Archive for the ‘Jewish Interest’ Category

An ‘Unbreakable Bond of Friendship’

Monday, April 19th, 2010

A good friend of mine in Israel sent me a powerful column this morning by Haaretz political columnist Ari Shavit, “An Open Letter to Netanyahu: Act Before It’s too Late.”

It’s a moving, personal missive. In it, Shavit argues that on the eve of Israel’s 62 Independence Day, the state faces an existential crisis like none other in its history.

Mr. Prime Minister, here are the basic facts: The grace period granted the Jewish state by Auschwitz and Treblinka is ending. The generation that knew the Holocaust has left the stage. The generation that remembers the Holocaust is disappearing. What shapes the world’s perception of Israel today is not the crematoria, but the checkpoints. Not the trains, but the settlements. As a result, even when we are right, they do not listen to us. Even when we are persecuted, they pay us no heed. The wind is blowing against us.

The zeitgeist of the 21st century threatens to put an end to Zionism. No one knows better than you that even superpowers cannot resist the spirit of the times. And certainly not small, fragile states like Israel.

Shavit argues that Israel has been abandoned by its allies, including the United States, and stands at the precipice of war with Iran, besieged. “The sense that once again, we must meet our fate alone.”

You are a hated individual, Mr. Prime Minister. The president of the United States hates you. The secretary of state hates you. Some Arab leaders hate you. Public opinion in the West hates you. The leader of the opposition hates you. My colleagues hate you, my friends hate you, my social milieu hates you.

The possibilities — what to do going forward — are known, Shavit writes:

Offer the Syrians the Golan Heights in exchange for ending its alliance with Iran. Offer Abbas a state in provisional borders. Initiate a second limited disengagement. Transfer territory into the hands of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, to enable him to build a sane Palestinian state. Reach an agreement with the international community on an outline for partitioning the land into two nation-states.

Ultimately, he urges the prime minister — who he clearly respects tremendously — to change his approach:

Israel needs a courageous alliance with the Western powers. In order withstand what is to come, Israel must once again become an inalienable part of the West. And the West is not prepared to accept Israel as an occupying state. Therefore, in order to save our home, is necessary to act at once to end the occupation. It is essential to effect an immediate and sharp change in diplomatic direction.

It’s a powerful argument, coming from one of Israel’s leading thinkers: End the occupation to save the Jewish state — not because of demographics; not because it will end terrorism; not because it is risk-free — but so that Israel can face down Iran fully supported by the West.

Obama could help Netanyahu choose this path by visiting Israel himself, and by making more public statements like the one he released today, on the occasion of Israel’s 62nd Independence Day:

Minutes after David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence, realizing the dream of a state for the Jewish people in their historic homeland, the United States became the first country to recognize Israel. To this day, we continue to share a strong, unbreakable bond of friendship between our two nations, anchored by the United States’ enduring commitment to Israel’s security.  Israel remains our important partner and key strategic ally in the Middle East, and I am confident that our special relationship will only be strengthened in the months and years to come. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments over the weekend, praising Netanyahu, strongly urging Palestinian President Abbas to join talks with Israel, and calling on the Palestinian Authority to “redouble its efforts to put an end to incitement and violence, crack down on corruption, and ingrain a culture of peace and tolerance among Palestinians,” were also welcome.

More is needed.

I know, because I correspond with my friend in Israel nearly every day, that there is a true siege mentality in Israel right now. Iran has said repeatedly it wants to wipe Israel off the map, and it is actively seeking the nuclear weapons to do so. Sitting here in relative safety thousands of miles away, it’s easier for this threat to be intellectualized; our children are not threatened by a lunatic Iranian regime. In Israel, there’s not much room for nuance; the last time we heard talk like Ahmadinejad’s, 6 million Jews were annihilated.

Shavit is wrong about one thing, though. Obama and Clinton don’t hate Netanyahu.

It’s incumbent on the U.S. president and secretary of state to make him believe it.

Iran Will Not Aquire ‘Nuclear Capability’

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Last July, I blogged about a Ha’aretz article: “Obama: World Won’t Allow Iran to Develop Nukes.” 

At the time, Obama was trying to engage Iran — the right move — to see if it could be persuaded to give up its weapons, in response to carrots from the international community. Obama gave Iran a deadline — the end of 2009 — to meet its nuclear nonproliferation responsibilities. When that deadline passed, it became clear Iran was not serious. (Iran first lauded, and then scorned, a U.S. plan to exchange most of its low-enriched uranium fuel for a medical reactor in Tehran.) So Obama has moved on to Plan B. He’s working diplomatically to entice China and Russia to join an international sanctions regime against the rogue Republic.

While there have been encouraging signs from both Russia and China, the jury is still out on whether those countries will join the effort. Without them, sanctions are not likely to have a serious impact.

Which is why it was extremely heartening to read in the Times this morning a senior administration official has said, as the newspaper puts it, “there was a clear line Iran would not be permitted to cross.”

The official said that the United States would ensure that Iran would not “acquire a nuclear capability,” a step Tehran could get to well before it developed a sophisticated weapon. “That includes the ability to have a breakout,” he said, using the term nuclear specialists apply to a country that suddenly renounces the nonproliferation treaty and uses its technology to build a small arsenal.

In other words, this official — on the front page of the Times — is going even beyond what Obama said last July.  Not only will the U.S. stop Iran from acquiring a bomb. It will not let Iran get to the point where it has all the parts it needs (fuel, designs, and detonators) — i.e., becoming a “virtual” nuclear state. 

This is the right line to drawn. The only question left is how best to draw it.

Is Middle East Peace Really ‘Vital’?

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

I’d like to test an assumption.

For the longest time, I’ve held that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not only in Israel’s long-term interest — it’s in America’s, as well.

A dramatic news analysis in the Times today — “Obama Speech Signals U.S. Shift on Middle East” — makes clear that this assumption is propelling Obama’s approach to the conflict. And it might mean that Obama will offer his own peace plan, and try to impose it from the top down — instead of waiting for the parties to negotiate a solution themselves.

Resolving the Israel-Palestinian dispute, Obama said, is a “vital national security interest of the United States.”

The article goes on to explain why … sort of.

Mr. Obama said conflicts like the one in the Middle East ended up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure” — drawing an explicit link between the Israeli-Palestinian strife and the safety of American soldiers as they battle Islamic extremism and terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

It goes on to cite Gen. David Petraeus’s recent Congressional testimony, in which he argued that, as the Times writes, “the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for the United States.”

The impasse in negotiations “does create an environment,” [Obama] said Tuesday in a speech in Washington. “It does contribute, if you will, to the overall environment within which we operate.”

Condoleeza Rice made similar comments three years ago, arguing that resolving the conflict is a U.S. “strategic interest,” in part because “The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation can radicalize even normal people.”

Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, now at Brookings, argues that the issue is central because we have thousands of troops fighting in the Middle East.

“Will resolving the Palestinian issue solve everything?” Mr. Indyk said. “No. But will it help us get there? Yes.”

I guess my question is: how?

The assumption — which has always been my assumption — is that peace between Israel and the Palestinians will remove a major radicalizing element across the Middle East. But that’s a hypothesis that’s hard to test. Do we really believe that if peace broke out tomorrow, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and all of the anti-Western clerics would suddenly cease their anti-American rhetoric and find common cause with their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank?

Isn’t it more likely that they would find another convenient propoganda tool to agitate followers? Might they not continue to rail against a shrunken state of Israel, or point to injustices in Gaza, or cite American troops in Afghanistan as a rallying cry?

Do American military commanders really believe Muslim radicals will suddenly lay down their arms and sing kumbaya?

“I don’t think that anybody believes American lives are endangered or materially affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Mr. [Robert] Wexler, [a former Democratic congressman] who has close ties to administration officials. “That’s an oversimplification. However, you’d have to have blinders on not to recognize that there are issues in one arena that affect other arenas.”

This argument seems a bit mushy to me. What other arenas would it affect? And how, specifically? What evidence do we have, anecdotal or otherwise?

Thomas Friedman made this argument in a recent column:

America [has gone] from having only a small symbolic number of soldiers in the Middle East to running two wars there — in Iraq and Afghanistan — as well as a global struggle against violent Muslim extremists. With U.S. soldiers literally walking the Arab street — and, therefore, more in need than ever of Muslim good will to protect themselves and defeat Muslim extremists — Israeli-Palestinian peace has gone from being a post-cold-war hobby of U.S. diplomats to being a necessity.

He points out that both Biden and Petraeus have recently made this case, arguing that “the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict foments anti-U.S. sentiments, because of the perception that America usually sides with Israel, and these sentiments are exploited by Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran to generate anti-Americanism that complicates life for our soldiers in the region.”

“I wouldn’t exaggerate this,” Friedman writes, “but I would not dismiss it either.”

This seems like a sensible place to land. Which raises the question: Is Obama, by calling this a “vital national security interest,” exaggerating it?

I think it will be critical, in the coming weeks and months — particularly if Obama continues to pressure Israel — for the administration to make its case, in concrete terms.

If we could wave a magic wand and have a peace deal tomorrow, how much less complicated would life be for our soldiers in the Middle East? How much Muslim good will would really be generated, and how enduring would it be? Will it really help us snuff out Islamic radicalism, or will the goalposts simply shift? How can we be sure?

With Israel’s security at stake, this is no time for mushy thinking or wishful strategizing. The answers to these questions are vital.

Welcome to the Table, China

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Whether President Obama’s first term is ultimately viewed as a success, I believe, will depend on two things:

  • How well has the economy rebounded — and what is the employment situation like? And …
  • Has Iran been thwarted — or quantifiably set back — in its effort to build a nuclear bomb?

Which is why it’s a very welcome development that China has finally agreed to join negotiations over a new package of sanctions against Iran.

As the NY Times reports, the Chinese import nearly 12 percent of their oil from Iran, and are reluctant to join a sanctions regime, because Iranian retaliation would cost them dearly.

The key appears to be that the Obama administration is actively working to ensure that, should China agree to sanctions, it will have access to other oil. Here’s the nut:

“Until two weeks ago, the Chinese would not discuss a sanctions resolution at all,” [an administration] official said. But the Obama administration, in hopes of winning over Beijing, has sought support from other oil producers to reassure China of its oil supply. Last year, it dispatched a senior White House adviser on Iran, Dennis B. Ross, to Saudi Arabia to seek a guarantee that it would help supply China’s needs, in the event of an Iranian cutoff.

“We’ll look for ways to make sure that if there are sanctions, they won’t be negatively affected,” said the senior official.

According to the Times, Obama wants serious sanctions in place against Iran by this spring.  As Iran well knows, any sanctions against it would by pyrrhic without Russia and China joining in. China’s decision to pull up a chair at the table does not of course mean it will ultimately stand with America behind a package of sanctions. But in what will continue to be a difficult diplomatic tango for Obama, today’s news is a welcome step.

Jews Still Support Obama

Monday, April 12th, 2010

For all the hyperventilating from American Jewish leaders about how terrible Obama is on Israel – Caroline Glick at the Jerusalem Post has gone as far to suggest that Obama is intentionally “fomenting a crisis in U.S. relations with Israel” — the latest polling shows a majority of American Jews firmly support the U.S. president on Israel.

According to the poll, 57 percent of American Jews support Obama, while 38 percent disapprove. And a full 55 percent approve of how Obama is handling Israel, while 37 percent take the opposite view.

(By comparison, only 50 percent of Jews approve of the way Obama is handling health care; 48 percent disapprove.)

And, despite all the huffing and puffing about a crisis between the two countries — a supposed material breach — a full 73 percent still view the U.S.-Israel relationship as somewhat or very positive.

What this tells me is that Obama may be more in touch with the pulse of the American Jewish community, writ large, than the Jewish leaders who pillory his policies.

Perhaps the most telling — and frightening — number in the entire poll is the very last one. While a solid majority (74 percent) say they feel fairly or very close to Israel, a full 25 percent say they feel fairly or very distant. That’s one out of four American Jews. And it does not bode well.

Glick, in her column, argues unpersuasively that Obama is intentionally trying to sabotage Israel’s image among American Jews, to drive down popular support for Israel.

These numbers suggest to me that Israel’s support is already diminished, as a generation of Jewish Americans who haven’t known anti-Semitism and have little connection to the Holocaust come of age — amid interminable Middle East conflict.

Poll: Jewish Dems Strongly Support Obama on Israel

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

The results are in.

After all the gnashing of teeth by Obama’s critics that his policies on Israel are costing him the support of his Jewish base, a new poll — by a right-wing organization, no less — shows that 92 percent of Jewish Democrats approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance.

The poll also found that 58 percent believe President Obama “is doing a good job of promoting peace in the Middle East.” (Only 16 percent disagreed with this statement.) Moreover, when asked: “Do you think President Obama is being too tough on Israel?”, 55 percent answered “No.” (Only 18 percent said yes.)

The poll was conducted at the end of July by the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative lobbying group that represents 43,000 churches.  A quick perusal of the coalition’s Web site gives a clear sense of the values it seeks to promote. The home page offers a click through for “Causes and Cures of Homosexuality.” It opposes abortion but supports the death penalty, citing Biblical imperatives. Its chairman and founder, Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, is a strong defender of Israel.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, then, that Sheldon and TVC seemed almost let down by their own polling results. The coalition takes great pains to emphasize the negative results of the poll, issuing a release headlined: “TVC Poll Finds Americans Conflicted Over Israel and Obama.” They cite as evidence the fact that 52 percent of respondents said “the Arabs will never live in peace with Israel” — as if that’s somehow definitive.

“In other words,” Sheldon is quoted as saying in the TVC release, “the President’s support among Jewish Americans is a mile wide but when specific issues about Israel’s defense are raised it is about halved and looks ‘an inch deep.’ ”

Wow. What a stretch. I guess there’s spin, and then there’s flat-out desperation.

Here’s more: When asked if Israel should bomb Iran to stop it from obtaining nuclear weapons, only 15 percent of Jewish Democrats answered “yes.” A whopping 62 percent said, “no.”

You can nearly hear Sheldon contorting to make this statement: “Support for President Obama is high among Jewish Americans but half express concerns and disagreements with specific policies, particularly where Iran is involved.”

His conclusion is apparently based on the fact that 45 percent said they were “not sure” what Obama would do if Israel attacked Iran. TVC flat out ignores the fact that when answering the same question, 40 percent said they thought Obama would support Israel, while only 15 percent said he would not.

Ignoring the central findings of the poll, Dick Morris and Eileen McGann penned a missive in the New York Post headlined “Where BAM Breaks With Jewish Dems,” which begins:

JEWISH Democrats strongly agree with the Israeli position and disagree with President Obama’s on issues such as a Palestinian state, settlement construction and trading land for peace. Does the president realize he’s at risk of a break with an important part of his base?

Cherry-picking through the poll with an eye to anything at all that might convey discord, Morris and McGann downplay all the poll results they don’t like. True, they shrug, half of Jewish Democrats flat out reject the notion that Obama is biased against Israel, but “a significantly large number” — 35 percent — are still undecided on the question!

Is this what happens when the rhetoric of Obama’s detractors fails to square with the reality of his wide and strong support among Jewish Democrats?

For a fair and balanced analysis of the poll results, see this Jewish Telegraphic Agency article: “It’s almost unanimous: Jewish Dems on board with Obama.” The JTA writes:

The survey suggests that despite the Obama administration’s repeated calls for an Israeli settlement freeze, support for the president among American Jews remains high.

It’s a good article. Morris and McGann should read it.

Hypocrisy on Hitler

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Remember five years back, when Moveon.org had a contest, inviting people to submit 30-second ads critical of the Bush administration? There were some 1,500 submissions — 2 of which compared Bush to Adolf Hitler.

Republican condemnation was swift and furious — and rightly so. The Republican National Committee called on all nine Democratic candidates to condemn the ads. RNC chair Ed Gillespie called the ads “the worst and most vile form of political hate speech.”

Jewish groups along with the mainstream media — from CNN to USA Today — added their voices to the powerful chorus of critique. Moveon quickly removed the offending ads from its web site.

Some, though, saw the incident as a condemnation not only of Moveon, but more broadly — as a black mark on Democrats or liberals in general. Here’s Chris Matthews on Hardball:

John Fund, how are the Democrats going to hide this sort of crazy lady in the attic now they’ve got, this Hitler ad?

Byron York, writing in the National Review on Jan. 7, 2004, had this to say:

Referring to President Bush as a Nazi, or comparing the president to Hitler, are nothing new in the world of MoveOn. They are, in fact, a common mode of expression of some of the people associated with the website and its brand of political activism.

Well, flashforward to today. In protests across the country, we see critics of Obama’s health care plan, comparing Obama to Hitler. (For a sampling of photo evidence, see “Jonah Goldberg Goes in Search of Swastikas,” from mediamatters.) Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina has compared America under Obama to Germany in the 1930s. Rush Limbaugh, with a 15 million listenership, has spoken about ”similarities between the Democrat Party of today and the Nazi Party in Germany.” He said the other day that “Obama’s got a health care logo that’s right out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook.”

Yesterday, the AP reported that a swastika was painted outside Rep. David Scott’s district office in Georgia.

Some Democrats, in response, have likened the protesters’ tactics to those of the Nazi army — which clearly oversteps the line. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dangerously oversimplified when she implied that protesters at these anti-health reform rallies are themselves identifying as Nazis.

But where is the storm of media outrage — about comparisons between Obama and Hitler — that greeted Moveon in 2004? Where is the swift and total Republican denunciation?

Glenn Grenwald, at Salon, has compiled a partial list of those who denounced Moveon in 2004 (the above examples are culled from his post), and has sent all of them emails, asking for their response to Limbaugh’s recent comments. Some of them — including the National Review — have responded , harshly criticizing Rush. But it registers as barely a peep — nothing like the firestorm that rained down on Moveon.

As Grenwald writes:

Compare (a) the way that a single anonymous person’s comparison of Bush and Hitler swamped our political discourse and forever altered the image of MoveOn with (b) what the (non)-reaction will be to the identical comparison coming from the leader of the Republican Party who spouts his hate-mongering to an audience of 15 million people.  Within that comparison one finds many central truths about how our political debates and media discussions function.

Columnist Michael Gerson gives us a good reminder  this week of why any comparison to Naziism — by Republicans or Democrats; Moveon or anyone else — should be roundly condemned:

Nazism was the ”beard game,” in which the beards and sidelocks of Jews were pulled off or set a fire before audiences of cheering soldiers. It was the practice of making elderly Jews dance around a fire of burning Torah scrolls. It was whole orphanages deported to death camps, and pits full of corpses, and ancient communities erased from human memory, and death factories issuing a thick smoke of souls, and a mother trading her gold ring for a glass of water to give her dying child.

Many who study these events think silence the only appropriate response. ”There is nothing,” says scholar Lawrence Langer, ”to be learned from a baby torn in two or a woman buried live.”

I was upset when, in Akron’s recent recall election, Democratic mayor Don Plusquellic compared his opponent to Hitler. Specious comparisons, Gerson writes, trivialize the Holocaust. He concludes:

For the survivors of Nazism, memory is a kind of sacred duty.

Trivializing the Holocaust: “desacralizes those memories — shrinking them to the size of our political agendas and robbing them of their power to shock and teach. The history of those times should be approached with fear and trembling, not mocked with metaphor.”

And, certainly, they should not be mocked with hypocrisy.