Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jerusalem

UNESCO Crosses the Line Into Anti-Semitism

For decades, the United Nations has built an unsavory reputation as a cesspool of hatred for Israel that has often crossed the line into outright anti-Semitism. But anyone who thinks this behavior is limited to speeches at the General Assembly or even the hyper-political Human Rights Council that concentrates almost all of its attention on alleged infractions by democratic Israel while ignoring wholesale slaughters by Arab and Muslim tyrannies. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or UNESCO is often treated as an apolitical agency but its efforts to delegitimize Israel have been every been as vicious as the actions of any other UN group. Its latest outrage came this week when its World Heritage Committee adopted a resolution that condemned Israel for allegedly conducting “illegal excavations” in the Old City; causing damage to structures on the Temple Mount; impeding restoration work on the Temple Mount; and damaging the “visual integrity” of the Old City by building the Jerusalem light rail system. These charges are a perversion of the truth. But by voting for a resolution that treats Jerusalem as a Muslim shrine as if Jewish history, either ancient or contemporary, didn’t exist, UNESCO isn’t just engaging in Jew-hatred, it’s also denying Christian ties to the holy city.

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For decades, the United Nations has built an unsavory reputation as a cesspool of hatred for Israel that has often crossed the line into outright anti-Semitism. But anyone who thinks this behavior is limited to speeches at the General Assembly or even the hyper-political Human Rights Council that concentrates almost all of its attention on alleged infractions by democratic Israel while ignoring wholesale slaughters by Arab and Muslim tyrannies. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or UNESCO is often treated as an apolitical agency but its efforts to delegitimize Israel have been every been as vicious as the actions of any other UN group. Its latest outrage came this week when its World Heritage Committee adopted a resolution that condemned Israel for allegedly conducting “illegal excavations” in the Old City; causing damage to structures on the Temple Mount; impeding restoration work on the Temple Mount; and damaging the “visual integrity” of the Old City by building the Jerusalem light rail system. These charges are a perversion of the truth. But by voting for a resolution that treats Jerusalem as a Muslim shrine as if Jewish history, either ancient or contemporary, didn’t exist, UNESCO isn’t just engaging in Jew-hatred, it’s also denying Christian ties to the holy city.

Interestingly, the UNESCO move comes only a week after CNN published an article on its website that treated Jerusalem as the first item on a list of 25 most endangered historical sites in the world. That the list omitted any mention of the actual destruction of ancient buildings and artifacts by ISIS terrorists in Palmyra, Syria exposed the network to ridicule. But CNN’s decision to lead with false information about Jerusalem showed the influence of UNESCO, which has kept Israel’s capital on a list of such endangered sites since 1982.

But the rationale for its inclusion on such a list is purely political. As I noted earlier this week when writing about CNN’s piece, it is only due to Israel’s efforts since the city’s unification during the Six Day War that much of the city’s ancient and holy sites have been preserved and cleaned up. After 19 years of vandalism by Jordan, which illegally occupied parts of the city until 1967, Israel restored the ramparts of the Old City walls and restored the ancient Jewish quarter as well as the Western Wall, which had treated as a garage dump by the Jordanians. Only under Israeli rule has there been free access for all faiths to the holy sites after many centuries in which both Christians and Jews have suffered restrictions. The only exception to that rule is on the Temple Mount, which remains under the authority of a Muslim Wakf and where Jewish prayers are banned.

It is comical to even address the complaints lodged against Israel, but let’s briefly note that the charge of undermining the structural integrity of the Temple Mount is simply a lie. What the members who voted for this lie are doing is seeking to stigmatize Israel for work in the area of the Western Wall that has opened up the tunnels as well as an archeological park. The not-so-secret agenda here is to deny Jewish history and the ties of the Jewish people to their ancient capital. If there is any destruction going on in Jerusalem it is the work of the Wakf which has conducted excavations that have trashed ancient sites and treated artifacts that predate the 7th century arrival of Muslim conquerors as trash to be discarded.

Just as telling is the fact that this UN resolution refers to the Western Wall only as the “Buraq Plaza,” a Muslim term. It also references the Temple Mount — the holiest site in Judaism — as only a “Muslim holy site of worship.” Nor is there any reference in the text to the city’s ties to Christianity.

As for the building of the Light Rail, the creation of a system of mass transit was a vital necessity for what is a living city and serves Arab neighborhoods as well as Jewish ones. Built to blend in with its surroundings, it in no way affects the “visual integrity” of the city. But, like every other evidence of the revival of Jewish life, it is seen as inherently offensive to those who think the Jews have no right to live in their ancient homeland, even in territory controlled by Israel before 1967.

But UNESCO’s embrace of these canards isn’t harmless or merely an offense to Jewish sensibilities. By parroting Palestinian propaganda in this manner, the UN agency is feeding into efforts to foment hatred against Jews. Throughout the last century, Arab leaders have whipped up anti-Semitic sentiment by spreading lies about the Jews plotting to do damage to the mosques on the Temple Mount. These efforts led to pogroms in 1921, 1929 and 1936 and inspired terror attacks during the last year. Seen in that light, this resolution isn’t merely just another instance of UN prejudice against Israel. By endorsing incitement and denying Jewish history, it is a UN endorsement of anti-Semitism.

If not rescinded, this resolution should be justification, in and of itself, for a U.S. decision to completely pull out of UNESCO (funding has already been cut off) and to raise the ante by threatening funding for the UN itself. It is long past time for both the U.S. and other democracies to stop participating in a hate group masquerading as a force for world peace. So long as UNESCO behaves in this fashion, it no longer deserves the presence of an American delegate.

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The Supreme Court Decision on Jerusalem Lets Obama Ignore Reality

The problem with American Middle East policy during the Obama administration has always boiled down to one factor: the president and his foreign policy team prefer their fantasies about the way things should be to the cold hard reality of Palestinian rejectionism, Islamist terror, or Iran’s ambitions for regional hegemony. That hasn’t worked out well for America or its allies, as the U.S. has suffered setback after setback with the collapse of revived peace negotiations that were doomed to fail, Hamas’ hold on Gaza, Iran’s growing power, and the rise of ISIS. But let it not be said that the president hasn’t won any victories. By siding with the administration in the case of Zivotofsky v. Kerry, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the executive branch’s constitutional power to recognize foreign governments. In this instance, that meant allowing the president to declare that, contrary to an act of Congress as well as the facts on the ground, Obama is entitled to pretend that the city of Jerusalem isn’t the capital of Israel or even part of the Jewish state. This triumph may cause celebration in the White House as well as among Israel’s foes. But it should also be put down as yet another win for fantasy over reality as well as one that won’t further the cause of peace.

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The problem with American Middle East policy during the Obama administration has always boiled down to one factor: the president and his foreign policy team prefer their fantasies about the way things should be to the cold hard reality of Palestinian rejectionism, Islamist terror, or Iran’s ambitions for regional hegemony. That hasn’t worked out well for America or its allies, as the U.S. has suffered setback after setback with the collapse of revived peace negotiations that were doomed to fail, Hamas’ hold on Gaza, Iran’s growing power, and the rise of ISIS. But let it not be said that the president hasn’t won any victories. By siding with the administration in the case of Zivotofsky v. Kerry, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the executive branch’s constitutional power to recognize foreign governments. In this instance, that meant allowing the president to declare that, contrary to an act of Congress as well as the facts on the ground, Obama is entitled to pretend that the city of Jerusalem isn’t the capital of Israel or even part of the Jewish state. This triumph may cause celebration in the White House as well as among Israel’s foes. But it should also be put down as yet another win for fantasy over reality as well as one that won’t further the cause of peace.

The case involved American citizens living in Israel who wanted the government to put down Jerusalem, Israel as their son’s place of birth on his passport. Considering that this is where he was born and that U.S. law states that Jerusalem is part of Israel, there shouldn’t be any problem with this request. But since, due to an awkward diplomatic dance it has been conducting since 1948, the U.S. has never recognized that Jerusalem is part of Israel, the consulate refused leading the Zivotofskys to sue and to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court.

The impact of this decision is outrageous, but it is easy to understand where the majority is coming from. The Constitution is clear that foreign policy is the prerogative of the executive branch, not Congress. One would wish the Obama administration might have equal respect for constitutional dictates that don’t favor increasing its power, as it did here. But while the president feels free to ignore the Constitution when he wants to flout the will of Congress and legislate on his own by granting amnesty to millions of aliens, he is happy to hide behind the Constitution when it comes to upholding the longstanding denial that Jerusalem is Israel.

As Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito and Scalia stated in their sensible dissent in the case, it’s not quite as simple as that. This area of law is, as even Justice Anthony Kennedy admitted in the majority opinion, not well defined because the body of case law is meager. In the past, the legislative and the executive branches have largely settled any disputes without the judiciary having to intervene as the referee. But while the Constitutional principle that the president has the right to make foreign policy must be respected, the notion that he may ignore U.S. law when doing so is not well established. Just as President Reagan did not have the right to fund the Nicaragua contras during the period when Congress forbade it, it can be argued with equal force that once a law was passed and signed (though President George W. Bush said he wouldn’t enforce it) that stated the U.S. recognized that Jerusalem was part of Israel, the executive did not have the ability to go on denying it. As with immigration, President Obama wants to have his cake and eat it too and a 6-3 majority in Zivoftosky appears happy to let him have it.

But let’s, at least for a moment, leave the legal technicalities of this subject to the lawyers and comment instead on what this means for U.S. foreign policy.

The administration thinks being upheld on this point is good for America because it allows it to continue maintaining the fiction that Jerusalem isn’t part of Israel. The bizarre refusal of the U.S. to formally acknowledge that even West Jerusalem — that section that has always been part of Israel since May 1948 — is part of the Jewish state also makes peace less likely. The administration or any of its predecessors could have simply moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem even if they insisted that the eastern part was not part of Israel. But they have all refused, making it even more difficult for Palestinians to recognize Israel’s legitimacy.

Reversing that stand would be unpopular in the Arab and Muslim world. This fiction enables the Palestinians to go on insisting that Israel give up the portions of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan between 1948-1967. The presumption is that once peace is achieved between Israel and the Palestinians, including, at least according to President Obama, a re-partition of the city, the U.S. might have a more realistic policy about Jerusalem. What’s wrong with that seemingly position is that so long as the U.S. is encouraging the Palestinians to think they can have all of that portion of Israel’s capital as part of that state — including mostly 40-year-old neighborhoods where hundreds of thousands of Jews live — they’ll never come to terms with the fact that they are going to have to accept a compromise and leave those people in place and allow the city to remain united.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Obama, more than any other president since 1967 has encouraged this delusion by treating these Jewish neighborhoods as being as offensive to him, and the Jews who live there as just as liable to be thrown out of their homes as the most remote West Bank settlement. That broke new and even more dangerous ground on the issue and made a resolution on Jerusalem even less likely to happen in the foreseeable future.

Obama can celebrate the court’s dubious endorsement of his power to deny reality in Jerusalem, but no one should be under the impression that this is good for peace. All the Supreme Court decision on Jerusalem has done is to reinforce the president’s worst instincts that reflexively always cause him to prefer his fantasies about Jerusalem and the rest of the region to reality and common sense.

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Jerusalem Should Never Be Divided Again

Today, Israelis mark the 48th anniversary of the day that the walls that once divided Jerusalem were breached. From 1949 to 1967, Jordan illegally occupied much of Jerusalem including its Old City. Jews were prohibited from entering the Temple Mount or the Western Wall. Ancient synagogues were destroyed and ancient Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. The border that snaked through the city was marked by ugly barriers and no man’s land areas that marked it as a battleground rather than a haven of peace and faith. The Six Day War ended that awful era but the battles fought there did more than reunite the Jews with their holy places. It also marked the first time in the city’s history that the holy sites became open to all people and faiths. Yet rather than celebrate this event, most of the world will not only ignore Israel’s holiday, they will continue to advocate for the return of the border that once divided the city. Whatever one may think of the state of the peace process or who to blame for its dim prospects that must never be allowed to happen.

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Today, Israelis mark the 48th anniversary of the day that the walls that once divided Jerusalem were breached. From 1949 to 1967, Jordan illegally occupied much of Jerusalem including its Old City. Jews were prohibited from entering the Temple Mount or the Western Wall. Ancient synagogues were destroyed and ancient Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. The border that snaked through the city was marked by ugly barriers and no man’s land areas that marked it as a battleground rather than a haven of peace and faith. The Six Day War ended that awful era but the battles fought there did more than reunite the Jews with their holy places. It also marked the first time in the city’s history that the holy sites became open to all people and faiths. Yet rather than celebrate this event, most of the world will not only ignore Israel’s holiday, they will continue to advocate for the return of the border that once divided the city. Whatever one may think of the state of the peace process or who to blame for its dim prospects that must never be allowed to happen.

The end of the city’s partition did not solve all its problems. To the contrary, Jerusalem remains divided in some important ways. Jews and Arabs are still parties to a conflict that has no end in sight. Though the city benefitted enormously from its reunification, Arab neighborhoods lag behind in services. Part of this was the emphasis that the city placed on establishing Israel’s sovereignty by building new Jewish neighborhoods in the 1970s and a lack of interest in helping the Arab population. But it was also exacerbated by the refusal of the city’s Arab population to take part in the city’s government because of their unwillingness to become Israeli citizens and vote.

But those arguments that stem from the conflict between the two peoples over one land have always superseded those municipal squabbles. Palestinian Arabs have resisted even those projects that benefited their neighborhoods such as the light rail project that has provided the city with an improved transportation system. The second intifada in which suicide bombings were launched at Jewish targets also resulted in the building of a security barrier that is a physical manifestation of the division of the city that still exists.

Yet in spite of all this, Jerusalem’s unity is still worth celebrating.

For all of its current problems and the divide between Arabs and Jews, the unification of the city was the moment when Israel’s capital ceased being a dead end torn apart by conflict and began to be a modern city. More to the point, it was only when Israel became the sovereign power throughout the city that the all the holy sites within its boundaries became open to all peoples and all faiths. Under Israeli rule the city has blossomed. It is now filled with parks and promenades. Ancient landmarks, like the synagogues destroyed by the Jordanians and the Western Wall area were restored and preserved. Parks now surround the walls of the Old City. Rather than ramparts from which combatants would shoot at each other, they are now filled with tourists.

The city’s unity has been a boon to those who value it as a center of three faiths. Were the city to be formally re-partitioned, all this would change. A re-division of the city would not only be unworkable, leading to chaos and conflict, it would also mean the end of an era in which free access to the holy sites was taken for granted. Putting any parts of the city under the rule of the despotic and corrupt Palestinian Authority would not only make it potential base for terror as Gaza became after Israel removed every soldier, settler and settlement. It would also mean that the same people that have trashed Jewish holy sites and conducted archeological vandalism on the Temple Mount would be free to exclude Jews or Christians. Those who value the city as a center for three faiths must understand that the day Israel ceases to be in control of all it is the moment when such free access will either end or be put in danger.

All those who care about Jerusalem and peace should take a moment today to be thankful that it is no longer torn apart. In doing so they should resolved never to allow the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world that has fed attacks on Israel to cause the world to force a return to a divided holy city. While a two state solution to the conflict would be ideal, it will only happen when the Palestinians recognize that Israel’s existence, as a Jewish state can’t be wished away. By the same token, the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in the areas where Jordan formerly ruled also will not be uprooted and cast out of their homes. Whatever theoretical solution to the future of the city may be found in the future, it cannot be predicated on a return to the dark days before June 1967 when the city was a Middle East version of Cold War Berlin.

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Elie Wiesel and the Defense of Jewish Life

Like a lot of Jews, Peter Beinart says Elie Wiesel’s writings helped influence his development as a thinker and a writer. The same could be said of me. At this point, the Nobel Laureate Wiesel has made his mark on more than one generation of Jews who were raised on his novels and memoirs exploring both his experience in the Holocaust as well as Jewish traditions and the dilemma of modern Jewish life. But, as he writes in his latest Haaretz column, Beinart has no patience for Wiesel these days. Why? Because Wiesel has written a public letter, published as an ad in the New York Times and the Washington Post, supporting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about the nuclear threat from Iran.

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Like a lot of Jews, Peter Beinart says Elie Wiesel’s writings helped influence his development as a thinker and a writer. The same could be said of me. At this point, the Nobel Laureate Wiesel has made his mark on more than one generation of Jews who were raised on his novels and memoirs exploring both his experience in the Holocaust as well as Jewish traditions and the dilemma of modern Jewish life. But, as he writes in his latest Haaretz column, Beinart has no patience for Wiesel these days. Why? Because Wiesel has written a public letter, published as an ad in the New York Times and the Washington Post, supporting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about the nuclear threat from Iran.

According to Beinart, this is just one more example of Wiesel being “blind to the harm that Jews cause.” Whatever your opinion about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s decision to give the speech (and I’ve repeatedly questioned it), the notion that an Israeli leader speaking up to urge the world to stop Iran obtaining the ability to threaten or to carry out another Holocaust is causing “harm” is not only outrageous. It speaks volumes about the mindset of Beinart and others like him who view Jewish self-defense with more alarm than the continued efforts of those who seek to slaughter Jews.

I think Netanyahu made a terrible tactical mistake by choosing to inject himself into a debate over Iran sanctions that the side he supported was already winning. President Obama’s efforts to spike those sanctions was given a major boost when, fairly or not, Netanyahu’s alleged breach of protocol became the issue, diverting the nation from the administration’s indefensible efforts to promote détente with Iran. But since Netanyahu is determined to go ahead with the speech, his critics are not so much focused on his blunder as on their desire to silence all discussion about the Iranian nuclear threat so as to give more room for Obama’s push for appeasement.

Beinart claims Wiesel made two unsupported statements in his letter. The first is that the U.S. and Iran are on the verge of a “terrible” deal. The second is that an Iranian nuclear weapon could mean the “annihilation and destruction” of Israel. Yet there’s not much to Beinart’s objections here.

There’s not much dispute about the terms the U.S. is currently offering Iran. Discarding his 2012 campaign promise to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program, President Obama has already put on the table an offer that would allow the Islamist regime to retain thousands of centrifuges for enriching uranium as well as letting them keep control of their stockpile of nuclear fuel. Administration apologists claim that this is the best that the West can do in any bargain with Iran, but Beinart doesn’t even bother to make that weak argument but simply writes as if the much discussed terms of the negotiations are a mystery that will only be revealed at the signing ceremony. Such terms would not be much of a deterrent to stop Iran from building a bomb; the only question being whether a nuclear “breakout” would take a year or, as many intelligence sources insist, far less time. Nor does he deign to dispute that even if Iran initially abided by those terms, it would make Tehran a nuclear threshold state that would make this terrorist sponsoring government more powerful, aiding its drive for regional hegemony.

Even less convincing is Beinart’s claim that an Iranian nuke wouldn’t be an existential threat to Israel. Though he can quote some retired Israeli security officials downplaying the threat, he knows very well that the dispute in those circles is not so much about the danger but about the best way to counter it with many deprecating the possibility of an Israeli military strike.

Though Iran might not use such a weapon to destroy Israel, their possession of one does raise such a possibility for two reasons. One is that they are building ballistic missiles that could deliver such a bomb. The other is that leading figures of this unabashedly anti-Semitic regime have repeatedly stated their desire to annihilate Israel.

Put in that context, Wiesel’s assertions are unexceptionable. Indeed, if one goes back and reads many of President Obama’s statements about an Iranian weapon in his first term during which he pledged never to allow such a development to take place, Wiesel’s position actually seems in concert with that of the administration.

But Beinart’s real agenda here isn’t to make weak arguments in defense of the administration’s efforts to build a new entente with Tehran. Rather, it is to denounce Wiesel’s instinct to defend Israel’s government against efforts to delegitimize its attempts to defend the Jewish state. Because he thinks, or at least at one point thought, about the writer as a symbol of concern for human rights, Beinart is appalled that Wiesel thinks Israel shouldn’t be forced to make unilateral concessions or that Jerusalem should be divided. He thinks he should be in the forefront of those flaying Israel for its policies on the West Bank rather than defending its current government as he has its predecessors led by both Likud and Labor prime ministers.

But again, this tells us more about Wiesel’s grasp of the essence of the conflict than any alleged insensitivity to the sufferings of the Palestinians. To the contrary, Wiesel has always been outspoken about the need to respect the humanity and the rights of Palestinians. But at the same time he has celebrated Israel’s control over a united Jerusalem because that means for the first time in its history, all faiths have access to their holy places.

Moreover, Wiesel’s defense of Israeli efforts to defend its people against a continuing campaign of Palestinian terrorism isn’t insensitive to non-Jews. He grasps that it is the Palestinian national organizations that have perpetuated this conflict despite repeated Israeli offers of peace and independence that have been turned down flat by both Fatah and Hamas.

Beinart rightly senses that so long as an icon of humanity like Wiesel is willing to stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself and to not be forced into unilateral and suicidal concessions, non-Jews will understand that the Jewish state’s rights should be respected. Whatever one may think of the current government of Israel, the notion that its efforts to preserve the existence of the state and the security of its people “defile” Wiesel’s ideals is a monstrous distortion of the truth. For those who have wrongly come to view Israel as the villain in the Middle East conflict and who reflexively deny the Palestinians’ rejection of peace and coexistence, any defense of Israel is too much, even when it comes from someone whose bona fides as an authority on human rights dwarf those of a Peter Beinart.

In the context of the politics of either Israel or the United States, Wiesel is a not right-winger or an opponent of compromise, assuming that peace with the Palestinians were ever possible. He is, rather, a centrist who simply sticks to consensus issues like Iran and a united Jerusalem. But to the likes of Beinart, even those positions are anathema.

Beinart’s current niche in the secular media is as a Jewish writer who can be relied upon to denounce Israel’s government so it is little surprise that he would defend appeasement of Iran. But when he matches his puny stature as a critic of the Jewish state against Wiesel’s standing as an advocate of Jewish life, he is out of his depth. By bashing the famous survivor in this manner, he is doing more to damage his own tattered reputation than undermining that of Wiesel.

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How Different Would Herzog Be From Bibi?

With a little more than a month to go before Israel’s Knesset election, there isn’t much doubt that the White House is hoping and praying that Israeli voters reject Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bid for a third consecutive term in office. With Obama using Netanyahu’s plan to speak to Congress on Iran sanctions only weeks before the vote and the prime minister speaking of his “duty” to inform the world about the mistaken policy being pursued by the administration, tensions between the two governments are at fever pitch. While the impact of Netanyahu’s speech on Israeli voters is a matter of speculation, he remains favored to win. But what will really change if Obama gets his wish and, instead, the Labor Party’s Isaac Herzog emerges from what is likely to be a protracted period of negotiations as Israel’s next prime minister? The answer is that while the atmospherics between Washington and Jerusalem will undoubtedly be a lot better, the substance of the arguments between the two governments won’t change much. Nor will, despite the assumptions on the part of Netanyahu’s many critics, Israel be any closer to peace under Herzog than it is under the incumbent.

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With a little more than a month to go before Israel’s Knesset election, there isn’t much doubt that the White House is hoping and praying that Israeli voters reject Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bid for a third consecutive term in office. With Obama using Netanyahu’s plan to speak to Congress on Iran sanctions only weeks before the vote and the prime minister speaking of his “duty” to inform the world about the mistaken policy being pursued by the administration, tensions between the two governments are at fever pitch. While the impact of Netanyahu’s speech on Israeli voters is a matter of speculation, he remains favored to win. But what will really change if Obama gets his wish and, instead, the Labor Party’s Isaac Herzog emerges from what is likely to be a protracted period of negotiations as Israel’s next prime minister? The answer is that while the atmospherics between Washington and Jerusalem will undoubtedly be a lot better, the substance of the arguments between the two governments won’t change much. Nor will, despite the assumptions on the part of Netanyahu’s many critics, Israel be any closer to peace under Herzog than it is under the incumbent.

To listen to Herzog and his new partner Tzipi Livni, who merged her defunct Hatnua Party with Labor to form what they call the Zionist Camp, the differences will be significant. Herzog has spoken of his commitment to the peace process. It’s likely that he would encourage a renewal of the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry that collapsed last year after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a unity pact with Hamas.

But would the terms he is willing to offer Abbas differ from those that the Palestinians have already rejected?

Herzog has danced around the question of a divided Jerusalem. Though he is saying now that he wants to keep the city united, in the past he has endorsed the Geneva Initiative’s plans for a division. That waffling is in stark contrast to Netanyahu’s adamant refusal to partition Israel’s capital. But in practice, Herzog might still find himself locked in disputes with the Obama administration on Jerusalem. That’s because Obama considers the 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods built in parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 to be little different than the most hilltop encampments in the West Bank where Jews are living. To the administration, both are “settlements” and obstacles to peace. Any Herzog-Livni government would be a coalition with centrist parties, including relative hardliners like Avigdor Lieberman, and not Labor’s allies to the left or the Arab parties. It is inconceivable that any such government would agree, as the president almost certainly will demand, for a building freeze in Jerusalem.

Herzog is also deeply committed to a two-state solution, something that is music to Obama’s ears and will be the selling point used by Kerry when he tries to entice Abbas back to the negotiating table should Labor win. But here again, harsh reality will intrude on Obama’s fantasy about a change in the prime minister’s office being a guarantee of peace.

Abbas has already rejected a two-state deal that included a Palestinian state in Gaza, almost all the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem when Ehud Olmert offered him such an accord in 2008. He refused to even negotiate seriously with Netanyahu even though the prime minister accepted the two-state concept in 2009. Livni knows this because she was Netanyahu’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians for the past two years and has publicly complained that Abbas showed no interest in making a deal.

Will that change simply because Netanyahu isn’t in office? It’s theoretically possible, but given that the dynamic of Palestinian politics remains unchanged, it’s hard to see how things will be different. With Gaza still in the hands of Hamas and Abbas fearful of elections in the West Bank that he might lose (he is currently serving in the tenth year of a four-year term), it is highly unlikely. After years of avoiding being put in a position where he would have to commit political suicide by making peace, Abbas has no incentive to change now. So long as he and his people are unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it doesn’t matter if the Likud, Labor, or any other Zionist party leads Israel, the outcome will be the same.

One would also expect a change in tone in discussions about Iran if Netanyahu doesn’t win. Yet Obama would be mistaken to think that Herzog would be any happier with a deal that allows the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state than Netanyahu has been. Despite the carping at Netanyahu from many in the security establishment, there has always been a consensus among Israeli mainstream figures about the serious nature of the nuclear threat from Iran. The mild-mannered Herzog may express his disagreement with Obama in more measured tones, but the divide between the two countries over the desirability of détente with Iran is not one that will disappear with a Labor-led government. The same holds true about Iranian adventurism in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and even Gaza.

Those hoping for a Netanyahu defeat shouldn’t get their hopes up too high. The latest polls still show the Likud leading Labor. Moreover, even if Labor ties the Likud or earns a slight edge, it won’t be easy for Herzog to put a new government together. Though he has a path to a 61-seat majority, it is a precarious one involving discarding his Meretz ally and the Arab parties and making deals with centrist parties that are more natural partners for Likud. For that to be considered likely, Herzog’s party, which just fired its campaign strategist (always a bad sign this close to the voting) will have to beat Netanyahu’s Likud handily, something that doesn’t seem particularly likely at the moment.

But even if he does somehow win, the change will be one of personalities rather than on substance on the peace process. So long as the Arabs exercise their veto on peace, it really doesn’t matter who is prime minister of Israel. Neither Netanyahu nor Herzog will make peace with the Palestinians and there’s nothing Obama can do about it.

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Cruz Goes Back to the Future on Jerusalem

Once upon a time, American politicians proved their pro-Israel bona fides to voters and donors by regularly proclaiming their support for moving the United States Embassy to the State of Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Support for moving the embassy, which is kept out of the country’s capital because of America’s continuing non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, was universal among both Democrats and Republicans and both parties regularly included planks to that effect in their platforms when nominating candidates for president. But eventually even the most ardent members of the pro-Israel community figured out that this was a cheap pander and stopped talking so much about it. But Senator Ted Cruz, who is a likely 2016 presidential candidate, hasn’t gotten that memo and he has proposed a new bill with fellow Republican Dean Heller of Nevada that will force the State Department to finally move the embassy. This is a futile exercise, but the text of the bill as well as the collective yawn it has induced from the pro-Israel community tells us a lot about both Cruz and the current state of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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Once upon a time, American politicians proved their pro-Israel bona fides to voters and donors by regularly proclaiming their support for moving the United States Embassy to the State of Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Support for moving the embassy, which is kept out of the country’s capital because of America’s continuing non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, was universal among both Democrats and Republicans and both parties regularly included planks to that effect in their platforms when nominating candidates for president. But eventually even the most ardent members of the pro-Israel community figured out that this was a cheap pander and stopped talking so much about it. But Senator Ted Cruz, who is a likely 2016 presidential candidate, hasn’t gotten that memo and he has proposed a new bill with fellow Republican Dean Heller of Nevada that will force the State Department to finally move the embassy. This is a futile exercise, but the text of the bill as well as the collective yawn it has induced from the pro-Israel community tells us a lot about both Cruz and the current state of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

If you are thinking that such a new bill is unnecessary, you are not entirely wrong. Back in 1995 when then Republican Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole was preparing for his quixotic quest for the presidency in 1996, he shepherded a bill to passage that called for moving the embassy. But it also contained a waiver that allowed the president to declare that the move could not be accomplished for fear of harming the peace process or for security reasons. Since then, Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have signed such a waiver every six months rendering Dole’s law as futile as his presidential ambitions. Cruz’s bill removes the waiver and would, if enforced (something that would be easier said than done), actually compel the embassy to be moved.

Cruz’s legislation also calls for the State Department to recognize Israel as the place of birth for those Americans born in Jerusalem, which dovetails with a 2002 law that was also passed by Congress but which the government has chosen to evade or ignore. This is a controversy that has landed in the Supreme Court as the justices are currently considering a case in which an American family is claiming the legislation passed by Congress should dictate government decisions while the administration argues that the executive branch must have the final say on foreign policy.

But the legal tangles this legislation attempts to unravel are clearly secondary to Cruz’s intent and the reaction, or lack thereof, it will generate among pro-Israel activists.

It must be acknowledged that the invocation of the embassy issue is no longer a surefire battle cry among the Jewish community. Too many politicians have made promises along these lines that they never had any intention of keeping for anyone to get too worked up about the issue. Indeed, many on the left and even some sober centrists, both here and in Israel, would prefer that Americans shut up about the embassy. Like appeals for equal prayer rights for Jews on the Temple Mount, the likely violent reaction that an embassy move would generate among Palestinians and other Muslims and Arabs would, they argue, not be worth the trouble.

Thus there was little clamor for a new Jerusalem bill and no indication that many pro-Israel Jews, outside of that minority that already support him, will be publicly thanking Cruz for his effort. Indeed, so unpopular is the Tea Party hero among most Jews, the vast majority of whom remain liberals and Democrats, that he is likely to only engender more derision for what will be called ’90s-style politics than a genuine expression of support for Israel. The fact that he could not procure a Democratic co-sponsor for his bill also tells us a lot about how disliked he is by his fellow senators on both sides of the aisle.

But while cynicism about any Jerusalem bill is appropriate, Cruz deserves credit for proposing something that would, in contrast to Dole’s transparent and generally ineffective pander, actually do something about the problem rather than pretend to. Unlike previous efforts, a waiver-free Jerusalem bill is exactly what it says it is. That’s in keeping with Cruz’s brusque take-no-prisoners style that has alienated Republicans and Democrats. But it is also exactly what the situation requires.

Though this bill has little chance of surviving a certain Obama veto if it passes, it is nonetheless a productive suggestion that might actually send a message to the Palestinians that their attempts to bypass the peace process by way of the United Nations has consequences. Moving the embassy wouldn’t preclude Jerusalem’s division if both parties agreed to such a measure. But it does tell the Palestinians in a clear way that the United States is not prepared to indulge the fiction that Israel does not control its capital any longer. Moreover, threats of Arab violence on this subject simply lack credibility since it is not clear that an embassy move would motivate Muslims any more than the canards about Israel destroying the Temple Mount mosques.

Yet a pro-Israel community that has largely forgotten about the Jerusalem embassy question isn’t likely to rally to Cruz’s defense against administration critics on the issue. One may dismiss this as an attempt to entice Jewish donors to back his presidential bid. But like his speech last summer in which he lambasted those members of a group who attacked Israel in order to appease those who persecute Middle East Christians, Cruz has taken a correct position that will earn him little applause among those who are most concerned about the issue. This may be a pander, but instead of dismissing him as a bomb thrower or an ambitious office seeker, it would be nice if his more moderate Senate colleagues recognized that, at least in this instance, Cruz has actually offered a practical and principled solution.

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Bennett Routs Indyk, In a Victory for Truth

Over the weekend, the Brookings Institution held its annual Saban Forum, designed to better facilitate the practice of American think-tankers lecturing Israelis on their own country. The forum heard from high-ranking American and Israeli officials, such as Vice President Joe Biden, professional speech-giver Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the main event was surely the “conversation” between Israeli economy minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party and Middle East arsonist extraordinaire Martin Indyk.

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Over the weekend, the Brookings Institution held its annual Saban Forum, designed to better facilitate the practice of American think-tankers lecturing Israelis on their own country. The forum heard from high-ranking American and Israeli officials, such as Vice President Joe Biden, professional speech-giver Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the main event was surely the “conversation” between Israeli economy minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party and Middle East arsonist extraordinaire Martin Indyk.

Bennett’s challenge was twofold. First, he had to exhibit restraint and treat Indyk as a legitimate interlocutor. Indyk, of course, has spent the past decade and a half representing Democratic U.S. governments in the peace process intent on undermining the sitting Israeli prime minister, subverting Israeli democracy, and poisoning the well by badmouthing Israeli officials to the press behind their backs. The current violent turmoil in and around Jerusalem is a hangover from the failed peace talks. And the failed peace talks were due in large part to Kerry’s team, led by Indyk.

The second part of Bennett’s challenge was to recognize that amid current or former Obama administration officials, he had a tough crowd. That was only exacerbated by the upcoming Israeli elections. Before the last elections liberal American journalists and commentators, whose opinions are considered fringe in Israel but who live in a bubble of unearned self-righteousness here in the States, engaged in a collective freakout over the prospect of Naftali Bennett succeeding. He was projected to win as many as fifteen seats; they projected the end of the world.

Both were wrong: Bennett fell to a late surge by Yair Lapid, and the earth didn’t open up and swallow humanity whole as punishment for the electoral success of religious Zionists. Now there is another Israeli election looming; Bennett is projected to fare rather well; and liberal American commentators and journalists are once again, like the late Harold Camping, marking their calendars for the reckoning.

It was into this atmosphere that Bennett sat down for his on-the-record discussion with Indyk, after which he took questions from the audience. The transcript is here, and I recommend the full discussion, but there are a couple of points worth highlighting.

Bennett’s strategy was to be a forceful defender of Israel without lapsing into humorlessness. He succeeded, and at no point in this discussion was that success more impressive than when Indyk–who took potshots at the Israeli government after the talks’ collapse and was later found to be rambling at a bar to all who would listen about Israel’s perfidy–accused Bennett of being disrespectful to the U.S. government. It was milestone in the annals of hypocrisy, a particular talent of Indyk’s that repeated failure has only sharpened.

But Bennett was unafraid to hit back. He repeatedly made an important point that generally goes ignored in the Western press: Israel’s citizens make their own decisions. He knew his audience, he just refused to kowtow to it. When Indyk kept badgering him about global opinion, Bennett said:

Now, it’s the people of Israel — I want to point something out. The audience here and, you know, these sort of conferences does not at all — if I put a poll here probably Zahava Gal-On would be prime minister and maybe Tzipi Livni number two. The only problem with Israel is that for some strange reason they put the polling booths all across Israel and they actually let the public speak up. And the public, which is a very healthy public, does not think that Jerusalem should be split. It does not think that our land is occupied. It does not want to commit suicide.

Later, Bennett pressed Indyk on the fact that the peace process was supposed to bring, you know, peace. And yet, everyone wants to continue without learning from those failures. When Indyk told Bennett “I just think you live in another reality,” Bennett responded:

How many missiles need to fall on Ashkelon until you’ll wake up? How many? How many people need to die in our country until you wake up from this illusion? You know, the Oslo process took more than a thousand lives in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem, and I didn’t hear anyone say, you know what, I made a mistake. When are you going to wake up? When is Tzipi Livni going to wake up?

This will not endear him to his critics on the left, especially in America. But it will be seen as a breath of fresh air to the reality-based community. And when Indyk foolishly propagated the long-debunked myth of the so-called root causes of terrorism that put the blame on Israel, Bennett shot back: “Right, because that’s why ISIS is cutting off heads because of Judea and Samaria. Come on, give me a break.”

One of the most important comments Bennett made was an otherwise unremarkable line about Israel’s reputation. In response to Indyk’s warning of Israel’s isolation, Bennett said that Israel’s government has to learn to change the conversation and challenge the false accusations leveled against its democracy: “if something is false and it’s repeated enough times, it becomes sort of common wisdom. We have to undo that.”

And in this Bennett was also revealing something else: one reason for the rise of Bennett and others on the right is the fact that the international community–including now the Obama administration–pulls the conversation so far to the left that Israel must defend itself. The more the world delegitimizes Israel’s rights, the more Israel will need to put those like Naftali Bennett front and center, to pull the conversation back closer to sanity. It’s ironic that the Martin Indyks of the world lament the rise of people like Naftali Bennett, when they do so much to bring it about.

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Obama’s Threats Won’t Hurt Netanyahu

Few savvy observers took Secretary of State John Kerry at his word earlier this week when he piously proclaimed that the United States had no thought of attempting to intervene in Israel’s elections. The animus bordering on hatred felt by President Obama’s inner circle toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not exactly a secret. But it didn’t take long for a leak to an Israeli newspaper that is among the PM’s most rabid foes to dispel any doubts about the administration’s hopes that it could somehow derail his bid for a fourth term. The report from Barak Ravid, Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent that the White House held a meeting whose purpose was to plan possible future sanctions against Israel to punish it for continuing to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem and West Bank settlement blocs, is a shot fired over Netanyahu’s bow. But the real question here is not so much Obama’s desire to see the prime minister defeated, as it is why anyone in the administration thinks this gambit will succeed now after the same tactics have failed repeatedly before.

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Few savvy observers took Secretary of State John Kerry at his word earlier this week when he piously proclaimed that the United States had no thought of attempting to intervene in Israel’s elections. The animus bordering on hatred felt by President Obama’s inner circle toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not exactly a secret. But it didn’t take long for a leak to an Israeli newspaper that is among the PM’s most rabid foes to dispel any doubts about the administration’s hopes that it could somehow derail his bid for a fourth term. The report from Barak Ravid, Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent that the White House held a meeting whose purpose was to plan possible future sanctions against Israel to punish it for continuing to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem and West Bank settlement blocs, is a shot fired over Netanyahu’s bow. But the real question here is not so much Obama’s desire to see the prime minister defeated, as it is why anyone in the administration thinks this gambit will succeed now after the same tactics have failed repeatedly before.

The Haaretz report makes it clear that the administration is looking ahead to another two years of escalating confrontation with Israel. The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly demonstrated its lack of interest in negotiating, let alone signing a peace agreement that would end the conflict. Nor do the construction of homes for Jews in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem or even in the settlement blocs that everyone (including President Obama) knows would remain inside Israel if peace were ever achieved constitute any sort of obstacle to a two-state solution. But the administration still clings to the illusion that the problem is Netanyahu and settlements rather than a Palestinian political culture that makes peace impossible and PA head Mahmoud Abbas’s incitement to violence. That means it is entirely possible that, as Ravid breathlessly predicts, the administration will no longer make do with bitter denunciations of Israeli actions in the future but will, instead adopt measures intended to punish the Jewish state. That might take the form of refraining from vetoing anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations Security Council or other actions intended to downgrade or undermine the alliance between the two countries.

But the notion that picking yet another fight with Netanyahu will hurt his chances of reelection tells us more about the administration’s continued inability to understand Israel than anything else. After all, President Obama has repeatedly tried to do this throughout his first six years in office. But every time the U.S. attempted to use Jewish building in Jerusalem to attack Netanyahu, the only result was that the prime minister’s political standing at home increased. Though the PM is under attack right now from both foes on the left and a crowded field of rivals on the right, there seems little reason to believe that his policies on Jerusalem or even on negotiations with the Palestinians has rendered him vulnerable. All the polls agree that Israeli voters appear poised to elect a Knesset that is even further skewed to the right than the existing government that was lambasted by American critics for being not interested in concessions to the Palestinians.

As even Ravid notes in the conclusion to his piece, Netanyahu always gains when he can portray himself as standing up to foreign pressure on security issues. The reason for that is that, unlike the Obama administration and Israel’s liberal critics abroad, the Israeli voting public has been paying attention to what the Palestinians have said and done during the last 20 years of peace processing. Israel has tried to trade land for peace and gotten more terror and no peace. At the present moment it is inconceivable that any Israeli government of any stripe would withdraw from the West Bank in order to make way for what could be an even larger and more dangerous version of the Hamas terror state that currently exists in Gaza.

It is true that the decimated Israeli left and their liberal American supporters such as the J Street lobby believe that the Jewish state must be saved from itself by heavy-handed U.S. intervention. Indeed, it is only by international pressure designed to thwart the verdict of Israeli democracy that their misguided agenda might be implemented. But it boggles the mind as to how anyone, either in Israel or the U.S., would think that the Israeli voting public would regard efforts to thwart their judgment in this manner as a good reason to vote against Netanyahu. Indeed, the commitment of the U.S. to a policy of heavy-handed pressure is the best argument for Netanyahu continuing in office since he is the country’s only major political figure with the experience and the tenacity to stand up to such treatment from the country’s sole superpower ally.

The three months between now and the election constitute a political eternity and Netanyahu cannot take his victory for granted even if the polls indicate he is the only possible choice for prime minister. But if Obama and his friends at Haaretz imagine such leaks will lead to Netanyahu’s downfall, it’s clear they have learned nothing from the past six years of such efforts.

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Why UNRWA Perpetuates the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Part of the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is pretending to hold actors and institutions involved to a higher set of expectations than experience would dictate. Over the course of last summer’s war between Hamas in Gaza and the Israel Defense Forces, this meant propagating the idea that it was in any way shocking when the terrorist organization’s weapons–stockpiled for the express purpose of killing Jews in a maniacal, genocidal campaign–turned up, repeatedly, at schools run by UNRWA: the UN agency dedicated to keeping Palestinians living like refugees in perpetuity.

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Part of the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is pretending to hold actors and institutions involved to a higher set of expectations than experience would dictate. Over the course of last summer’s war between Hamas in Gaza and the Israel Defense Forces, this meant propagating the idea that it was in any way shocking when the terrorist organization’s weapons–stockpiled for the express purpose of killing Jews in a maniacal, genocidal campaign–turned up, repeatedly, at schools run by UNRWA: the UN agency dedicated to keeping Palestinians living like refugees in perpetuity.

So now it’s unclear precisely how to react to a raft of stories demonstrating the reason it wasn’t surprising to find Hamas weapons in UNRWA schools: because UNRWA teachers and principles share Hamas’s violently anti-Semitic ideology. Yet in fact this is newsworthy, for an important reason beyond the obvious. First, though, it’s instructive to see just what American taxpayers are getting for their UNRWA money.

On November 20, after the Har Nof massacre in which Palestinian terrorists murdered four rabbis in a Jerusalem synagogue, the Algemeiner reported:

Popular Jewish blogger Elder of Ziyon has amassed evidence of UNRWA employees lauding the Jerusalem attack, among them Maha al Mosa, an UNRWA teacher in Syria who prayed for the two terrorists to be accepted in “paradise” as “martyrs,” Ibrahim Hajjar, another teacher based in Hebron, who published a poem praising the terrorists, and another Syrian-based teacher who, using a pseudonym, posted a celebratory picture of Adolf Hitler on his Facebook page.

The latest outrage centers on Naief al-Hattab, school director of UNRWA’s Zaitoun Elementary School Boys “B” and former school headmaster of Shijia Elementary School Boys “A” for Refugees. Writing on his Facebook page, al-Hattab congratulated the terrorists on their “wonderful revenge.” Al-Hattab, who shook hands with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on his visit to Gaza in October, has previously posted inflammatory statements and images, among them one of a young child brandishing a sub-machine gun. It is not clear whether this child is related to al-Hattab, or whether he attends the Zaitoun Elementary School which al-Hattab runs.

Elder of Ziyon followed up with two more posts, the latest one coming today, on an UNRWA teachers group posting various jihadist media and anti-Israel incitement. And that brings us to the reason UNRWA’s exploits are important. We already know what UNRWA does; it exists to perpetuate Palestinian poverty and statelessness while pocketing American taxpayer cash. It’s a scam, but at this point it’s certainly no secret.

But these latest stories are good examples of why UNRWA does what it does. The organization keeps Palestinians mired in desperation because they agree with the Hamas struggle to eliminate Israel. And the UNRWA schools are where they can exert the utmost control over Palestinian minds, shaping them to abhor the Jewish people and to value bigotry and terrorism over education and productive job training.

Promoting hate is not incidental to UNRWA’s mission. It is UNRWA’s mission. This suggests it values neither Jewish life nor Palestinian life, and it certainly doesn’t believe Palestinians are entitled to a dignified existence. Why would Hamas weapons show up at an UNRWA school? Why wouldn’t they show up there? Where else would be more appropriate?

On Friday, Andrew Roberts reflected on the perpetual refugee status of the descendents of the actual Palestinian refugees. Roberts noted that what happened to the Palestinians “happened so often in the mid-1940s to early 1950s that it is surprising that the plural of the word exodus—exodi?—is not used in reference to this period.”

He continued:

Yet all of these refugee groups, except one, chose to try to make the best of their new environments. Most have succeeded, and some, such as the refugees who reached America in that decade, have done so triumphantly. The sole exception has been the Palestinians, who made the choice to embrace fanatical irredentism and launch two intifadas—and perhaps now a third—resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis.

The Palestinians should certainly own up to much of the blame for repeatedly rejecting the two-state solution and a sovereign nation-state of their own. To do otherwise would be to rob them of their agency–a bigotry of the left all too often foisted upon the Palestinians.

But we should also wonder how much independence and self-reliance the Palestinians’ supposed friends and allies want them to have. To judge by UNRWA’s example, not much. In such a case, it’s clear that UNRWA’s noxious participation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is itself an impediment to peace. And not a minor one, either.

As long as UNRWA is treated as a legitimate participant this process–and loads of American cash says they indeed are–then the perspective they impart on young Palestinian minds will also be seen as legitimate. And that means terror and anti-Semitism will be subsidized and promoted as an acceptable path to a resolution. Which means they will not only continue, but almost certainly increase.

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Conspiracy Theories and Palestinian Terror

Israel is not only still reeling from the horror of a Palestinian terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue earlier this week. Almost as shocking is the spectacle of hatred in Arab neighborhoods and cities in Jerusalem, the West Bank Gaza in which the two terrorists that hacked and shot four Jews praying and a Druze policeman are being treated as heroes. Yet the crime as well as the sometimes-violent demonstrations of glee and laudatory statements from Palestinian leaders about the murder of civilians has been largely treated in the Western media as just another unfortunate tit-for-tat between two warring peoples. Even worse, the motivation for terror attacks as well as the applause they generate is being represented as a function of Palestinian complaints about settlements, alleged discrimination or funding issues. But, as this report from the Times of Israel tracing the events of the last week shows, the explanations offered by the New York Times, to choose just the most egregious example of distorted coverage, are completely missing the madness that is driving the conflict.

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Israel is not only still reeling from the horror of a Palestinian terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue earlier this week. Almost as shocking is the spectacle of hatred in Arab neighborhoods and cities in Jerusalem, the West Bank Gaza in which the two terrorists that hacked and shot four Jews praying and a Druze policeman are being treated as heroes. Yet the crime as well as the sometimes-violent demonstrations of glee and laudatory statements from Palestinian leaders about the murder of civilians has been largely treated in the Western media as just another unfortunate tit-for-tat between two warring peoples. Even worse, the motivation for terror attacks as well as the applause they generate is being represented as a function of Palestinian complaints about settlements, alleged discrimination or funding issues. But, as this report from the Times of Israel tracing the events of the last week shows, the explanations offered by the New York Times, to choose just the most egregious example of distorted coverage, are completely missing the madness that is driving the conflict.

As the Times of Israel reports, the genesis of the synagogue attack and its violent aftermath may have been fueled in no small part by false reports about the murder of a Palestinian bus driver. The man was found hanged in his bus and both Israeli and Palestinian coroners ruled that the death was obviously a suicide. But in the hothouse Palestinian rumor mill in which conspiracy theories about alleged Jewish atrocities are the coin of the realm, this, along with wild claims about Israeli “violation of women at al-Aksa” was enough to send two men into a synagogue to murder and untold thousands of their compatriots into the streets to support their crime.

This is a significant fact because Western journalists, such as the New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren, have been seeking to explain the atrocity and the support for it by linking it to critiques of Israeli policies about allowing Jews to move to parts of Jerusalem or municipal funding policies that may short change Arabs. I have already critiqued Rudoren’s reporting in terms of its misperceptions about what is negotiable in the conflict as well as her false claims of moral equivalence about attacks on houses of worship. Our Seth Mandel also touched on these issues as well as Rudoren’s claims that her critics are biased.

But the big picture here is not so much the poor performance of the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief as it is the failure by her paper and most other mainstream publishing outlets to delve deeper into the real roots of Palestinian anger. By choosing to obsess over policy questions that dovetail with Obama administration complaints about Israel’s government, Rudoren ignored the mania of hate that seems to bubble up from the Palestinian street. That not only fails to explain what sends Palestinians out to slaughter Jews or to cheer such actions, it also demonstrates a lack of understanding as to why the conflict as a whole is so impervious to solutions.

If Palestinian leaders have consistently and repeatedly rejected Israeli peace offers throughout the last 15 years and, indeed, all chances at territorial compromise dating back to the 1930s, it is because their political culture is still driven by the same factors that led to the Har Nof massacre this week as well as the pogroms of 1929 and 1936 that were similarly motivated by false rumors about Jewish activity on the Temple Mount. It’s not just that Palestinians have had hatred for Jews driven into them by their leaders and media for a century, it’s that their view of the conflict is one that is rooted in belief that Jews are an enemy that must be driven from the land.

Israelis and their government are not perfect but the willingness of Palestinians to believe any tall tale about Jewish crimes has little to do with the Netanyahu government’s policies and everything to do with a variant of Jew hatred that has found a home in the Middle East in the last 100 years. While it is possible to talk about what Israel might do to appease their antagonists’ ambitions in order to promote peace, it is this virus of anti-Semitism that must be addressed if any Palestinian leader will ever have the courage to sign a peace deal with the Israelis that will recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn.

The lunacy that leads to blood-soaked bodies lying on a synagogue floor begins with this hate and paranoia that has driven itself deep into the psyche of the Palestinian imagination. It is the same psychosis that allows Palestinian Authority media and officials to promote conspiracy theories and praise terrorists. So long as even a supposed moderate such as PA leader Mahmoud Abbas can call a terrorist murderer a “martyr” who went straight to heaven, why should we be surprised that Jerusalem and West Bank Arabs think the Jews are raping Muslims on the Temple Mount or murdering bus drivers, even though these are imaginary crimes?

So long as mainstream media outlets ignore the truth about Palestinian politics and terror, it is also no surprise that their coverage of the conflict tells us more about their biases than anything happening on the ground.

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The Dubious Embrace of Palestinian Unilateralism

A new craze is sweeping European politics: Palestinian unilateralism. One by one Europe’s parliaments and governments are choosing to endorse recognition of Palestinian statehood outside of any peace process with Israel. In doing so these democratic assemblies are sabotaging the very peaceful two-state outcome that they claim to believe in. And yet for many of those driving these moves, although they may talk the language of peace, this is now becoming about something quite different. It is not so much ending the conflict that appears to be galvanizing these parliamentary resolutions, but rather a completely warped notion of “justice.” Realizing the obsession of Palestinian statehood is the goal, regardless of whether it brings peace or not.

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A new craze is sweeping European politics: Palestinian unilateralism. One by one Europe’s parliaments and governments are choosing to endorse recognition of Palestinian statehood outside of any peace process with Israel. In doing so these democratic assemblies are sabotaging the very peaceful two-state outcome that they claim to believe in. And yet for many of those driving these moves, although they may talk the language of peace, this is now becoming about something quite different. It is not so much ending the conflict that appears to be galvanizing these parliamentary resolutions, but rather a completely warped notion of “justice.” Realizing the obsession of Palestinian statehood is the goal, regardless of whether it brings peace or not.

Just this week the Spanish parliament voted in favor of such a move advocating recognition of Palestinian statehood, with 319 parliamentarians supporting the motion and just two opposing, and one abstention. Similar votes have already passed the British and Irish parliaments and the French are to have an equivalent vote at the end of the month. In these countries the parliamentary motions in question have been non-binding on the governments, although the French president already appeared to express support for backing unilateral Palestinian moves at the Security Council. The Swedish government, meanwhile, officially recognized Palestinian statehood back in October.

For anyone genuinely committed to a peaceful two-state outcome it should be plain enough to see that such votes can only hinder attempts to achieve a meaningful resolution of this conflict. Quite apart from the fact that these purely symbolic resolutions do nothing material to make Palestinian statehood a reality, they actually make reaching a two-state agreement still less likely. After all, the reasoning behind the two-state process was that the Palestinians would receive sovereignty in return for committing to safeguard Israel’s security. But if Palestinians are led to believe that ultimately the world will intervene to force their state into being, then all incentive to reach an agreement with Israel is nullified.

By supporting Palestinian unilateralism European countries threaten to wreck the possibility of the very land for peace agreement that they themselves have repeatedly insisted they wish to be the guarantors of. Because when it comes to land for peace they are telling the Palestinians that they can now get the former without having to give the latter in return. What Europe’s parliamentary assemblies are conspiring to create is a two-state non-solution in which conceivably a Palestinian state might be made a reality, but the conflict would only continue, and in all likelihood intensify.

The problem is that Israel and many of her supporters have in fact unwittingly laid the groundwork for such an outcome. Since the advent of Oslo, Israel has been embarking on a peace process that hasn’t brought it any closer to peace, but has gradually eroded its claim to much of the territory it holds and with that its international standing. The eagerness to end the conflict with the Palestinians by establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank has led Israel to surrender its claim to these territories, so inadvertently accepting the role as an illegitimate occupier of Palestinian land. As such, for the rest of the world creating a Palestinian state is becoming less and less about achieving peace and more and more about winning “justice” for the Palestinians.

After all, European lawmakers can hardly have failed to notice the way things have been going. Quite the opposite. Not only are they well aware that twenty years of negotiations have gone nowhere, but they must also have noticed that far from Israel’s territorial concessions advancing peace, these moves have only assisted Palestinian militants in waging war and in the process getting as many of their own people killed as possible. And yet Europe’s politicians don’t seem to care.

Another thing that they can’t have missed, and don’t seem to care about, is what Palestinians have actually done with sovereignty when they’ve achieved it. The brutal theocratic despotism of Hamas in Gaza cuts a pretty chilling impression of what life might be like in a Palestinian state of the future. Yet equally Mahmoud Abbas’s semi-autonomous polity in the West Bank is not only deeply undemocratic, it is also viciously oppressive of its own Palestinian population. And what’s more, rather than use this opportunity for nation building, Abbas and his gang have instead channeled their energies into endless incitement against Israel, the consequences of which we are only now beginning to see borne out with incidents such as this week’s horrific synagogue attack in Jerusalem. As Ruthie Blum pointed out in her recent Israel Hayom column, the way is being paved for Islamic State in Israel.

If European parliamentarians really cared about making peace through two states a reality then they would be doing everything to make it clear to Palestinians that intransigence, incitement, and violence will get them nowhere. Yet having lost interest in such tiresome matters as security and stability for Israelis and Palestinians, Europe’s politicians prefer to champion an abstract notion of “justice,” no matter how many people get hurt along the way.

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Bahraini Moral Clarity and the ‘Al-Aqsa in Danger’ Myth

The most surprising response to yesterday’s deadly attack on worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue came from the Bahraini foreign minister. “It is forbidden to react to the crimes of the Israeli occupation against our brothers in Palestine by killing innocents in a house of prayer,” Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa reportedly wrote on his Arabic-language Twitter feed. “Those who will pay the price for the crime of killing innocents in a Jewish synagogue and for welcoming the crime are the Palestinian people.”

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The most surprising response to yesterday’s deadly attack on worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue came from the Bahraini foreign minister. “It is forbidden to react to the crimes of the Israeli occupation against our brothers in Palestine by killing innocents in a house of prayer,” Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa reportedly wrote on his Arabic-language Twitter feed. “Those who will pay the price for the crime of killing innocents in a Jewish synagogue and for welcoming the crime are the Palestinian people.”

For a senior Arab official to publicly condemn the killing of Jews by Muslims at all–much less with such moral clarity, devoid of any attempt to create a false equivalence to Israeli “crimes–is so unusual that it cries out for explanation. And the most likely explanation lies in the violence that has swept the Middle East in recent years. In a world where Muslim innocents are being killed in houses of prayer on a regular basis by fellow Muslims, mosques in Israel and the West Bank–including Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque–remain among the safest places in the Mideast for Muslims to pray. And the Arab world’s pragmatic axis, of which Bahrain is part, has no interest in seeing that change.

In August, for instance, Shi’ite gunmen opened fire in a Sunni mosque in Iraq, killing at least 73 people. In October, a suicide bomber killed at least 18 people at a Shi’ite mosque in Iraq. Those are just two of the dozens of deadly mosque attacks in recent years that have killed thousands of Muslims in numerous countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, and Nigeria. Almost all the perpetrators were fellow Muslims–usually Shi’ites or Sunnis attacking each other’s institutions.

By contrast, Israel and the West Bank are safe havens. True, there have been some vandalistic attacks on mosques–though far fewer than in, say, Holland. But there hasn’t been a lethal attack on a mosque in two decades. Indeed, for all the Palestinians’ efforts to libel Jewish visits to the Temple Mount as “attacks” on Al-Aqsa, anyone who’s been paying attention realizes that mosques elsewhere in the Muslim world have been suffering far worse fates than innocuous Jewish visitors.

Granted, both the Palestinians themselves and many Westerners are too fixated on the Palestinian cause to care; recent Jewish visits to the Mount have generated far more uproar in the West than lethal mosque attacks elsewhere ever have. But the pragmatic Arab states, as I’ve written before, are quite aware that Israel is the least of their problems, and they’d rather it stay that way.

The pragmatic Arab states don’t want another Palestinian-Israeli war distracting global attention from problems they consider far more pressing, like ISIS and Iran. And they know heinous attacks like the synagogue murder–especially when compounded by the fact, as Khalifa noted, that many Palestinians are “welcoming the crime”–could easily spark one: Israel can’t continue doing nothing in the face of such attacks. There’s also the risk that such crimes could spur a lone Jewish terrorist to commit a revenge attack, like Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Muslim worshippers in Hebron 20 years ago; that, too, would distract global–and Arab–attention from the problems pragmatic Arab states consider most pressing.

Consequently, these states have an interest in discouraging attacks like yesterday’s, and Khalifa took a two-pronged approach to doing so. First, he declared, an attack like this is morally unacceptable, even to many fellow Arab Muslims. And second, it’s counterproductive, because sparking a new conflict would ultimately hurt the Palestinians more than Israel. Or as Khalifa put it, “Those who will pay the price” for this attack “are the Palestinian people.”

Thus while figures as diverse as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and former British minister Sayeeda Warsi have implicitly justified the synagogue killing, and thereby encouraged more such crimes, by trying to paint it as morally equivalent to Jews visiting the Temple Mount the Bahraini foreign minister is trying to quench the flames by stating unequivocally that there’s never any excuse for killing worshippers at a house of prayer. For nobody understands the dangerous consequences of doing so better than Muslims elsewhere in the Middle East, who, unlike their Israeli-protected Palestinian brethren, have all too frequently been the victims of such killings.

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It Isn’t Just Jerusalem That’s Not Negotiable

Seeking to make sense of yesterday’s horrific terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, the New York Times stumbled across an unfortunate truth about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Quoting writer Yossi Klein Halevi’s characterization of the violence in the headline of its article on the aftermath of the atrocity, it noted that in this “war of neighbors,” differences are not negotiable. But while Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren intended this surprisingly sober analysis to apply only to the issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount or perhaps the city itself, were she to think more seriously about the subject, she would be forced to conclude that the same phrase applies to the entire conflict between Jews and Arabs over this small country.

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Seeking to make sense of yesterday’s horrific terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, the New York Times stumbled across an unfortunate truth about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Quoting writer Yossi Klein Halevi’s characterization of the violence in the headline of its article on the aftermath of the atrocity, it noted that in this “war of neighbors,” differences are not negotiable. But while Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren intended this surprisingly sober analysis to apply only to the issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount or perhaps the city itself, were she to think more seriously about the subject, she would be forced to conclude that the same phrase applies to the entire conflict between Jews and Arabs over this small country.

The infusion of religion into what all too many observers believe is a dispute over land and borders scares many of those who comment on the Middle East. Having spent the last few decades attempting to argue that peace could be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians if only the Jewish state were to give away more or all of the land it took possession of during the 1967 Six-Day War, those committed to this myth seek to divest the discussion about the path to peace of the absolutes of faith that make compromise impossible. Seen from that perspective, the dispute about the Temple Mount is one in which both sides can, as Rudoren does in her piece, be portrayed as being driven by religious zealots intent on blowing up an already combustible situation.

But while it is true that a minority of Jews would like to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount to make it place where both faiths can be freely observed (Jews currently may not pray on the Mount, a stand endorsed by Prime Minister Netanyahu), the hate and incitement that leads inevitably to the kind of bloody slaughter witnessed in a Har Nof synagogue where four Jews were murdered yesterday is not a function of a few isolated zealots or a twisted interpretation of Islam. Rather it is a product of mainstream Palestinian political culture in which religious symbols such as the imagined peril to the mosques on the Mount have been employed by generations of Palestinian leaders to whip up hatred for Jews. The purpose is not to defend the mosques or Arab claims to Jerusalem but to deny the right of Jews to life, sovereignty, or self-defense in any part of the country.

In order to understand the current spate of murders of Jews by Palestinians and why so many took to the streets of Gaza and West Bank cities to celebrate the bloody attack on Jews at prayer yesterday, we have to leave aside the clichés about cycles of violence and even-handed blame assessment and come face to face with the reality of Palestinian nationalism. From its inception early in the 20th century, Palestinian national identity has been inextricably linked to a war against Zionism and the growing Jewish presence in the country. Zionist leaders initially hoped the conflict could be solved through economic cooperation and then embraced territorial compromise as the panacea. But no solution has worked because the real focus of the dispute isn’t about land or a division of economic benefits but something far more fundamental that isn’t, as the Times said, “negotiable.”

Palestinians celebrated this latest horror, as they have been lauding every other recent terror attack and all those that preceded it throughout the last few decades. They did so not because Israel has failed to restrain Jewish extremists (it has done so) but because the basic elements of the conflict are not about details such as where Jews may or may not live in Jerusalem or where they may pray. Removing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in those parts of the city that Jordan illegally occupied between 1949 and 1967—“East Jerusalem”—won’t end the conflict any more than previous Israeli retreats or the several Israeli offers of statehood and independence for the Palestinians (that would have given them not only almost all the West Bank but a large share of Jerusalem) satisfied Palestinian opinion or its leadership.

Once you understand that, it’s easy to see that the obstacle to peace isn’t specific Israeli policies but the Jewish refusal to be evicted from their ancient homeland or to defend their hold on it. Indeed, rather than trying to interpret Palestinian extremism through the contemporary prism of the spread of ISIS-like fundamentalism, the current violence is better understood as just the latest iteration of the same virus of intolerance that has fueled the war on Israel for many decades.

Rudoren and some of her sources are wrong. The scheduling of prayer services ore entry to the Temple Mount is a negotiable issue if both sides were willing to view it as not being a zero-sum game. So, too, is the question about where the border of a Palestinian state that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state next door would be if parts of Jerusalem were included inside its borders. Nor is the red herring of municipal services to east Jerusalem Arabs, which Rudoren also speciously raised as a potential cause for terrorism, beyond discussion. That is especially true since most residents of Arab neighborhoods are, despite their complaints about Israelis, wary of being lumped in with the other victims of Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank kleptocracy.

But what isn’t negotiable is the demand heard on the Palestinian streets and in the official media of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas’s independent state in all but name in Gaza for Israel’s destruction. The praise being heard for this latest instance of “resistance to the occupation” isn’t about Jerusalem’s municipal boundary but the “occupation” of any part of the country—including all the territory that was under Israeli control prior to June 1967. That is what isn’t negotiable and won’t be until a sea change in Palestinian political culture occurs that will make the shocking pro-terror demonstrations impossible. Until the Palestinians give up their dreams of Israel’s destruction, more than Jerusalem will remain non-negotiable. And that is a reality that an American administration and its media cheering section at the Times that has falsely blamed Israel for the failure to achieve peace must also learn to take into account if they are to understand what is really happening in the region.

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Domestic Radicalization and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Israel appears to be facing a do-it-yourself terrorist offensive. By my count, based on data from this website, ten Israelis have been killed, and many more injured, since October 22 in low-tech attacks.

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Israel appears to be facing a do-it-yourself terrorist offensive. By my count, based on data from this website, ten Israelis have been killed, and many more injured, since October 22 in low-tech attacks.

The trend began on October 22 when a Palestinian rammed his car into a crowd waiting at a light-rail station in Jerusalem. A three-month-old girl and a 22-year-old woman were killed; 8 people were wounded.

On November 5, another Palestinian man drove another car into a light-rail station, this time killing a Border Police officer and injuring 14 individuals.

On November 10, in two separate incidents, Palestinian attackers stabbed and killed a 25-year-old woman near the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut and a 20-year-old soldier who was waiting at a train station in Tel Aviv. Two others were injured in the former attack.

And now on November 17, two attackers armed with a hatchet, knives, and a gun entered a synagogue in West Jerusalem and killed five people, one of them a policeman, the other four immigrants who held either joint U.S.-Israeli or joint British-Israeli citizenship. In addition three of the dead were rabbis.

This is the worst single terrorist attack in Israel in three years and arguably the worst spate of attacks since the defeat of the second intifada a decade ago. In some ways the reliance of these attackers on such primitive weapons–knives and hatchets and cars–is a sign of how successful the Israeli security services have been in shutting down the elaborate suicide-bomber networks which once terrorized Israel. This summer the Iron Dome system, moreover, showed that Israel was more or less safe from rocket attack. So terrorists have to resort to crude attacks with little planning to sow mayhem.

But as we are seeing, even crude attacks can be deadly–and not just in Israel. These “lone wolf” attacks are similar in spirit to those that we have recently seen in Ottawa, New York, Boston, and other place where fanatics inflamed by jihadist propaganda have set out to inflict indiscriminate casualties. Such attacks are inherently less deadly than more planned operations carried out by teams of people–but they are also much harder to stop.

The problem is that such attacks are typically carried out by radicalized Muslims who are citizens of the countries they attack, whether living in East Jerusalem or Cambridge, Massachusetts. And they are radicalized by propaganda that is all but impossible to stop, given the ability of jihadists to get their message out via the Internet.

For the U.S., this so far has been a relatively limited if still dangerous trend because so few American Muslims have been radicalized. For Israel, it is a rather more serious problem given that there are an estimated 1.6 million Arab citizens of Israel. If a substantial number become radicalized, Israeli leaders will face a true nightmare scenario.

Luckily that has not happened and is unlikely to happen despite all of the efforts by groups such as Hamas to raise an internal insurgency. In fact, although Arab Israelis gripe (understandably) about being second-class citizens, most realize they have richer and freer lives than if they lived in one of the dysfunctional Arab states that surround Israel.

Terrible as the recent attacks have been–and worse may be to come–the real story here may be how few Arab residents of Israel have chosen to take up arms against the Jewish state. That is, in part, to be sure, a tribute to the vigilance of the Israeli security services, but it is also a result of the fact that Israel is not a bad place to live even if you’re not Jewish.

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Kerry Calls Out Palestinian Incitement; Will Anything Change?

Many aspects of this morning’s barbaric terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, in which armed Palestinians murdered four Jews, are quite similar to past attacks. Americans were among the victims, for example; the Palestinians celebrated the killing of innocent Jews, encouraging their children to grow up and do the same; and the media–CNN especially, but also Canada’s CBC and others–covered the attack in ways that made them indistinguishable from Palestinian government-run propaganda outlets. But one thing was different: a heartening and truly revealing statement from Secretary of State John Kerry.

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Many aspects of this morning’s barbaric terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, in which armed Palestinians murdered four Jews, are quite similar to past attacks. Americans were among the victims, for example; the Palestinians celebrated the killing of innocent Jews, encouraging their children to grow up and do the same; and the media–CNN especially, but also Canada’s CBC and others–covered the attack in ways that made them indistinguishable from Palestinian government-run propaganda outlets. But one thing was different: a heartening and truly revealing statement from Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry has been, up to this point, playing an undeniably dangerous and counterproductive role in the peace process. He has used the negotiations as a vanity project, not a serious attempt to solve an intractable problem. But the worst part of Kerry’s destructive bumbling has been the State Department’s refusal to hold PA head Mahmoud Abbas accountable for his steady incitement of terror.

There is no question that Abbas’s incitement is partially responsible for the recent spate of terror attacks in Israel’s capital. And yet the State Department took Abbas’s side each time it had the chance, defending him as a man of peace. As I wrote in late October, spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked about Abbas’s incitement and here is what she said:

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s – as you know, President Abbas has renounced violence and consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states. I don’t have any other analysis for you to offer.

When you excuse the murder of innocents, you get more murder of innocents. And that’s exactly what happened, and what continued to happen, as Kerry’s State Department and the Obama White House sought to pick childish fights with Benjamin Netanyahu instead of acting like adults or playing a constructive role in the conflict.

There was never any doubt that Obama and Kerry’s behavior would encourage more bloodshed. Yet something has apparently changed:

Kerry telephoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer condolences following the gruesome killing spree by Palestinian assailants at a Jerusalem synagogue, while other world leaders also expressed horror at the attack.

Kerry, in London for talks on Iran and the Middle East, called the assault an “act of pure terror and senseless brutality” and called on the Palestinian leadership to condemn it “in the most powerful terms.”

Police said two attackers from East Jerusalem entered the synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood shortly after 7 a.m. and began attacking worshipers at morning prayers with a gun, a meat cleaver, and an ax. Both terrorists were killed by police.

Kerry blamed the attack on Palestinian calls for “days of rage” and said Palestinian leaders must take serious steps to refrain from such incitement.

So who’s right–old Kerry or new Kerry? Clearly, new Kerry is a vast upgrade. But there are two disquieting characteristics of this transformation that will temper enthusiasm for the secretary of state’s newfound moral compass.

The first is that Jews can be forgiven for thinking that the world sees them as sacrificial pawns. Today’s victims are of course not the first deaths in the Palestinians’ latest not-quite-intifada. And they were not the first Americans killed either. And they were not the first victims of Abbas’s incitement or his directive to take action against Jews in Jerusalem. The sad fact is that the world regards a certain amount of Jewish blood as the cost of doing business–not worth getting all worked up about.

The word for that is “expendable.” And that’s what the families of victims and those who survived previous attacks understand all too well: their loved ones were expendable to the international community and, most painfully, to the government of the United States of America. A line has now been crossed, apparently, and the Jews under attack are no longer considered expendable. But it’s unfortunate that the line was there to begin with.

The second disquieting facet of this is the age-old question: What now? That is, now that Kerry has admitted the role Palestinian incitement plays in Palestinian terror, what will he do about it? The answer is almost certainly: Nothing. The U.S. government is not going to defund the Palestinian Authority; Netanyahu has in the past fought for continued funding of the PA on the premise that Abbas must be propped up. Israel is doing its part by keeping the IDF in the West Bank; the U.S. does its part by keeping up the flow of cash.

Abbas condemned today’s attack, so perhaps Kerry’s new posture is at least keeping up the appearance of peace all around. And appearances can help. But incitement is not just about public statements from Abbas promoting violence–though he has been making such statements throughout the recent terror campaign. It’s about a system of education and Palestinian media that incites and demonizes Jews. Until the U.S. and the broader international community finds a way to crack down on this government-run culture of demonization, peace will remain farther than Kerry or his European counterparts like to pretend.

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Israel’s Waiting Game

These days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must feel like Jim Carrey’s character in the Truman Show when, while he’s sitting on a beach, it suddenly starts to rain only on Truman. Once he steps out of the rain, it follows him until the rain-control glitch is fixed and the “sky” opens up, soaking Truman in the ensuing, and inescapable, downpour. But at least by that time he had incontrovertible proof that, yes, they were out to get him.

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These days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must feel like Jim Carrey’s character in the Truman Show when, while he’s sitting on a beach, it suddenly starts to rain only on Truman. Once he steps out of the rain, it follows him until the rain-control glitch is fixed and the “sky” opens up, soaking Truman in the ensuing, and inescapable, downpour. But at least by that time he had incontrovertible proof that, yes, they were out to get him.

Yesterday, the Times of Israel reported that ultra-Orthodox political leaders claimed to have been approached to join an alternative coalition with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Labor, which would replace the current coalition. In other words, rearrange the government to exclude Likud. Lapid denies that such a move is afoot, and it’s likely the leaking of the story was meant more as a warning than an imminent threat.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem continues to simmer. More clashes in the city took place over the weekend, and an Arab driver of an Egged bus appeared to have committed suicide. There is no evidence to the contrary, but Palestinians nonetheless have circulated rumors that the Jews were somehow involved, raising the prospect of “retaliation” of some sort and now apparently an Arab Egged strike.

And then today Haaretz’s Barak Ravid got his hands on an internal European Union document that outlines sanctions against Israel that EU countries could take if Israel continues to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem and makes land designations that confuse ignorant Eurocrats. It doesn’t matter that Israel isn’t doing quite what the EU accuses it of, nor that the EU is wrong about what will bring peace and what will prevent it.

The real news of the EU document is that the EU has foreclosed the possibility that facts and rationality will determine Israel-Europe relations. Brussels is getting quite serious about being completely unserious. Today’s EU “red lines” are just that–today’s. Once conceded, they’ll find some more demands to chip away at Israeli sovereignty and further restrict Jewish rights.

After Haaretz published the leak, the EU explained to Ravid that they were not ready to deploy that threat just yet, in an utterly unconvincing (perhaps intentionally so?) response:

“It certainly was not on the ministers’ table today and it was not at the heart of today’s discussion,” Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs said, adding that she had read the report in Haaretz. “There was certainly no question of isolating or sanctioning anybody, rather how can we re-motivate people to get into a dialogue again, how to start a positive process with the Israelis and Palestinians to re-launch a peace process.”

Nonetheless, the foreign ministers’ meeting ended with a formal condemnation of Israeli building of settlements over the Green Line and a hint regarding punitive measures against Israel.

“Recalling that settlements are illegal under international law, the EU and its Member States remain committed to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products,” read the announcement. “The EU closely monitors the situation and its broader implications and remains ready to take further action in order to protect the viability of the two-state solution.”

When it rains, it pours, and when it pours, the UN is usually there to toss a bucket of water as well. Today Assistant Secretary-General Jens Toyberg-Frandzen got in on the act, warning that more violence in and around Jerusalem “is never too far below the surface.” He was happy to place the blame on Israel for settlements etc. (the standard way to excuse Palestinian terrorism), doing his part to contribute to the conflict’s self-fulfilling prophecy: if you excuse Palestinian terrorism, there will be more of it. But on the bright side, the esteemed assistant secretary-general had some good news–sort of:

On a positive note, Toyberg-Frandzen said a UN-brokered agreement to get building materials into Gaza to rebuild the territory following this summer’s war between Israel and Hamas allowed 1,086 Gazans to purchase construction materials by Nov. 13. He said it is also encouraging that Israel plans to increase the number of trucks with construction materials entering Gaza from the current 300 to 800 daily.

Of course construction materials help Hamas in two ways: they either resell them at a premium to those who actually need them, or they take them for themselves to build terror tunnels and other threats to Israel. Again, that’s the supposed “positive note”: the UN is helping Hamas get back on its feet.

So what is Netanyahu to do? Not much, in fact. The numbers still favor his Likud party even if early elections are called. And there won’t be a national consensus over specific action because it’s unclear what action can or should be taken to put Jerusalem at ease. Mahmoud Abbas either can’t or won’t get Palestinians in Jerusalem to stop the violence, so there’s no partner on the Palestinian side. And there does not appear to be a way to dislodge the political right from its perch, so Israelis know that they are unlikely to find an alternative to Netanyahu who brings more upside without substantial downside as well.

Israeli governments aren’t known for their stability. That was thought to only get worse as the two major parties lost their respective virtual monopolies on the right and left. But surprisingly enough, Israeli democracy is proving resilient. It turns out that Israelis are much harder to intimidate and bully than the Palestinians, the UN, and the EU thought.

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Kerry Lets Abbas Off the Hook Again

After a summit held in Jordan with its King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced himself satisfied that the dispute over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is on its way to being resolved. After hearing from both the Israelis and the Jordanians as well as meeting separately with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry admonished the parties to make good on their pledges to take “concrete steps” to ease tensions. Let’s hope Kerry is right that the worst is over in this latest episode and that a series of murders of Jews will prove to be a passing incident rather than a new intifada. But by giving Abbas a pass for his material role in inciting the violence, Kerry once again proved tone deaf to the reality of the conflict and the reason why his peace initiative failed.

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After a summit held in Jordan with its King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced himself satisfied that the dispute over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is on its way to being resolved. After hearing from both the Israelis and the Jordanians as well as meeting separately with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry admonished the parties to make good on their pledges to take “concrete steps” to ease tensions. Let’s hope Kerry is right that the worst is over in this latest episode and that a series of murders of Jews will prove to be a passing incident rather than a new intifada. But by giving Abbas a pass for his material role in inciting the violence, Kerry once again proved tone deaf to the reality of the conflict and the reason why his peace initiative failed.

The problem with Kerry’s evenhanded approach to the dispute disregards what actually happened. Israel has maintained the status quo on the Temple Mount in which Muslim religious authorities have complete control of the ancient site and Jews are allowed to visit but forbidden to pray. Some Jews have urged this be changed to give them the right to worship there too but the Netanyahu government, following in the footsteps of all its predecessors, has blocked this effort.

But that hasn’t satisfied the PA which has used this issue as a way to compete with Hamas in the battle for Palestinian public opinion. Rather than seeking to promote calm, Abbas deliberately ratcheted up tensions in recent month as he called on his people to do everything necessary to prevent Jews from “contaminating” the Temple Mount with their presence. When one Palestinian attempted to murder an activist who advocated Jewish prayer there, Abbas praised him as a “martyr” and said he went straight to heaven after being shot by police. Though many, including the New York Times, have tried to put forward the idea that the growing violence constitutes a “leaderless” intifada, the truth is, the unrest and violence is the direct result of two decades of PA incitement via its official media and schools. Abbas’s statements as well as the daily drumbeat of incitement from the PA media has created an atmosphere of religious war in which Muslims think the Jews are going to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount. The result has been entirely predictable in the form of a rash of “lone wolf” terror attacks on Jews — applauded by both Hamas and Fatah — that have taken several lives.

This is, of course, straight out of the traditional playbook of Palestinian nationalism having been first employed by Haj Amin el-Husseini, the pre-World War Two mufti of Jerusalem and Nazi ally, who helped incite several pogroms against Jews. As it was then, the point of the manufactured furor is not to push back against mythical Jewish attacks on Muslim rights or the mosques but to deny any rights — either historical or political — for Jews in Jerusalem or anywhere else in the country. As with the rest of a conflict that the PA could have ended several times in the last 15 years had it accepted Israeli peace offers of independence, pouring oil on this fire is a function of Palestinian resistance to the idea of any Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem or Israel, not a dispute that can be solved by good faith negotiations.

In playing the Temple Mount card, Abbas is walking a fine line between an attempt to boost his stock vis-à-vis Hamas and suicide since it is Israel that protects him against Hamas. Jordan, which has been forced by Abbas’s antics to condemn Israel as well, is similarly dependant on support for Israel, but can’t be seen to be against Palestinian terror if it is perceived as a “defense” of Arab rights.

But while we hope that this chapter is coming to a close, Kerry’s complacent pox on both your houses approach to Israel and the PA is only encouraging more Palestinian intransigence and violence. What was needed here was a direct U.S. condemnation of Abbas’s egregious incitement that led to bloodshed. But in its absence the likelihood grows that Abbas will continue to court disaster in his effort to boost his waning political clout in the West Bank. Kerry and President Obama’s continued effort to portray Abbas as a force for peace while flinging insults at Netanyahu is a formula for more unrest as well as an attack on the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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Obama, Abbas, and ‘Contaminating’ Jews

In a follow-up to his now infamous column in which he quoted “senior administration officials” hurling vulgar insults at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg echoed the Obama foreign-policy team in praising Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as “the best interlocutor Israel is going to have” in the pursuit of peace. Though he acknowledged the Palestinian had “flaws,” the onus for the lack of progress toward peace was placed squarely on Israel, which was urged to take measures to appease Abbas. Given that Abbas’s “flaws” had already demonstrated his utter lack of interest in making peace, Goldberg’s incendiary pieces told us more about Obama’s animus for Israel than the state of the peace process. But Abbas’s most recent bouts of incitement toward violence place those who have vouched for him in a difficult spot and make their current silence about his activities all the more reprehensible.

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In a follow-up to his now infamous column in which he quoted “senior administration officials” hurling vulgar insults at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg echoed the Obama foreign-policy team in praising Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as “the best interlocutor Israel is going to have” in the pursuit of peace. Though he acknowledged the Palestinian had “flaws,” the onus for the lack of progress toward peace was placed squarely on Israel, which was urged to take measures to appease Abbas. Given that Abbas’s “flaws” had already demonstrated his utter lack of interest in making peace, Goldberg’s incendiary pieces told us more about Obama’s animus for Israel than the state of the peace process. But Abbas’s most recent bouts of incitement toward violence place those who have vouched for him in a difficult spot and make their current silence about his activities all the more reprehensible.

Abbas helped launch the latest round of Palestinian violence by urging his people to resist Jews who venture onto the Temple Mount by all means. Those means turned out to be murder and when the PA head praised a slain terrorist who had attempted to murder a Jewish activist as a “martyr” who was heading straight to heaven, it showed just how far he was willing to go to capitalize on traditional memes of Palestinian hatred for Jews. Today, in the wake of more fatal car attacks and stabbings of Jews, Abbas doubled down on the hate. Referring to the attempts by some Jews to gain the right to pray on what it the holiest site in Judaism, Abbas was reported as saying the following in the Times of Israel:

“Keep the settlers and the extremists away from Al-Aqsa and our holy places,” Abbas demanded. “We will not allow our holy places to be contaminated. Keep them away from us and we will stay away from them, but if they enter al-Aqsa, [we] will protect al-Aqsa and the church and the entire country,” he said. It was unclear what church Abbas was referring to.

It should be acknowledged that Abbas is locked in a fierce competition with Hamas for support from Palestinians and by diving even deeper into the barrel of ancient libels, he is, by his own lights, merely pandering to domestic opinion. But the green light he is giving to random violence by Palestinians is unmistakable. The question is when will his Washington cheering section recognize that they have invested heavily in a figure that is counting on their support insulating him against any consequences for his actions?

On its face, Abbas would seem to be the last person who would want a third intifada since he stands to lose the most by an open breach with an Israeli security apparatus that is his only guarantee of survival against Hamas. Nor can he afford to alienate the Americans or the European Union since both provide him with the cash he needs to irrigate the corrupt kleptocracy that he presides over in the West Bank.

That ought to give both Israel and the West some leverage in moderating his language even if it has never been enough to cause him to be willing to defy Palestinian public opinion and negotiate a peace deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

That is why the silence of the West about Abbas is so frustrating for Israel. For months, the Obama administration has been lauding the PA head as a courageous man of peace while badmouthing Netanyahu as an obstacle to it in both on and off the record statements. Thus it is no surprise that Abbas believes he has virtual carte blanche from his donors and political sponsors to go as far as he wants when it comes to inciting violence.

The problem here is that while the White House and State Department can often be relied upon to issue statements urging both sides to show restraint and condemning violence of all kinds, they generally have no problem being specific when it comes to Israel and Netanyahu. But even if we leave aside the unfair nature of most of the criticisms of the Israeli, they find it difficult, if not impossible to turn the same critical gaze at Abbas.

Let’s concede that even if Abbas were to have held his tongue and sought to calm tensions over Jerusalem, there is no guarantee that no violence would have occurred. But by seeking to outpace Hamas when it comes to fanning the flames about the mosques on the Temple Mount, Abbas has made a material contribution to Middle East violence. And he is doing it on the American taxpayer’s dime.

It should also be stated that some inflammatory voices on the Israeli right have contributed to the problem. As unfair as the status quo on the Temple Mount might be to Jews, overturning it right now would be the sort of thing that will get a lot of people killed. But it should be pointed out that instead of feeding and/or profiting from anger over this issue, Netanyahu and his government have tried to prevent violence, not encourage it, but keep getting slammed by Western critics for not altogether conceding Jewish rights throughout Jerusalem.

The issue here isn’t so much who gets to pray on the Temple Mount since there is no chance of the status quo being altered. Rather it is whether the West thinks it is OK for the recipient of their largesse to refer to Jews as “contaminators” of their own capital city. Such language isn’t merely pandering to Palestinian opinion; it is a sign that Abbas is part of the problem of violence and hate, not its potential solution.

For years, the same people hammering Netanyahu and excusing Abbas now were the ones urging a similar policy toward Yasir Arafat and his blatant incitement toward hate. Those who did so bore a degree of responsibility for the violence that ensued when Arafat blew up the peace process with a bloody second intifada. The same judgment will apply to the president and his cheerleaders as they stand by and watch Abbas play the same card.

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Humanity Lost: Jewish Victims of Terror and the New York Times

Reading this New York Times dispatch on the victims of Palestinian terrorism back in 1995 is truly stepping into a time warp. The story is about the killing of New Jersey native Alisa Flatow, a case that became famous for the Flatow family’s lawsuit against the Iranian funders of Palestinian terror. In the story we read about Flatow, although the focus of this particular piece is on those like her: young American Jews whose pintele yid (Jewish spark/core) takes them to Israel to study. Headlined “Studying in Israel: Shaken Youths, Unshaken Resolve,” the story is inspiring–and meant to be:

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Reading this New York Times dispatch on the victims of Palestinian terrorism back in 1995 is truly stepping into a time warp. The story is about the killing of New Jersey native Alisa Flatow, a case that became famous for the Flatow family’s lawsuit against the Iranian funders of Palestinian terror. In the story we read about Flatow, although the focus of this particular piece is on those like her: young American Jews whose pintele yid (Jewish spark/core) takes them to Israel to study. Headlined “Studying in Israel: Shaken Youths, Unshaken Resolve,” the story is inspiring–and meant to be:

“I have not gotten one phone call from a nervous parent, thank God,” said Robert Katz, director of academic affairs at Bar-Ilan University’s office in New York. “This isn’t complacency. They’re not calling because they’re committed and they’re not going anywhere. The prevailing attitude is this is the place where we are and this is where we’re going to be and we’re not budging.” …

“They’re shaken emotionally,” said Efrem Nulman, dean of students at Yeshiva. “But they’re not shaken in their commitment or their core beliefs. In a nutshell, our students have a deep and strong commitment to Israel in general and to studying in Israel in particular. These students have become accustomed to despicable acts of terrorism.”

The president of Brandeis, Jehuda Reinharz, attended Ms. Flatow’s funeral and said afterward that he had spoken with many of the 50 Brandeis students taking courses in Israel. Her death, he said, has shocked the students, but it hasn’t changed their minds.

These Jews would not be intimidated by acts of terror into abandoning their people and their dreams of Jewish life in the Holy Land. I was struck, however, not by what the Times was writing about these students but by what the Times was showing about itself. Namely, the Palestinian terror campaign had also not shaken the Times; the paper was still dedicated to humanizing the victims of terrorism and celebrating the religious passion that kept young Jews coming to Israel in defiance of their tormentors.

That was a different time, maybe. But it was also a different Times.

A friend in Israel passed along this beautiful remembrance of one of yesterday’s victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks, 26-year-old Dahlia Lemkus, written by Sherry Mandell. She writes that although the New York Times put in the effort to learn about Lemkus’s Palestinian murderer, “We learn nothing about 26 year old Dahlia, who was just getting started in life after finishing college, studying occupational therapy so that she could have a job where she could help people who were sick or infirm or disabled to live in a fuller way.” Mandell proceeds to tell the readers all about Lemkus.

Defenders of the Times might try to argue that unlike the students in the 1995 story, Lemkus wasn’t American. But then neither was her Palestinian murderer, and the Times makes sure to humanize him. It’s actually worse than that, though. In today’s story by Jodi Rudoren on a Palestinian man killed by the IDF when he aimed a gun at soldiers, Rudoren reflects back on Lemkus and tells us she was a “female settler,” just to put a thumb on the scales against her. (There is also the passive voice; the lede says “Israeli forces fatally shot” the Palestinian while yesterday’s Palestinian attacks “left an Israeli soldier and a female settler dead.”) When Lemkus is mentioned again in the story, she is again referred to as the “female settler.”

The Times isn’t even humanizing American victims of Palestinian terror anymore either. The American-born rabbi Yehuda Glick was shot last month in an attempted assassination by a Palestinian in Jerusalem. Glick is a nonviolent proponent of equal rights for Jews at their holy site, the Temple Mount, on which Muslims have full prayer rights but Jews don’t.

The first words of the Times story on the shooting of Glick are: “An Israeli-American agitator.” Later we’re told he’s “widely viewed as a provocative figure who has exacerbated tensions between Muslims and Jews.” Around the same time, a Palestinian with links to Hamas was killed while attempting to carry out an attack on Israeli civilians. As our Tom Wilson noted, the State Department, in offering its condolences to the family of the Palestinian, played up the Palestinian’s American citizenship and refused to consider him a terrorist. At the same time, Glick’s family went ignored by American officials.

The Obama administration and the New York Times seem to be rather in-sync, then. The Times is ostensibly the same institution now as it was in 1995. On this issue, however, it couldn’t be more different. Somewhere along the line over the last twenty years, Jewish victims of Palestinian terror stopped being quite fully human to the Times. No doubt those who carry out these attacks feel the same way.

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An Unbalanced View of the Zivotofsky Case

In today’s Wall Street Journal, David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey – who served in the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s office during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations – propose a “balancing” test to resolve the Zivotofsky passport case. They acknowledge Congress can regulate passports and has given Jerusalem-born Americans the right, if they request it, to have “Israel” on their passports as their place of birth. They argue, however, that (1) the “harm” to Congress would be “small” if its statute were declared unconstitutional, while (2) presidential “recognition authority” would be “severely undercut” if the law were implemented. Both assertions are demonstrably wrong, as Monday’s oral argument made clear.

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In today’s Wall Street Journal, David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey – who served in the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s office during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations – propose a “balancing” test to resolve the Zivotofsky passport case. They acknowledge Congress can regulate passports and has given Jerusalem-born Americans the right, if they request it, to have “Israel” on their passports as their place of birth. They argue, however, that (1) the “harm” to Congress would be “small” if its statute were declared unconstitutional, while (2) presidential “recognition authority” would be “severely undercut” if the law were implemented. Both assertions are demonstrably wrong, as Monday’s oral argument made clear.

Chief Justice Roberts, in an exchange with Solicitor General Verrelli, demonstrated that there is no principled way of applying such a test, and that the “harm” would be either ceding unreviewable power to the president or requiring case-by-case litigation as the Court “balances” each case:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Let’s say … that passports are printed in Country A, not the United States, and there’s a printing plant there, and Congress passes a law saying, no, you must have the passports printed in Country B because we don’t think you should recognize Country A. Does that interfere with the President’s recognition power?

How do you “balance” that one? And who decides (“balances”) it – the President, the Congress, or the Court? Verrelli responded to Roberts that the hypothetical was a harder case than Zivotofsky’s, but Verrelli did not venture a judgment on it, nor declare which of the three branches of government should make the decision. The Roberts hypothetical shows that while a “balancing test” may sound reasonable, “balance” is in the eye of the beholder: one could just as easily argue that Congressional authority would be “severely undercut” if the president can ignore it whenever he thinks foreigners won’t like it.

Justice Alito’s questioning also demonstrated that the president’s power would not be “severely undercut” if the law were enforced, because the U.S. already effectively recognizes Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem — for purposes directly bearing on Zivotofsky’s passport:

JUSTICE ALITO: May I ask you another factual question? When Menachem [Zivotofsky] was born, was he issued a birth certificate by the Israeli authorities?

MS. LEWIN: Yes.

JUSTICE ALITO: And the United States recognizes that as a lawful exercise of Israeli authority, to issue a birth certificate for a child born in Jerusalem?

MS. LEWIN: I believe they do, Your Honor.

JUSTICE ALITO: So this is a question I would ask the Solicitor General, but I don’t completely understand what the position of the United States is regarding Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. I understand it is the position of the United States that Israel does not exercise full sovereignty over Jerusalem, but that in this instance, the issuance of a birth certificate, I suspect the United States recognizes that Israel is lawfully exercising attributes of sovereignty over the territory of Jerusalem.

In other words, to qualify for a U.S. passport, one must prove one is a U.S. citizen; and the U.S. accepts the birth certificate issued by Israel for an American born in Israel’s capital. But it would supposedly “severely undercut” the president’s power if that individual has the right, at his request, to have “Israel” put on his own passport as his place of birth?

Later in the oral argument, Justice Alito directed his question to Solicitor General Verrilli:

JUSTICE ALITO: Can I ask you the question I asked Ms. Lewin. What exactly is the position of the executive regarding Israel’s exercise of sovereign powers in Jerusalem? Is it the case that it is the position of the executive that Israel cannot lawfully exercise any sovereign powers within Jerusalem?

GENERAL VERRILLI: The position of the executive is that we recognize, as a practical matter, the authority of Israel over West Jerusalem. With respect to the rest of Jerusalem, the issue is far more complicated. It might well be, as a practical matter … we would accept [the birth certificate] as evidence of birth …

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, it must have been accepted as evidence of birth or the passport would never have been issued.

Zivotofsky was born in Shaare Zekek Hospital in West Jerusalem. Thus as a “practical matter,” as even the Solicitor General conceded, he was born in Israel. Would it really “severely undercut” the president’s power if Zivotofsky’s passport, like his birth certificate, recognized that fact — while reserving presidential authority to declare it does not affect U.S. recognition policy, just as President Clinton did in connection with the passports of Taiwan-born Americans?

It is a strange “balancing test” that sees no harm in preventing Congress from exercising its admitted Constitutional authority, when – as Justice Kennedy’s questions skillfully showed – the president’s own authority is easily preserved. This case could have been resolved years ago by adhering to the Taiwan precedent, rather than litigating for a decade to preserve the pretense that the “peace process” depends on the place of birth in Zivotofsky’s passport.

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