Tag Archives: Peter Beinart

Tucson

James Fallows:

After this horrible news from Tucson….

… let me amplify something I said half-coherently in a live conversation with Guy Raz on All Things Considered a little while ago. My intended point was:

Shootings of political figures are by definition “political.” That’s how the target came to public notice; it is why we say “assassination” rather than plain murder.

But it is striking how rarely the “politics” of an assassination (or attempt) match up cleanly with the main issues for which a public figure has stood. Some killings reflect “pure” politics: John Wilkes Booth shooting Abraham Lincoln, the German officers who tried to kill Hitler and derail his war plans. We don’t know exactly why James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King, but it must have had a lot to do with civil rights.

There is a longer list of odder or murkier motives:
– Leo Ryan, the first (and, we hope, still the only) Representative to be killed in the line of duty, was gunned down in Guyana in 1978 for an investigation of the Jim Jones/Jonestown cult, not any “normal” political issue.

– Sirhan Sirhan horribly transformed American politics by killing Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, but Sirhan’s political causes had little or nothing to do with what RFK stood for to most Americans.

– So too with Arthur Bremer, who tried to kill George C. Wallace in 1972 and left him paralyzed.

– The only known reason for John Hinckley’s shooting of Ronald Reagan involves Jodie Foster.

– It’s not often remembered now, but Manson family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to shoot Gerald Ford, again for reasons that would mean nothing to most Americans of that time.

– When Harry Truman was shot at (and a policeman was killed) on the sidewalk outside the White Blair House, the attackers were concerned not about Cold War policies or Truman’s strategy in Korea but about Puerto Rican independence.

– The assassinations of William McKinley and James Garfield were also “political” but not in a way that matched the main politics of that time. The list could go on.

So the train of logic is:
1) anything that can be called an “assassination” is inherently political;
2) very often the “politics” are obscure, personal, or reflecting mental disorders rather than “normal” political disagreements. But now a further step,
3) the political tone of an era can have some bearing on violent events. The Jonestown/Ryan and Fromme/Ford shootings had no detectable source in deeper political disagreements of that era. But the anti-JFK hate-rhetoric in Dallas before his visit was so intense that for decades people debated whether the city was somehow “responsible” for the killing. (Even given that Lee Harvey Oswald was an outlier in all ways.)

That’s the further political ramification here. We don’t know why the Tucson killer did what he did. If he is like Sirhan, we’ll never “understand.” But we know that it has been a time of extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery, including SarahPac’s famous bulls-eye map of 20 Congressional targets to be removed — including Rep. Giffords. It is legitimate to discuss whether there is a connection between that tone and actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be. At a minimum, it will be harder for anyone to talk — on rallies, on cable TV, in ads — about “eliminating” opponents, or to bring rifles to political meetings, or to say “don’t retreat, reload.”

Jack Shafer at Slate:

The attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and the killing of six innocents outside a Tucson Safeway has bolstered the ongoing argument that when speaking of things political, we should all avoid using inflammatory rhetoric and violent imagery.

“Shooting Throws Spotlight on State of U.S. Political Rhetoric,” reports CNN. “Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics,” states the New York Times. Keith Olbermann clocked overtime on Saturday to deliver a commentary subtitled “The political rhetoric of the country must be changed to prevent acts of domestic terrorism.” The home page of the Washington Post offered this headline to its story about the shooting: “Rampage Casts Grim Light on U.S. Political Discord.”

The lead spokesman for the anti-inflammatory movement, however, was Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose jurisdiction includes Tucson. Said Dupnik at a Jan. 8 press conference in answer to questions about the criminal investigation:

I’d just like to say that when you look at unbalanced people, how they are—how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths, about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

Embedded in Sheriff Dupnik’s ad hoc wisdom were several assumptions. First, that strident, anti-government political views can be easily categorized as vitriolic, bigoted, and prejudicial. Second, that those voicing strident political views are guilty of issuing Manchurian Candidate-style instructions to commit murder and mayhem to the “unbalanced.” Third, that the Tucson shooter was inspired to kill by political debate or by Sarah Palin’s “target” map or other inflammatory outbursts. Fourth, that we should calibrate our political speech in such a manner that we do not awaken the Manchurian candidates among us.

And, fifth, that it’s a cop’s role to set the proper dimensions of our political debate. Hey, Dupnik, if you’ve got spare time on your hands, go write somebody a ticket.

Sheriff Dupnik’s political sermon came before any conclusive or even circumstantial proof had been offered that the shooter had been incited by anything except the gas music from Jupiter playing inside his head.

For as long as I’ve been alive, crosshairs and bull’s-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates. Such “inflammatory” words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill. I’ve listened to, read—and even written!—vicious attacks on government without reaching for my gun. I’ve even gotten angry, for goodness’ sake, without coming close to assassinating a politician or a judge.

From what I can tell, I’m not an outlier. Only the tiniest handful of people—most of whom are already behind bars, in psychiatric institutions, or on psycho-meds—can be driven to kill by political whispers or shouts. Asking us to forever hold our tongues lest we awake their deeper demons infantilizes and neuters us and makes politicians no safer.

Alex Massie:

So apparently a pretty stupid Sarah Palin poster from last year in which gunsights were slapped over 20 districts carried by John McCain from which the Democratic incumbent had voted for Obamacare, is now to be considered the inspiration for this atrocity. Mrs Palin has some influence, but let’s not get carried away. For what it’s worth – and readers know that I’m hardly her greatest fan – I do not think she is very much more responsible for this abomination than Jodie Foster was for John Hinckley’s attempt to murder Ronald Reagan. In any case, Palin’s poster was only a souped-up version of a campaign trope that both parties have been happy to employ in the past. (That said, Palin Presidential Futures, already worth shorting, took another dive yesterday.)

But the sordid temptations of politics are such that people who argue there’s little sensible connection between Hollywood “violence” and real-world violence now suddenly insist that it just takes a silly poster and plenty of over-heated rhetoric to inspire America’s Top Kooks to come out of the closet, all guns blazing. And of course the reverse is also true: people happy to blame Grand Theft Auto for just about anything now insist there’s no connection at all between the tone of political discourse (“Second Amendment Solutions!”) and some nut taking these notions just a little bit too seriously.

Clearly, things are a little more complicated than that. While you cannot legislate for lunatics there’s also little need to give them any encouragement. But the more we learn about Jared Loughner the more it seems probable – at this stage – that he’s the kind of mentally unstable person who neither needed nor took any inspiration from Palin or the Tea Party or anything other than powerful fantasies that were his own creation.

And this too is normal. Political violence of this type is almost definitionally unhinged but it’s striking how rare it turns out to be the case that the perpetrators can be fitted into one neat political profile or another. And even when they can their targets are frequently so at odds with the meaning of their supposed “philosophy” that trying to “make sense” of such matters becomes an even more frustrating task.

Anyway, we may think these are unusually turbulent times, fanned by unusual quantities of cheap and phoney populism, scaremongering and hysteria but this is not in fact the case. ‘Twas ever thus and the 1960s offer a perspective that might be worth looking at if only, despite all the huffing and puffing, to appreciate how calm and at peace America is these days. Remember McKinley and Garfield too, if you want to go still further back. America ain’t tearing itself apart these days, no matter how much Paul Krugman tries to persuade you it must be. The paranoid style has rarely lacked followers and, just as significantly, the centre has also always had a healthy paranoia of its own. Sometimes, as is the case today or in the aftermath of any other act of grim violence, this will seem unusually plausible.

Most of the time, however, the scare stories about a new era of Militiamen or whatever are seriously over-cooked. The temper of these American  times – despite what you will read everywhere today and tomorrow – is not unusually rebarbative or even uncommonly obtuse. (What might be said, mind you, is that the level of rhetoric is out of proportion to the stakes involved in the political game these days.)

The fact of the matter is that a country of 300 million people cannot help but be generously larded with oddballs, freaks, paranoids and assorted other nutters. Couple that with the American genius for self-realization and you soon begin to wonder why there isn’t more politically-themed violence than is actually the case

Radley Balko:

We’re going to hear a lot of talk in the coming days about putting an end to anti-government rhetoric. I’ve been listening to it all morning on the Sunday talk shows. Let’s get the obvious out of the way, here: Initiating violence against government officials and politicians is wrongheaded, immoral, futile, and counterproductive to any anti-government cause. As is encouraging or praising others who do. I ban anyone who engages in that kind of talk here.

But it’s worth remembering that the government initiates violence against its own citizens every day in this country, citizens who pose no threat or harm to anyone else. The particular policy that leads to the sort of violence you see in these videos is supported by nearly all of the politicians and pundits decrying anti-government rhetoric on the news channels this morning. (It’s also supported by Sarah Palin, many Tea Party leaders, and other figures on the right that politicians and pundits are shaming this weekend.)

I hope Rep. Giffords—and everyone wounded yesterday—makes a full recovery. It’s particularly tragic that she was shot while doing exactly what we want elected officials to do—she was making herself available to the people she serves. And of course we should mourn the people senselessly murdered yesterday, government employees and otherwise: U.S. District Judge John Roll, Dorothy Murray, Dorwin Stoddard, nine-year-old Christina Green, Phyllis Scheck, and Gabe Zimmerman.

That said, I long for the day that our political and media figures get as indignant about innocent Americans killed by their own government—killed in fact, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of official government policy that nearly all of those leaders support—as they are about a government official who was targeted by a clearly sick and deranged young man. What happened this weekend is not, by any means, a reason to shunt anti-government protest, even angry anti-government protest, out of the sphere of acceptable debate. The government still engages in plenty of acts and policies—including one-sided violence against its own citizens—that are well worth our anger, protest, and condemnation.

Michelle Malkin

Jonathan Martin in Politico

Keach Hagey in Politico

Nick Gillespie at Reason:

There’s no question that the GOP and its proponents are more than ready to play a similar game. Any moral lapse by a Democrat, for instance, is an ethical rot that stems directly from the malefactor’s stance on the minimum wage or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, say, while hypocrites such as Sen. Larry Craig and Tom DeLay are ethical one-offs. The most-unbelievable response in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was longterm GOP activist Jerry Falwell’s announcement on Pat Robertson’s TV network that gays and women wearing pants etc. were responsible for radical Islamists killing 3,000 people (even more sadly, years after Falwell apologized for his self-evidently retarded statement, conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza blew out the thesis into a full-length book). I’m not trying to be “fair and balanced” here by bringing up GOP stupidity; I’m trying to point out that we’re in a decade of this sort craptastic instantaneous spin that latches on to everything in its path. I say this as someone who was fingered as broadly responsible for the culture that produced “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh.

Readers of this site know I’m no Sarah Palin fan, but to accuse her of complicity in the murderous spree of a clearly insane person is one of the main reasons that partisan political parties are losing market share. I had myself tweeted that blaming Palin for Jared Loughner’s mass killing would be like blaming J.D. Salinger for Mark David Chapman shooting John Lennon (and as Jesse Walker pointed out, in Chapman’s case, at least we could be sure Chapman had read Salinger). Given Loughner’s fixation on grammar and the supposed lack of literacy evinced by most Americans, maybe William Safire and S.I. Hayakawa should be held responsible.

Like Matt Welch and Jack Shafer, I don’t think that today’s political rhetoric is particularly overheated or vitriolic and, even if it were, I don’t think that would be a problem. I suspect that most people are like me in that they respond to folks who actually believe something and are willing to fight for it when it comes to a particular political issue. I don’t like bipartisanship, which usually means that all of us get screwed, but it’s easy enough to respect someone you virulently disagree with if you think they are arguing in good faith.

The problem isn’t with the current moment’s rhetoric, it’s with the goddamn politicization of every goddamn thing not even for a higher purpose or broader fight but for the cheapest moment-by-moment partisan advantage. Whether on the left or on the right, there’s a totalist mentality that everything can and should be explained first and foremost as to whether it helps or hurt the party of choice.

That sort of clearly calculated punditry helps explain one of last week’s other big stories, which is how both the Dems and the GOP have really bad brand loyalty these days. In its most recent survey of political self-identification, Gallup found that the Dems were at their lowest point in 22 years and that the GOP remains stuck below the one-third mark. The affiliation that has the highest marks for the past couple of decades on average and is growing now is independent. Faced with the way that the major parties and their partisans try to bend every news story, trend, box office hit or bomb, you name it, whether truly horrific (as Saturday’s shooting was) or totally banal, is it any wonder that fewer people want to be affiliated with the Dems and Reps? This is a long-term trend. Indeed, Harris Poll numbers that stretch back to the late ’60s show the same trend: Fewer and few folks want to view themselves as Democrats and the GOP has never been popular (even though far more people consider themselves “conservative” than “liberal”). And note what Gallup are Harris are talking about there is not party registration. It’s identification and self-affiliation; how you see yourself. It’s a cultural identity.

Paul Krugman at The New York Times

Ross Douthat at The New York Times

Tom Maguire on Krugman

Nick Baumann at Mother Jones:

At 2:00 a.m. on Saturday—about eight hours before he allegedly killed six people and wounded 14, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), in Tucson—Jared Lee Loughner phoned an old and close friend with whom he had gone to high school and college. The friend, Bryce Tierney, was up late watching TV, but he didn’t answer the call. When he later checked his voice mail, he heard a simple message from Loughner: “Hey man, it’s Jared. Me and you had good times. Peace out. Later.”

That was it. But later in the day, when Tierney first heard about the Tucson massacre, he had a sickening feeling: “They hadn’t released the name, but I said, ‘Holy shit, I think it’s Jared that did it.'” Tierney tells Mother Jones in an exclusive interview that Loughner held a years-long grudge against Giffords and had repeatedly derided her as a “fake.” Loughner’s animus toward Giffords intensified after he attended one of her campaign events and she did not, in his view, sufficiently answer a question he had posed, Tierney says. He also describes Loughner as being obsessed with “lucid dreaming”—that is, the idea that conscious dreams are an alternative reality that a person can inhabit and control—and says Loughner became “more interested in this world than our reality.” Tierney adds, “I saw his dream journal once. That’s the golden piece of evidence. You want to know what goes on in Jared Loughner’s mind, there’s a dream journal that will tell you everything.”

Peter Beinart at Daily Beast:

Liberals should stop acting like the Tea Party is guilty of inciting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting until proven innocent. That’s unfair. If someone finds evidence that violent anti-government, or anti-democratic, rhetoric helped trigger Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting spree, then the people making those statements should pay with their political careers. But so far, at least, there is no such evidence. Of course, Sarah Palin should stop using hunting metaphors to discuss her political opponents. She should stop doing that, and a dozen other idiotic things. But just as Tea Partiers are wrong to promiscuously throw around terms like “communist” and “death panels,” liberals should avoid promiscuously accusing people of being accessories to attempted murder. That’s too serious a charge to throw around unless you have the goods. I want Barack Obama to derail the congressional Republicans as much as anyone. But not this way.

The Giffords shooting doesn’t prove that Sarah Palin has blood on her hands. What it does prove is that when it comes to terrorism, people like Sarah Palin have a serious blind spot. On the political right, and at times even the political center, there is a casual assumption—so taken for granted that it is rarely even spoken—that the only terrorist threat America faces is from jihadist Islam. There was a lot of talk a couple of weeks back, you’ll remember, about a terrorist attack during the holiday season. And there’s been a lot of talk in the last couple of years about the threat of homegrown terrorists. Well, we’ve just experienced a terrorist attack over the holiday season, and it was indeed homegrown. Had the shooters’ name been Abdul Mohammed, you’d be hearing the familiar drumbeat about the need for profiling and the pathologies of Islam. But since his name was Jared Lee Loughner, he gets called “mentally unstable”; the word “terrorist” rarely comes up. When are we going to acknowledge that good old-fashioned white Americans are every bit as capable of killing civilians for a political cause as people with brown skin who pray to Allah? There’s a tradition here. Historically, American elites, especially conservative American elites, have tended to reserve the term “terrorism” for political violence committed by foreigners. In the early 20th century, for instance, there was enormous fear, even hysteria, about the terrorist threat from anarchist and communist immigrants from Eastern or Southern Europe, people like Sacco and Vanzetti. In the aftermath of World War I, large numbers of immigrant radicals were arrested and deported. Nothing similar happened to members of the white, protestant Ku Klux Klan, even though its violence was more widespread.

Similarly today, the media spends the Christmas season worrying how another attack by radical Muslims might undermine President Obama’s national-security credentials. But when Jared Lee Loughner shoots 20 people at a Safeway, barely anyone even comments on what it says about the president’s anti-terror bona fides. And yet Loughner’s attack is, to a significant degree, what American terror looks like. Obviously, jihadists have committed their share of terrorism on American soil in the last couple of decades—from the attempted bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 to the 9/11 attacks to Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan’s murder of 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009. But there have been at least as many attacks by white Americans angry at their own government or society. For almost two decades, culminating in 1995, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski sent mail bombs to people he considered complicit in industrial America’s assault on nature. (A surprising amount of recent American terrorism comes from militant environmentalists.) That same year, Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the second-largest recent terrorist attack on U.S. soil after 9/11. In 1996, Eric Rudolph bombed the Atlanta Olympics to protest abortion and international socialism. According to the FBI, opposition to abortion also played a role in the 2001 anthrax attacks (you know, the ones Dick Cheney were sure had been masterminded by Saddam Hussein). In 2009, Wichita, Kansas, abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered. (He had already been shot once, and his clinic had been bombed.) That same year octogenarian neo-Nazi James Wenneker von Brunn shot a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Last February, a man angry at the federal government flew a small plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas.

Instapundit at The Wall Street Journal

Ezra Klein:

None of this, of course, will ease the suffering of Giffords or her family, nor of any of the other individuals and families directly affected by this morning’s slaughter. For them, the process of grieving and recovering has barely begun. Loughner’s shooting might’ve been motivated by mental illness, but the people in that parking lot were motivated by democracy: It was a meeting between a congressional representative and those she represents. They were attacked for being good citizens, and nothing can ever put that right.

But one way that people might pay tribute is to follow their example and attend the next meeting held by their representative. It is so easy and safe to participate in the American political system that we sometimes take doing so for granted. Today was a horrifying look into a world in which that isn’t so, and it should leave us with renewed appreciation for, and determination to protect, the world we have. On this, Giffords was way ahead of us: When the 112th session of the House of Representatives convened to read the Constitution earlier this week, she chose to read the section guaranteeing Americans the right “peaceably to assemble.”

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Filed under Crime, Political Figures, Politics

Mele WikiLeakmaka Is The Thing To Say

David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy:

The subtitle of this blog has been “How the World is Really Run” since the day it was launched, an editor’s play on the title of a book I wrote. But I am today inclined to lend that subtitle out to the publishers of the most recent tidal wave of information from WikiLeaks. Because the 250,000 State Department cables contained in the release offer up no single revelation as striking as the overall message they contain: The dark shadowy world of diplomacy and international intrigue is working just about precisely as you suspect it is.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Quote of the year: “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” This from Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed in July 2009. And then there is this very astute comment from the Crown Prince: “‘Any culture that is patient and focused enough to spend years working on a single carpet is capable of waiting years and even decades to achieve even greater goals.’ His greatest worry, he said, ‘is not how much we know about Iran, but how much we don’t.'” Some of you recall the international kerfuffle that erupted when the U.A.E.’s ambassador to the United States told me at the Aspen Ideas Festival that a military strike on Iran may become a necessity. It turns out he was understating the fear and urgency felt by his government, and other Gulf governments.

3. Since we all know that only Israelis and their neocon supporters in America seek a military attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Bahrain must be under the control of neocons: “There was little surprising in Mr. Barak’s implicit threat that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. As a pressure tactic, Israeli officials have been setting such deadlines, and extending them, for years. But six months later it was an Arab leader, the king of Bahrain, who provides the base for the American Fifth Fleet, telling the Americans that the Iranian nuclear program ‘must be stopped,’ according to another cable. ‘The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,'” he said.

The Saudis, too, are neocons, apparently: The Bahraini king’s “plea was shared by many of America’s Arab allies, including the powerful King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.”

4. How does Robert Gates know this? In a conversation with the then-French defense minister about the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, the defense secretary “added a stark assessment: any strike ‘would only delay Iranian plans by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker.'” I am not suggesting that I know this is untrue; I’m just puzzled at how someone could reach this conclusion so definitively.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Foreign potentates and diplomats beware: the U.S. wants your DNA.

If that chief of mission seemed a bit too friendly at the last embassy party, it might be because the State Department recently instructed U.S. diplomats to collect biometric identification on their foreign interlocutors. The search for the most personal information of all is contained in WikiLeaks’ latest publication of tens of thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables.

A missive from the Secretary of State’s office in April 2009 asked diplomats in Africa to step up their assistance to U.S. intelligence. Not only should diplomats in Burundi, Rwanda and Congo collect basic biographical information on the people they talk to — a routine diplomatic function — but they should also gather “fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans.”

There’s no guidance listed on how exactly diplomats are supposed to collect the unique identifiers of “key civilian and military officials.” In recent years, the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan has built storehouses of biometric data to understand who’s an insurgent and who isn’t, all using small, portable eye and thumb scanners. But the State Department’s foray into bio-info collection hasn’t previously been disclosed.

Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast:

The hype-to-payoff ratio approximated Geraldo’s opening of Al Capone’s vaults. “Leaked Cables Uncloak U.S. Diplomacy,” hollered the headline on NYTimes.com. The latest WikiLeaks document dump, instructed the grey lady, offers an “extraordinary look at” American foreign policy that “is sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.”

Then the Times began summarizing the documents, and the banalities began. Bullet Point 1: The U.S. is worried about loose nuclear materials in Pakistan but can’t do much about it. Bullet Point 2: American leaders are “thinking about an eventual collapse of North Korea” and hoping China will accept a reunified peninsula. Bullet Point 3: Washington is “bargaining [with various allies] to empty the Guantanamo prison.” Bullet Point 4: There are “suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government.” Bullet Point 5: The Chinese regime hacks into foreign computers. Bullet Point 6: Rich Saudis still fund al Qaeda. Bullet Point 7: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are tight. Bullet Point 8: Syria arms Hezbollah, but lies about it. Bullet Point 9: The U.S. tried to get Germany not to prosecute CIA agents accused of kidnapping. Bullet Point 10: Ireland is having financial trouble. (OK, I made that one up).

But maybe this isn’t fair. Maybe the cables, while mundane when taken in isolation, combine to provide a fascinating synthesis of America’s position in the world. Or maybe not. Overall, explained the Times, “The cables show that nearly a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the dark shadow of terrorism still dominates the United States’ relations with the world…They depict the Obama administration struggling to sort out which Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda…They show American officials managing relations with a China on the rise and a Russia retreating from democracy. They document years of painstaking effort to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon—and of worry about a possible Israeli strike on Iran with the same goal.” Valuable insights—if you’ve been living under a rock all century.

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist:

WikiLeaks’s release of the  “Collateral Murder” video last April was a pretty scrupulous affair: an objective record of combat activity which American armed forces had refused to release, with careful backing research on what the video showed. What we got was a window into combat reality, through the sights of a helicopter gunship. You could develop different interpretations of that video depending on your understanding of its context, but it was something important that had actually taken place.

Diplomatic cables are something entirely different. It’s part of the nature of human communication that one doesn’t always say the same thing to every audience. There are perfectly good reasons why you don’t always tell the same story to your boss as you do to your spouse. There are things Washington needs to tell Riyadh to explain what it’s just told Jerusalem and things Washington needs to tell Jerusalem to explain what it’s just told Riyadh, and these cables shouldn’t be crossed. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s inevitable. And it wouldn’t make the world a better place if Washington were unable to say anything to Jerusalem without its being heard by Riyadh, any more than it would if you were unable to tell your spouse anything without its being heard by your boss.

At this point, what WikiLeaks is doing seems like tattling: telling Sally what Billy said to Jane. It’s sometimes possible that Sally really ought to know what Billy said to Jane, if Billy were engaged in some morally culpable deception. But in general, we frown on gossips. If there’s something particularly damning in the diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has gotten a hold of, the organisation should bring together a board of experienced people with different perspectives to review the merits of releasing that particular cable. But simply grabbing as many diplomatic cables as you can get your hands on and making them public is not a socially worthy activity.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

There is nothing positive that can be said about the release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables by the rogue hacker organization WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks has recklessly and inexcusably put lives at risk. Any U.S. person who cooperated with WikiLeaks has committed a crime and should be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law.

That said, WikiLeaks is not the end of the world. The fundamentals of U.S. relationships with other nations remain unchanged. Leaks are not going to stop nations from cooperating with the U.S., or for that matter sharing secrets with us. Nations cooperate with the U.S. because it is in their interest to do so. And no leak will stop nations from acting in their self-interest.

But what is in our best interest? This has not been a good month for the Obama Doctrine: The President came home empty-handed from Asia, North Korea fired artillery at South Korea just days after revealing nuclear facilities no one knew they had, and Obama failed to get the G-20 to take any action limiting trade imbalances. It was not supposed to be this way. After apologizing for all of our nation’s sins, the world was supposed to swoon at President Obama’s unparalleled charisma. As American military power withered away, President Obama would use soft power and the United Nations to manage world affairs. But like Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter before him, this progressive foreign policy vision has failed.

Moe Lane:

Accused rapist Julian Assange* continued to justify the upcoming backlash against transparency this weekend by promising to illegally release more classified government documents on the notorious site Wikileaks. These documents in particular are apparently State Department diplomatic cables: up until, oh, today, those documents were typically much more blunt and ambiguity-free than the standard State Department bumpf, mostly because nobody out there considered that anyone would be insane enough to release them even if they had access. This will likely change – quickly – now that the diplomatic corps knows that its private communications are insecure; in other words, from now on the folks in the striped-pants brigade are going to be as mealy-mouthed in private as they are in public. As Allahpundit noted above, the Left should keep this in mind when trying in the future to boost State at Defense’s expense: Assange just made that harder for you.

And I will also note that, while I will happily ding President Obama for both his wrong actions and for not living up to his own side’s previously-established standards of behavior, this line of attack by Wikileaks is made up of pure garbage designed to weaken both my country and my government. The President needs his ambassadors to know what he wants; they need to be able to tell him what he can get. So it’s stupid to not be blunt and forthright in private about matters that require a softer public touch. It’s even more stupid for Wikileaks to keep publicly attacking the USA like this.

Because when the backlash comes, it’s going to splatter.

Steve Benen:

I would, however, like to know more about the motivations of the leaker (or leakers). Revealing secrets about crimes, abuses, and corruption obviously serves a larger good — it shines a light on wrongdoing, leading (hopefully) to accountability, while creating an incentive for officials to play by the rules. Leaking diplomatic cables, however, is harder to understand — the point seems to be to undermine American foreign policy, just for the sake of undermining American foreign policy. The role of whistleblowers has real value; dumping raw, secret diplomatic correspondence appears to be an exercise in pettiness and spite.

I’ve seen some suggestions that diplomats shouldn’t write cables that they’d be embarrassed by later if they were made publicly. I find that unpersuasive. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in the nuances of on-the-ground international affairs, but I am comfortable with the notion of some diplomatic efforts being kept secret. Quiet negotiations between countries can lead, and have led, to worthwhile foreign policy agreements, advancing noble causes.

If the argument from the leakers is that there should be no such thing as private diplomacy, they’ll need a better excuse to justify this kind of recklessness.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

The New York Times is participating in the dissemination of the stolen State Department cables that have been made available to it in one way or another via WikiLeaks. My friend Steve Hayward recalls that only last year the New York Times ostentatiously declined to publish or post any of the Climategate emails because they had been illegally obtained. Surely readers will recall Times reporter Andrew Revkin’s inspiring statement of principle: “The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.”

Interested readers may want to compare and contrast Revkin’s statement of principle with the editorial note posted by the Times on the WikiLeaks documents this afternoon. Today the Times cites the availability of the documents elsewhere and the pubic interest in their revelations as supporting their publication by the Times. Both factors applied in roughly equal measure to the Climategate emails.

Without belaboring the point, let us note simply that the two statements are logically irreconcilable. Perhaps something other than principle and logic were at work then, or are at work now. Given the Times’s outrageous behavior during the Bush administration, the same observation applies to the Times’s protestations of good faith.

Amanda Carey at The Daily Caller:

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin took to her favorite mode of communication Monday – Facebook – and harshly criticized the Obama administration’s response to the latest WikiLeaks release.

In a post titled “Serious Questions about the Obama Administration’s Incompetence in the Wikileaks Fiasco,” Palin wrote that the most recent WikiLeaks disclosure of previously classified documents raises serious concerns about the administration’s “incompetent handling of this whole fiasco.”

Palin went on to ask what steps have been taken since the first WikiLeaks release to stop the organization’s director, Julian Assange, from distributing even more harmful material. Palin barely paused long enough for any one of her fans to shout a loud “none!” at their computer screens before going on to classify Assange as an “anti-American operative with blood on his hands”.

“Assange is not a ‘journalist,’ any more than the ‘editor’ of al Qaeda’s new English-language magazine Inspire is a ‘journalist,’” wrote Palin. “His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”

Megan Carpentier at TPM

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, Middle East, New Media

There Are Cordoba Guitars And Cordoba Houses, Part II

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

The Anti-Defamation League, which describes itself as “the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry,” released a statment this morning opposing the building of the 13-story mosque near Ground Zero.

“In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right,” says the ADL. Full statement here:

We regard freedom of religion as a cornerstone of the American democracy, and that freedom must include the right of all Americans – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths – to build community centers and houses of worship.

We categorically reject appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion, and condemn those whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry.

However, there are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site.  We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel – and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001.

The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process.  Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.

Marc Tracy at Tablet:

The Anti-Defamation League has issued a statement opposing the construction of the Islamic community center a couple blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. (Earlier this week, a community board recommended that the Landmarks Preservation Commission allow the project to go through.) The release goes out of its way to grant Cordoba House’s organizers good intentions and to condemn the bigotry of some who oppose it. So what is the problem? “The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location,” the ADL argues, “is counterproductive to the healing process.”

It adds:

Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain—unnecessarily—and that is not right.

Founded in 1913, the ADL, in its words, “fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.” Except when it does the precise opposite.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I have explained my support for the Lower Manhattan mosque project before, but let me restate two points:

1) The organization behind the project, the Cordoba Initiative, is a moderate group interested in advancing cross-cultural understanding. It is very far from being a Wahhabist organization;

2) This is a strange war we’re fighting against Islamist terrorism. We must fight the terrorists with alacrity, but at the same time we must understand that what the terrorists seek is a clash of civilizations. We must do everything possible to avoid giving them propaganda victories in their attempt to create a cosmic war between Judeo-Christian civilization and Muslim civilization. The fight is not between the West and Islam; it is between modernists of all monotheist faiths, on the one hand, and the advocates of a specific strain of medievalist Islam, on the other. If we as a society punish Muslims of good faith, Muslims of good faith will join the other side. It’s not that hard to understand. I’m disappointed that the ADL doesn’t understand this.

Greg Sargent:

This is basically a concession that some of the opposition to the mosque is grounded in bigotry, and that those arguing that the mosque builders harbor ill intent are misguided. Yet ADL is opposing the construction of the mosque anyway, on the grounds that it will cause 9/11 victims unnecessary “pain.”

But look: The foes of this mosque whose opposition is rooted in bigotry are the ones who are trying to stoke victims’ pain here, for transparent political purposes. Their opposition to this mosque appears to be all about insidiously linking the mosque builders with the 9/11 attackers, and by extension, to revive passions surrounding 9/11. To oppose the mosque is to capitulate to — and validate — this program.

On this one, you’re either with the bigots or you’re against them. And ADL has in effect sided with them.

Paul Krugman:

So let’s try some comparable cases, OK? It causes some people pain to see Jews operating small businesses in non-Jewish neighborhoods; it causes some people pain to see Jews writing for national publications (as I learn from my mailbox most weeks); it causes some people pain to see Jews on the Supreme Court. So would ADL agree that we should ban Jews from these activities, so as to spare these people pain? No? What’s the difference?

One thing I thought Jews were supposed to understand is that they need to be advocates of universal rights, not just rights for their particular group — because it’s the right thing to do, but also because, ahem, there aren’t enough of us. We can’t afford to live in a tribal world.

But ADL has apparently forgotten all that. Shameful — and stupid.

Update: Times staff briefly removed the link to the ADL statement, because it seemed to be dead — but it was apparently just a case of an overloaded server, and I’ve put it back.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:

Humorist Will Rogers once said about the repeal of Prohibition, “Repeal is all right, but the wrong people are for it.” In this case, the wrong people are against Park51, and if Abe Foxman and the ADL can’t keep their personal feelings out of the issue, they should have just kept quiet instead of handing the Bigot Brigade a public relations gift. What a disgrace.

Adam Serwer at American Prospect:

Let’s be clear. This is not about the proposed Islamic Center. There is already a masjid in the neighborhood, and it’s been there for decades. This is about giving political cover to right-wing politicians using anti-Muslim bigotry as a political weapon and a fundraising tool. By doing this, the ADL is increasingly eroding its already weakened credibility as a nonpartisan organization.

I learned a very important lesson in Hebrew School that I have retained my entire life. If they can deny freedom to a single individual because of who they are, they can do it to anyone. Someone at the ADL needs to go back to Hebrew School.

J Street:

Today, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami released the following statement:

The principle at stake in the Cordoba House controversy goes to the heart of American democracy and the value we place on freedom of religion. Should one religious group in this country be treated differently than another? We believe the answer is no.

As Mayor Bloomberg has said, proposing a church or a synagogue for that site would raise no questions. The Muslim community has an equal right to build a community center wherever it is legal to do so. We would hope the American Jewish community would be at the forefront of standing up for the freedom and equality of a religious minority looking to exercise its legal rights in the United States, rather than casting aspersions on its funders and giving in to the fear-mongerers and pandering politicians urging it to relocate.

What better ammunition to feed the Osama bin Ladens of the world and their claim of anti-Muslim bias in the United States as they seek to whip up global jihad than to hold this proposal for a Muslim religious center to a different and tougher standard than other religious institutions would be.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

During the high-tide of anti-semitism, and then again during the civil-rights movement, and often since, the Anti-Defamation League transcended its Jewish origins to stand as a courageous American voice against prejudice. But now, it’s making a mockery of its original mission and, in the process, it has sullied American Judaism’s intense tradition of tolerance and inclusion.  I miss the old ADL and so does America. Foxman should be fired immediately. (Meanwhile, hooray yet again for Michael Bloomberg.)

Peter Beinart at Daily Beast:

Had the ADL genuinely tried to apply its universalistic mandate to the Jewish state, it would have become something like the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) or B’Tselem (full disclosure: I’m on B’Tselem’s American board): Israeli human rights organizations that struggle against all forms of bigotry, and thus end up spending a lot of time defending Muslims and Christian Palestinians against discrimination by Jews. But the ADL hasn’t done that. Instead it has become, in essence, two organizations. In the United States, it still links the struggle against anti-Semitism to the struggle against bigotry against non-Jews. In Israel, by contrast, it largely pretends that government-sponsored bigotry against non-Jews does not exist. When Arizona passes a law that encourages police to harass Latinos, the ADL expresses outrage. But when Israel builds 170 kilometers of roads in the West Bank for the convenience of Jewish settlers, from which Palestinians are wholly or partially banned, the ADL takes out advertisements declaring, “The Problem Isn’t Settlements.”

For a long time now, the ADL seems to have assumed that it could exempt Israel from the principles in its charter and yet remain just as faithful to that charter inside the United States. But now the chickens are coming back home to America to roost. The ADL’s rationale for opposing the Ground Zero mosque is that “building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain—unnecessarily—and that is not right.” Huh? What if white victims of African-American crime protested the building of a black church in their neighborhood? Or gentile victims of Bernie Madoff protested the building of a synagogue? Would the ADL for one second suggest that sensitivity toward people victimized by members of a certain religion or race justifies discriminating against other, completely innocent, members of that religion or race? Of course not. But when it comes to Muslims, the standards are different. They are different in Israel, and now, it is clear, they are different in the United States, too.

More Goldberg

Mark Thompson at The League:

I don’t have any real problem with those who take offense at the decision to build this project a few blocks from Ground Zero, and particularly those who take such offense having had deep ties to New York on 9/11/01.

What I do have a problem with is those who have determined that this is an appropriate issue for political activism, and particularly those supposed advocates of “small government” who view it as appropriate that government would step in here to restrict the property rights of a private organization.  What I do have a problem with is those who claim to advocate for “states rights” and federalism insisting that it is the job of the federal government to make sure that what is effectively a zoning decision of the New York City government is overruled.  What I do have a problem with is those who are using this proposed building to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment by branding it a “9/11 Victory Mosque,” and who presume to know more about Muslims than Muslims themselves and in the process create an “inescable trap” wherein all Muslims are either lying about not being jihadi terrorists or are just “bad Muslims.”

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

The left continues to feign confusion (it is hard to believe its pundits are really this muddled) as to the reasons why conservatives (and a majority of fellow citizens) oppose the Ground Zero mosque. No, it’s not about “religious freedom” — we’re talking about the location of the mosque on the ash-strewn site of 3,000 dead Americans. The J Street crowd and the liberal defenders of the mosque seem very bent out of shape when Americans want to defend the sensibilities of their fellow citizens and when they look askance at an imam whose funding appears to come from those whose goal is anything but religious reconciliation. Again, no one is telling Muslims not to build or pray in mosques; we on the right are simply asking them not to do it in the location where Islam was the inspiration for mass murder.

It is interesting that the word mosque is not employed by those excoriating the mosque opponents. As a smart reader highlights, why is it described as a “cultural center”? Pretty dicey to articulate exactly what position the left clings to — namely, that we must allow a mosque at Ground Zero. Well, when you are that precise, it does highlight the vast gulf between the left’s perspective and that of average Americans.  (And for the record, my objections to J Street obviously aren’t limited to the Ground Zero mosque. And I certainly do believe “you are either for us or you are for them” — when it comes to Israel and to America. That this notion disturbs the left tells you precisely why it is estranged from the vast majority of Israelis and Americans.)

Dan Senor is not confused in the least. He pens an open letter to the Ground Zero mosque imam, which gets to the heart of the matter. Recalling the 9/11 attack “committed in the name of Islam,” he explains:

We applaud and thank every Muslim throughout the world who has rejected and denounced this association. But the fact remains that in the minds of many who are swayed by the most radical interpretations of Islam, the Cordoba House will not be seen as a center for peace and reconciliation. It will rather be celebrated as a Muslim monument erected on the site of a great Muslim “military” victory—a milestone on the path to the further spread of Islam throughout the world. …

Rather than furthering cross-cultural and interfaith understanding, a Cordoba House located near Ground Zero would undermine them. Rather that serving as a bridge between Muslim and non-Muslim peoples, it would function as a divide. Your expressed hopes for the center not only would never be realized, they would be undermined from the start. Insisting on this particular site on Park Place can only reinforce this counterproductive dynamic.

This is not some right-wing, extremist view. It represents the views of a large majority of Americans and of mainstream Jewish leaders like Malcolm Hoenlein — as well as Juan Williams. But the left – which has become obsessed with universalism and finds particularism and nationalism noxious – thinks it unseemly for Americans to look after the interests of Americans, and Jews to look after Jews (as to the latter, we can only be grateful that so many pro-Zionist Christians do as well).

Peter Wehner at Commentary

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

Joe Lieberman comes out against building an Islamic Center in lower Manhattan:

“I’ve also read some things about some of the people involved that make me wonder about their motivations. So I don’t know enough to reach a conclusion, but I know enough to say that this thing is only going to create more division in our society, and somebody ought to put the brakes on it,” he said. “Give these people a chance to come out and explain who they are, where their money’s coming from.”

Sounds like he’s deeply troubled by the hilariously elongated chain of guilt-by-association constructed by critics.

Meanwhile, former Bushie Dan Senor writes:

9/11 remains a deep wound for Americans—especially those who experienced it directly in some way. They understandably see the area as sacred ground. Nearly all of them also reject the equation of Islam with terrorism and do not blame the attacks on Muslims generally or on the Muslim faith. But many believe that Ground Zero should be reserved for memorials to the event itself and to its victims. They do not understand why of all possible locations in the city, Cordoba House must be sited so near to there.

A couple things are striking about this argument. First, Senor claims that “Ground Zero should be reserved for memorials.” But the Muslim center is not being built on Ground Zero. It’s being built two blocks away, in a site that doesn’t feel especially connected to Ground Zero. Senor is suggesting that nothing but memorials should be built within (at least) a two block radius of Ground Zero. Forgive me for feeling skeptical that such a standard is being applied to any other proposed construction.

Second, there’s a very weaselly relativism at work here in his not-prejudiced plea to relocate the center. Senor is arguing, I support freedom of religion, and I believe that your group doesn’t support terrorism, but other Americans don’t feel this way. Of course this is an argument for caving in to any popular prejudice or social phobia whatsoever. Hey, I’m happy to let a black family move into the neighborhood, but other people here think you’re probably crackheads who spray random gunfire at night, so in order to prevent racial strife you should probably live somewhere else.

Justin Elliott at Salon:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has emerged as the unlikely but passionate defender of the planned Muslim community center near ground zero, today traveled to Governors Island off the tip of Lower Manhattan to deliver a stirring plea for sanity in what he called “[as] important a test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes.”

The Daily News’ Adam Lisberg reports that Bloomberg choked up at one point as he delivered the speech surrounded by religious leaders of different faiths, with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Rather than attack the bigotry of the opponents of the so-called “ground zero mosque,” Bloomberg made several positive arguments for building the center. He traced the struggle for religious freedom in New York and affirmed the rights of citizens to do as they please with their private property:

The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.

It’s worth noting that three Jewish leaders  — Rabbi Bob Kaplan from the Jewish Community Council, Rabbi Irwin Kula from the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and Cara Berkowitz from the UJA Federation — were present with Bloomberg during the speech, despite the Anti-Defamation League’s opposition to the project

Chris Good at The Atlantic:

Few events in recent memory have called up the resonant ideological debates of 9/11 as forcefully as the mosque being planned near the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. It appears these are debates we will keep having, as New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted to let the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement proceed with their plans. Along with those plans will come more discussion of religious freedom, taste, and the specter of a Western/Muslim cultural World War

Ann Althouse:

Writes the NYT, reporting the city’s 9-0 vote against designating the building on the site a landmark. Now, as a matter of freedom of religion, it really was crucial not to let religion (or political ideology) affect the question whether that building should be classified under the law as a landmark, thus limiting the property rights of the owner. The requirement of neutrality in decisionmaking like that is fundamental to the rule of law.

One by one, members of the commission debated the aesthetic significance of the building, designed in the Italian Renaissance Palazzo style by an unknown architect.

That is clearly the way it had to be done. But what should not be lost, in understanding that, is that the owner’s freedom means that the owner has a choice. The owner is certainly not required to build a Muslim center and mosque on that site. Because it is a choice, it’s not wrong for the community to ask: Why are you making this choice? Why are you doing something that feels so painful to us? The community isn’t wrong to plead with the owner to choose to do something else with that property. It’s not enough of an answer to say we are doing it because we have a right to do it.

UPDATE: Will Wilkinson

Allah Pundit

Greg Sargent

William Kristol at The Weekly Standard

UPDATE #2: Dorothy Rabinowitz at WSJ

Alan Jacobs at The American Scene

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene

Joshua Cohen and Jim Pinkerton at Bloggingheads

Mark Schmitt and Rich Lowry at Bloggingheads

David Weigel and Dan Foster at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #3: Alex Massie here and here

UPDATE #4: Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek, his letter to Foxman

Abe Foxman writes a letter to Zakaria

Steve Clemons

UPDATE #5: Christopher Hitchens at Slate

Eugene Volokh

UPDATE #6: Jillian Rayfield at Talking Points Memo

UPDATE #7: Charles Krauthammer at WaPo

Jonathan Chait at TNR

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard

UPDATE #8: Joe Klein on Krauthammer

Michael Kinsley at The Atlantic on Krauthammer

UPDATE #9: More Krauthammer

Kinsley responds

UPDATE #10: Adam Serwer at Greg Sargent’s place

Steve Benen

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Filed under Religion

We Talked, We Laughed, We Quoted A Bit Of Mark Twain…

Benjamin Weinthal at The Corner:

Today’s meeting between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama has the potential to repair the U.S. administration’s frosty posture toward Israel. In March, Obama publicly snubbed America’s only democratic ally in the Mideast by rejecting a joint Bibi-Obama press conference at the White House. Now Obama has an amazing opportunity to refill U.S.-Israeli relations with meaning and content.

What issues are front and center on Israel’s diplomatic agenda? Stopping Iran’s accelerated quest to obtain nuclear weapons; preserving Israel’s nuclear-ambiguity policy; securing U.S. pressure on Turkey so that it recoils from its threats to sever relations with Israel; and a peace process with the Palestinians that does not entail terror attacks and violent anti-Semitic propaganda.

The president’s decision to single out Israel for criticism at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference, while not mentioning Iran’s illicit atomic program, was one of the lowlights of his administration so far. After nearly unanimous congressional votes in favor of new energy and financial sanctions on Iran, Obama signed the robust anti-Iran legislation last Thursday. One of the litmus tests of a restart in U.S.-Israel relations would be a hard-hitting enforcement of these sanctions.

Allison Hoffman at Tablet:

How often do you hear Mark Twain quoted at a high-level diplomatic summit? Not often enough, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to do his part to fix that: In his brief appearance today at the Oval Office with President Obama, Netanyahu announced that, pace Twain, rumors of the demise of the U.S.-Israel relationship are greatly exaggerated. In fact, they’re “flat wrong.” (Video here; transcript here.)

It was the first joint appearance by the two men in months, and a departure from their recent pattern of press blackouts and leaked reports of snubs. But with Israeli-Turkish relations maybe on the (slow) mend and both the Israelis and the Palestinians making refreshingly positive noises about the prospects for moving from proximity talks to direct peace negotiations, whatever topics Netanyahu and Obama needed to discuss, in “robust” fashion, in private—settlements, Iran, nuclear non-proliferation, the World Cup—were evidently overshadowed by the importance, for both, of giving off the impression of being copacetic.

So, in front of an audience limited to the American and Israeli press pool, they sat side by side, Bibi in a black-and-white striped tie and Obama in a red one, tag-teaming to give sunny responses. Is Netanyahu a partner for peace? “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace,” Obama assured. How quickly will things move now that we’re heading into the last few months of the settlement-construction freeze? “When I say the next few weeks, that’s what I mean. The president means that, too,” Netanyahu insisted.

Greg Sargent:

For many hawkish and pro-Israel commentators, there are few events that are more infamous than Obama’s speech in Cairo last summer. Though he reaffirmed in that speech that the U.S.’s bond with Israel is “unbreakable,” many analysts have simply ignored this fact and pointed to Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world as proof of anti-Israel intent.

So it’s a bit surprising that at their joint press availability today, Netanyahu actually praised that Cairo speech, specifically citing it as proof that the President does not harbor ill will towards Israel. From the White House transcript, just out:

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:

[…]

So I think there’s — the President said it best in his speech in Cairo. He said in front of the entire Islamic world, he said, the bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable. And I can affirm that to you today.

Hard to square that with the conservative interpretation of that speech, isn’t it?

Also key: Jake Tapper asks whether Netanhayu’s suggestion that the two men talked about moving the peace process forward in the coming weeks means that there could be peace talks on the agenda.

Laura Rozen at Politico:

“We’re nowhere near [former President Bill] Clinton and [former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin,” veteran U.S. diplomat Aaron Miller commented on the warm body language of today’s meeting between Obama and Netanyahu, their fifth since taking office in early 2009. But still, Miller said, the concerted demonstration of good will today between two leaders who have had more strained encounters in the past “was impressive.”

“Obama and Bibi have set the parameters for their friendship pact for awhile,” Miller said. “There was no reason for a fight and every reason to do the proverbial reset. Still, lurking below the surface is an expectations gap that will test each leader. In the end, everyone will want to know how do we get to an agreement, given the gaps, particularly the Palestinians who have got to be wondering what the game really is.”

But the American Task Force for Palestine’s Hussein Ibish said he was encouraged by Obama’s comments during the press conference.

“The most significant thing said during the presser was support for state and institution building led by Abbas and [Palestinian Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad, and a clear indication from the president of the United States that the area of their control needs to be expanded in the West Bank,” Ibish said. “This is highly significant.”

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

It’s never a bad thing for the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister to be chummy in public. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that whenever Israel is the topic, Obama’s focus is on the “peace process” and not on the mullahs’ nuclear program. That is a central, but certainly not the only, failing in Obama’s Middle East policy.

Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast:

Don’t listen to what Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama said at their buddy, buddy press conference Tuesday afternoon. Listen to what they didn’t say. Netanyahu volunteered that “I very much appreciate the President’s statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” The only problem: Obama didn’t say that. He said Iran must “cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.” That’s a whole lot vaguer, and it points to the crux of the dispute between the two men. Netanyahu wants Obama to do whatever it takes to prevent an Iranian nuke, including going to war. Obama doesn’t want to box himself into that corner. But putting Obama in a box is exactly Netanyahu was trying to do.

As for Netanyahu, he didn’t utter the word “Gaza.” Obama praised Israel’s easing of the blockade on Gaza Strip, but signaled that it wasn’t enough. “We believe,” the president declared, “that there is a way to make sure that the people of Gaza are able to prosper economically while Israel is able to maintain its legitimate security needs.” All well and good, except that Netanyahu doesn’t want the people of Gaza to prosper economically. For public relations reasons, he’s willing to allow more goods into the Palestinian enclave. But he’s still banning virtually all exports, which means that most Gazans can’t afford to buy the goods Israel is now allowing in. The truth is that Israel is still punishing the people of Gaza for having elected Hamas; it’s just doing in a more subtle, less cruel way.

The second words Netanyahu didn’t mention: “Palestinian state.” Obama not only used the “S” word, he doubled it; referring to a “sovereign state” that the Palestinians “call their own.” Netanyahu, by contrast, talked about a “political settlement for peace” but not a state. In other words, he wouldn’t even go as far as he went last summer, under intense U.S. pressure, at Bar Ilan University.

Which raises a question: what kind of schmuck does Netanyahu think Obama is?

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Filed under Israel/Palestine, Political Figures

The Flotilla And Seichel

Isabel Kershner at NYT:

Israel’s deadly naval commando raid Monday morning on a flotilla carrying thousands of tons of supplies for Gaza is generating widespread international condemnation and diplomatic repercussions far beyond the waters where the confrontation occurred.

Several European nations summoned their Israeli envoys to explain Israel’s actions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his plans for meeting with President Obama in Washington on Tuesday, an Israeli government official confirmed. Mr. Netanyahu, who is visiting Canada, planned to return home Monday to deal with fallout from the raid, the official said.

The criticism offered a propaganda coup to Israel’s foes, particularly Hamas, the militant group that holds sway in Gaza, and damaged Israel’s ties to Turkey, one of its most important Muslim partners and the unofficial sponsor of the Gaza-bound convoy. Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling the raid “state terrorism,” cut short a visit to Latin America to return home.

The Israeli Defense Forces said more than 10 people were killed when naval personnel boarding the six ships in the aid convoy met with “live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs.” The naval forces then “employed riot dispersal means, including live fire,” the military said in a statement.

Greta Berlin, a leader of the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, speaking by telephone from Cyprus, rejected the military’s version.

“That is a lie,” she said, adding that it was inconceivable that the civilian passengers on board would have been “waiting up to fire on the Israeli military, with all its might.”

“We never thought there would be any violence,” she said.

At least four Israeli soldiers were wounded in the operation, some from gunfire, according to the military. Television footage from the flotilla before communications were cut showed what appeared to be commandos sliding down ropes from helicopters onto one of the vessels in the flotilla, while Israeli high-speed naval vessels surrounded the convoy.

A military statement said two activists were later found with pistols they had taken from Israeli commandos. The activists, the military said, had apparently opened fire “as evident by the empty pistol magazines.”

The warships first intercepted the convoy of cargo and passenger boats shortly before midnight on Sunday, according to activists on one vessel. Israel had vowed not to let the flotilla reach the shores of Gaza.

Named the Freedom Flotilla and led by the Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi, the convoy was the most ambitious attempt yet to break Israel’s three-year blockade of Gaza.

About 600 passengers were said to be aboard the vessels, including the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire of Northern Ireland.

Steve Benen:

There are, not surprisingly, competing versions of exactly what transpired, and Israeli officials not only defended the existing blockade policy, but said Israeli forces faced resistance on the ships. Every claim has a counter-claim, of course, and those condemning the violent raid this morning insist Israeli forces attacked peaceful civilians, including a flotilla carrying a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and 85-year-old Holocaust survivor.

Either way, as the AP noted, the pre-dawn violence has “set off worldwide condemnation and a diplomatic crisis.”

This much is clearly true. The ship was unofficially sponsored by Turkey, which has long been a key Israeli ally in the regional, and which recalled its ambassador to Israel this morning in the wake of the incident. The United Nations, among others, is demanding a detailed Israeli explanation.

The White House issued a written statement, noting that the United States “deeply regrets” the loss of life and injuries, and was gathering information to understand exactly what transpired in this “tragedy.”

Scott Lucas at Enduring America:

1605 GMT: Turkish daily Hurriyet reported that NATO’s spokesman James Appathurai had stated that the organisation would be gathered extraordinarily, at the request of Turkey.

NATO issued a very short statement earlier today: “NATO is deeply concerned about the loss of life in this incident. We look forward to a further establishment of the facts of what has happened.”

1600 GMT: IDF said Defne Y, the 5th ship in Gaza flotilla, cleared of its crew – Mavi Marmara currently being brought into Ashdod Port.

1555 GMT: Al Jazeera English correspondent Sherine Tadros reports, “We’re hearing 14 activists have agreed to be deported and on way home;50 taken to prison in southern Israel resisting deportation.”

1550 GMT: Pictures of wounded activists were released. Plastic handcuffs during the transport of heavily wounded ones are noteworthy.

Gaza Flotilla Attack: Israel Line “We Are Sorry but It Was a Life-Threatening Situation!”
Gaza Flotilla Video: Questions from Last Report Before Israeli Attack
Gaza Video: “If You’re Watching This, The Flotilla Has Been Attacked”

1548 GMT: The United Nations Security Council will meet on Monday afternoon for an emergency session that will start at 1 P.M., New York time.

1545 GMT: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Chile: “This is a state terrorism.”

1515 GMT: While on his way to Washington, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: “This is clearly a piracy. Israel must apologize and answer. According to unconfirmed information, we have around 50 wounded and 10 martyries. No country is above the international law.”

Meanwhile, tens of thousands people are protesting in front of Israel’s Consulate General in Istanbul.

1500 GMT: Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning Israel:

Israel has once again clearly demonstrated that it does not value human lives and peaceful initiatives through targeting innocent civilians. We strongly condemn these inhuman acts of Israel. This grave incident which took place in high seas in gross violation of international law might cause irreversible consequences in our relations.

Besides the initiatives being conducted by our Embassy in Tel Aviv, this unacceptable incident is being strongly protested and explanation is demanded from Israeli Ambassador in Ankara, who has been invited to our Ministry.

Whatsoever the motives might be, such actions against civilians who are involved only in peaceful activities cannot be accepted. Israel will have to bear the consequences of these actions which constitute a violation of international law.

May God bestow His mercy upon those who lost their lives. We wish to express our condolences to the bereaved families of the deceased, and swift recovery to the wounded.

1440 GMT: Israel’s Portrayal. Amidst the rush of Israeli depictions of the attack — with the continuing use of the word “lynching”, now from the commandos who carried out the assault — this story stands out from a “Ron Ben Yishai” in YNet:

Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.

However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapon.

1435 GMT: Washington’s Reaction. The US statement, given by White House spokesman Bill Burton, is far more restrained than the UN denunciation of Israel (1330 GMT) and even Britain’s expression of concern (1035 GMT). Burton said the Obama administration “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained” and officials are “currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy”.

Ron Ben-Yishai at Ynet:

Our Navy commandoes fell right into the hands of the Gaza mission members. A few minutes before the takeover attempt aboard the Marmara got underway, the operation commander was told that 20 people were waiting on the deck where a helicopter was to deploy the first team of the elite Flotilla 13 unit. The original plan was to disembark on the top deck, and from there rush to the vessel’s bridge and order the Marmara’s captain to stop.

Officials estimated that passengers will show slight resistance, and possibly minor violence; for that reason, the operation’s commander decided to bring the helicopter directly above the top deck. The first rope that soldiers used in order to descend down to the ship was wrested away by activists, most of them Turks, and tied to an antenna with the hopes of bringing the chopper down. However, Flotilla 13 fighters decided to carry on.

Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.

However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapons.

One soldier who came to the aid of a comrade was captured by the rioters and sustained severe blows. The commandoes were equipped with handguns but were told they should only use them in the face of life-threatening situations. When they came down from the chopper, they kept on shouting to each other “don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” even though they sustained numerous blows.

‘I saw the tip of a rifle’

The Navy commandoes were prepared to mostly encounter political activists seeking to hold a protest, rather than trained street fighters. The soldiers were told they were to verbally convince activists who offer resistance to give up, and only then use paintballs. They were permitted to use their handguns only under extreme circumstances.

The forces hurled stun grenades, yet the rioters on the top deck, whose number swelled up to 30 by that time, kept on beating up about 30 commandoes who kept gliding their way one by one from the helicopter. At one point, the attackers nabbed one commando, wrested away his handgun, and threw him down from the top deck to the lower deck, 30 feet below. The soldier sustained a serious head wound and lost his consciousness. Only after this injury did Flotilla 13 troops ask for permission to use live fire. The commander approved it: You can go ahead and fire. The soldiers pulled out their handguns and started shooting at the rioters’ legs, a move that ultimately neutralized them. Meanwhile, the rioters started to fire back at the commandoes. “I saw the tip of a rifle sticking out of the stairwell,” one commando said. “He fired at us and we fired back. We didn’t see if we hit him. We looked for him later but couldn’t find him.” Two soldiers sustained gunshot wounds to their knee and stomach after rioters apparently fired at them using guns wrested away from troops.

The planned rush towards the vessel’s bridge became impossible, even when a second chopper was brought in with another crew of soldiers. “Throw stun grenades,” shouted Flotilla 13’s commander who monitored the operation. The Navy chief was not too far, on board a speedboat belonging to Flotilla 13, along with forces who attempted to climb into the back of the ship

David Bernstein:

I have my doubts about the wisdom of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and there was obviously an operational/intelligence failure that led to Israel’s naval commandos having to open fire to defend themselves, giving the other side a propaganda victory. But it does appear that the physical violence started from the other side, which to begin with had the rather unhumanitarian mission of aiding Hamas, and, to the extent there were sincere humanitarian/peace activists involved, allowed themselves to get hijacked by violent Islamic extremists who manned one of the ships.

Net result of the “peace/humanitarian” mission: dead activists, wounded Israeli soldiers, no more humanitarian aid to Gaza than if Israel’s offer to transfer the aid to Gaza from Ashdod had been accepted, and a likely breakdown in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks that were about to start. Congratulations.

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:

This crisis — and it is a crisis — is the fairly predictable outcome of the years of neglect of the Gaza situation by the Bush and Obama administrations.  Bush turned a blind eye during the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008, and then the Obama team chose to focus on renewing peace talks between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority while continuing to boycott Hamas.  The U.S. only sporadically and weakly paid attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the strategic absurdity and moral obtuseness of the Israeli blockade, or the political implications of the ongoing Hamas-Fatah divide.   Now, on the eve of Obama’s scheduled meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas — the fruits of the “honey offensive” towards Israel — can they be surprised that Gaza is blowing up in their face?

The Israeli assault on the flotilla has galvanized Arab and international media attention (to say nothing of my Twitter feed).   Arab and Turkish publics appear to be truly outraged, as do the Turkish, Arab and many European governments.   The issue is evidently headed to the Security Council.  It is difficult to fathom how the Israeli government could have thought that this was a good way to respond to a long-developing public relations challenge, but its actions will certainly fuel its evolving international legitimacy crisis.  We’ll be keeping track of the story as it develops.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

The incident is being portrayed in the Arab press as an unprovoked attack by the soldiers. As usual, the flaw in this theory is that if the soldiers had set out to massacre the activists, they would have done a better job of it. Violence occurred on only one of the six ships, because only on that ship was it instigated by the pro-Palestinian activists. But that won’t stop the incident from triggering another round of world-wide Israel-bashing.

Jim Sleeper at Talking Points Memo:

The government has let the flotilla “drive Israel into a sea of stupidity,” writes Gideon Levy, a senior columnist for Haaretz the country’s most prominent liberal daily.

“We were determined to avoid an honest look at the first Gaza war. Now, in international waters and having opened fire on an international group of humanitarian aid workers and activists, we are fighting and losing the second,” writes Bradley Burston, a senior editor at Haaretz. “We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege. The siege itself is becoming Israel’s Vietnam.”

Burston would know: A Los Angeles native and Berkeley graduate, he moved to Israel in the 1970s with some young Americans I knew to settle in Kibbutz Gezer, a progressive outpost between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. If you can recall that in those Vietnam War/Nixon years Israel seemed a lot more noble and just to many of us than the U.S. did, you’ll understand why Burston served in the Israel Defense Forces as a combat medic and studied medicine in Be’er Sheva for two years.

But Burston must also know that his scathing Vietnam analogy has its limits: The U.S. could have walked away from Vietnam with no dangerous consequences. In Gaza, by comparison, the influence of Iran and other powers make the Israeli situation a little more… existential. Israelis also don’t have Americans’ history of conquering a whole continent and not having to care about it. Their history, too, is more… existential.

But precisely for those reasons, Haaretz reports, Israeli security forces are now on high alert, bracing for protests closer to home, maybe even for a third intifada if it turns out that one of the Palestinian activists on board the flotilla was killed. That only underscores the government’s stupidity.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

There is a word in Yiddish, seichel, which means wisdom, but it also means more than that: It connotes ingenuity, creativity, subtlety, nuance. Jews have always needed seichel to survive in this world; a person in possession of a Yiddishe kop, a “Jewish head,” is someone who has seichel, someone who looks for a clever way out of problems, someone who understands that the most direct way — blunt force, for instance — often represents the least elegant solution, a person who can foresee consequences of his actions.

I don’t know yet exactly what happened at sea when a group of Israeli commandos boarded a ship packed with not-exactly-Gandhi-like anti-Israel protesters. I learned from the Second Intifada (specifically, the story of the non-massacre at Jenin) not to rush to judgment without a full set of facts (yes, I know what you are thinking: So why have a blog?). I’m trying to figure out this story for myself. But I will say this: What I know already makes me worried for the future of Israel, a worry I feel in a deeper way than I think I have ever felt before. The Jewish people have survived this long in part because of the vision of their leaders, men and women who were able to intuit what was possible and what was impossible. Where is this vision today? Israel may face, in the coming year, a threat to its existence the likes of which it has not experienced before: A theologically-motivated regional superpower with a nuclear arsenal. It faces another existential threat as well, from forces arguing that Israel’s morally disastrous settlement policy fatally undermines the very idea of a Jewish state. Is Israel ready to deploy seichel in these battles, rather than mere force?

UPDATE: Lots and lots of posts on this one. Just a handful, a sprinkling here.

Leslie Gelb, Reza Aslan and Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast

Max Boot at WSJ

Jonathan Schanzer at The Weekly Standard

Mona Charen at National Review

Megan McArdle

Daniel Drezner

Jim Henley

UPDATE #2: Elliott Abrams at The Weekly Standard

Marty Peretz at TNR

Daniel Larison (one of many posts) responding to Henley

UPDATE #3:  Leon Wieseltier at TNR

Robert Farley and Daniel Drezner at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #4: Heather Hurlburt and Eli Lake at Bloggingheads

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Filed under Israel/Palestine

Peter Beinart Writes An Article

Peter Beinart in New York Review of Books:

In 2003, several prominent Jewish philanthropists hired Republican pollster Frank Luntz to explain why American Jewish college students were not more vigorously rebutting campus criticism of Israel. In response, he unwittingly produced the most damning indictment of the organized American Jewish community that I have ever seen.

The philanthropists wanted to know what Jewish students thought about Israel. Luntz found that they mostly didn’t. “Six times we have brought Jewish youth together as a group to talk about their Jewishness and connection to Israel,” he reported. “Six times the topic of Israel did not come up until it was prompted. Six times these Jewish youth used the word ‘they‘ rather than ‘us‘ to describe the situation.”

That Luntz encountered indifference was not surprising. In recent years, several studies have revealed, in the words of Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis, that “non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders,” with many professing “a near-total absence of positive feelings.” In 2008, the student senate at Brandeis, the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored university in America, rejected a resolution commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Jewish state.

Luntz’s task was to figure out what had gone wrong. When he probed the students’ views of Israel, he hit up against some firm beliefs. First, “they reserve the right to question the Israeli position.” These young Jews, Luntz explained, “resist anything they see as ‘group think.’” They want an “open and frank” discussion of Israel and its flaws. Second, “young Jews desperately want peace.” When Luntz showed them a series of ads, one of the most popular was entitled “Proof that Israel Wants Peace,” and listed offers by various Israeli governments to withdraw from conquered land. Third, “some empathize with the plight of the Palestinians.” When Luntz displayed ads depicting Palestinians as violent and hateful, several focus group participants criticized them as stereotypical and unfair, citing their own Muslim friends.

Most of the students, in other words, were liberals, broadly defined. They had imbibed some of the defining values of American Jewish political culture: a belief in open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights. And in their innocence, they did not realize that they were supposed to shed those values when it came to Israel. The only kind of Zionism they found attractive was a Zionism that recognized Palestinians as deserving of dignity and capable of peace, and they were quite willing to condemn an Israeli government that did not share those beliefs. Luntz did not grasp the irony. The only kind of Zionism they found attractive was the kind that the American Jewish establishment has been working against for most of their lives

[…]

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where Luntz’s students wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes.

Marc Tracy at Tablet:

What prompted the essay? Why now, when you previously have not written much about Israel?
Having kids definitely played a role. I think it made me think about not just my Zionist identity, but what kind of Zionism was available to them. And the more I thought about that, the more I began to worry. I also think that we all operate at intellectual levels and emotional levels, and for me I just decided … There was this story in the New York Times about the Gaza War, about the house in Gaza where they found the children whose parents were dead. What you may find, if you do have kids one day, you are affected at an emotional level more strongly by certain things, in a way you may not be entirely prepared for. I think that’s a good thing, it’s primordial. I know people develop all kinds of shrewd and sophisticated and clever ways of explaining anything that happens, but when I read the story I just thought I was not in the mood to try in some clever way to explain it away. And the fact that I felt I was supposed to just sickened me a little bit.

That’s not to say there are never gonna be civilian casualties in war. But knowing the people who are running Israel now. … The amazing thing about Netanyahu’s book, which is a pretty long book, is there is not a single word of human empathy for the suffering of the Palestinians or Arabs. It was for me such a chilling book in its willingness to essentially. … there was something so inhuman about it, I felt. I just felt like that wasn’t something that I wanted to apologize for.

Why did you publish the essay in the New York Review of Books, which has a reputation of being distinctly left-wing, particularly on the question of Israel?
In all honesty, it was originally supposed to be New York Times Magazine. I don’t have any ill will, but there was a stylistic disagreement, not an ideological one.

There are not very many places anymore where one can write long, serious essays. Secondly, although my piece is a piece about liberal Zionism—I don’t believe in a binational state—Jeff Goldberg is my friend, but I disagree with him when he says NYRB is an anti-Israel. It publishes some of the most important people on the Israeli left. … We should draw inspiration from those people who share our values in Israel. If you’re going to tell me the New York Review of Books is an anti-Israel publication, that just makes no sense. I don’t think I’m anti-Israel. I think people throw around these terms way too promiscuously.

But doesn’t this make it easier for those who disagree with you to simply dismiss the piece given where it appeared?
I did think about that. You’re right: People will say that. And I think it’s a little bit silly. I wrote 5000 words. If you disagree with what I said—and there are reasonable disagreements—if you just say, ‘Oh well, it’s in the New York Review,’ that’s a sign that you’re looking for an opportunity not to engage with it. Tell me where I’m wrong! I can think of counterarguments.

Ben Smith at Politico:

Peter Beinart’s new essay indicts American Jewish organizations — AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents first of all — for, as he sees it, apologizing for an extremist and racist Israeli right. It will cost him friends, and start a conversation, particularly in the shrinking space occupied by liberal, Zionist* voices like his, Jeffrey Goldberg’s, and Jonathan Chait’s.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

In its intellectual style, Peter’s piece reminded me of another attention-grabbing essay he wrote – “A Fighting Faith,” his 2004 manifesto in TNR urging Democrats to purge their anti-interventionist wing. Both essays exude an almost masochistic “tough love” toward groups which Peter (and I) feel affinity, urging them to adopt positions that Peter (and I) share or else face political annihilation. Both also suffer from analytical shortcomings – Peter’s latest less so than his last one – that leave me a bit intellectually queasy.

First, both reflect Peter’s highly idealistic conception of the world, in which political setbacks are the consequence of a failure to confront difficult truths, and intellectuals themselves hold a decisive place in the course of events. Peter’s 2004 essay argued that liberals had lost the presidency, and would continue to lose the presidency, because they had failed to confront the anti-war tendency within their base:

[L]iberals don’t have a sympathetic White House to enact liberal anti-totalitarianism policies. But, unless liberals stop glossing over fundamental differences in the name of unity, they never will.Likewise, his current piece places the blame for the lack of Zionist passion among secular Jews upon the failure of the Jewish leadership to confront Israel’s right-wing lurch:

This obsession with victimhood lies at the heart of why Zionism is dying among America’s secular Jewish young. It simply bears no relationship to their lived experience, or what they have seen of Israel’s.You can see the polemical imperative of such warnings. But a bit of reflection makes clear that they bear little relationship to reality. Democrats managed to sweep the two elections that came after “A Fighting Faith” without undergoing anything like the rigorous ideological cleansing Peter prescribed. I suspect that young Jews’ indifference toward Israel is overwhelmingly a function of their weakening ties to Judaism itself. Peter argues for such reforms as bringing pro-peace Israeli students to campus. I suspect that such things, or even a dramatically more liberal turn by the American Jewish establishment, would have little effect on the opinion of young Jews. Sometimes virtue must be its own reward.

Second, Peter can over-react to the most recent political setback, all the better to lend urgency to his call to arms. 2004 was not just another electoral setback, but a harbinger of existential crisis for the Democratic Party:

Two elections, and two defeats, into the September 11 era, American liberalism still has not had its meeting at the Willard Hotel. And the hour is getting late.In the same vein, Peter now paints Israel as falling almost inexorably into the grip of the far right. “The Netanyahu coalition,” he writes, “is the product of frightening, long-term trends in Israeli society.” There is certainly some truth to this – Russian immigration and the higher Orthodox birthrate have altered the face of the Israeli electorate. On the other hand, it was not that long ago that left-of-center parties governed Israel. Demography does not work that rapidly. Though he concedes that Israeli government can move in and out of power quickly, the tone of his essay has the same two-minutes-to-midnight urgency. I hope that, just as he rethought the stridency of “A Fighting Faith,” he’ll eventually look back on this piece as somewhat overwrought.

Finally, and most seriously, the stridency and clarity of Peter’s argument comes at the cost of shaving off the rough edges of reality that would otherwise intrude. Just as he once all-too-quickly dismissed the flaws of George W. Bush’s foreign policy for the good of urging Democrats to move rightward, he seems to have again temporarily blinded himself to counter-argument. Peter, for instance, twice writes that Palestinians “wanted peace, but had been ill-served by their leaders.” It’s an odd contrast with his description of the Israeli polity, every problem with which he portrays as reflective of a deep cancer on the Israeli soul. Moreover, if you examine the respective public opinion, it’s not actually true – most Palestinians want to undo the Jewish state altogether, while most Israelis accept the need for a two-state solution.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Ben Smith has helped me figure out the source of the claustrophobic feeling I’ve been experiencing lately. It turns out that it occurs when you’ve been locked in a small room (decorated, ambivalently, in blue and white) with Peter Beinart and Jon Chait and…. well, that’s the point, isn’t it? Who else is still out there arguing that you can be liberal and Zionist at the same time, meaning, pro-Israel and anti-occupation? There’s Leon Wieseltier, of course, but who else? Tom Friedman is in the same camp (and has been there for a long time) but he pays only intermittent attention to the problem.

I’ve only read through Beinart’s essay quickly (though not so quickly that I haven’t already exchanged a couple of e-mails with him about it) and I think it is in many ways analytically valid, if unsympathetic to some of the existential challenges faced by Israelis. But the essay’s placement, in the New York Review of Books, the one-stop shopping source for bien-pensant anti-Israelism, is semi-tragic. If Beinart’s goal is to talk to the great mass of American Jews who support the institutions of American Jewry but who are troubled by certain trends in Israeli politics, this is not the way to do it. Who is he trying to convince? Timothy Garton Ash? Peter should have published this essay on Tablet, or some other sort of publication not associated with Tony Judt’s disproportionate hatred of Jewish nationalism.

Spencer Ackerman:

To get the inevitable out of the way: back when I worked with Peter, the magazine we worked for, for all its professed love of Israel, would never be as frank and as brave and as honest and as morally urgent to publish a piece like this. It would be a hurtful shame if it continues its current pattern and instead either attacks Peter for writing it or dismisses the points he raises. Whatever some of you think about Peter, it takes a brave and reflective man to write this. Don’t hate, congratulate.

Now that that’s out of the way, Peter falls prey to a certain myopia when assessing the political options for the mainstream American Jewish organizations. Their problem is stark: younger generations of American Jews are liberals who greet the growing illiberalism of Israel with discomfort that tribal loyalty doesn’t assuage. (“In their innocence, they did not realize that they were supposed to shed those values when it came to Israel” is Peter’s felicitous and, I presume, caustic and personal turn of phrase.)  So if those organizations want to maintain their influence without challenging that growing Israeli illiberalism, what to do? Peter:

To sustain their uncritical brand of Zionism, therefore, America’s Jewish organizations will need to look elsewhere to replenish their ranks. They will need to find young American Jews who have come of age during the West Bank occupation but are not troubled by it. And those young American Jews will come disproportionately from the Orthodox world.

Well, no, because there’s a different and vastly more sustainable political option for those organizations, and it’s one that’s been underway for decades. It’s to build more durable ties with conservative evangelical Christian communities, which have attachments to Israel based on millennial, eschatological commitments that are entirely untroubled by liberalism — or, for that matter, Jews and Arabs. All that matters to them is that Jews conquer the biblical land of Israel. So if you’re an organization devoted less to liberalism than to letting Israel do whatever it wants whenever it wants to do it — well, then, Jews are nice, and your Jewish grandkids are nicer. But they’re nothing compared to tens of millions of motivated voters.

Matthew Yglesias insightfully calls this a post-Jewish brand of Zionism, and he’s exactly right. Peter is right that it’s the moral task of Zionist liberals like, well, himself and myself and the J Street generation to save Zionist liberalism. But if you’re Malcolm Hoenlein or Abe Foxman, why should you care what pischers like us think? You’ve got aspirant Republican officeholders tripping over each other to profess their deep faith in Israel.

That should underscore the urgency of the J Street generation. Liberal Zionism is as much an archaic and dying trend in American politics as it is in Israeli politics. What Peter might have more forcefully added in his piece is the hidebound hostility that the mainstream organizations express toward it. Well, what did these self-hating Jews say about Gaza? What did they say about Goldstone? How dare they connect the occupation to anti-American sentiment? Don’t they know Iran is an existential threat and the end of Jewish democracy isn’t! We left-wingers in the Shtetl live amidst a sentiment among our parents and grandparents that tells us that we can take the position that a Jewish democracy and two-state solution is a fine thing. But if we advocate for it too strongly — if we put it in the language of justice; if we see Zionism’s early universalism as demanding Palestinian statehood; if we plead for Israel to abandon its current anti-Jewish course — then we’re merely useful idiots giving aid and comfort to the enemy. To listen to our parents and grandparents in 2010 is to be told that you ought to have a mere superficial attachment to Jewish democracy and Jewish justice after all. And that’s why we don’t listen anymore.

But it’s also true that they don’t have to listen to us. And that’s the more vexing problem.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

This is an excellent, well-argued piece by Peter Beinart about the moral failure of  Jewish-American leaders with regard to Israel’s hard-right turn. I would hope that the leaders of AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League etc etc would read it and think about it carefully, and that it forces those who have refused to debate these issues–how unJewish!–to start a real dialogue.

But I’m sure that it’s only a matter of hours before someone calls Beinart anti-Israel or a self-hating Jew. How sad.

Come on, Joe! There is real debate all the time in the Jewish community, even within the ADL! I’ve been to national meetings of the ADL when actual debate broke out! I belong to the biggest and most established Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C., and one of beloved rabbis is a leader of the hard-left group Rabbis for Human Rights, and you know what? No one cares. Liberal critics of Israel and the organized Jewish community are going to have to let go of this particular meme. (Please see my post on a related subject, the taboo that won’t shut up.) We live in an age when cartoonists — cartoonists! — are threatened with death for drawing pictures of the Muslim prophet, and yet an unseemly amount of space on the Interwebs is given over to condemning Abe Foxman for writing hostile press releases. It is not an act of bravery — physical bravery, spiritual bravery, intellectual bravery — to criticize Israel, not ever, and certainly not today.

By the way, I just asked Peter Beinart if he’s been called an Israel-hater or a self-hater today. His response: “Actually no one has. It’s been the biggest shock — and happiest one — of the piece. I don’t think my grandmother has read it yet, though.”

Philip Klein at AmSpec:

The problem, however, isn’t with leading Jewish organizations that defend Israel, but with liberalism. As sickening as it sounds, Jewish liberals see their fellow Jews as noble when they are victims being led helplessly into the gas chambers, but recoil at the thought of Jews who refuse to be victims, and actually take actions to defend themselves. It isn’t too different from American liberal attitudes toward criminal justice or terrorism, where morality is turned upside down and the lines between criminals and victims become blurred, and in certain cases, even reversed.

In the case of Israel, what changed over time was that Israel went from a state that exemplified Jewish victimhood (a role that Jewish liberals are comfortable with) to one in which Jews were actually in a position of power, which liberals are not comfortable with. Meanwhile, Palestinians, aided by the media, effectively exploited Jewish liberals by portraying themselves as the real victims, and Israel as the oppressors. I experienced this first hand once when I went on a Birthright Israel trip (which is a paid trip for American Jews to travel to Israel). At one point, we went to the cemetery at Mount Herzl, which is sort of Israel’s equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery, and is located by Yad Vashem, Israel’s main Holocaust Museum. While stopping at the cemetery, we were asked to offer our feelings standing in a cemetery honoring fallen Israeli soldiers, and the first American Jew who commented was this liberal girl who reflected, “All I can think about is how many Palestinian graves there are.”

Israel, right now, is surrounded by terorrist groups dedicated to the nation’s destruction. Palestinian society teaches its children to aspire to slaughter Jews much in the same fashion as the Nazis indoctrinated their young. Suicide bombers who die in the act of killing Jewish civilians are celebrated as heroes. It’s a culture that glorifies death and uses women and children as human shields to gain sympathy from the international community — and especially liberal Jews. And the terrorists are receiving aid from Iran, a radical nation that vows to wipe Israel off the map within the context of seeking a nuclear weapon.

Yet against this backdrop, all liberal Jews want to do is to pin the blame on Israel’s efforts to defend itself, and engage in the magical thinking that more Jewish concessions will create peace and security. By doing so, they are helping the enemies of the Jews who are intent on finishing the job that Hitler started. While Israel has no shortage of critics, when Jewish liberals attack Israel, it’s that much more damaging, because Israel’s enemies can say, “See, even Jews admit that Israel is the oppressor.”

While I would never suggest that Jews who happen to be politically liberal would want a second Holocaust to happen, I do think that by participating in a campaign to defang Israel and prevent it from taking the actions necessary to defend itself, that Jewish liberals are making things significantly easier for those who do want to carry out a second Holocaust.

Luckily, though, there are a lot of Jews in Israel who are determined not to let that happen.

Daniel Larison:

Whether Klein finds it sickening or not, the more important point here is that this doesn’t seem to be true. I can’t speak for liberal Jews, but my guess is that what causes them to recoil is the thought of fellow Jews imposing inhumane, unjust policies on people under their power. If it were simply a matter of self-defense, rather than one of sustained occupation and the attendant humiliations and degradations visited on a subject people, there would be far less criticism because the government’s policies would be much easier to justify. Nationalists here in the U.S. insist on uncritical support for our policies abroad because they see this as an expression of loyalty to their country “right or wrong,” and “pro-Israel” hawks insist on offering the same kind of uncritical support for Israeli policies regardless of their merits or their consequences.

Of course, nationalists typically have a defective understanding of loyalty and a distorted understanding of patriotism, and hawks have a similarly defective understanding of what constitutes real, effective support for an ally. Encouraging a government in its worst habits and instincts, remaining silent in the face of its abuses and focusing all of their energies on attacking dissidents and critics are not the acts of friends or supporters. They are instead the acts of the blindly loyal who ultimately contibute to the ruin of the state they claim to defend.

P.S. As Beinart’s essay makes clear, it is the hard-line Israeli politicians who constantly invoke the history of Jewish victimhood to justify what they want to do. On the whole, it is “pro-Israel” hawks in the U.S. who grossly exaggerate the vulnerability and weakness of Israel’s position in the region to justify aggressive policies vis-a-vis Israel’s neighbors and other Near Eastern states. The trouble isn’t that Jewish liberals are uncomfortable with the power of Israel, but that “pro-Israel” hawks refuse to acknowledge the disparity between the power of the Israeli government and its enemies and the disparity in power between Israelis and Palestinians. On the whole, Jewish liberals seem to be willing to accept responsibility that wielding such power requires. In the meantime, “pro-Israel” hawks prefer an Israel that wields power under the constant protection of invoking victim status whenever someone criticizes the Israeli government’s abuses of power.

Ezra Klein:

This disagreement often falls across generational lines. As Beinart says, young Jews do not remember Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Algeria massing forces in the run-up to the Six-Day War. They do not remember a coalition of Arab forces streaming across the Sinai on Yom Kippur in order to catch the Jewish state by surprise. Their understanding of Israel was not forged watching the weak and threatened state improbably repel the attacks of potent adversaries.

The absence of such definitional memories has contributed to a new analysis of the Israeli situation. Today, Israel is far, far, far more militarily powerful than any of its assailants. None of the region’s armies would dare face the Jewish state on the battlefield, and in the event that they tried, they would be slaughtered. Further stacking the deck is America’s steadfast support of Israel. Any serious threat would trigger an immediate defense by the most powerful army the world has ever known. In effect, Israel’s not only the strongest power in the region, but it has the Justice League on speed dial.

That is not to say that the Jewish state is not under threat. Conventional attacks pose no danger, but one terrorist group with one nuclear weapon and one good plan could do horrible damage to the small, dense country. That threat, however, is fundamentally a danger born of the Arab world’s hatred of Israel. It follows, then, that hastening the peace that will begin to ease that hatred makes Israel safer. Exacerbating the tensions that feed it, conversely, only makes the threat more severe.

And to many of us, it looks like Israel is making the threat more severe. Its decision to pummel the city of Gaza from the air in a misguided attempt to punish Hamas. The ascension of Avigdor Lieberman and the return of Benjamin Netanyahu. Neither an overwhelming assault certain to kill many Arab civilians or a political movement that seeks to disenfranchise Israeli Arabs — whose respected position in Israeli politics has long been a point of pride for Jews — seems likely to begin the long process required to get back to the place where peace is conceivable.

Jeffrey Goldberg interviews Peter Beinart here and here

David Goldman at First Things:

Liberalism assumes that clever and and enlightened people can engineer happy outcomes for everyone. The notion that some peoples fail of their own deficiencies is anathema to liberalism, whose premise is that enlightened intervention can solve all the problems of any society. That is what Jewish college students are taught.

It certainly is getting harder and harder to be both a liberal and a Zionist. To support a Jewish state on purely secular grounds is the conceit of generations that long ago faded away. There is no more illiberal notion than the Election of Israel. To a generation whose heart bleeds for every endangered species, the prospect that peoples may perish of their own cultural failings is an unthinkable, horrendous, nightmarish proposition.

Nonetheless Israel’s position is stronger than ever in the hearts of Americans. The Orthodox may be fewer in number, but more young Americans are spending time in Israel, studying in Israel, and moving to Israel than ever before. The rapid growth of the young Orthodox Jewish population is making an impact on Israeli demographics (which are in excellent condition due to a fertility rate of nearly 3), and will make an increasing impact over time. Skullcaps are multiplying on American college campuses, and many of them sit on heads that spent a year before college at an Israeli yeshiva.

In absolute numbers, the support of young American Jews for Israel is stronger than it ever has been. Zionism is in no danger. The entity that is in trouble is Jewish liberalism.

Ross Douthat:

I will leave the debate over the justice of Beinart’s portrait of both Israel and its American supporters to his fellow anguished liberal Zionists, Jeffrey Goldberg and Jonathan Chait. What I wonder is whether the trend that Beinart describes — the diminishing bond between secular American Jews and the state of Israel — was more or less inevitable, no matter what policies were pursued in Israel and what kind of attitudes American Zionist organizations struck. Benjamin Netanyahu and Abe Foxman may have accelerated the process, but it’s hard to imagine that the more secular, more assimilated sections of the Jewish-American population wouldn’t have eventually drifted away from an intense connection with Israel anyway, in much the same way and for many of the same reasons that Italian-Americans are less attached to both Italy and Catholicism than they were in 1940 or so, or that Irish-American are far less interested in the politics of Eire and Northern Ireland than they used to be.

Peter Beinart in The Daily Beast

UPDATE: Jamie Kirchick at Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy’s discussion of the article

Peter Beinart in The Daily Beast

Noah Millman at The American Scene

UPDATE #2: Peter Beinart and Eli Lake at Bloggingheads

Noah Pollak at Commentary

UPDATE #3: Beinart in Forward

David Frum at FrumForum

UPDATE #4: Eric Alterman in The Nation

Chait responds to Alterman

UPDATE #5: Jack Shafer at Slate

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