Seth Mandel is the former managing editor of four New Jersey-based newspapers, where he won awards for his coverage of the Middle East and Russia. He has appeared on Shalom TV's current affairs roundtable. He is currently based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @SethAMandel
In the wake of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest for sexual assault (he is now former IMF chief), DSK and his friends have offered numerous defenses on his behalf—most of which have been ridiculed, and rightly so.
Here are a few of the best of them, all rejected immediately by the American public.
One of the more interesting aspects of Nakba Day has been its faithfulness to the historical record. Then as now, Nakba has been about Arabs on Israel’s borders invading Israeli territory with the intent to kill Jews. Then as now, Nakba has nothing to do with the Palestinians. Then as now, only Israeli victory over these invading Arabs holds any hope for a Palestinian state.
Various corners of the American Left object to American Exceptionalism for their own reasons. I wrote about the phenomenon back in January, canvassing the reaction to a spate of conservative invocations of the concept:
When National Review published a cover story on the concept, The New Republic reacted with horror, advising that, as they understood it, the NR article’s premise “should disgust all historically informed citizens.” When Marco Rubio won his Florida Senate seat trumpeting American Exceptionalism, Peter Beinart ranted about such a “lunatic notion.” The Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson got a chuckle out of Michael Kinsley’s Politico column titled “U.S. is not greatest country ever.” (Take that Senator Rubio.)
But this week in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen offered a different condemnation of Exceptionalism: that it is rooted in religious faith:
The huge role of religion in American politics is nothing new but always a matter for concern nonetheless. In the years preceding the Civil War, both sides of the slavery issue claimed the endorsement of God. The 1856 Republican convention concluded with a song that ended like this: “We’ve truth on our side/ We’ve God for our guide.” Within five years, Americans were slaughtering one another on the battlefield.
Therein lies the danger of American exceptionalism. It discourages compromise, for what God has made exceptional, man must not alter.
The controversial Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose political network was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, had many enemies. But he made perhaps his most consequential foe when he spoke at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in the mid-1980s.
In the audience that day was an “enraged” Khalid Shaikh Mohammed—al-Qaeda’s operational mastermind who planned, among countless others, the 9/11 attacks. The description of KSM, as he is known, comes from Richard Miniter, the investigative journalist who has just published Mastermind: The Many Faces of the 9/11 Architect, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Miniter makes the case that KSM may in fact have been behind Kahane’s 1990 assassination in New York City. (Note: I will be conducting a broad interview with Miniter this week on the book and KSM—so, much more to come on KSM.)
Miniter suggests that when KSM bragged to his interrogators in 2003 that he was behind Kahane’s murder he was telling the truth, not just blowing hot air, as the CIA assumed:
One of the most interesting parts of Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward’s book on the Obama administration’s prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is when James Jones flies to Pakistan with John Brennan to tell Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari that his country is the center of our Central Asia policy:
“Pakistan is the epicenter of the strategic review,” Jones said. The president was elevating the importance of Pakistan. Jones said the region would now be called PakAf instead of AfPak.
This distressed the Pakistanis, who responded that the inversion might suggest that Pakistan was the main problem. That would not be positive, nor would it be in the spirit of the proposed partnership, they said.
You have to love Zardari’s classic inability to grasp the obvious. It might suggest that Pakistan was the main problem. Yes, indeed it might. Because Obama himself grasped that long before he dispatched Jones and Brennan. I thought of this watching Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism adviser, field questions Monday from the press on whether our relationship with Pakistan will be under any additional duress since, well, they were hiding Osama bin Laden on their own turf and we had to put special forces on the ground to go get him. Brennan first let it be known that the Pakistanis aren’t fooling anyone:
One unfortunate but enduring truth of the Middle East is that the act of making peace with Israel, for an Arab leader—whether Christian or Muslim—is also the act of instantly becoming a target for assassination.
Bashir Gemayel didn’t even get as far as signing Lebanon’s peace treaty with Israel before the Syrians erased him. One man who did get that far was Anwar Sadat, and the legend of his assassin, the Islamist Khalid Islambouli, has been treated as the saga of a hero by Iran’s Islamist leadership ever since.
That reverence has been a point of contention between Iran and Egypt to this day—but that may be changing. Here is Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty yesterday:
There was much understandable indignation directed at the Malaysian politicians responsible for the trial of Anwar Ibrahim in 1998—most notably, of course, then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who was Anwar’s mentor and the instigator of the trial that put Anwar behind bars when he began to challenge Mahathir’s leadership. It was a political exercise, and it was meant to get the up-and-coming Anwar out of the way—eliminate the coming dissent within the party structure.
But it also, as we have written here before, made Anwar a star—the hero in an exotic and anachronistic Malaysian drama. His supporters in the West took his side largely because of their sense of justice and his ability to play to their egos. And so, when Anwar was put on trial for the second time several years ago for sodomy, his supporters sprang to action once again. Paul Wolfowitz and Al Gore said he not only “has been charged under very dubious circumstances,” but also that “as a political leader, statesman and intellectual, Mr. Anwar possesses qualities that encourage hope for the future.”
Their sense of judicial fairness is important here, because new information has come to light in another trial—this one involving Anwar’s current political nemesis, Prime Minister Najib Razak. The difference this time around is that Anwar is the one who may have been manipulating evidence and fabricating his rival’s culpability. And this begs the question: Will Anwar’s champions speak as loudly for Najib as they did for Anwar?
In my last post, I took Gershom Gorenberg to task for selling a peace plan that is old wine in a new bottle—a plan that promised peace as long as Prime Minister Netanyahu was “replaced” with someone who would follow orders from the Saudi royal family.
I noted how dangerous this mindset is, and how contemptuous of Israeli democracy you must be to push it. But I don’t think I really showed just how ridiculous and vacuous the plan itself is—a topic that really does warrant an explanation. Here, in their entirety, are the Israeli Peace Initiative’s sections on Syria and Lebanon:
Brace yourselves for a revolution in peacemaking. The riddle of Israeli-Palestinian peace has been solved, and anti-settler crusader Gershom Gorenberg would like to draw your attention to the solution, at long last, to the Arab-Israeli conflict: the recently released Israeli Peace Initiative, written and signed onto by former public officials.
This intensely creative, out-of-the-box idea is—drum roll please: borders based on the 1967 lines, a divided Jerusalem, giving the Golan Heights to Syria, and promises—scout’s honor, super-serious promises—of security and eventual normalization from Arab countries.
What’s that, you say? This all sounds suspiciously like the Saudi peace plan, matching Israeli concessions with empty promises from the Arab world? That these retread, recycled ideas have been rejected for a reason? That the Palestinians have never been able to show they are capable of holding up their end of a security arrangement? That the only way to achieve peace with Syria is for the Golan to be in Israeli possession, and that the residents of the Golan don’t want to be under the thumb of Syrian dictatorship? Then you’re simply not listening to how historic and important and awesome and historic this is. Let Gorenberg tell you:
The new initiative’s first target is the Israeli political debate. It’s meant to show that peace terms close to what Arab leaders have proposed are militarily safe and publicly legitimate. It also shows that Netanyahu is the obstacle, and that he must be replaced. Lipkin-Shahak, ex-Gen. and Mossad chief Danny Yatom, ex-Shin Bet chief Yaakov Perry, and other signatories speak the classic national-security language, very short on feelings, that has a strong influence in an anxious country. Their political allegiances, past or present, are not to the radical left, but to the center-left or center, precisely the part of the electorate that has seemingly lost interest in peace. Their endorsement for negotiating based on the June 4, 1967 borders — that is, for leaving the West Bank and Golan Heights — identifies that position as centrist and Netanyahu as the extremist.
Yes, for this surrender (I mean peace initiative!) to be enacted, Netanyahu must go. This peace initiative is so great, that its only obstacle is Netanyahu. We know that, because (at least on Planet Gorenberg) Netanyahu has been prime minister, uninterrupted, since the early 1980s, and that’s why there has been no peace. If Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, or even Ehud Barak had received a shot at leading the country since the beginning of the peace process, we would have had peace.
But of course outside Planet Gorenberg the leftist prime ministers have had ample opportunities for peace. In fact, for the first thirty years of Israel’s existence the Left had such a stranglehold on government that you couldn’t get a job as a mail carrier if you had any record of expressing even a passing admiration for Menachem Begin. After that, Likud at least had the occasional chance to run Israeli foreign policy. But their odds were daunting: in 1996, Bibi Netanyahu had to run not only against Shimon Peres, but against Bill Clinton’s vile and insulting meddling in Israeli politics. Netanyahu won anyway, signaling that perhaps the “peace camp” weren’t as popular with the Israeli public as Bill Clinton’s pollsters kept telling him they were. Clinton rectified this by sending his entire campaign team to Israel to get Ehud Barak elected in 1999. And then there was peace! Well, not really. The Arabs rejected the comprehensive peace plan Barak offered.
So the record goes something like this: Peres, Rabin, Barak, and Ehud Olmert all failed at attaining peace with the Palestinians. So what makes Gorenberg so sure that Netanyahu is the obstacle? Political extremism. Commentators like Gorenberg push the idea that Israeli concessions will bring peace with a sort of religious fanaticism. The settlers of Gorenberg’s fevered imagination could never match the extremism of Gorenberg himself.
Netanyahu is listening to his voters. Gorenberg shows the classic leftist disdain for democracy, which is why he doesn’t care that Netanyahu was elected specifically to stop this ridiculous circus of failure that the Israeli leftist “peace camp” has created. The fanatical, fundamentalist Left will continue to undermine Israeli democracy and security at every turn.
The Israeli electorate has for a decade now rejected this type of extremism at the polls. Gorenberg may not like being irrelevant, but the country is safer for it.
On the day after Israel declared a ceasefire to end Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, the Associated Press published a story that presumably was met by those in Israel with the famous quote from Adam Sandler’s character in The Wedding Singer: “Gee, you know that information really would’ve been more useful to me yesterday.” Here’s the key paragraph:
“The high visibility of uniformed Hamas police stood in contrast to the furtive movements of Hamas fighters in civilian clothing who confronted or tried to evade the Israeli onslaught that began Dec. 27. Some have suspected the Islamic group was in disarray, but even some Israeli observers have acknowledged that the tightly knit organization remains largely intact.”
That is, Hamas waited until after the war to put their uniforms on. And how nice of the AP to tell its readers that Hamas was using the entire population of Gaza as human shields the day after the ceasefire.
In any event, the reason I bring this up is because Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has begun using the same tactic, and NATO has all but raised the white flag. Here’s the Washington Post report:
The big news over the weekend was that Judge Richard Goldstone, the author of the infamous report accusing Israel of deliberately targeting civilians in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, has publicly retracted his lie. But the important part of his mea culpa is not that the story he concocted about Israel’s supposed policy of targeting civilians was false—of course it was false. But Goldstone actually admitted something else: that he never intended to prove anything. He only wanted to fling accusations and force Israel to defend herself (emphasis mine):
“Some have charged that the process we followed did not live up to judicial standards. To be clear: Our mission was in no way a judicial or even quasi-judicial proceeding. We did not investigate criminal conduct on the part of any individual in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank. We made our recommendations based on the record before us, which unfortunately did not include any evidence provided by the Israeli government. Indeed, our main recommendation was for each party to investigate, transparently and in good faith, the incidents referred to in our report. McGowan Davis has found that Israel has done this to a significant degree; Hamas has done nothing.”
It was not an investigation. It was a lynching. This was apparently his way of weaseling out of the fact that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. That is for a judicial proceeding, he says, which is not what he was leading. And you just have to love that last part of the quote above. Israel took his advice and investigated the crimes he said happened but didn’t. As if Israel doesn’t already investigate such incidents on its own. As if Judge Goldstone’s libel was the only way to spur Israeli self-examination. You get the impression that Goldstone still doesn’t grasp the magnitude of his hoax.
But the worst thing about this whole affair is that Goldstone’s retraction will change absolutely nothing. Here is what Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar had to say:
“Upon seeing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s radiant face as he celebrated Judge Richard Goldstone’s confession that his UN report on Operation Cast Lead dealt too harshly with Israel, and upon hearing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s attack on the Jewish judge–one might have thought that those two politicians were the ones who sent the Israel Air Force to bomb the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-2009. What about a good word for Ehud Olmert? A small bouquet of flowers for Tzipi Livni? After all, they’re the ones who showed the whole world that Israel can attack Palestinian residential areas and come out looking like the victim.
Operation Cast Lead 1, manufactured by Kadima, constitutes an Israeli and international license for Cast Lead 2. The Cast Lead saga demonstrates the similarity between the two largest political parties with respect to the use of force against Hamas. Even the defense minister was not dislodged in the last election.”
Eldar is suggesting that Israel targeted civilians in Gaza and will continue to do so, even though Goldstone admitted this wasn’t true. And Eldar is saying this in an article about Goldstone’s retraction. We cannot blame only stupidity for such nonsense; it stems from a particularly creepy form of mania.
And that is where the most outrageous part of this rears its ugly head. This will change nothing. Israel’s supporters know the IDF is the world’s most moral army. And Israel’s detractors will continue to spread—and believe—any false demon they can summon. Remember all those minds that were changed when it turned out that Reuters had run doctored and staged photos during the Second Lebanon War in order to paint Israel as the aggressive, civilian targeting monster they believe she is? Me neither.
Part of that has to do with the fact that you cannot really undo the damage from such propaganda. The first draft of history—especially when it’s the version your readers want to believe—is almost impossible to replace. To this day we are still living with the consequences of the false account of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam pushed by the mainstream media at the time and the harmful policies that were developed in the wake of it, despite the fact that, like Goldstone, some of those who wrote such stories later admitted their conscious deception.
But it’s also in part because anyone who wants so badly to believe the Goldstone fraud will continue to believe it, like influential columnists at Israel’s premier leftist newspaper. And if Goldstone’s retraction won’t change the minds at Haaretz, how can anyone expect it to change minds at, say, the Guardian or the New York Times?
It was a terrible thing that Goldstone did. And it will be just as terrible when, during the next battle, another puzzlingly venerated institution does it again. And it will be equally terrible when no one cares.
Senators to Clinton: You’re Supposed to Care about the Abuse of Palestinian Children and Their Incitement to Murder Jews
When I was editor of The Jewish State, I praised Barack Obama’s nomination of Hillary Clinton for secretary of state. I did so for two main reasons: I thought Clinton had a better understanding of the region than just about anyone else Obama would have appointed (it’s not like the leftist professor-president was going to appoint John Bolton), and because Clinton’s strong personality would keep Joe Biden away from Mideast policymaking.
Here’s what I wrote about Biden at the time:
Biden has spent 35 years in the U.S. Senate, and in that time has accumulated an almost perfect record on foreign affairs: he has, by any honest account, never been right. He opposed helping anti-communist and anti-Soviet groups during the Cold War. He called the surge in Iraq a “tragic mistake,” and advocated splitting Iraq into three states, thus offering the state on a silver platter to Iran.
Biden also famously, three weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, offered this at his committee meeting: “Seems to me this would be a good time to send, no strings attached, a check for $200 million to Iran.” The New Republic’s Michael Crowley recalled the immediate reaction of the room to this idea.
“He surveys the table with raised eyebrows, a How do ya like that? look on his face,” Crowley described. Then, according to Crowley, one by one staffers begin to point out the obvious flaws in that idea: it’s a transparent publicity stunt; the Iranians would send it back, embarrassing us; that day the Iranians were in Moscow negotiating an arms deal to which the U.S. was strongly opposed. “But Joe Biden is barely listening anymore. He’s already moved on to something else.”