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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Tobin’

Who’s ‘Idiotic’ On Israel – Palin Or Obama?

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Sarah Palin is a magnet for criticism and sometimes she deserves it. But not always.

Her statements while in Israel last week and about her visit afterward generated the usual scorn that anything she says produces.

An online discussion at Politico about her comments was headlined on its homepage as concerning “Palin’s idiotic comments about Israel.”

So how “idiotic” were they? The correct answer is not very.

During an interview on Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren show, Palin criticized President Obama for not being sufficiently supportive of Israel:

I think there are many in Israel who would feel even more comfortable knowing that there is an even greater commitment from those who presently occupy the White House that they are there on Israel’s side, and that our most valuable ally in that region can count on us . Why aren’t we putting our foot down with the other side and telling the Palestinians, if you’re serious about peace, quit the shellacking and the shelling. Quit the bombing of innocent Israelis.

Far from stupid, these remarks are actually very much to the point about the willingness of this administration, and some of its predecessors, to pressure Israel to make concessions when the real obstacle to peace is what it always has been: the Palestinians’ unwillingness to make peace or to give up terrorism.

But to supposedly smart Americans, the really “stupid” thing she said was her criticism of Obama’s stands about Israeli settlement building:

“President Obama was inappropriate to intervene in a zoning issue in Israel. Let Israel decide their zoning issues themselves.”

Her reference to settlement building as a “zoning issue” is considered by some to be more evidence that Palin doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

It is true that the question of whether Jews have a right to live and build in parts of their ancient capital or the West Bank is a bit more complicated than the conventional disputes about building a parking lot, a business, or even a house of worship in a residential area that roil American cities and suburbs.

The question of the legitimacy or the wisdom (two separate issues) of settlements is not just a matter of “zoning;” it is an existential question that goes to the very heart of whether there ought to be a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn.

But the scoffing at Palin is a bit overblown because, in the end, the question of where and where not to build is one that must be decided by Israel’s people. In that sense it is very much a local issue that the president was wrong to stick his nose into.

If Palin thinks of it in terms of zoning, it may be because, unlike Obama, she takes it for granted that Jews have the right to be in their own country and build wherever it is legally permissible to do so.

Twice in his first two years in office Obama picked very nasty fights with Israel’s government over the building of homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. They were both unnecessary and had the effect of making peace negotiations with the Palestinians less likely.

So when you look at it from that perspective, maybe it’s Obama and not Palin who has been the “idiotic” one when it comes to Israeli building policies.

Jonathan Tobin is executive editor of Commentary magazine and a featured blogger at Commentary’s “Contentions” blog, where this first appeared.

Kissinger And The Moral Bankruptcy Of Détente

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history.

But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision.

Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning two million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes.

But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.”

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of six million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/kissinger-and-the-moral-bankruptcy-of-detente/2010/12/22/

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