it’s relatively “safe” to say such things. And untold numbers of his less courageous colleagues will never say it at all.

So all the people worldwide who truly need humanitarian assistance – in Syria and “other places where many more civilians are dying” – will continue having their pleas for help go unheard, because the only “human rights” activists raising their voices are the ones obsessed with Israel. The others are too busy proving, yet again, that all that’s needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

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Will International Soccer Kick Out Israel?

It’s only a matter of time before the Obama administration begins a campaign of pressure against Israel’s new government. Once the weak Iran nuclear deal is safely signed and then steered through Congressional approval courtesy of the equally weak bill, we can expect to see Washington’s open threats about abandoning the Jewish state at the United Nations put into action. But Jerusalem doesn’t need to wait until then to see how much progress the Palestinian campaign to isolate Israel has made. Though not as serious as the Palestinian Authority effort to obtain United Nations recognition for their independence without first having to make peace with Israel, the PA’s effort to get Israel expelled from FIFA — the body that governs international soccer — hits closer to home for most Israelis. Though the Israelis may decry this blatant effort to politicize sport, they are learning again that when it comes to the Jewish state, the rules are always different for Israelis than other countries.

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It’s only a matter of time before the Obama administration begins a campaign of pressure against Israel’s new government. Once the weak Iran nuclear deal is safely signed and then steered through Congressional approval courtesy of the equally weak bill, we can expect to see Washington’s open threats about abandoning the Jewish state at the United Nations put into action. But Jerusalem doesn’t need to wait until then to see how much progress the Palestinian campaign to isolate Israel has made. Though not as serious as the Palestinian Authority effort to obtain United Nations recognition for their independence without first having to make peace with Israel, the PA’s effort to get Israel expelled from FIFA — the body that governs international soccer — hits closer to home for most Israelis. Though the Israelis may decry this blatant effort to politicize sport, they are learning again that when it comes to the Jewish state, the rules are always different for Israelis than other countries.

FIFA President Sepp Blattner is coming to the region for talks with the Israeli and Palestinian soccer associations prior to his group’s congress scheduled to be held in Switzerland later this month. The controversial Blattner would probably like to avoid having his group entrapped in the morass of the Middle East conflict. But after recent UN votes that granted the Palestinians the right to participate in the world body’s agencies, they may feel they have the wind at their back. Given Obama’s threats and the international unpopularity of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government, they may think this is the perfect time to score a victory that will resonate throughout the soccer-mad international community.

The PA has actually been a member of FIFA since 1998 but its move against Israel has more to do with political timing than the currency of their complaints. Their case for expelling the Israelis rests on the notion that the Jewish state must give anyone who calls himself a soccer player the right to move between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza. That doesn’t take into account the security issue and the fact that the Palestinians have waged an off-and-on terror campaign against Israel. Since the Palestinians have always prioritized the struggle against Zionism over the demands of sport, it’s a bit much for them to expect Israel to do the same. But that, like their insistence that Israel shouldn’t allow clubs based in Jewish communities in the West Bank to compete, is a mere pretext, not a serious argument.

FIFA’s members include some of the worst tyrannies in the world. Its 2018 World Cup will be held in Russia. No thought is given to expelling Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. In 2022, it will be held in undemocratic and terror-supporting Qatar and other Gulf States, a result that may have been obtained by bribing of the FIFA selection committee. But given the current international climate; will anyone be very surprised if FIFA decides to expel Israel?

To put the soccer dispute into context, it should be remembered that in international tournaments such as the World Cup, Israel has been forced to play in regional competitions in Europe rather than Asia because Arab and Muslim countries won’t play against them. This violates the conventions of international sport but it has been allowed to continue because prejudice against Jews is always tolerated.

If anyone didn’t realize that sport was merely a political tool for the Palestinians, it should also be noted that the head of the Palestinian soccer federation isn’t an athlete or veteran sports figure but veteran terrorist Jibril Rajoub, one of Yasir Arafat’s top aides. Rajoub has graduated from leading and conspiring murderous attacks against Israelis to hobnobbing with the global sports elite. Rajoub labeled pleas for an official moment of silence at the Olympic Games for the victims of the 1972 Munich massacre as “racist.” He’s also denounced the United States and talked about using nuclear weapons against Israel.

Rajoub’s role in this farce should serve to remind Israel’s critics in the West that the point of efforts to isolate Israel and brand it as a pariah is not to change its policies but to destroy it. Let’s hope the global soccer community is wise enough to stay out of this despicable effort. But at a time of growing anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel, as well as the talk of abandoning Israel coming out of the Obama administration, anything may be possible.

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Obama’s Double Standard on Civilian Casualties

I know it’s been a busy two weeks, but I’m still waiting for that apology. I’ve been waiting for it ever since the U.S. admitted on April 23 to accidentally killing two Western hostages in Pakistan, and doubly so after a U.S. airstrike allegedly killed 52 civilians in Syria last Friday. Clearly, I don’t expect an apology for the fact that American forces are composed of men rather than angels, and therefore sometimes makes mistakes. But I certainly do expect an apology for the Obama Administration’s refusal to acknowledge that so are Israel’s forces. In the administration’s view, Israel never makes honest mistakes. If Israel inadvertently kills civilians in wartime, then it wasn’t trying hard enough not to do so.

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I know it’s been a busy two weeks, but I’m still waiting for that apology. I’ve been waiting for it ever since the U.S. admitted on April 23 to accidentally killing two Western hostages in Pakistan, and doubly so after a U.S. airstrike allegedly killed 52 civilians in Syria last Friday. Clearly, I don’t expect an apology for the fact that American forces are composed of men rather than angels, and therefore sometimes makes mistakes. But I certainly do expect an apology for the Obama Administration’s refusal to acknowledge that so are Israel’s forces. In the administration’s view, Israel never makes honest mistakes. If Israel inadvertently kills civilians in wartime, then it wasn’t trying hard enough not to do so.

We don’t yet know what happened in Syria, but the drone strike on an al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan is instructive. Administration officials told the New York Times that the CIA had “no idea that the hostages were being held there despite hundreds of hours of surveillance.” Yet they apparently can’t conceive of Israel — in the midst of a shooting war where decisions on whether to return fire must be made instantly, rather than with the benefit of hundreds of hours of surveillance — being similarly unaware that civilians were present at various sites it targeted during last summer’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

Needless to say, American military professionals don’t share the administration’s view. The day after the White House announced the hostages’ deaths; Michael Schmitt and John Merriam published a summary of their detailed investigation into Israel’s targeting practices during that war. Schmitt, a professor of international law, heads the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the U.S. Naval War College and is considered a leading expert on the laws of armed conflict (LOAC). Merriam is a U.S. Army Judge Advocate and associate director of the Stockton Center. They were given unusual access to information, like targeting procedures that the Israel Defense Forces usually keeps secret; they were also allowed to observe IDF targeting cells at work and examine combat footage that hasn’t been publicly released. And here’s their conclusion:

Broadly speaking, we concluded that IDF positions on targeting law largely track those of the United States military. Moreover, even when they differ, the Israeli approach remains within the ambit of generally acceptable State practice … we found that their approach to targeting is consistent with the law and, in many cases, worthy of emulation.

They also pointed out that “the nuances of the Israeli approach … can only be understood in the context of the specific operational and strategic environment in which the IDF must fight.” And the complexities of that environment, which Israel’s critics largely ignore, go beyond such simple facts as Hamas’s penchant for launching rockets from civilian homes.

For instance, one key principle of LOAC is proportionality, meaning that an attack is illegal if the anticipated harm to civilians is disproportionate to the anticipated military benefit. But for a country that routinely trades hundreds of terrorists – who then resume killing Israelis – for a single captured soldier, the anticipated military benefit of preventing a soldier from being captured may be much higher than it would be for countries that don’t routinely make such trades, Schmitt and Merriam noted.

Yet the professionals’ view – also voiced by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey last November – never mattered to their civilian superiors. Even a Pentagon spokesman joined the administration pile-on accusing Israel of callous disregard for civilian life, declaring in a news briefing last July that “the Israelis need to do more to live up to their very high standards … for protecting civilian life.”

I don’t expect anything of people who think U.S. drone strikes are no less evil than Israel’s actions in Gaza. But the Obama Administration routinely defends its own civilian casualties as honest mistakes that occurred despite the strictest precautions. And to do that while simultaneously insisting that Israel’s can’t possibly be the same is the height of hypocrisy.

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Hamas Atrocities and the Rules of War

Last week the United Nations issued a report on Israel’s attacks on UN facilities in Gaza during last summer’s war. As I noted at the time, that even though the purpose of the exercise was to attack Israel and undermine its right to self-defense, even the UN report admitted that Hamas was storing weapons at schools run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and that Hamas fighters were firing rockets and other weapons at Israeli targets from the vicinity of these places. Though there were examples of Israeli fire hitting civilians taking cover in UN shelters at the height of the fighting, these damning admissions raised questions about how the rules of war can possibly apply to a situation where armed killers who are themselves firing at Israeli civilians are using Palestinian civilians as human shields. This point was made today at a conference in Israel by the former head of the Israel Defense Forces. To make this point clear, retired General Benny Gantz recalled one incident that didn’t make it into the UN report in which a Palestinian mortar killed a four-year-old Israeli boy. According to Gantz the shell that took his life was fired from a United Nations building. The question the general raised is of what use are such rules if they serve to protect Hamas killers while endangering Jewish children?

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Last week the United Nations issued a report on Israel’s attacks on UN facilities in Gaza during last summer’s war. As I noted at the time, that even though the purpose of the exercise was to attack Israel and undermine its right to self-defense, even the UN report admitted that Hamas was storing weapons at schools run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and that Hamas fighters were firing rockets and other weapons at Israeli targets from the vicinity of these places. Though there were examples of Israeli fire hitting civilians taking cover in UN shelters at the height of the fighting, these damning admissions raised questions about how the rules of war can possibly apply to a situation where armed killers who are themselves firing at Israeli civilians are using Palestinian civilians as human shields. This point was made today at a conference in Israel by the former head of the Israel Defense Forces. To make this point clear, retired General Benny Gantz recalled one incident that didn’t make it into the UN report in which a Palestinian mortar killed a four-year-old Israeli boy. According to Gantz the shell that took his life was fired from a United Nations building. The question the general raised is of what use are such rules if they serve to protect Hamas killers while endangering Jewish children?

The UN report gave Israel credit for the fact that incidents in which the Israel Defense Forces’ fire was deemed to be unjustified or wrongful due to the impact on civilians resulted in investigations and/or prosecutions of those involved. But it what failed to grasp was that two factors undermined most of the criticisms of Israel’s conduct in Gaza. One is that widespread infiltration of UNRWA by Hamas personnel who use UN facilities as storage depots. The other is the fact that the Hamas government of Gaza systematically exploits civilian buildings that are treated as off limits to Israeli fire for military purposes.

As Gantz detailed, it was well known, even during the war, that the Hamas leaders who were directing the rocket attacks on Israel were doing from the safety of hospital buildings. It was also clear throughout the campaign that Hamas was firing the thousands of rockets that were shot at Israeli cities from the immediate environs of shelters, schools and hospitals.

The IDF did its best to avoid hitting civilian targets and though there were casualties, the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey later noted that the conduct of the Israelis was exemplary, undermining much of the unfair criticisms of the war put forward by both the Obama White House and the State Department. But while the Israelis were subjected to a double standard not applied to any other modern combatant, it’s worth asking whether we need to think again about a code of military conduct that says a sovereign nation is obligated to let terrorists shoot at children so long as they are around a building that is designated as off-limits.

Were the world prepared to let Israel go into Gaza and capture these terrorists and the government in whose name they operate, it might be possible to say that there is no need to think about rules. But we know this isn’t so. The leaders of Gaza were able to sit out the war inside hospitals secure in the knowledge that the Israelis wouldn’t shoot at their hideouts or attempt to root out this criminal conspiracy. Indeed, the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name knows that operates with impunity and need never fear that the Israelis will seek to destroy it.

How then is a legitimate democratic government supposed to protect its people? Four-year-old Daniel Tragerman was killed because his family in Nahal Oz near the Gaza border had only a few seconds to seek shelter when a Palestinian shot a mortar shell at them from the safety of a UN building compound. But there is no outcry at the world body to bring to justice his murderer. Nor is there any effort to bring UNRWA — which exists to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem so as to use them as props in the war against Israel — to account for its involvement in the war against the Jews.

Gantz doesn’t seem to have any ready answers as to how rules of engagement for the military or those of war can be adjusted to account for Hamas. Ethicists can debate the obligation to avoid causing deaths to civilians against the one that declares that governments must defend their citizens. But the problem here goes deeper than a mere moral dilemma. So long as both sides aren’t playing by the same rules, no one is safe. Those Palestinians that were made homeless or wounded and killed because of the war their Islamist overlords launched ought to hold Hamas accountable. But they won’t because Palestinian political culture still treats the war on Zionism as the national priority even if it means sacrificing the lives of their own people.

Gantz is probably right when he says the inevitable next round of fighting with Hamas will be worse than the last one. So, too will the condemnations of Israeli self-defense. Each incident will probably be used to justify economic warfare via the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement against the Jewish state. You can count on Israel continuing to uphold high standards of conduct in which every effort will be made to spare innocent lives. But so long as terrorists are using UN buildings as launching pads for attacks on Jewish children, the IDF will have no choice but to shoot back. If that generates more UN reports and unfair criticism, so be it. No rule that gives a terrorist impunity to shoot at children should be treated as sacrosanct.

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When Students Vote on Israel’s Demise

William Jacobson reports that Bowdoin College’s undergraduates are in the midst of voting to support a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Voting closes on Wednesday. Bowdoin, located in Maine, is among the nation’s most prestigious small colleges.

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William Jacobson reports that Bowdoin College’s undergraduates are in the midst of voting to support a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Voting closes on Wednesday. Bowdoin, located in Maine, is among the nation’s most prestigious small colleges.

As Jacobson points out, the resolution under consideration goes well beyond the more tepid, though still troubling divestment resolutions that have been considered at many colleges and universities over the past few years. The divestment resolutions target companies alleged to benefit from the suffering of Palestinians. This resolution directly targets Israeli academic and cultural institutions. And tellingly, the resolution adopts the strategically ambiguous language of the BDS movement. The boycott will continue until Israel “ends its occupation and colonization of all Palestinian lands.” This language enables the movement to take in those who think that Israel should not exist at all—“Palestinian lands” includes the whole of Israel—and those “moderates” who merely think that Israel should immediately withdraw from the West Bank, so that the West Bank can become another Gaza, then dismantle the wall that protects Israel’s civilians from people who have made no secret of their intention to kill them.

Supporters of BDS often speak as if they hope to ignite a conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This claim has always been disingenuous because such a conversation—if you consider persistent, obsessive, and often deeply misleading criticism of Israel to be a conversation—has been taking place on college campuses for a long time. In addition, the “anti-normalization” strategy that the BDS movement has adopted, considers calls for dialogue to be a mask for preserving the status quo.

But the way Bowdoin’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine is attempting to ram through this referendum, near the end of the academic year, when students are least likely to be paying close attention, shows as well as these other observations, that the movement is really about scoring a series of cheap propaganda victories to produce a phony impression of momentum and widespread support. Their undertaking is the very opposite of the Socratic spirit that ought to animate our colleges and universities: they want people who don’t know to claim that they do. To those who pretend to work toward discussion of Israel but in fact seek to manipulate students who know next to nothing about it, we can reply as Socrates did to one of his own prosecutors: they [jest] in a serious matter, easily bringing human beings to trial, pretending to be serious and concerned about things for which [they] never cared at all.”

As in the case of Socrates’s prosecutors, the claim that academic supporters of the boycott are joking is counterintuitive. They certainly seem angry, just as Socrates’s prosecutors did, and they talk about doing justice and serving humanity. But doing the just and humane thing requires an understanding and capacity for self-criticism that our zealots conspicuously lack. It is in this way that their earnest talk about justice, coupled with their blatant disregard for giving Israel and its people a fair hearing, appears ridiculous when viewed from afar.

Of course, from those who cannot look from afar, whose vocations are tied to colleges and universities understood as havens for serious inquiry, the handing over of college and university life to zealots is not altogether a laughing matter. They are making a joke out of something we hold dear.

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The Right Israeli Response to Young Arabs Loving Israel on Facebook

Responding to last week’s post about a poll showing that young Arabs no longer see Israel as the Mideast’s biggest problem, a reader pointed out that this doesn’t mean they’ve stopped hating Israel or wanting it to disappear. That’s unarguable; recognizing that Israel isn’t the source of all the region’s ills is merely the first step on a long road toward accepting its existence. But as one of the most remarkable stories I’ve read in years makes clear, it’s a very significant step. And how Israel responds to it will matter greatly.

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Responding to last week’s post about a poll showing that young Arabs no longer see Israel as the Mideast’s biggest problem, a reader pointed out that this doesn’t mean they’ve stopped hating Israel or wanting it to disappear. That’s unarguable; recognizing that Israel isn’t the source of all the region’s ills is merely the first step on a long road toward accepting its existence. But as one of the most remarkable stories I’ve read in years makes clear, it’s a very significant step. And how Israel responds to it will matter greatly.

The story, reported by Shlomi Eldar in Al-Monitor, began with a Muslim Arab veteran of the Israel Defense Forces–a rarity in itself, since few Israeli Arabs enlist. Outraged at hearing his own community’s leaders vilifying the IDF, M. made a Facebook page aimed at convincing other Israeli Arabs that the IDF isn’t evil and more of them should enlist.

What he got instead was an outpouring of love for Israel from across the Arab world. A young Saudi woman, for instance, posted a video clip saying, “I’d like to send a message of peace and love to Israel and its dear citizens … I hope the Arabs will be sensible like me and recognize the fact that Israel also has rights to the lands of Palestine.” A young Iraqi man posted a clip saying, “I want to send a message of peace and love to the dear Israeli people … I believe that the number of people who support Israel here will grow consistently.”

Stunned by these messages–and there were “lots of them,” Eldar reported–M. began asking their authors what prompted them to support Israel. Some had personal reasons, like a Jordanian lesbian envious of Israel’s gay rights. But others cited the crucial realization of that poll data.

“There are a lot of young people here who think like me,” the Iraqi man said. “Everything that is happening to us here in Iraq — the killings, the terrorism, the veritable bloodbath — showed us that Israel has nothing to do with it.” In other words, his recognition that Israel wasn’t the cause of the Arab world’s problems is what enabled him to start seeing it as it actually is.

Or take the Egyptian police officer who wrote, “We love, love, love Israel and its army,” even adding a heart with a Star of David inside. Four years ago, that would have been unthinkable. But today, Egyptian policemen are on the front lines against the brutal terrorism of homegrown Islamic extremists, and the IDF is one of Egypt’s closest allies in this fight. So instead of seeing Israel as the problem, some Egyptians now see it as part of the solution.

None of this means a New Middle East will break out tomorrow; these young Arabs remain a minority. Moreover, the ones who still hate Israel passionately are often the ones with the guns and bombs and missiles, which means they’re the ones who will take over any territory up for grabs.

Hence the last conclusion to draw from this is the one leftists routinely do: that Israel should attempt to accelerate this budding rapprochement by making territorial concessions. That would actually be counterproductive: It would further empower the extremists against the moderates by giving them more territory to control, endanger Israel by giving the extremists new bases from which to attack it, and thereby ensure more Israeli-Arab bloodshed.

Instead, Israel should recognize that since this new openness stems entirely from internal changes in the Arab world; the Palestinian issue is largely irrelevant to it. As evidence, consider that repeated Israeli pullouts, from Sinai, Lebanon, and Gaza, produced no such upsurge in Arab affection, whereas the past four years did, despite two wars in Gaza, zero pullouts, and zero progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

That doesn’t mean Israel can do nothing; it can and should try to help Arabs improve their own lives. And in fact, it’s already doing that in numerous ways, from counterterrorism assistance to Egypt through economic aid to Jordan to medical care for wounded Syrians. But it shouldn’t forget that this change in Arab attitudes is merely the start of a long process of baby steps. Any attempt at a “great leap forward” is liable to end in a painful fall.

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Opening Game in Zion

It’s baseball season (with or without fans in the seats), which can mean only one thing: a Throwback Thursday post featuring an April 1949 COMMENTARY article by William Schack on the very first display of America’s national pastime in Zion. Pulled from the archives for your enjoyment, here’s “Opening Game in Zion”:

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It’s baseball season (with or without fans in the seats), which can mean only one thing: a Throwback Thursday post featuring an April 1949 COMMENTARY article by William Schack on the very first display of America’s national pastime in Zion. Pulled from the archives for your enjoyment, here’s “Opening Game in Zion”:

One June day in 1927 the Americans in Jerusalem, hitherto outwardly respectable, were seen making their way to the open spaces of the city wearing common caps, old pants, and abraded shoes. People heard settlers and tourists from the United States, who had only casually greeted each before, jabbering together with lodgebrother intimacy about something which a good polyglot Palestinian, who averaged a sort-of-command of seven languages, including English, could not follow for a single sentence.

The meaning of all this unusual activity became clear when the Palestine Bulletin announced that, in honor of the Fourth of July, the American community was going to stage an exhibition of their national pastime—the first ever to be held in the country. The place, the Maccabee football field; the time, four o’clock; everybody welcome, admission free. Even the Hebrew press carried an announcement, though it could find no better equivalent for “umpire” in the ancient tongue than the watered-down shofet—judge.

Click here to read it all.

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The Iran Deal and the Looming Showdown with Israel at the UN

Those waiting for the Obama administration’s much-hyped decision on whether to abandon Israel at the United Nations will have to keep waiting. Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch is reporting that the Obama administration has been pushing its European allies to postpone a vote at the UN, designed to pressure Israel over the contours of a two-state solution, until after President Obama concludes a nuclear deal with Iran. There are competing explanations for how this is to be interpreted, but it is, at the very least, an unambiguous case for more congressional oversight.

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Those waiting for the Obama administration’s much-hyped decision on whether to abandon Israel at the United Nations will have to keep waiting. Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch is reporting that the Obama administration has been pushing its European allies to postpone a vote at the UN, designed to pressure Israel over the contours of a two-state solution, until after President Obama concludes a nuclear deal with Iran. There are competing explanations for how this is to be interpreted, but it is, at the very least, an unambiguous case for more congressional oversight.

As Lynch writes, Obama doesn’t want to pick an additional fight with Congress while he still needs them to rubber-stamp his nuclear diplomacy with Iran. In that sense, Congress’s attempts to reclaim some of its turf back from a power-hungry president are bearing fruit on more than just the Iran deal. It also limits what Obama can do in areas where he doesn’t need Congress, because he wants to avoid burning more legislative bridges for the time being.

But that’s not wholly positive news. After all, if Obama wants to postpone UN action on Israel because he doesn’t want to fight with the pro-Israel U.S. Congress, that suggests that the action he wants to take at the UN would anger the pro-Israel Congress. Here the prediction takes a distinctly negative turn. Were Obama planning to unequivocally support Israel at the UN, he surely needn’t worry about congressional opposition.

You could argue further that if Obama intended to bolster Israel at the UN, it might make sense for him to do so before the Iran deal is finalized because it could earn him some goodwill from Congress. Part of the concern about Obama’s foreign policy, and specifically his pending deal with Iran, is that the president seeks a full reordering of American strategy in the Middle East, by leaving a security vacuum and then encouraging and enabling Iran to step into that role.

Allowing Iran a much freer hand in the region–which, it must be conceded, Obama is already doing–would harm America’s traditional allies, especially Israel. So Obama might consider protecting Israel at the UN before the Iran deal is finalized as a way to reassure the Israelis that there are limits to how far Obama will go in elevating Iran in the Middle East. It would also be a good-faith gesture to Congress, by signaling that although Congress might disagree on the path Obama’s taking with Iran, some Middle East issues will remain bipartisan. (This would be especially appreciated by congressional Democrats, whose party is increasingly becoming identified with its growing hostility to Israel.)

So it’s a bad sign, from the perspective of the free world, that Obama wants to wait. Yet it should be noted that there is a way to interpret the scheduling as indicative of Obama protecting Israel at the UN when the vote eventually takes place. Obama could, for example, want to postpone anything that might upset Iran before he gets a deal signed. Also, he might want to use American UN action as a way to blunt criticism of the Iran deal after it’s signed (if it’s signed).

Regarding the latter, Obama could pitch supporting Israel at the UN to send the message that the Iran deal changes nothing about America’s special relationship to Israel. Additionally, the president knows that if he signs a deal legitimizing Iran as a nuclear power he will yet again be criticized for the various ways such a move would harm Israel’s security. He might want to hold off on the UN so that he can let defending Israel at the UN provide him with a positive news cycle in the aftermath of the deal.

There is another possibility, however, this one raised by Lynch: that the president who always loved voting “present” doesn’t want to have to make a decision at the UN either way–and doesn’t plan to. Lynch writes:

The U.S. outreach reflects concern over the potential political perils of pursuing dual initiatives that are deeply unpopular with Israel and its supporters in the U.S. Congress. But it has also raised suspicions among key observers and diplomats that the United States may be backing away from its plans to pursue action on the Middle East at the United Nations. …

Goldenberg said he believes the Obama administration is genuinely committed to pursuing some form of action at the council to promote a two-state solution. But he doubts the United States will ever find the right time to push ahead. When the administration “weighs the costs and benefits” of U.N. action, he said, it tends to either “hesitate” or “back off.”

I find the wording there quite revealing. It suggests that the cost-benefit analysis performed by the administration shows it to be a net-negative to abandon Israel at the UN. Hence, the president would “back off.” But the “hesitate” part is interesting too. The president seems to want to side against Israel on this issue, but believes he just doesn’t have the political capital to take such a drastic step.

Yet he also doesn’t want to side with Israel on the issue because he doesn’t want to go on record against a peace plan that he really supports. So he doesn’t want the vote to ever actually take place.

Perhaps he just wants the vote to be a looming threat to quiet Israel’s opposition to the Iran deal. Whatever the case, he won’t be able to put off the UN vote forever. And that’s when we’ll see if the president who took the extraordinary step of downgrading the U.S.-Israel military alliance while Israel was at war is also ready to downgrade the U.S.-Israel diplomatic alliance and unleash the full prejudice of the United Nations on the Jewish state.

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