Commentary Magazine


Topic: Palestinians

Obama’s Pointless Israel Spats Illustrate Spite, Not Strategy

A week has now passed since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected in a decisive win that deeply disappointed the Obama administration that made no secret of its desire that he be defeated. But rather than cut its losses, the White House continues to dig itself in deeper in a conflict with the Israelis with an interview in which President Obama expressed concern for the future of Israeli democracy all the while making it clear that he would like to invalidate the verdict of Israeli voters. But that was not all. The president also sent his chief of staff to speak at the conference of the left-wing J Street lobby. There, James McDonough brought an audience of critics of Israel to its feet by vowing that the U.S. would not cease its efforts to force the Netanyahu government to “end 50 years of occupation.” All of this stoking the fires of conflict forces us to ask why the president is so invested in this effort. The answer isn’t reassuring, especially for those who wanted to believe the president’s 2012 re-election pitch that claimed he was a true friend of Israel.

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A week has now passed since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected in a decisive win that deeply disappointed the Obama administration that made no secret of its desire that he be defeated. But rather than cut its losses, the White House continues to dig itself in deeper in a conflict with the Israelis with an interview in which President Obama expressed concern for the future of Israeli democracy all the while making it clear that he would like to invalidate the verdict of Israeli voters. But that was not all. The president also sent his chief of staff to speak at the conference of the left-wing J Street lobby. There, James McDonough brought an audience of critics of Israel to its feet by vowing that the U.S. would not cease its efforts to force the Netanyahu government to “end 50 years of occupation.” All of this stoking the fires of conflict forces us to ask why the president is so invested in this effort. The answer isn’t reassuring, especially for those who wanted to believe the president’s 2012 re-election pitch that claimed he was a true friend of Israel.

As I noted yesterday, one motive for the conflict with Israel is the disagreement over the Iran nuclear negotiations. The president clearly is not willing to get past his anger about Netanyahu speaking to Congress in opposition to the deal that the U.S. is offering the Iranian regime. With the talks moving into their final stages, it seems likely that Iran will sign an accord, especially since, that country’s so-called “hard-liners” appear to be thrilled with the concessions that their nation has forced out of an Obama administration so fixated on its goal of détente with the Islamist regime that it is willing to retreat from every principle it went into the talks to defend.

Suppressing criticism of the deal has become the top foreign policy priority for the White House and that means keeping the extravagant concessions made to Iran secret for as long as possible. As our Max Boot noted earlier, the administration bizarrely claimed today that Israel was spying on U.S. negotiators with Iran and sharing the information with an entity that the president considers a hostile power — Congress — while admitting that it knows this is true because of U.S. spying on Israel.

But while the nuclear issue and Obama’s acquiescence to Iran’s quest for regional hegemony is a huge part of the current tangle with Israel, that does not completely account for the administration’s bold talk about reviving the dead-in-the-water peace process.

This has, after all, been a constant theme since the president took office in January 2009 determined to make a correction from what he felt was the Bush administration’s coziness with Israel. Throughout the last six years, with only a one-year break for a re-election campaign Jewish charm offensive, President Obama has picked numerous fights with Netanyahu government over settlement building and borders as well as the status of Jerusalem. The goal throughout has been to persuade Israel to take “risks for peace” involving retreating from the West Bank and dividing Jerusalem.

This struggle has been undertaken in the name of saving Israel from itself because as the president noted in his Huffington Post interview, he wanted to preserve Israel’s democracy. But, like his admirers among the crowd at J Street, at no point has the president chosen to hold the Palestinians accountable for their consistent rejection of Israeli peace offers or efforts to torpedo talks, such as the end run around negotiations and unity pact with Hamas that blew up the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry last year.

Nor is there any answer to the widespread concern voiced by Israeli voters about what would happen if their country heeded Obama’s advice and withdrew from the West Bank, whether to the 1967 lines or not. After the example of Gaza, from which Israeli pulled out every last soldier and settler and which was then transformed into a vast terror base from which rockets are rained down on Israeli cities, why should Israelis believe a pullout from the West Bank end any differently.

Moreover, when McDonough speaks of “ending occupation,” Palestinians hear something very different from Americans. When Fatah and Hamas talk about occupation they are referring not just to parts of the West Bank that even most Israelis would happily exit in exchange for true peace, but all of the country, including those parts that were not taken in the 1967 war. When such a high official uses language that is routinely employed by Hamas, albeit for different purposes, why should anyone be surprised if those terrorists regard the White House temper tantrum as a green light for a repeat of last summer’s bloody and pointless war? If Obama was prepared to cut off arms resupply for the Israeli army during that conflict, what might he do next time?

One may disagree with Netanyahu on many things and even fervently advocate for a two-state solution and still understand that White House pressure on Israel about the Palestinians in the absence of any sign that the PA will ever make peace on any terms is utterly irresponsible. Until PA leader Mahmoud Abbas or his Hamas rivals have change their minds about refusing to agree to any deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, a return to the table isn’t merely pointless, it’s an invitation to more mayhem as the Palestinians raise the ante in hopes that the U.S. will abandon its Israeli ally.

From January 2009 to the present, the conflict between Israel and the United States has never been connected to any real chance of peace or ending the conflict in a manner that is consistent with American pledges about ensuring the Jewish state’s security. At this point, it is time for even those that have rationalized and apologized for Obama’s penchant for attacking Israel to face up to the fact that his behavior requires a better explanation than an alleged desire to save it from itself. Nor is the argument about Iran enough to justify what we are witnessing. Nothing about the current argument can be traced to U.S. security needs. Rather, its motive seems more about personal anger and vague ideological assumptions about Israel and the Palestinians that have no connection to reality.

That is a sobering thought that should motivate even those Democrats who are no fans of Netanyahu to begin speaking up against an administration policy that seems rooted in spite, not strategy.

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Worry About Iran, Not Israeli Democracy

The White House temper tantrum about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decisive re-election win isn’t quite over. Though the president finally forced himself to call to congratulate the prime minister, the conversation appears to have been more of a lecture from the president about peace process and the supposed threat to Israeli democracy. In doing so, Obama, who discussed the call with the Huffington Post, is attempting to set the tone for U.S.-Israel relations until he leaves office. His threats about abandoning Israel at the United Nations and exerting brutal pressure on it to make concessions to the Palestinians are going to be presented as an attempt to save Israel from itself and in so doing preserve its democracy. That’s a clever tactic meant to disarm his critics, but the president’s assumptions about Israeli society are not only incorrect, they are a diversionary tactic meant to distract us from Obama’s real foreign policy priority these days: détente with Iran. Far from defending Israeli democracy, his goal is to overturn its verdict.

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The White House temper tantrum about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decisive re-election win isn’t quite over. Though the president finally forced himself to call to congratulate the prime minister, the conversation appears to have been more of a lecture from the president about peace process and the supposed threat to Israeli democracy. In doing so, Obama, who discussed the call with the Huffington Post, is attempting to set the tone for U.S.-Israel relations until he leaves office. His threats about abandoning Israel at the United Nations and exerting brutal pressure on it to make concessions to the Palestinians are going to be presented as an attempt to save Israel from itself and in so doing preserve its democracy. That’s a clever tactic meant to disarm his critics, but the president’s assumptions about Israeli society are not only incorrect, they are a diversionary tactic meant to distract us from Obama’s real foreign policy priority these days: détente with Iran. Far from defending Israeli democracy, his goal is to overturn its verdict.

The president’s concerns about Netanyahu’s pre-election vow about not allowing the creation of a Palestinian state on his watch are presentable as a reasonable defense of what even most Israelis think is the ideal solution to their country’s conflict with the Arab world. But the reason why a clear majority of Israelis supported Netanyahu and parties likely to back him was that few of them outside of the far left believe there is any reasonable hope for a two-state solution in the foreseeable future. They weren’t convinced of the danger of further territorial concessions by Netanyahu’s rhetoric but by the actions of the Palestinians and the culture of hatred for Israel and Jews that pervades their society.

The president treats the repeated rejections of Israeli offers of statehood by the Palestinians and the support for terrorism even by the supposedly moderate leaders of the Palestinian Authority as irrelevant. Israelis do not. Nor are they interested in replicating what happened in Gaza after Israel’s 2005 withdrawal — which now constitutes an independent Palestinian state in all but name and a massive base for terrorism — in the more strategic West Bank. That’s an opinion shared even by many of those who supported Netanyahu’s opponents. Until a sea change in Palestinian politics that will allow its leaders to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn occurs, Israelis will reject two states in practice rather than in principle and no amount of White House bullying will change that.

But Obama’s concerns for Israeli democracy have more resonance than his promotion of a peace process that everyone knows is dead in the water. Netanyahu’s foolish remarks about wanting his base to turn out to balance the votes of Israeli Arabs is being used to present him as not only a racist but a threat to his country’s survival. But the huffing and puffing, especially from liberal Jews, many of whom, like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who generally only trot out their religious credentials to bash Israel, tells us less about Israel than about the ignorance about the Jewish state that prevails among much of the American chattering classes that are following the president’s lead.

Whatever one may think about Netanyahu and his overheated campaign rhetoric, his comments about Arab votes simply reflected the reality of a democratic system that remains under assault from both within and without. No one in the government attempted to obstruct the efforts of Israeli Arabs to vote. Nor were their votes stolen. The rights of those Arab voters who backed the Joint Arab List that won 13 seats last week (many Arabs vote for mainstream Israeli parties, some of whom including the Likud have Arab Knesset members) were not violated. If they are marginalized, as some claim, it is not because Netanyahu and his voters are racist but because they support the Palestinian war on the Jewish state. The goals of those elected on that list have somehow not penetrated to the consciousness of many Americans that are so concerned about them. The list is an alliance of three parties, one Communist, one Islamist and radical Arab nationalist, that differ on just about everything but not the destruction of Israel. That is something they all support. The Islamists and the nationalists also support terrorism against the state they are elected to serve in the Knesset. Is it any wonder that Israelis worry about the rise of such a list or that Netanyahu would urge them not to let it determine the outcome of the elections by themselves turning out in big numbers as they did?

What Obama and other critics of Netanyahu want is not to preserve Israel’s democratic system that is not under attack from the Likud but to punish the voters for choosing a party and a candidate that contradicts their ignorant assumptions about the Middle East. Israel’s leftists can’t seem to persuade voters to back them but they have convinced some Americans that the right of the majority of Israelis to determine their nation’s fate should be superseded by a U.S. president that has little affection for them.

More to the point, the more Obama and his liberal cheering section in the press pour on the opprobrium on Netanyahu, the less attention we’re paying to the Iran talks that are reportedly moving toward a conclusion in Switzerland. Almost by default, Netanyahu has become the most articulate opponent of the administration’s embrace of détente with an Iranian regime that even Obama concedes continues to spew anti-Semitism and threats about Israel’s destruction. Selling an Iran deal that, at best, grants the Islamist regime the status of threshold nuclear power now seems to require Netanyahu’s delegitimization rather more than desultory efforts to justify an indefensible surrender of U.S. principles and Obama’s campaign promise. Those who play along with this ruse out of a misguided belief that Israeli democracy is in danger are helping the president isolate the Jewish state, not defending it.

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Two States: In Principle? Yes. Now? No.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement today claiming that he still favors a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians isn’t likely to persuade his detractors that he wants peace. The day before his decisive victory in Tuesday’s election, he vowed that there would be no Palestinian state established on his watch. This provoked a torrent of international criticism and served as justification for Obama administration threats to abandon Israel at the United Nations. But while Netanyahu can certainly be accused with some justice of being a cynical flip-flopper, this episode doesn’t justify the claims that Israel wasn’t negotiating in good faith with the Palestinians during the past few years. Nor is it entirely illogical. In fact, the two statements show that Netanyahu is very much in tune with the views of most Israelis. They support a two-state solution with the Palestinians in principle. But they also know that isn’t a realistic option under the current circumstances.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement today claiming that he still favors a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians isn’t likely to persuade his detractors that he wants peace. The day before his decisive victory in Tuesday’s election, he vowed that there would be no Palestinian state established on his watch. This provoked a torrent of international criticism and served as justification for Obama administration threats to abandon Israel at the United Nations. But while Netanyahu can certainly be accused with some justice of being a cynical flip-flopper, this episode doesn’t justify the claims that Israel wasn’t negotiating in good faith with the Palestinians during the past few years. Nor is it entirely illogical. In fact, the two statements show that Netanyahu is very much in tune with the views of most Israelis. They support a two-state solution with the Palestinians in principle. But they also know that isn’t a realistic option under the current circumstances.

Let’s concede that Netanyahu’s comments about not allowing the creation of a Palestinian state while he was prime minister was a brazen attempt to lure voters away from right-wing allies in order to boost his Likud Party totals. But whether this was necessary or not, it must be accepted that it helped him and that it was not unfair of critics to conclude that he was retracting his 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech in which he accepted a two-states as the basis for peace. But his subsequent effort in an interview with NBC’s Andrew Mitchell to claim that he still favors such a solution is, while seemingly inconsistent, actually correct.

Whatever he may have said on Monday, the left’s talking point about the campaign proving that Netanyahu had been lying for six years doesn’t hold water. Whether you like the prime minister or loathe him, the fact remains that Netanyahu did freeze settlement building at President Obama’s behest. He also sent his recent electoral opponent Tzipi Livni to negotiate peace with Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. As we now know, documents have revealed that he went a long way toward accommodating Kerry’s ideas for a framework during those talks and even Livni concedes that it was Abbas who torpedoed them by never negotiating in good faith. Had Abbas been serious about a two state solution at any point during the last six years he could have said he was willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state but he refused to do so no matter where its borders might be drawn. He also continued to assert that he could never give up the right of return for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. Both stands are reflective of the fact that Palestinian nationalism has always been inextricably tied to the war on Zionism. Assuming he wanted to, Abbas is incapable of abandoning these stands and surviving. Hamas has no interest in such a scenario.

Moreover, Palestinian actions during the last 20 years of peace processing have convinced the overwhelming majority of Israeli voters, including many who voted for Netanyahu’s opponents, that neither Abbas nor his Hamas rivals ruling in Gaza have any interest in signing a peace agreement that will end the conflict for all time. Even if you want to ignore what happened in the 1990s when Yasir Arafat was running the Palestinian Authority and it set out on a course of fomenting hatred and subsidizing terrorism, Abbas’s record is not better. In 2008, he rejected Ehud Olmert’s offer of independence and a state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem just as Arafat had done in 2000 and 2001. Even worse, after Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, the strip has become an independent Palestinian state in all but name and transformed into a base for terrorism by its Hamas rulers.

Under those circumstances and with the PA refusing to hold elections about of fear that the corrupt kleptocracy that runs the West Bank might be replaced by their Islamist rivals, it’s little wonder most Israeli voters think Netanyahu was right when he warned that two states now meant another Hamasistan next to the Jewish state’s population centers.

A two state solution in which a demilitarized Palestinian state lives peacefully next to Israel with both Jews and Arabs free to live unmolested on either side of the border is the ideal solution to the conflict. But until a sea change in the Palestinian political culture happens to make that an actual possibility rather than merely a fantasy, no rational Israeli government would consent to a complete withdrawal from the territory.

Is it possible to oppose a two-state solution under the current circumstances but to be for it in principle? Netanyahu’s detractors would argue that it isn’t. What’s more they claim that his vow and his “Hamasistan” comments show that he merely wants to preserve the status quo.

But this reflects the basic myth that has been the foundation of the mistaken policies pursued by the Obama administration. Like some on the Jewish left, they’ve wrongly assumed that the only thing that is missing for peace to become a reality is a willingness on Israel’s part to take risks to achieve it. But Israel has been taking such risks for 20 years and has discovered that it traded land for terror, not peace. That realization has rendered the Israeli left unelectable and given Netanyahu a fourth term in office. Even if Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union had beaten the Likud on Tuesday, he was no more likely to create a Palestinian state than Netanyahu.

It’s long past time for the United States to stop pretending that Palestinian intransigence and terror are the real obstacles to peace. Peace will happen when the Palestinians decide they are ready for a two state solution that has always been favored more by Israelis than Arabs. Until that happens, it can remain a theoretical goal but one that, like Netanyahu, sensible Israelis will not choose to pursue under the present circumstances.

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U.S. Should “Re-Evaluate” Peace Process

Swallowing hard, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that President Obama would be calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory in yesterday’s Knesset election. But it’s likely that the conversation, which may be their first in months after Obama shut down direct communications with the prime minister after his decision to directly challenge the administration’s Iran policy in a speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this month will center on their disagreements and not on expressions of good will. Earnest said the president remains committed to a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict that Netanyahu said he wouldn’t accept during the last days of his campaign. The spokesman said that would mean the U.S. would “re-evaluate our approach” to the conflict with the Palestinians. If so, it’s good advice since President Obama’s approach to the Middle East has been flawed since the day he took office.

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Swallowing hard, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that President Obama would be calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory in yesterday’s Knesset election. But it’s likely that the conversation, which may be their first in months after Obama shut down direct communications with the prime minister after his decision to directly challenge the administration’s Iran policy in a speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this month will center on their disagreements and not on expressions of good will. Earnest said the president remains committed to a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict that Netanyahu said he wouldn’t accept during the last days of his campaign. The spokesman said that would mean the U.S. would “re-evaluate our approach” to the conflict with the Palestinians. If so, it’s good advice since President Obama’s approach to the Middle East has been flawed since the day he took office.

The talk of re-evaluating was, no doubt, intended as a warning to Israel not a sign of much-needed introspection. The White House is hoping that Netanyahu will see it as a warning that if he doesn’t do as he is told, the administration might cease defending Israel at the United Nations and instead join European efforts to isolate the Jewish state by recognizing Palestinian independence without first making them make peace with Israel and granting them sovereignty over borders that should be negotiated rather than imposed on the parties.

This is neither an idle threat nor one that wouldn’t hurt Israel. If the Palestinians were to realize their fantasy of getting the UN Security Council to pass a resolution recognizing their independence in the territories taken by Israel during the Six Day War, including Jerusalem, it would do more than to relieve them of any obligation to negotiate peace with Israel. It would also put the United Nations officially behind a campaign to isolate Israel that could do real damage to the Jewish state’s ability to defend itself.

The administration could also seek to cut back on military aid to Israel and pursue other efforts to downgrade the alliance.

But if that’s what Obama is contemplating as he prepares for the third act of his stormy relationship with Netanyahu, he needs to step back and think long and hard about the implications of a policy that would be based more in spite than in the interests of either the United States or the cause of peace.

Should the U.S. use Netanyahu’s comments about a two-state solution to abandon Israel at the UN, it will do more than create a diplomatic problem. Just as they have since January 2009, the Palestinians will interpret efforts by the administration to distance itself from Israel as an invitation to further intransigence and perhaps violence. In particular, Hamas, which has been rapidly re-arming after last summer’s war in Gaza, may think it time to start another terrorist offensive in which Israeli cities will be targeted by missiles. The Islamist group, under pressure from Egypt, which is held in as long regard by the administration as Israel, may hope that this time around President Obama will use the violence not only to heighten pressure on Israel but also to cut off arms re-supplies again.

As for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, a U.S. diplomatic offensive against Israel would remove any incentive on his part to budge from his past refusals to give up the right of return or to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. If progress toward peace, rather than venting his spleen at Netanyahu is the actual objective of U.S. policy these days, he might take a deep breath today and step back from the brink.

An honest re-evaluation of U.S. policy during the past six years would recognize that the key mistake made by President Obama has been his obsessive focus on pressuring Israel and pushing negotiations with a Palestinian leadership that has no interest in peace talks.

While his left-wing critics have claimed that Netanyahu’s statement about preventing a Palestinian state means he has been deceiving the world the past six years about his support for a two-state solution, the truth is that it is the Palestinians who have rendered that stand obsolete. During the years in which he did back two states and even observed a settlement freeze and agreed to U.S. frameworks about the talks, the Palestinians never once budged off their refusal to negotiate in good faith.

Indeed, Obama’s focus on opposing Israeli policies has been so myopic that he has failed to hold Abbas accountable for his actions such as signing a unity deal with Hamas terrorists or violating his Oslo Accords commitments not to make an end run around direct talks by going to the UN. It must be understood that Netanyahu’s rejection of a Palestinian state is as much a commentary on the refusal of the Palestinians to negotiate or to accept one as it is on the prime minister’s ideology. Most Israelis want peace and two states more than the Palestinians. But they understand that merely wishing for it won’t make it happen if the Arabs continue to say no.

A serious re-evaluation of America’s Middle East policy might be one that realized that until a sea change in Palestinian politics that will permit a leader like Abbas to make peace, an investment of U.S. time and energy on negotiations is a fool’s errand.

A U.S. abandonment of Israel in international forums will do American interests as much harm as it does the Jewish state since such actions will have the effect of marginalizing U.S. diplomacy and interests. But more than that, American signals that will be interpreted by Hamas and perhaps even Hezbollah that it is open season on Israel, could start wars that will further destabilize the Middle East.

A re-evaluation is in order but doing so should involve Obama’s admitting error more than Netanyahu. Much of the commentary about President Obama’s final two years in office have focused on his intention to do as he likes and build his legacy without regard to the political constraints imposed him by the bipartisan coalition backing Israel. But given the likely cost in blood that such a course may involve, the president might do well to consider that such a course of further pointless confrontation with the Netanyahu government may do more harm to his place in history than good.

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The Election that Didn’t Happen Matters Far More than the One that Did

In the West, where regular elections are taken for granted, what interested people about yesterday’s Israeli ballot was the outcome. But in the Middle East, many were envious of the very fact that it took place. Nowhere was this truer than among Palestinians, who haven’t had an election in 10 years – not because Israel is preventing them from doing so, but because their own leadership is. And anyone who actually cares about the peace process ought to be far more worried by the Palestinian election that didn’t happen than by the outcome of the Israeli one that did.

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In the West, where regular elections are taken for granted, what interested people about yesterday’s Israeli ballot was the outcome. But in the Middle East, many were envious of the very fact that it took place. Nowhere was this truer than among Palestinians, who haven’t had an election in 10 years – not because Israel is preventing them from doing so, but because their own leadership is. And anyone who actually cares about the peace process ought to be far more worried by the Palestinian election that didn’t happen than by the outcome of the Israeli one that did.

A veteran Palestinian journalist from Ramallah summed up the prevailing sentiment succinctly. “We say all these bad things about Israel, but at least the people there have the right to vote and enjoy democracy,” he told Jerusalem Post reporter Khaled Abu Toameh before the election. “We really envy the Israelis. Our leaders don’t want elections. They want to remain in office forever.”

Ghanem Nuseibeh, an East Jerusalem Palestinian now living in Britain, put out an illuminating series of tweets throughout Election Day, including, “Over a million Arabs take part in Middle East’s most democratic elections today”; “The Arabs in Israel are the only Middle East Arab group that practices true democracy”; and “Israel is secure not because it will elect Bibi or Buji, but because of what it is doing today.” He was rooting for Isaac Herzog (“Buji”) and deplored Benjamin Netanyahu, but after acknowledging that his candidate had lost, he nevertheless tweeted, “Israel is the world’s most vibrant democracy” …. “If an Arab country had the same wide spectrum of political parties as Israel does, it would be fighting a civil war unseen in human history.”

Astoundingly, even Hamas in Gaza issued numerous tweets urging Israeli Arabs to vote for the Arab parties’ Joint List. One can only imagine what Gaza residents must have felt at seeing Hamas urge Palestinian Israelis to exercise a right Palestinians in Gaza are denied by their own Hamas-run government.

The absence of Palestinian elections can’t be blamed on “the occupation,” since said “occupation” didn’t prevent elections for the Palestinian Authority from being held in both 1994 and 2005/2006. Rather, it’s entirely the choice of the Palestinians’ own rival governments – Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Both have steadfastly refused to call new elections for fear of losing power.

Nor is the vote the only right Palestinians’ own governments deny them. They are also deprived of other basic civil rights like freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Both Hamas in Gaza and the PA in the West Bank routinely arrest and intimidate journalists; consequently, a recent study found, fully 80% of Palestinian journalists say they self-censor. Palestinians also face arrest even for Facebook posts criticizing their respective governments.

But aside from the fact that this denial of basic civil rights is bad in general, it has real implications for the peace process. Here, another of Nuseibeh’s Election Day tweets is instructive: “Neither the PA nor Bibi want peace. Difference is Israel can remove its own obstacle for peace, through free elections.”

Even if one disputes his assessment of Netanyahu, Abbas or both, his basic point is unarguable: If Israelis see a chance for peace and consider their own prime minister an obstacle to it, they can unseat him – an option they’ve in fact exercised in the past. Palestinians have no such option.

But the problem goes deeper than that – because Abbas, now in the 11th year of his four-year term, also lacks the democratic legitimacy needed to make the kind of concessions any peace agreement would entail. Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid summed up the issue bluntly in a lecture to the Limmud UK conference in December: Abbas, he told his shocked audience, will never be able to make peace with Israel, because he currently represents nobody except himself, his wife and his two sons.

And this does much to explain what most Western leaders consider the deplorable outcome of yesterday’s Israeli vote. As a poll taken last week showed, fully 64% of Israeli Jews agree that “no matter which party forms the next government the peace process with the Palestinians will not advance because there is no solution to the dispute,” and an identical 64% believe “the Palestinian leadership will not show greater flexibility and readiness for concessions” if Herzog replaces Netanyahu. In other words, Israelis saw no reason to vote for a premier more enthusiastic about pursuing peace talks because they saw no answering enthusiasm from the Palestinian side. Had they faced a new Palestinian government that did show interest in making peace, I suspect Israelis would choose Herzog over Netanyahu by a large majority.

Thus if Western leaders are serious about wanting Israeli-Palestinian peace, working to rectify the lack of Palestinian democracy would be far more productive than wringing their hands over the choices made by Israel’s democracy. For precisely because Israelis can always change their minds again in a few years, the Palestinian democracy deficit is far more detrimental to the prospects for peace than the outcome of any Israeli election ever could be.

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Why Did Bibi Win? Realism, Not Racism.

Within moments of the announcement of the exit polls, some of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics were claiming his likely win in today’s Knesset election was the result of a crude, racist appeal to voters. The justification for this charge was a speech made by Netanyahu and released only on social media because of restrictions on campaign appeals in the media, telling the country that left-wing groups funded by foreign money were busing Arab voters to the polls in order to elect a left-wing government led by his Zionist Union rival Isaac Herzog. Netanyahu’s opponents interpreted this as an appeal to racism. The statement was unfortunate because it made it seem as if the prime minister viewed Arab voters as somehow illegitimate. But the voters likely saw it in a different light. The prospect of a left-wing government that depended on the Joint Arab List was always unlikely. But a critical mass of voters viewed the prospect with alarm not because they’re racists but because a government that relied on the votes of anti-Zionists that favor Israel’s dissolution was something they considered a danger to the future of their country.

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Within moments of the announcement of the exit polls, some of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics were claiming his likely win in today’s Knesset election was the result of a crude, racist appeal to voters. The justification for this charge was a speech made by Netanyahu and released only on social media because of restrictions on campaign appeals in the media, telling the country that left-wing groups funded by foreign money were busing Arab voters to the polls in order to elect a left-wing government led by his Zionist Union rival Isaac Herzog. Netanyahu’s opponents interpreted this as an appeal to racism. The statement was unfortunate because it made it seem as if the prime minister viewed Arab voters as somehow illegitimate. But the voters likely saw it in a different light. The prospect of a left-wing government that depended on the Joint Arab List was always unlikely. But a critical mass of voters viewed the prospect with alarm not because they’re racists but because a government that relied on the votes of anti-Zionists that favor Israel’s dissolution was something they considered a danger to the future of their country.

Despite the expectation that dissatisfaction Netanyahu would lead to the end of his career, Netanyahu appears to have survived and will likely surpass David Ben Gurion as the country’s longest serving prime minister. Only a few days ago this was considered unlikely because the polls showed Herzog’s Labor-led party with a solid four-seat lead. But just as Netanyahu’s numbers were depressed in 2009 and 2013 because of the widespread belief that he couldn’t lose, the belief that he was finished had the opposite effect. A significant number of voters who might have gone for other right-wing parties such as Naphtali Bennet’s Jewish Home, went back to Likud in the final days in order to prevent a victory for the left.

But what those venturing opinions about the election must understand is that despite the hopes of the Israeli left and its foreign supporters (including one particular fan in the White House), the basic political alignment of the country remained unchanged. The center-right and religious parties retained a clear majority over the parties of the left. Likud’s natural allies outnumber those of the left. The only way for Herzog to become prime minister was to assemble an unlikely coalition of the left, secular and ultra-Orthodox parties. Even then, he might still need the support from the anti-Zionist Arab list composed of Communists, Islamists and radical Arab nationalists.

Contrary to the implications of Netanyahu’s statement, the increased turnout of Arab voters is a good thing for the country. Israeli Arabs should be invested in their country and take advantage of its democratic system. But the small gains by the Joint Arab List — which seems to have won 13 seats over the 11 won by the elements of its coalition, previously — won’t make much of a difference because the new Knesset members will remain in the minority. It is also a near certainty that the three factions will split once the dust settles from the election.

Even some of Israel’s friends in the United States may be asking themselves how is it possible for the Jewish state’s voters to give a majority to parties that are unlikely to agree to a two-state solution with the Palestinians. The answer is that unlike most Americans, Israel’s voters have been paying attention to the history of the conflict over the past 20 years and know that Herzog was no more likely to create a Palestinian state than Netanyahu. Nor is it fair to brand Netanyahu, who did not denigrate the right of Arabs to vote, a racist. There is no comparison between the efforts of minorities to vote in Western democracies or the United States and the desire of the Arab parties to destroy Israel. That’s because the Palestinian leadership, split between Hamas and Fatah, has consistently refused peace offers that would have given them independence. Most Israelis would like a two-state solution to happen but they know that under the current circumstances any withdrawal from the West Bank might duplicate the disastrous retreat from Gaza in 2005. Though Western journalists mocked Netanyahu’s comments about wanting to prevent a “Hamasistan” in the West Bank, the voters in Israel largely agreed.

That doesn’t make them racist or extreme. It means they are, like most Americans, realists. They may not like Netanyahu but today’s results demonstrates that there is little support for a government that would make the sort of concessions to the Palestinians that President Obama would like. They rightly believe that even if Israel did make more concessions it would only lead to more violence, not peace. Israel’s foreign critics and friends need to understand that in the end, it was those convictions have, for all intents and purposes, re-elected Netanyahu.

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Settlement Data Once Again Shows Bibi’s “Hardline” Image Doesn’t Match Reality

According to official data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, housing construction in West Bank settlements fell by a whopping 52 percent last year–far greater than the 8 percent decline in construction nationwide. Moreover, the bureau said, settlement construction throughout Benjamin Netanyahu’s six years as prime minister has been significantly lower than it was under his predecessors: Overall, the number of housing starts in the settlements was 19 percent lower in 2009-2014 than it was in 2003-2008, under prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, while the number of housing completions was 15 percent lower.

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According to official data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, housing construction in West Bank settlements fell by a whopping 52 percent last year–far greater than the 8 percent decline in construction nationwide. Moreover, the bureau said, settlement construction throughout Benjamin Netanyahu’s six years as prime minister has been significantly lower than it was under his predecessors: Overall, the number of housing starts in the settlements was 19 percent lower in 2009-2014 than it was in 2003-2008, under prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, while the number of housing completions was 15 percent lower.

This, of course, doesn’t match the popular perception of Netanyahu: The accepted wisdom among international journalists and diplomats is that he’s a major backer of the settlements who has presided over massive building there. Indeed, just last year, President Barack Obama declared that “we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time”–a claim belied by the official data at the time and once again belied by the new statistics released yesterday. But it was nevertheless widely believed, because it fit the accepted narrative of Netanyahu as “hardline” and “right-wing.”

And this is just one example of a far broader problem: Too many international journalists and diplomats see Israel and its leaders through the prism of a preconceived narrative, and any facts that don’t conform to this narrative are simply ignored. Netanyahu is “right-wing,” so he must be building massively in the settlements, even if he isn’t. Israeli voters have elected him twice in the last six years, so the country must have become more right-wing, even if in reality–as I explained in detail in my article for COMMENTARY this month–most Israelis have moved so far to the left over the last two decades that they now hold positions formerly held only by the far-left Arab-Jewish Communist Party. Netanyahu is “hardline,” so he must be to blame for the failure of peace talks, even if in reality–as was evident from American officials’ own testimony at the time and confirmed by a leaked document just last week–Netanyahu was prepared to make dramatic concessions, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to budge.

And of course, settlement construction itself is another salient example of this problem. It is almost universally considered the major obstacle to peace. Yet as Elliott Abrams and Uri Sadot explained last year, the vast majority of settlement construction is in the major settlement blocs that everyone knows Israel will end up keeping under any deal with the Palestinians, so it doesn’t affect the contours of a deal at all. Annual construction in non-bloc settlements amounted to only a few hundred houses even in Netanyahu’s peak construction year. And since the non-bloc settlements already contain some 80,000 Israelis, the idea that a few hundred additional families would be a deal-breaker is fatuous even if you think the PA’s demand for a judenrein Palestine is legitimate and all these settlements should indeed be evacuated.

Over the last six years, while the Obama Administration was wasting its time and energy complaining about “aggressive” settlement construction that was actually far less aggressive than it was under Netanyahu’s predecessors, Israeli-Palestinian relations have deteriorated drastically. That outcome might have been averted had the administration focused on the real problems in the relationship rather than inflating the settlement issue out of all proportion.

But that’s the problem with bad facts; they usually produce bad policy. And it’s hard for journalists and diplomats to obtain good facts if they systematically ignore any data that conflicts with their preconceived narrative.

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Bibi Was Ready for Peace, Abbas Wasn’t

When the Middle East peace talks collapsed last spring, the Obama administration made no secret of its willingness to blame Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for the failure of Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. According to both Kerry and President Obama, it was Netanyahu’s actions on settlements and refusal to accommodate the Palestinians that undermined the effort. Even for those not privy to inside information this made no sense and it was even contradicted by the testimony of Tzipi Livni, one of Netanyahu’s main rivals for power. But now a new document has surfaced detailing just how far Netanyahu was willing to go to make peace. But don’t expect this to change the minds of an administration that has, from its first moments in 2009, sought to distance the U.S. from the Jewish state. But it does provide even more evidence for those who are capable of being persuaded by facts that it remains the Palestinian refusal to make peace on even the most favorable terms that prevents the end of the conflict. That means the talk about a new U.S. initiative in the waning months of the Obama presidency is doomed no matter how much pressure is placed on the Israelis.

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When the Middle East peace talks collapsed last spring, the Obama administration made no secret of its willingness to blame Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for the failure of Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. According to both Kerry and President Obama, it was Netanyahu’s actions on settlements and refusal to accommodate the Palestinians that undermined the effort. Even for those not privy to inside information this made no sense and it was even contradicted by the testimony of Tzipi Livni, one of Netanyahu’s main rivals for power. But now a new document has surfaced detailing just how far Netanyahu was willing to go to make peace. But don’t expect this to change the minds of an administration that has, from its first moments in 2009, sought to distance the U.S. from the Jewish state. But it does provide even more evidence for those who are capable of being persuaded by facts that it remains the Palestinian refusal to make peace on even the most favorable terms that prevents the end of the conflict. That means the talk about a new U.S. initiative in the waning months of the Obama presidency is doomed no matter how much pressure is placed on the Israelis.

For those who care to remember what actually happened in the spring of 2014, the facts aren’t in much dispute. After several months of Palestinian stonewalling in the peace talks, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas blew them up by signing a unity deal with Hamas. He then compounded that folly by ignoring his obligations under the Oslo Accords and heading to the United Nations in a vain attempt to gain recognition for Palestinian independence at the world body. That Obama and Kerry chose to ignore these actions and instead blame it all on Netanyahu was a clear measure of their disdain for the prime minister and his country.

But even Livni, who despises Netanyahu and is working to defeat him in the Knesset Elections this month told the New York Times last year that it was the Palestinians who derailed any chance of peace by stonewalling the talks at crucial moments. Given that the same PA turned down offers of peace and independence in almost all the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008, this is a hardly a surprise. The political culture of the Palestinians makes it impossible for Abbas to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

But in spite of these facts, Americans still speak of the intransigent Abbas as a champion of peace and Netanyahu as an obstacle to it. This document will hurt Netanyahu with his right-wing base but it undermines the narrative about his opposition to peace. This latest evidence reported today in Yediot Aharonoth shows that Netanyahu told the Palestinians he was prepared to go as far as the Obama administration had been urging him to do with respect to borders, settlements and Jerusalem. But, as they had three times before, the PA wanted no part of peace even on the terms Obama wanted. Why? Palestinian nationalism is still intrinsically tied to rejection of a Jewish state on any terms that allow for its survival. Until that changes, peace remains just a dream.

That’s why the next Obama peace push will fail as miserably as the last one. When it does, the president will blame Netanyahu or whoever is in power in Israel. But it will be just as much of a lie then as it was in 2014.

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Professors of Propaganda at the University of Washington

Edward Alexander, author of the forthcoming Jews Against Themselves, reports on a program at the University of Washington that, even by the relatively low standards of contemporary humanities scholarship, is a travesty of scholarship.

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Edward Alexander, author of the forthcoming Jews Against Themselves, reports on a program at the University of Washington that, even by the relatively low standards of contemporary humanities scholarship, is a travesty of scholarship.

The Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington supports “cross disciplinary understanding, collaboration, and research.” In the service of that goal, it funds “cross disciplinary research clusters,” which “seed new collaborations between faculty and graduate students who share research interests.” Among the clusters presently funded is Palestine and the Public Sphere.

One notices right away that the project was chosen because of its cross disciplinary character, as it takes in a professor from the Department of English, another professor from the Department of English, and a third professor from the Department of English. So far, so good.

But there are further indications that the project will elevate our level of discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, only two of the three professors involved, Anis Bawarshi and Eva Cherniavsky, have signed on to the 2009 “Dear President Elect Obama” letter, which describes Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times” and opines that a one state solution—that is the erasure of Israel as a Jewish state—is “almost certainly” the only hope. They do not straightforwardly say, as University of Pennsylvania professor and one-stater Ian Lustick has, that such a solution is almost certainly bound to entail “ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror [and] Jewish and Arab emigration” before Israel is brought to its knees. But we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

Speaking of Lustick, his piece appeared in the New York Times. Yet the very description of the research program, if we can call it that, assumes that “as mergers have transferred control of most major news outlets to a handful of mega-corporations,” criticism of Israel has been stifled. Admittedly, I am not a trained reader of English texts, as the organizers are, but I would think that the frequent appearance of such criticism in major media outlets makes this assertion borderline delusional. Even Omar Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel has graced the pages of the Times. The Guardian, BBC, Bloomberg, and CNN have published Barghouti’s work.

But speaking of Omar Barghouti, the Palestine in the Public Sphere group decided the first way they could advance the cause of scholarly research was to invite Barghouti to speak. Because the way to show that you are concerned about elevating the scholarly discourse is to invite, on the first day of Israeli apartheid week, a figure whose sole claim to fame is setting a campaign to demonize Israel into motion. I am not as schooled in discourse analysis as even one English professor, much less three, but it seems to me that this sends a message.

Here’s a tip for those who worry about the defunding of public higher education. Call out people who use state institutions to advance propaganda campaigns under the guise of scholarship.

 

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Sorry Peter Beinart: Young Americans Still Haven’t Turned Against Israel

This summer, toward the end of Israel’s Gaza offensive, Peter Beinart found something to smile about in an otherwise hard time—an apparent drop in support for Israel among young Americans. Beinart had been predicting since 2010 that U.S. opinion would grow less tolerant of Israel, but American support for Israel in 2013, as measured by Gallup, matched an all-time high. Now, though, a Gallup poll was showing that only 25 percent of younger U.S. respondents considered Israel’s actions in Gaza justified. Fifty-one percent considered them unjustified. Israel was losing America’s millennials, and so we could expect that, with each new conflict, “the American mood [would] incrementally shift.”

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This summer, toward the end of Israel’s Gaza offensive, Peter Beinart found something to smile about in an otherwise hard time—an apparent drop in support for Israel among young Americans. Beinart had been predicting since 2010 that U.S. opinion would grow less tolerant of Israel, but American support for Israel in 2013, as measured by Gallup, matched an all-time high. Now, though, a Gallup poll was showing that only 25 percent of younger U.S. respondents considered Israel’s actions in Gaza justified. Fifty-one percent considered them unjustified. Israel was losing America’s millennials, and so we could expect that, with each new conflict, “the American mood [would] incrementally shift.”

As I pointed out, previous dramatic declines in American support for Israel, as indicated by this poll or that poll, had been followed by recovery. But Beinart was nonetheless confident that this time the anti-Israel cake would bake at last, at least for the young. And Beinart was far from the only commentator to take this position.

It is therefore of some interest that Gallup is out with a new poll. Here is Lydia Saad, a senior editor: some “six months [after the poll on Gaza], young Americans’ broad sympathies toward the Israelis vs. the Palestinians are the same as a year ago.” Approximately 57 percent of 18-29 year olds surveyed both years said that they sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians in the conflict. Sympathy with the Palestinians has also held steady at about 23 percent.

Compare this year to 2005, the year anti-Israel activists started Israeli apartheid week, a period devoted to demonizing Israel, mainly on college campuses, which is in full swing as I write. That year, support for Israel among 18-29 year olds stood at 51 percent. Ten years of a relentless campaign against Israel, specifically targeting the young, has not had its intended effect. It is perhaps for this reason, along with the wearying sameness of the distortions trotted out year after year, that Israeli apartheid week is getting almost no coverage in the United States this year. Look it up now, and the best known media outlet focusing on it is Iran’s Press TV.

I do not mean to say that we should not be concerned about these campaigns which may well, if they are not resisted, have the long-term effect of making Zionism a suspect, if not quite a dirty, word. But those who seized on one striking poll to predict that Israel had finally worn out its welcome with young Americans should be asked to comment on this one. It appears that when they hoped young Americans would pressure Israel into making unilateral concessions with a view to engaging nonexistent peace partners, they may have been indulging in wishful thinking.

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Is Turkey Hosting Hamas Training Camps?

I was on the set of a Turkish news talk show—maybe SkyTürk or CNNTürk—in Istanbul back in 2006 when news broke that the Turkish government would welcome the leader of Hamas in Turkey. Hamas had won Palestinian elections a few weeks previous, but Turkey’s decision to host the unrepentant terrorist group took both Turks and the West by surprise.

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I was on the set of a Turkish news talk show—maybe SkyTürk or CNNTürk—in Istanbul back in 2006 when news broke that the Turkish government would welcome the leader of Hamas in Turkey. Hamas had won Palestinian elections a few weeks previous, but Turkey’s decision to host the unrepentant terrorist group took both Turks and the West by surprise.

After all, in the wake of the Palestinian elections, the European Union, the United States, and other countries had demanded that Hamas first acquiesce to the basis of the Oslo Accords—that is foreswearing terrorism and recognizing Israel—before it would be a welcome player in the international community. This was good diplomacy, after all, because the precondition of the Palestinian Authority’s existence was the Palestinian abandonment of terror and recognition of Israel. It was not an optional aspect to the agreement. Should the Palestinian Authority cease respecting that aspect of the agreement, Israel would be justified legally in returning to the status quo ante.

The reason for the surprise at Turkish actions was that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had personally promised German Chancellor Angela Merkel just days before that Turkey would not invite the Hamas leader. Erdoğan thought he would be too clever by half, however, and explained that the invitation came not at the behest of Turkey but rather by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which dominated the Turkish government.

Over subsequent years, the relationship between Erdoğan and Hamas grew tighter. Erdoğan’s affair with Hamas had little to do with sympathy toward the Palestinian cause—after all, this was a cause he undermined by favoring Hamas over Fatah—but rather with Hamas’ Islamist and perhaps anti-Semitic vision. Hamas leaders inside Turkey planned recent terrorist plots against Israel.

Perhaps the United States was willing to turn a blind eye toward Erdoğan’s dalliance with a terror group. That might have simply been a factor of the man in the Oval Office. But, if the latest reports are true, then Erdoğan has gone far beyond the realm of plausible deniability. From Israel’s Ynetnews:

Relations been Israel and Turkey have been on a slippery downward slope in recent years; of late, however, the situation has led to grave consequences beyond the realm of politics: Turkey has become a Hamas hotbed, and members of the organization’s military wing are undergoing military training on Turkish soil, with the knowledge, support and assistance of the local authorities. The U.S. administration has appealed in recent months to the Turkish government to prevent Hamas military activity in its territory, arguing that Turkey is a member of NATO and that most NATO members view Hamas as a terrorist organization. The appeals have gone unanswered.

The idea that Turkey—a NATO member—would allow military training camps on its soil for a group designated by the United States and much the rest of the West as a terrorist organization is not something that can be diplomatically cast aside. Just as states—even allied states—are designated as deficient when it comes to combating human trafficking or money laundering on the logic that they work to rectify their status, so too it is time to designate Turkey a state sponsor of terrorism with whatever sanctions incumbent levied until such a time as Turkey rectifies its behavior. Such a designation might have financial implications in the defense sector and general investment, but quiet diplomacy simply has not worked. It’s time to hold Turkey to account.

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The “Flood Libel” Propagandists of 2015

The proliferation of online news outlets has democratized newsgathering, but it’s also updated the famous adage that “there’s a sucker born every minute” for the Internet age. And no circus attracts the suckers quite like the Arab-Israeli conflict. Not only will people believe anything about Israel; their editors will let them write it. And as we learned yesterday, pretty much every year someone will fall for the impossibly preposterous accusation known as the “flood libel.”

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The proliferation of online news outlets has democratized newsgathering, but it’s also updated the famous adage that “there’s a sucker born every minute” for the Internet age. And no circus attracts the suckers quite like the Arab-Israeli conflict. Not only will people believe anything about Israel; their editors will let them write it. And as we learned yesterday, pretty much every year someone will fall for the impossibly preposterous accusation known as the “flood libel.”

There are moments when biased coverage of Israel goes beyond mere opinion. Last year, the good folks at Vox, a notoriously error-ridden site, declared the existence of a bridge connecting the West Bank and Gaza. It was not a maddening mistake; it was, rather, kind of endearing. It was adorable, in its own way. But that such a bridge does not exist is an easily verifiable fact.

Same goes for New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren’s claim in 2012 that prospective Jewish construction in the West Bank would bisect the West Bank and make physical contiguity impossible. As was subsequently pointed out (and corrected accordingly), this was not even close to being true and Rudoren would have known as much had she glanced at a map.

And this week we were treated to another version of this story, though it’s one we hear often enough. It’s a bit of a hazing ritual: the Palestinians find someone they haven’t yet sold this particular lie to and watch the magic unfold. The lie is this: that flooding in Gaza was caused by Israel opening dams in the South. Easily the most important part of this story is the fact that there are no such dams. They are the Gaza-West Bank bridge of this story. And yet, the story just keeps appearing because the Palestinians never run out of Western suckers.

One of the suckers this year was Vice News. To try to hide its ignorance, Vice offered up several paragraphs of false accusations from the Palestinians followed by this attempt at “balance”: “Israeli officials categorically denied they were to blame while speaking to VICE News on Monday.”

Other outlets were more honest and ethical in the aftermath of publishing the flood libel. As HonestReporting notes, the Daily Mail went with a bit of false balance but also, crucially, added a straight correction and admission of error: “An earlier version of this article stated that Israel had opened river dams in the south of the country, causing flooding in the Gaza strip. In fact, there are no dams in southern Israel and the flooding was caused by rain and drainage issues. We are happy to clarify this.”

According to HonestReporting, the Daily Mail piece also contained the following amazing sentence: “The flooding was today compounded after an Israeli power company cut electricity to two of Gaza’s major West Bank cities.”

And according to CAMERA, both Agence France Presse and Al Jazeera (shocking, I know) passed along the flood libel. AFP pulled its video, and Al Jazeera went the Vice route by pretending the existence of magical dams is somehow in dispute.

The flood libel is proof that sometimes people refuse to learn from others’ mistakes. See this post from Jonathan Tobin in December 2013 for a reminder that the flood libel is neither new nor surprising. IDF spokeswoman Libby Weiss understandably would rather news organizations first locate their unicorns before blaming those unicorns for goring the neighbor’s ox:

So why does this keep happening? Part of the frustration with reporters stems from their absolute laziness. The Internet has put so much information within arm’s reach, and yet reporters are taught that when it comes to Israel, the facts are optional. And that’s because the facts favor Israel.

If you were to draw a map of Israel, using Western news organizations’ reporting, you’d have one that showed Israel bisecting the West Bank while connecting it to Gaza via a bridge and holding parliamentary meetings in its capital of Tel Aviv. None of that is true, but that’s the picture that emerges from the media’s “reporting.”

There also appears to be a kind of modified Stockholm Syndrome at work. These reporters and the outlets they represent are constantly made to look like fools by Palestinian propaganda. But they also seem not to mind, because they sympathize so strongly with what the propagandists and terrorists are telling them.

If what I’m describing to you sounds an awful lot like an activist, not a journalist, well–that’s about right. And such activists play a key role in disseminating grist for the anti-Semitic mill. The first headline is the one that makes waves, especially in the Arab world and in Europe. If the follow-up is not a full retraction or correction, but rather a “balanced” piece in which Israel is permitted to deny the existence of things that plainly don’t exist, then it casts the Israeli government as a powerful entity engaged in a cover-up.

It would be bad enough if we were forced to admit that our media just can’t get the story right. But that’s naïve. The truth is, much of the time our media just won’t get it right. And that’s why the flood libel returns, year after year.

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Jewish Voice for Peace Takes Off Its Mask

Jewish Voice for Peace was a major force behind Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 2014 divestment from companies, like Caterpillar, said to profit from Israel’s activities in the West Bank. They provided a useful Jewish fig leaf for the Church, who could assert that some of divestment’s best friends are Jews. JVP has also eagerly made itself useful to Students for Justice in Palestine, which seeks to promote divestment, among stronger measures against Israel, at our colleges and universities.

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Jewish Voice for Peace was a major force behind Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 2014 divestment from companies, like Caterpillar, said to profit from Israel’s activities in the West Bank. They provided a useful Jewish fig leaf for the Church, who could assert that some of divestment’s best friends are Jews. JVP has also eagerly made itself useful to Students for Justice in Palestine, which seeks to promote divestment, among stronger measures against Israel, at our colleges and universities.

JVP’s position has always been merely tactical. As the organization explained in a 2005 statement, “we face a more hostile environment than our European comrades, and thus we cannot uncritically adopt” direct sanctions against Israel. In a 2011, statement, JVP again affirmed its preference for the tactic of selective divestment, but fully endorsed the overall goals of the BDS movement, including the right of return, or, in effect, the end of Israel as a Jewish state. JVP never really so much distanced itself from BDS as reluctantly concluded that only BDS-lite was possible in the U.S. for the time being. Yet in both the Presbyterian debate and the Stanford debate over divestment, at least some advocates insisted that a vote for divestment was not, in fact a vote for BDS.

It is therefore refreshing that JVP has finally come out and joined the BDS movement, openly endorsing not only the goals but also the strategy of that movement, complete isolation and demonization of Israel as an apartheid state.

The fact is, it’s not necessary to point to the right of return to show that BDS has never acknowledged Israel’s right to exist. Although one version of the BDS call asks, as JVP claims to be asking, only for an end to the Israeli presence in the territories disputed after 1967, the original call, never disavowed, distinguishes not at all between 1967 and 1948 Israel. The call condemns what Israel has done “since 1948” and demands an end to Israel’s “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands.” This studied ambiguity helps keep both those who merely would like Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and those who would like Israel to withdraw from the face of the Earth in the same camp.

That is the camp that Jewish Voice for Peace has always belonged to, and the camp it has at last openly joined. In joining up at this particular time, Jewish Voice for Peace also declares that it is ready to lead the charge to catch up with its “European comrades” who have contributed to the anti-Semitic environment that has many European Jews contemplating emigration. Perhaps JVP, which has now openly allied itself with a movement that refuses to concede their right to live in Israel, will help drive them into the sea.

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Palestinian Rock Throwing and the Humanity of a Jewish Child

One of the more familiar themes of those seeking to rationalize or even justify Palestinian rock throwing is to treat it as a largely harmless activity, especially when compared to the force the Israeli Defense Forces can bring to bear when it is engaged in combat. But earlier this week we received yet another reminder of how dishonest these arguments can be. On Tuesday, four-year-old Adele Bitton lost a fight for her life that began in March 2013 when rocks thrown by Palestinians into a car driven by her mother near the West Bank city of Ariel sent the vehicle crashing into a truck. She had been unresponsive since the attack due to neurologic injuries suffered in the attack. But little Adele bravely held on until she finally died of a respiratory infection. She is not the first Jew to be murdered as a result of this practice and probably won’t be the last. Palestinians may treat it like a national sport but rock throwing is a murderous terrorist crime, not a mere protest tactic.

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One of the more familiar themes of those seeking to rationalize or even justify Palestinian rock throwing is to treat it as a largely harmless activity, especially when compared to the force the Israeli Defense Forces can bring to bear when it is engaged in combat. But earlier this week we received yet another reminder of how dishonest these arguments can be. On Tuesday, four-year-old Adele Bitton lost a fight for her life that began in March 2013 when rocks thrown by Palestinians into a car driven by her mother near the West Bank city of Ariel sent the vehicle crashing into a truck. She had been unresponsive since the attack due to neurologic injuries suffered in the attack. But little Adele bravely held on until she finally died of a respiratory infection. She is not the first Jew to be murdered as a result of this practice and probably won’t be the last. Palestinians may treat it like a national sport but rock throwing is a murderous terrorist crime, not a mere protest tactic.

Like the justifications heard for the rockets launched indiscriminately at Israeli cities, towns and villages, apologists for the Palestinians say they should be allowed to throw rocks because they don’t have tanks or an air force. For Palestinians, the sight of a Jew in a car living in a place where Arabs would prefer no Jews to live is enough to justify a rock thrown at a moving vehicle. But whatever one thinks about West Bank settlements, the rocks are lethal weapons. When used in this manner they are a practice that any American who was subjected to similar treatment on a U.S. highway would consider attempted murder.

The rocks thrown by Palestinians are neither acts of peaceful disobedience or a plea for Israel to withdraw to the June 1967 lines. To the contrary, like the rockets launched by Hamas, they are a visceral expression of the Palestinian belief that any Jew living anywhere in the country, whether in the West Bank or pre-1967 Israel are fair game for murder. Those who throw them may be depicted as kids just engaging in youthful pranks or conducting a protest against Israeli policies. But the truth is that they are part of a process by which Palestinian youths are desensitized to the humanity of their Jewish neighbors.

The death of this child wasn’t mourned, let alone mentioned in the Western press. Israel’s critics don’t care about her because she was a “settler” and therefore worthy of being singled out for murder. But, like the Palestinian children who are used as human shields by Hamas terrorists, she was a human being whose right to life deserved to be respected. May her memory be for a blessing and may those responsible for her death and the many other Israelis who have been injured and terrorized in this fashion be punished for their crimes.

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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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The Palestinian Victims of the West’s Israel Obsession

I’ve written frequently about how the West’s obsession with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians helps perpetuate global misery by diverting attention from people in far greater distress (think Syrians or South Sudanese). Yet this obsession also perpetuates suffering among the one group it’s ostensibly supposed to help–the Palestinians. Three Jerusalem Post reports over the last week show why.

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I’ve written frequently about how the West’s obsession with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians helps perpetuate global misery by diverting attention from people in far greater distress (think Syrians or South Sudanese). Yet this obsession also perpetuates suffering among the one group it’s ostensibly supposed to help–the Palestinians. Three Jerusalem Post reports over the last week show why.

One warned that a leading Palestinian hospital is at risk of closure because of a $30 million debt. A major reason for this debt is that for years, the Palestinian Authority has failed to pay Mokassed Hospital for many of the patients it treats. This isn’t because the PA lacked money; it has ample funds to pay generous salaries to thousands of terrorists sitting in Israeli jails. Rather, it’s a matter of priorities: On the PA’s scale of values, paying terrorists for killing Israelis is evidently more important than paying doctors for healing Palestinians.

Almost 40 percent of the PA’s budget consists of foreign aid, with the vast majority coming from Western countries. The West is therefore uniquely placed to pressure the PA to alter its spending priorities. But it has never tried to do any such thing, because it only cares about what Israel does or doesn’t do.

Thus one factor that has recently exacerbated Mokassed’s problems has elicited worldwide condemnations: Israel’s withholding of tax revenues from the PA over the last two months in response to the latter’s egregious violations of the Oslo Accords, including joining the International Criminal Court. Yet even if Israel handed over that money tomorrow, there’s no reason to think the PA would suddenly start using it to pay Mokassed when it never did so in all the years before Israel halted the transfers.

In short, pressuring Israel won’t actually solve the problem; only pressuring the PA would do that. But since the West doesn’t care what the PA does, Palestinian patients will continue to suffer.

In the second report, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon criticized the PA for failing to take control of Gaza’s border crossings as it promised to do after last summer’s war. This failure, he noted, has greatly delayed Gaza’s reconstruction, since the reconstruction mechanism devised by the UN and Western donors mandated PA control of the crossings in an effort to minimize diversions of dual-use materials to Hamas’s war machine.

But because Israel has never sealed its border with Hamas-controlled Gaza completely–it has sent in 62,000 tons of construction supplies since August despite the PA’s absence from the crossings–the real hardship has occurred along the Egyptian border. The Rafah border crossing is Gaza’s main gateway to the world, but it has been closed almost hermetically for months, because Cairo considers Hamas a terrorist organization and refuses to reopen Rafah as long as Hamas controls it.

A particularly horrific consequence ensued in November, when an 11-year-old Palestinian died because the Rafah closure prevented her from entering Egypt for needed medical treatment. So why didn’t she go to Israel instead? Because Hamas refuses to talk to Israel directly, so requests for medical entry permits from Gaza are sent through the PA. But according to Razan al-Halkawi’s relatives, the PA refused to forward her request because it was embroiled in one of its periodic spats with Hamas.

In short, the PA refused to do what was needed to enable al-Halkawi to get treatment in either Egypt or Israel. And so she died.

As the PA’s major donor, the West could be pressing the Palestinians to live up to their post-war commitments. But it won’t, because if Israel can’t be blamed, it doesn’t care.

Report number three: Thousands of Palestinians who bought homes in the new Palestinian city of Rawabi can’t move in because the city isn’t connected to the water system. Why? Because all West Bank water projects need approval by the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee, which the PA has refused to convene for the last five years. Evidently, it would rather deprive its own people of better housing than agree to meet with Israeli officials.

Here, too, the West could use its financial leverage to press the PA to convene the panel and let Rawabi open. But it hasn’t, because if Israel can’t be blamed, it’s not interested.

In short, in numerous cases where the West could use its leverage over the PA to better the lot of ordinary Palestinians, it has refused to do so, because it only cares about Israel’s actions. And thus the biggest victims of the West’s Israel obsession have ended up being not Israelis, but the Palestinians themselves.

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Israelis Have Noticed Obama Is Still Interfering in Their Elections

One of the running jokes about Barack Obama’s practice of repenting for past American meddling in other countries’ affairs has been that Obama came to office opposing regime change everywhere but Israel. This was a case of it being funny (only) because it was true. Obama has continued to ally with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s electoral opponents, and Israeli voters, according to a poll released today, don’t think he’s being all that subtle about it.

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One of the running jokes about Barack Obama’s practice of repenting for past American meddling in other countries’ affairs has been that Obama came to office opposing regime change everywhere but Israel. This was a case of it being funny (only) because it was true. Obama has continued to ally with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s electoral opponents, and Israeli voters, according to a poll released today, don’t think he’s being all that subtle about it.

The Jerusalem Post reports that Israeli public opinion continues to show that Israelis are proficient observers of the American political scene, especially with regard to President Obama:

Sixty-two percent of respondents said the Obama administration is interfering, 31% said it is not interfering, and 8% did not know.

A majority of respondents, 56%, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is correct in principle in his desire to address Congress on the Iranian nuclear threat, while 36% said he is not right, and 8% had no opinion.

Nevertheless, only 41% said that the prime minister should actually deliver the address, while 36% said he should not go to Washington at all, 17% said he should go, but speak only at the AIPAC policy conference, and 6% did not know.

As Jonathan Tobin has been pointing out, Netanyahu did nothing wrong by accepting the American invitation to address Congress and he is also correct in the intent and content of his speech, but once the Obama White House turned it into a partisan issue and even, embarrassingly, injected race into the discussion, Netanyahu’s better play was to cancel or postpone the speech. Israeli voters seem to generally agree.

As for the question of Obama’s interference, it’s actually surprising that only 62 percent thought so. The State Department is funding a group bankrolling an anti-Netanyahu campaign, and a former Obama campaign official is playing a leading role in the American left’s “Anyone but Bibi” efforts.

Additionally, Obama himself has telegraphed his intentions. Aaron David Miller acknowledges this over at Foreign Policy, but the headline and subheadline (probably added by an editor, not Miller) don’t get the story quite right. The column is titled “Obama Is Pursuing Regime Change in Israel,” which mostly correct; it would be right on target to say “Obama Is Still Pursuing Regime Change in Israel.” He has been doing so since the beginning of the first term of Netanyahu’s current premiership.

But the subheadline works too hard to water down Obama’s meddling: “Angered by Netanyahu’s invitation to address Congress, the White House is now quietly working to unsettle the prime minister before elections in Israel.” Again, this could be fixed with a minor word substitution. It could say “Angered by Netanyahu’s very existence…” since Netanyahu’s recent acceptance of his American invitation to Congress obviously had nothing to do with Obama’s two-term project of ousting Bibi.

In fact, the only thing this speech did was give Obama and his defenders in the media a pretext. As CNN reported earlier this week, one of the nuggets in David Axelrod’s memoir is that Obama planned to go “Bulworth” in his second term by doing things that might be unpopular but would at least be more honest. And stepping up his attacks on Netanyahu was part of the list.

Here’s how the president saw his post-election strategy:

These are things “I’ll want to work on in my second term,” the president told his top staffers, as one of them referenced the Warren Beatty movie Bulworth, in which a candidate goes on a reckless spree of truth-telling. “Some of them may make you guys nervous. But Axe keeps saying I should be ‘authentic.’ So maybe I should go out there and just let it rip.”

So what does it mean for Obama to be “authentic?” Here’s CNN:

In addition to revealing his actual position in favor of legal same-sex marriages, and working on immigration reform and to combat climate change, the president singled out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Axelrod wrote. Specifically, he wanted to be tougher on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Just to put this in perspective, Obama had been working to collapse Netanyahu’s government almost immediately. What Obama was saying was that trying to collapse the duly elected Israeli government was his way of pulling punches, of not being tough enough on Netanyahu. It’s easy to see why Obama thought this might make some of his advisors nervous.

But it’s also not much of a revelation, is it? And the irony is that if Obama is successful and Isaac Herzog’s Labor wins the next election, the president and the Western media will be forced to reckon with their characterization of Israeli politics but without the benefit of having a right-of-center leader to scapegoat. The press loves to talk about Netanyahu’s supposed intransigence on the peace process by saying that his “right-wing” coalition partners wouldn’t stand for certain concessions.

If people think Bibi is hostage to his coalition partners, they would be absolutely terrified by the political reality that would face Herzog. In order to govern, he needs not only to win the election but to put together a coalition. To even have a chance, he’d have to construct a rickety coalition dependent on center-right parties. And he’d have almost no margin for error.

Which is to say that Obama’s “Bulworth” strategy against Israel is not just morally bankrupt and ill advised. It also risks further eroding Israelis’ already-low trust in Obama for what would probably be negligible gain. Obama’s strategists might have pointed that out, though it’s unlikely the president would have listened.

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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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European Anti-Semitism Starts from the Top

The Obama administration’s inexplicable denial that last month’s attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris could possibly be anti-Semitic overshadowed yesterday’s other interesting tidbit from the anti-Semitism front: German Jewish organizations are furious because a blue-ribbon panel set up by the German government to advise it on fighting anti-Semitism doesn’t include a single Jew. It’s hard to imagine that a panel on, say, prejudice against Muslims or blacks would exclude representatives of the targeted community. But the more serious concern is that a panel without Jews will ignore one of the main manifestations of modern anti-Semitism, as exemplified by another German decision just last week: a judicial ruling that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about torching a synagogue to protest Israeli actions in Gaza.

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The Obama administration’s inexplicable denial that last month’s attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris could possibly be anti-Semitic overshadowed yesterday’s other interesting tidbit from the anti-Semitism front: German Jewish organizations are furious because a blue-ribbon panel set up by the German government to advise it on fighting anti-Semitism doesn’t include a single Jew. It’s hard to imagine that a panel on, say, prejudice against Muslims or blacks would exclude representatives of the targeted community. But the more serious concern is that a panel without Jews will ignore one of the main manifestations of modern anti-Semitism, as exemplified by another German decision just last week: a judicial ruling that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about torching a synagogue to protest Israeli actions in Gaza.

The case involved two German-Palestinian adults who threw Molotov cocktails at the Wuppertal synagogue in July, causing 800 euros worth of damage. The court decided the attack wasn’t anti-Semitic and therefore let them off with suspended jail sentences and community service. And why wasn’t it anti-Semitic? Because, said the court, the perpetrators were simply trying to bring “attention to the Gaza conflict” then raging between Hamas and Israel. And of course there’s nothing anti-Semitic about attacking Jews in one country to “bring attention” to acts by other Jews in another country; they’re all Jews, aren’t they? Doubtless the court would be equally understanding if Israelis torched a German church to “bring attention to” this abhorrent ruling.

Nor is the ruling an aberration; it’s quite representative of elite German thought. Last year, Prof. Monika Schwarz-Friesel of the Technical University of Berlin published a study that analyzed 10 years’ worth of hate mail sent to the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israeli embassy in Berlin. To her surprise, only 3 percent came from right-wing extremists, while over 60 percent came from educated members of “the social mainstream.” And these letters weren’t mere “Israel criticism”; they contained classic anti-Semitic statements like “It is possible that the murder of innocent children suits your long tradition” or “For the last 2,000 years, you’ve been stealing land and committing genocide.”

Needless to say, educated elites in other European countries aren’t much better. Last month, for instance, a BCC reporter drew fire for implying that the kosher supermarket attack in Paris was somehow justified because “Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.” And just last week, Britain’s Sky News “apologized” for showing footage from the Gaza war above a strip saying “Auschwitz remembered” during a Holocaust Memorial Day interview with Britain’s chief rabbi; the “apology” defended the original decision as “logical” even while admitting that in retrospect, it was “unfortunate.” After all, what could be more logical than implicitly comparing a war that killed some 2,100 Palestinians (and 72 Israelis) to the deliberate extermination of six million Jews?

Indeed, this comparison is so “logical” to many educated Westerners that during the Gaza war, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum felt the need to publish a special FAQs section on its website explaining why the war wasn’t comparable to the Holocaust, why Palestinians aren’t victims of genocide, and why Gaza isn’t a ghetto. You’d think this would be self-evident, but in a world where 35 percent of Germans say Israel treats Palestinians just like the Nazis treated Jews, and where Britons loathe Israel more than any other country except North Korea, it clearly isn’t.

In short, modern anti-Semitism can’t be fought without addressing a problem that too many members of Europe’s educated elites refuse to see: The propagators of today’s anti-Semitism come primarily from their own Israel-obsessed ranks, not from the far-right fringes. And one can’t help wondering whether Jews were left off Germany’s blue-ribbon panel precisely because they might have the temerity to point this out.

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We Have to Talk About Obama’s Ignorance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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