World

Poof! Israelis and Palestinians Head for the Brink

AP Images/Brendan Smialowski

On the El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman wandered into the economy section looking for an aide, or perhaps just too tense after a long week in America to sit still. Lieberman wore the uncertain smile of a man in strange territory who doesn't know where he's going. The young muscular guy sitting next to me, wearing a dark jacket and a shirt open at the collar, the uniform of muscular men who accompany Israeli ministers, constituted an immediate warning against buttonholing his boss. He did mention, however, that no one in the foreign minister's party had slept in the past week.

Poof! There it Is

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite

It was the “poof” heard ‘round the world. Or at least halfway ‘round the world. Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry described the sequence of events leading to the current crisis in talks between Israelis and Palestinians, which came to a head with the announcement of 700 hundred new Israeli settlement homes.

Why Reading Globally Matters

The case for breaking our parochial American reading habits.

AP Images/Anthony Devlin

When it was announced in March that Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo had won the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award for her mesmerizing debut novel We Need New Names, it wasn’t difficult to share in her victory. Honors such as these further prove that literature from all parts of the world merits our collective attention. Bulawayo, who writes in English, shows the beaming promise of a young Junot Diaz. With a style all her own—one steeped in wit and striking imagination—she movingly details the complexities of the immigrant experience. Not only is Bulawayo talented, she is also necessary. Discovering her and her work, whether we know it or not, is necessary.

The News Isn't the Silencing. It's the Debate

AP Images/Nanette Kardaszeski

The event was billed as a discussion about "What It Means To Be Pro-Israel." It was actually a screening of a new film ostensibly aimed at proving that the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group, J Street, is aligned "with the Arab side" against Israel. The film, The J Street Challenge, features talking heads of the Jewish right haughtily describing their opponents as arrogant. It begins with a quote from George Orwell, an unintentionally appropriate touch in an thoroughly Orwellian movie. By the final credits, it turns out that the film is also somewhat mislabeled: Its ultimate target isn't J Street or its support for a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The target is American Jewish liberalism as such.

Disrespecting Your Defender

AP Images/Reynaldo Paganelli/NurPhoto/REX

Moshe Ya'alon thinks that President Barack Obama is a wimp and that Secretary of State John Kerry is mentally incompetent. If Ya'alon were a GOP senator, this wouldn't be worthy of comment. He'd be doing what has come to be the job of Republican politicians: to blame every international crisis on Obama's alleged lack of machismo and to presume that action-hero growls will attract votes this November and two years hence. The job requirements do not include providing realistic policy alternatives.

Daily Meme: The Crimean War 2.0

  • Diplomatic hell broke out this weekend when the citizens of Crimea, the southwestern region of Ukraine at the center of a standoff between Russia and the West, voted to secede and join Russia.

The Imagined Reagan Will Live Forever

In 2012, the most popular baby names, according to the Social Security Agency, were Jacob for boys (18,899 little Jacobs) and Sophia for girls (22,158 wee Sophias). But holding on strong in the girl category, still cracking the top 100 at #97, was Reagan. No fewer than 3,072 proud, freedom-loving Americans named their girls after our 40th president that year, nearly a quarter-century after he left office.

Liberals, it need hardly be said, don't go in for that sort of thing. Would you consider naming your kid after a Democratic president? Probably not. I have a friend who named his son Truman, but let's just say that in school when the teacher calls his name, nobody has to ask which of the class' many Trumans she means. I'm sure there are some parents who have named their boys Barack, but even in 2009, at the height of President Obama's popularity, the name Barack didn't crack the top 1,000.

What's interesting about this isn't just the contrast between liberals and conservatives but the fact that even among conservatives, there's no one who even comes close to the kind of quasi-religious worship Reagan gets. It's partly because, depending on your definition of success, he was the most successful Republican president in the lifetime of most living Republicans. But even for people who remember his presidency, the actual details of that presidency have become completely irrelevant. Ronald Reagan now exists as purely as a symbol, an embodiment of every virtue one might admire, whether Reagan himself actually embodied those virtues or not.

Tolerance For the Non-Religious, Here and Around the World

Our chart of the day comes from the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes project, which asked people in 40 different countries whether it is necessary to believe in god in order to be a moral person. There's a lot going on within that yes-or-no question, and one could see how it could carry different connotations in different cultures. The results aren't just a measure of people's own religious beliefs, but also of the character of the place they're in and the exposure they have to people who aren't like them. If you've always been taught that the nature of right and wrong and the enforcement of those rules comes from the church, and virtually everyone you've ever known believes in god, those who don't would seem like something of an alien species. So for instance, in Ghana, where 96 percent of people in another poll described themselves as religious, it isn't surprising that 99 percent in this poll—or basically everyone in both cases —says you have to believe in god to be moral.

At the other end, if you live in a place where most people don't believe in god, even if you do, you probably know many perfectly nice people who don't, so it would be harder to sustain the belief that they're all inherently amoral psychopaths. For example, in France, where about a third of people describe themselves as religious, only 15 percent say you need to believe in god to be moral. Unlike in Ghana where there are virtually no religious people willing to grant the morality of those who aren't religious, in France over half of religious people are willing to be so generous.

What about the U.S., you ask? Show us the chart already! Here it is:

Dealing with Iran's Two Faces

AP Images

Israel’s announcement on Wednesday that its naval commandoes had seized a civilian ship laden with Iranian rockets bound for militant groups in Gaza came a day late to be included in the bill of particulars against Iran in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference. But it did come in time for a briefing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee by Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, who used it to bolster the argument that Iran’s only true face is the terrorist one.

Daily Meme: Vladimir Putin is Delusional Like a Fox

  • In the wee hours of yesterday morning, while you were still blissfully asleep, Russia's president and tiger-fighter-in-chief, Vladimir Putin, gave a strange, rambling press conference.

Time to Dump "Pro-Israel"

An Israel Day parade in New York. (Flickr/Johnk85)

There have been a lot of angry debates recently about Israel, complete with the requisite accusations of anti-Semitism hurled at just about anyone whose opinions about the country's history and policies contain any complexity whatsoever. Which means that this month is pretty much like any other. So let me make a proposal: Isn't it about time we just banished the very ideas of "pro-Israel" and "anti-Israel" once and for all?

Think about it this way: When was the last time you heard the designation "pro-Israel" or "anti-Israel" and found it a useful distinction that added to rather than subtracted from the discussion at hand? Ever? Instead, the terms are used almost exclusively as ad hominem, a way of shutting down debate by proclaiming that someone's intentions are sinister and therefore their arguments can be dismissed out of hand without addressing their substance.

Conservatives Condemn Weak Weakness of Weakling Obama

If Obama started on the Charles Atlas program, no one would kick sand in America's face.

Am I the only one seeing a new sense of purpose in the old neoconservative crowd, an almost joyful welcoming of a good old-fashioned Cold War showdown with the Russkies? Nobody's saying they don't love the War on Terror, but let's be honest, it's getting a bit old. Best to forget all about Iraq, and Afghanistan isn't much better. That jerk Barack Obama ended up getting Osama bin Laden, which was—well, let's be kind and call it bittersweet. But this Ukraine thing is just like old times. It's us against them, a battle of the big boys! Well, sort of anyway. So now is the time for action! Aren't there some missiles we can move into Turkey or something?

Ukraine is providing a great opportunity for the muscle-bound manly men of the right, who are totally not overcompensating so shut up, to demonstrate how tough and strong they are. Action!, they demand. Not words! We have to show Putin who's boss! He thinks we're weak! Obama is weak! We must be strong! Strong strong strong!

Will Iraq Break a U.N. Arms Embargo On Iran?

AP Images/ffice of the Iranian Supreme Leader

Earlier this week, Reuters broke the story that Iraq had signed a deal to purchase $125 million worth of arms and ammunition from its eastern neighbor and former bitter enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran. If carried through, the deal would violate a UN arms embargo on Iran, in place since March 2007. It’s the latest evidence of the new relationship that has steadily developed between two countries that fought a hugely destructive war between 1980 and 1988.

Daily Meme: El Chapo and Our War on Drugs

Israel-Palestine Peace: A Hostage to History

AP Images/Mahmoud Illean

One of Benjamin Netanyahu's best known preconditions for a two-state peace accord is that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state. That's actually the short version of the Israeli prime minister's demand, it turns out. The long version, as he laid out last week before the most amenable audience he could find, is that the Palestinians must sign off on the entire Jewish narrative of the history of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.

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