Monday, July 30, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 7/30/2012: Implications and Reactions To Romney In Israel

From DG:
1) The bigger schlep The electoral battle for the pro-Israel vote continues. This week's Mishpacha magazine had an item about the extensive voter registration drive in Israel by Republicans. (The article notes that Obama won about 25 percent of the Israeli American vote in 2008, so this likely has less to do with increasing the percentage of voters, but the number of voters.) With Gov. Romney's trip to Israel this weekend coverage of the two candidates' views on Israel have received extensive coverage. The Washington Post started with Mitt Romney likely to get a warm welcome in Israel:
“People here feel that [Obama] has not had the level of warmth toward Israel that most presidents have had,” said Abe Katsman, a Jerusalem attorney who serves as counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel. The complaints of Romney backers here center on positions that have put Washington at odds with Netanyahu: an insistence early in Obama’s term on a freeze on Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; a statement that a peace agreement with the Palestinians should be based on Israel’s 1967 boundaries, with “mutually agreed” land swaps; and an approach to Iran that is seen as not tough enough, engaging in protracted diplomacy while warning Israel against a unilateral military strike.  
“This idea of putting daylight between the U.S. government and Israel — who does that to an ally?” Katsman said. “And why make the disagreement public?”
A followup article Romney visits Jerusalem’s Western Wall on Jewish holiday has similar, if less specific sentiments. ("Holy Day" would probably have been a better description of Tisha B'Av than "holiday.")
“The whole point of this trip is Romney has to be here,” said Carl Sherer, a U.S. citizen who has been living in Israel for two decades. “He’s got to be here for us, and Obama just hasn’t been here for us the last three years.” 
Israel Shonek, 22, an American studying in Israel, said Romney’s visit on the Tisha B’av fasting holiday was “very poignant.” 
“It’s a very special thing,” Shonek said. “It sends a statement that Obama hasn’t sent to the Jewish people. They haven’t felt this kind of warmth from Obama.”
Of course, there was also a business aspect to the Israeli trip for Romney who held a fundraiser in Jerusalem this morning. Last night, Romney met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The New York Times reported Romney Backs Israeli Stance on Threat of Nuclear Iran:
The scene was more like a campaign rally than a solemn place of prayer. Women stood on chairs to peer over the fence that divides them from the men, many of whom clapped and waved as the candidate and his entourage snaked through; people actually praying were pushed to the back as security officers cordoned off a space for the candidate. ... Shepherding Mr. Romney at the wall was J. Philip Rosen, a Manhattan lawyer who owns a home in Jerusalem and helped organize a $50,000-per-couple fund-raiser scheduled for Monday morning. Mr. Rosen said Sunday he expected up to 80 people for the breakfast, up from his estimate on Friday of 20 to 30, because of the influx of Americans. 
Among those who flew here for the event were the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has vowed to spend $100 million this political season to defeat Mr. Obama and wore a pin that said “Romney” in Hebrew letters; Cheryl Halpern, a New Jersey Republican and advocate for Israel; Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets; John Miller, chief executive of the National Beef Packing Company; John Rakolta, a Detroit real estate developer who led the finance committee for Mr. Romney’s 2008 presidential bid; L. E. Simmons, the owner of a private-equity firm in Texas with ties to the oil industry; Paul Singer, founder of a $20 billion hedge fund; and Eric Tanenblatt, a Romney fund-raiser in Atlanta who had never visited Israel. Scott Romney, the governor’s brother, and Spencer Zwick, his national finance chairman, also were on hand.
In a guest appearance in The Lede blog, Arab Spring reporter, David Kirkpatrick critiqued Gov. Romney's Israel Hayom interview:
Mr. Romney discussed the Arab Spring revolts as a problem rather than progress. He asserted against some evidence that the Obama administration had abandoned an agenda of pushing for democratic reform pursued by George W. Bush, and he characterized even the most moderate and Western-friendly Islamists – those in the political parties leading legislatures in Tunisia and Morocco – as political opponents. The last runs counter to the Obama administration’s strategy, endorsed by some Republicans in Congress, of building alliances with moderate Islamists where possible.
In other words Kirkpatrick's critique consists of arguing that Romney views the Arab spring differently from the way he does. Kirkpatrick views "moderate" Islamists - such as the Muslim Brotherhood - are pragmatic politicians who need to be embraced by the West. Call it the Lord Hylton view, if you will. In Romney Captures Jerusalem, Barry Rubin highlighted a number of key lines made by Romney in his Jerusalem speech.
Of tremendous importance was Romney’s hint that the weakness of the Obama administration has encouraged extremists to become more aggressive and Iran to be bolder. He never said this directly but mentioned “the ayatollahs in Tehran testing our moral defenses” to see if the West would abandon Israel. Perhaps the speech’s most important line was this one: 
“We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel, voice their criticisms. And we certainly should not join in that criticism.” 
This is a critique of Obama’s argument that he would persuade the Arabs to end the conflict by distancing the United States from Israel.
Earlier Rubin had noted:
Not allergic to Israel’s center-right. Romney quoted former Prime Minister Menahem Begin twice and referred to “my friend, Bibi Netanyahu.” Obama wouldn’t have cited either man and is known to loathe Netanyahu. Romney and Netanyahu have known each other for years. The Begin quotes were significant: that Israel will never again let its independence be destroyed (a reference perhaps to Israel’s need not to be completely subservient to America’s current president) and that if people say they want to destroy you then believe them (an explicit reference to Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons).
Four and a half years ago, in Cleveland candidate Obama said:
"I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel".
First of all that line betrayed an ignorance of Israeli politics. Worse, given that it was foreseeable that a future President Obama might well find himself having to deal with a Likud government, it was unbelievably shortsighted for him to say publicly that he would be opposed to such a government. This past week, Charles Krauthammer wrote in Why he's going where he's going:
And then there is Israel, the most egregious example of Obama’s disregard for traditional allies. Obama came into office explicitly intent on creating “daylight” between himself and Israel, believing that by tilting toward the Arabs, they would be more accommodating. 
The opposite happened. (Surprise!) When Obama insisted on a building freeze in Jerusalem that no U.S. government had ever demanded and no Israeli government would ever accept, the Palestinian Authority saw clear to become utterly recalcitrant. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas openly told The Post that he would just sit on his hands and wait for America to deliver Israel. 
Result? Abbas refused to negotiate. Worse, he tried to undermine the fundamental principle of U.S. Middle East diplomacy — a negotiated two-state solution — by seeking unilateral U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood, without talks or bilateral agreements.
The Abbas statement Krauthammer quoted,was from Jackson Diehl interview that foretold Abbas's refusal to negotiate for the bulk of Obama's term. No doubt that the "pro-Likud" statement emboldened Abbas.Israel Matzav and JoshuaPundit note an article by Eli Lake, Key Pro-Israel Obama Ally Splits (more at memeorandum)
“Ambassador Ross was obviously the No. 1 pro-Israel surrogate for the Obama campaign in 2008,” said Josh Block, a former press aide for the Clinton administration and former top spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “The fact that after three years of working on Mideast policy side-by-side with the president, Ambassador Ross has decided to sit out this campaign, unlike other former top officials now at nonpartisan think tanks, will certainly be understood as a message of its own, intentionally or unintentionally.” 
Ross himself said, “I can give substantive advice to the administration, the president’s campaign, or any campaign that would ask for it. And, of course, when I speak I can talk about my views on policy and I have been supportive of the president’s policy on leading foreign-policy issues.” 
That’s a departure from Ross’s hands-on work with the Obama administration over the past four years.
Just to keep in mind the reasons Ross cited to support Obama:
Consider what has happened to Israel's strategic position during the course of the Bush administration. In 2001, Iran was not a nuclear power, but it is today. It could not enrich uranium then but it does so now and has already stockpiled several-hundred kilos of low-enriched uranium -- about half of what it would need for its first nuclear bomb. The Bush policy on Iran has failed, and unless the next president can change Iranian behavior, Israel will face an existential threat. It already faces a dramatically different threat from what it faced seven years ago from both Hezbollah and Hamas. 
Hezbollah now has a veto power over any decision the Lebanese government can make and possesses 40,000 rockets -- and those rockets are not only three times as many as it had only two years ago but are more accurate and have longer range than the ones that hit Israel in the summer of 2006. Hamas has taken over Gaza, creating a miniterror state there and today has over 2,000 rockets. 
Israel cannot afford four more years of seeing the threats grow against it. It cannot afford four more years of U.S. policies that are tough rhetorically but soft practically. It cannot afford four more years of America being on the sidelines diplomatically.
The cynic in me thinks that George W. Bush was the first president not to employ Ross in some capacity in twenty years and that Ross was looking for a position in the Obama administration. Even so, can Ross say that he's seen anything in the Obama administration has been anything more than "tough rhetorically but soft practically?" My guess is that Ross didn't feel he could sell the Obama administration a second time. Mondoweiss's headline: Dennis Ross's neutrality shows lobby is with Romney. (I won't link but you can look it up if you wish.) Unfortunately, that doesn't sound a whole lot different from what was reported by the Washington Post early in Ross's tenure, Dennis Ross Faces Big Task on Iran Policy, Including Overcoming Pro-Israel Label.

2) Written on the subway walls

A few weeks ago posters depicting the purported loss of Palestinian territory to Israel were put up at Metro North stations in the New York area.
The signs appear in commercial space atop recycling bins at train station entrances and on train platforms at 50 Metro-North stations.  
They were paid for by ex-Wall Street financier Henry Clifford, 84, who now resides in Essex, Conn. He said he financed month-long campaign with $25,000 of his own money. 
"I am very critical of what Israel has done to the Palestinian people," said Hill, who chairs the 10-member Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine, which also has Jewish members. "I'm very critical of our government for supporting Israel and enabling it."
The problem is that the posters are deceptive. Yaakov Lozowick writes:
I suppose you may say I'm quibbling, and that in a territory which had a minority of Jews 150 years ago, there has emerged a state of foreigners which has thwarted the emergence of a state of the original population. This, of course, is true. The tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that both sides are right, and both have legitimate claims on the same tiny piece of land. Most of us think that the only way to resolve the conflict is for each side to reconcile itself to the loss of important parts of the territory so that the other side will have room for their national state. As to why this hasn't yet happened, you and I probably disagree. We may also not agree on the details of how the partition ought to be done. Yet those are legitimate issues which need to be resolved in negotiations. 
The maps you've published, on the other hand, tell a different story: that Israel is purposefully pushing out the Palestinians so as to have the entire land for itself. This is not true, which explains why in order to make the claim the maps need to be so sloppy with the facts. 
Finally, a note on projection. I never cease to be surprised by Americans, Canadians, Australians or New Zealanders who feel they have a moral right to condemn the Jews for migrating to another land and pushing aside the natives. Surely the Jewish case for moving to the land of their history is vastly better than the case of Europeans moving to continents they had no history in. Over time, however, I've begun to notice that such critics of the Jews assume, perhaps subconsciously, that the behavior of the Jews must by necessity follow the pattern of their own forebears: total dismissal of their common humanity with the natives they're pushing aside, followed by near-total dispossession. This, however, is a complex of the critics, and has very little to do with the Jews.
Elder of Ziyon points out that Clifford's response to Lozowick shows that he knows that his ads are dishonest. Stand with Us will be responding to the ads.

In other public transportation news, the Volokh Conspiracy notes Federal Court Strikes Down N.Y. City Bus Policy That Bans “Demean[ing]” Speech About Religions, Racial Groups, Etc.

  1. I sympathize with the arguments that the government, acting as service provider, should be able to exclude material that is likely to greatly alienate or offend some of its customers, while still making money from material that won’t have that effect. But the Court has indeed held that viewpoint-based restrictions, even on government property that isn’t a “traditional public forum,” are unconstitutional; and this also makes some sense, given just how much money and property the government owns (especially once one goes beyond just access to physical property, and gets to access to broadly available government benefit programs, such as charitable tax exemptions). Under this doctrine, I think a ban on “demean[ing]” speech about religions, races, and the like is unconstitutionally viewpoint-based, given that positive speech about various groups — or about tolerance, equality, and so on — is allowed.

  2. I’m not sure that advertising space should be consider a “designated public forum,” in which strict scrutiny applies to all content-based restrictions, as opposed to a “limited public forum,” in which the government can impose content-based but viewpoint-neutral restrictions. This having been said, the district court points out that Second Circuit precedent (which is binding on federal district courts in New York) treats this very program as a designated public forum.

  3. If the space is indeed a designated public forum, then I think even a ban on all disparaging speech would be content-based — when we say that speech is disparaging, we are making a statement about the content of its message, and its communicative impact. What’s more, I think such a ban would even be viewpoint-based, since it targets negative viewpoints about people or groups and not positive viewpoints. So while I think a ban on particular vulgarities would be content-based but viewpoint-neutral, so the government could ban them in a limited public forum, a ban on disparaging speech would be viewpoint-based. ... I therefore think that, both under the district court’s view that the ad program was a designated public forum, and under the view that the ad program was a limited public forum, even the broad ban on demeaning speech about anyone would be unconstitutional.
More at Legal Insurrection.

3) Who dunnit? A few days ago I wrote about some speculation about last week's explosion in Damascus. I quoted an article that cited Mordechai Kedar expressing concern that it was a Jihadist group that was responsible for the attack. Kedar has a critic, who tweeted that the video was made in advance of the event. (h/t Challah Hu Akbar) Foreign Policy magazine interviewed former Israeli chief of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin and asked him about the explosion (h/t Martin Kramer).
FP: What is the significance, apart of the psychological effect, of the assassination of top Syrian security officials last week? Did it really damage the regime's operational capabilities? 
AY: The assassinations were substantial. Four senior officials were killed. This had a psychological effect, but also a serious operational one. Still, history proves regimes can survive even after stronger strategic setbacks.
Like Yadlin's other answers this is short and to the point. If Yadlin thought that someone other than the rebels were responsible, I'd guess that he'd have mentioned it. Apparently Gen Qasim Suleimani has been spotted in Iran and was not killed in the Damascus blast. (h/t Challah Hu Akbar) Assad's troops have started  an assault on Aleppo, as the New York Times reports in Syrian Helicopter Fire on Aleppo as Defection Reported:
Military experts have long speculated that President Assad’s army, which has been scrambling to crush rebel resistance in urban areas like Homs, Hama and more recently central and southern neighborhoods of Damascus during the uprising, lacked the military resources to take on an armed rebellion in all major cities at once. That seemed to explain the delay in Aleppo, where anticipation of an attack has been building for days. ... But Ms. Nuland also indicated that the United States was not reconsidering its stance against military intervention, saying, “We do not think pouring more fuel onto the fire is going to save lives.” And she drew a sharp distinction between Aleppo and the Libyan city of Benghazi, where fears of a slaughter by government troops led to a NATO bombing campaign that proved decisive in toppling Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi last year. “The kind of groundswell call for external support that we’ve seen elsewhere is not there,” Ms. Nuland said.
William Tucker believes that the outcome if Aleppo will say something about the balance of power between Assad's troops and the rebels. (h/t Aaron Mannes)
The ground assault by Assad’s forces is imminent, but it should tell us a great deal about the capabilities of both the loyalists and the opposition military forces.Additionally, it will reveal some of the tactics the opposition may employ in other major cities. Keep in mind that opposition forces may withdraw from Aleppo, but that shouldn’t be construed as a defeat for the rebel movements. Rather, it would be a sign that the opposition is continuing to engage regime forces only in battles that can be won. With the Assad regime on the back foot time is favoring the opposition. Each successful strike increases the doubt of the regime loyalists about the viability of the current government and may induce them to defect. For now, the opposition seems content to set the time and place of each engagement with the regime. Aleppo may be a turning point, but it is also likely that the opposition is simply distracting the regime while preparing an assault elsewhere.
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