World

Did Pope Francis Throw the Symbolism Contest to the Palestinians?

For the head of the Catholic Church to visit a Jewish memorial and say nothing of the historical Holocaust—the Jewish victims; the role of the Church in creating in European anti-Semitism—is jarring.

AP Photo/Osservatore Romano
AP Photo/Osservatore Romano Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, on his way to celebrate a mass in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity, believed by many to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Sunday, May 25, 2014. "T he Vatican treats this as a pilgrimage. We consider it a pilgrimage it with political implications." So a Palestinian official involved in negotiating the precise form of Pope Francis's visit to the Holy Land told me yesterday. The comment, though, could as easily have come from an Israeli government source. The pope's two hosts agreed on this much and no more: His pilgrimage, so carefully choreographed that even the spontaneous moments were planned in advance, sparkled with symbolism. The battle was over determining what the symbolic journey would stand for. The Palestinians won: They largely succeeded in making Francis's visit part of their campaign for statehood through international...

Ehud Olmert Exits Stage Right, But His Very Bad Idea Remains

Prominent politicians are proposing that Israel redraw its border, keeping some or all settlements and imposing a new map by fiat—an old Olmert idea. Call it hubris.

AP Photo/Dan Balilty
AP Photo/Dan Balilty Former Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 18, 2013. E hud Olmert is over. The judge who sentenced Israel's former prime minister to six years in prison has struck the final sledgehammer blow to Olmert's reputation and his comeback chances. Ironically, at the same political moment, what may have been the most irresponsible policy proposal of Olmert's career is enjoying a renaissance: the idea that Israel should unilaterally draw a new border in the West Bank, ignoring the Palestinians. Olmert was convicted of accepting bribes as Jerusalem mayor to help win approval for a monstrous set of apartment towers known (even in Hebrew) as the Holyland. Last week, handing down an unusually stiff sentence by Israeli standards, Judge David Rozen described a bribe-taking official as "a traitor." Even were Olmert to win an appeal and survive new witness-tampering allegations, the daydream of...

Why Grayson Would Make Perfect Opponent to Gowdy on Benghazi Committee

AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File
Florida Rep. Alan Grayson at a 2009 congressional hearing. ( AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File ) T he work of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Talk Points—as the new committee to investigate the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, would be more accurately named—began in earnest Friday, as the seven Republican members met for the first time with Speaker John Boehner, and then among themselves. In protest of Republican rules granting Chairman Trey Gowdy unilateral subpoena power, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has yet to appoint minority members. Democrats received no guarantee they will be allowed access to interview witnesses before public testimony is given. Regardless of Democratic participation, there is no doubt this committee is, in Nancy Pelosi’s words , a “political stunt”—simply the latest attempt by Republicans to convert tragedy into scandal. The process will undoubtedly waste millions of dollars and thousands of hours, ultimately to reach the...

What a Real Propaganda Campaign Looks Like

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements
Unfortunately, I have the sense that I'll be writing quite a bit about Benghazi in the coming months, since Republicans are cranking up their scandal calliope and the news media will eventually turn its bored gaze to the noise and fireworks. As we should keep in mind, the alleged misdeed at the heart of this matter has been downgraded from "the administration allowed four Americans to be killed" to "the administration tried to spin the story to make sure they didn't look bad." That is, quite literally, the terrible crime Republicans now believe the Obama administration committed, and the thing about which we're all supposed to be outraged. That's it. They spun. And how can we get to the bottom of this spinning without a select committee, and hour upon hour of hearings, complete with a blizzard of feigned outrage, to pile on top of the hour upon hour of hearings we've already had? Last night, the Daily Show gave us a little reminder of what a real propaganda campaign looks like: The...

The Bitter Truth about the Settlements

AP Photo/Oded Balilty
AP Photo/Oded Balilty A construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit T here are a lot of reasons for the peace effort's failure, but people in Israel shouldn't ignore the bitter truth—the primary sabotage came from the settlements.” This is what anonymous U.S. officials told journalist Nahum Barnea, a prominent columnist in Israel’s most-read newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth , in a candid interview about the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s nine-month-long effort to broker talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. It’s not just people in Israel who shouldn’t ignore this bitter truth; it’s people in America, and particularly in Washington, where there’s an entire industry dedicated to casting the Palestinians as eternal rejectionists and downplaying the impact of the settlements and occupation that sustain them. Basically, these officials are telling us more explicitly what both Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama have told us more...

'Benghazi! The Musical': Dancing, Shouting, Not Much Plot

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. I f Republicans in Congress really want to get Americans to pay attention to the Benghazi scandalette, they're going to have to do some creative thinking. Since hearings and periodic expressions of outrage haven't worked so far, maybe a musical would do the trick. A soaring ballad or two, some hopping dance numbers, maybe a pair of star-crossed lovers. Naturally, it would be called Benghazi! , kind of like Oklahoma! , only rather more grim. But in the meantime, they're going to go with a select committee to investigate the matter, as House Speaker John Boehner announced on Friday . One does wonder whether they think that if they just do some more investigating, they'll uncover the real crime. No one knows what it is yet, but just you wait. Or, as is far more likely, they're just hoping to create a lot of bad news days for the administration, where the whiff of "...

The Best Way to Deal With Putin? Take It Slow

AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service
(AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service) Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a nationally televised question-and-answer session in Moscow on Thursday, April 17, 2014. “A nd then, in an instant, everything changed forever.” It’s one of the great clichés of literature and public policy. Not only overused, it’s often deployed in an overly-deterministic way: “9/11 changed everything.” Well, no it didn’t, at least not until officials acted as if it did, and then decided to change everything: torturing innocent people, building black site prisons, starting (and failing to win) two wars, collecting information on everyone’s phone calls. Sometimes, though, U.S. foreign policy discourse has the opposite problem: Failing to absorb change, it continues to move its legs in mid-air, like Wile E. Coyote, without never looking down to notice that it’s already gone over the cliff. That’s where we are right now with Russia. Putin-huggers and old Cold Warriors...

Kerry's 'Apartheid' Gambit a Bigger Deal in U.S. Than in Israel

A good leaker, like a good spy, glories in anonymity.

State Dept Image / Apr 09, 2013
U.S. State Department O n Monday morning, "Apartheid" was the first word in the headline of the editorial at the top of page 2 in Israel's Ha'aretz daily. The newspaper's editorial page is an old-fashioned grey mass of type, the print equivalent of the low monotonous growl of an aging foreign policy commentator on public radio. But Ha'aretz wasn't growling about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's leaked warning, published late Sunday night, that unless Israel reaches a two-state agreement, it risks becoming "an apartheid state." Rather, the editorial was about the planning bodies that allow Israeli settlement construction and block Palestinian building in Area C, the part of the West Bank where Israel rather than the Palestinian Authority runs day-to-day affairs. The paper urged Israel's Supreme Court to rule against the discrimination. From this we learn two things: First, intentionally or not, whoever leaked Kerry's comments to a meeting of the Trilateral Commission on Friday did...

For the U.S., Israel and Palestine: What's Plan B?

AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool
I f the Obama administration’s view of the Israeli--Palestinian conflict could be summed up in a sentence, it is this: The status quo is unsustainable. “The status quo is unsustainable for all sides. It promises only more violence and unrealized aspirations,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual Washington policy conference in March 2010. “The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel must too act boldly to advance a lasting peace,” President Barack Obama said in his May 2011 speech at the State Department, laying out his vision of the U.S. role in the Middle East after the Arab Awakening. “Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable,” Secretary of State John Kerry told the Munich Security Conference in February. “It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.” Although the Obama administration may have coined the phrase, the...

Let's Get Together

The Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement further complicates an already flagging peace process.

Rex Features via AP Images
Rex Features via AP Images Senior Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmed, left, shakes hands with head of the Hamas government Ismail Haniyeh after announcing a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah, in Gaza City. I t’s probably smart to view yesterday’s deal between the leading Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas—in which the two groups agreed to create a consensus government and hold elections later this year—with some skepticism. Announced with similar fanfare, accords in Cairo in 2011 and in Doha in 2012 went nowhere, with neither side believing it had more to gain than lose from agreeing to share power. There are reasons to believe this time is different, though. It came after the first delegation of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leaders sent to Gaza since the brutal 2007 Fatah-Hamas civil war . The agreement was signed in Palestine—in Gaza City, to be exact—rather than a foreign capital. What’s more, reconciliation remains hugely popular amongst Palestinians. In...

Manly Men Condemn Obama's Lack of Manliness

Maybe one of these guys should run for president. (Flickr/David!)
Here's a question: If Hillary Clinton becomes president, what are conservatives going to say when they want to criticize her for not invading a sufficient number of other countries? I ask because yesterday, David Brooks said on Meet the Press that Barack Obama has "a manhood problem in the Middle East." Because if he were more manly, then by now the Israelis and Palestinians would have resolved their differences, Iraq would be a thriving, peaceful democracy, and Iran would have given up its nuclear ambitions. Just like when George W. Bush was president, right? It really is remarkable how persistent and lacking in self-awareness the conservative obsession with presidential testosterone is. Here's the exchange: DAVID BROOKS: And, let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a (I'll say it crudely) but a manhood problem in the Middle East: Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair. But certainly in the...

Poof! Israelis and Palestinians Head for the Brink

AP Images/Brendan Smialowski
O n 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. In a much more basic way, Lieberman really doesn't know where he's going, nor does Secretary of State John Kerry, with whom Lieberman met in Washington, nor Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, and sleepless anxiety is the proper state of mind for anyone involved in the triangular Israeli-Palestinian-U.S. non-negotiations. Abbas's logical, desperate...

Poof! There it Is

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
I t 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 new Israeli settlement homes. “Poof, that was sort of the moment,” Kerry said. “We find ourselves where we are.” To back up a bit, last July Kerry successfully got the two sides back to the table for nine months of talks by securing concessions from both. The Palestinians agreed to pause their efforts to gain membership in international organizations, which they are now able to do as a consequence of being accepted as a “non-member observer state” by the United Nations in 2012. The Israelis agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners held since before the 1994 Oslo Accords, in four tranches, the last of which was to have been released on March 29. As March...

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. Although I’d read a ton of poetry—from Frost to Dickinson and Whitman—I’ll submit I wasn’t all that bookish a teen. Not until the summer after my senior year of high school, in fact, did I realize my reading habits were a bit too insular, lacked variation. This needed to be remedied. So I sought out some familiar titles, made a...

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. The screening took place last Thursday in a rented hall at the University of Pennsylvania, under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia—the umbrella organization of the city's Jewish community, which could reasonably be expected to stay...

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