Category Archives: Israel

Abbas Unclothed

This week we were witness to a rare “the emperor has no clothes” moment. A federal court jury in New York City held the PLO and the Palestinian Authority liable for sponsoring, orchestrating, encouraging and financing acts of terror in Israel against Americans. These intertwined terrorist entities were ordered to pay $218M in regular damages, which under US law is trebled to more than $650M, to the victimized families. Once and for all, the official representatives of the “Palestinian” people were adjudicated to be terrorist hoodlums, something that anyone with eyes, ears and brains always knew but which was suppressed by the political and media elites for legal, political and diplomatic reasons.

And after the decision that vindicated a host of innocent Americans, Jews and non–Jews, and partly compensated them for the horrific pain and suffering they endured, the State Department had ……”no comment.” No comment?! How curious. And how unsurprising.

Under US law, funding to the PA must be halted if the PA is deemed to be a terrorist entity. The President has to certify annually that the PA is not a terrorist entity. All presidents since the 1990s have duly certified this fiction, which everyone knew to be false. This has enabled the PA to receive around $400M annually in our tax dollars, money which (in addition to feathering the nests of Arafat, Abbas and their cronies) we now know has been paid to terrorist prisoners and families of suicide bombers. In effect, our tax dollars helped underwrite these evildoers who exploded themselves on buses, streets, pizzerias, schools and shopping malls. It is sick, vulgar and horrifying.

And here’s what is equally sick, vulgar and horrifying: our tax dollars will continue to be provided to these two entities, as if the trial did not take place, as if the decision was not rendered, as if these organizations were not held liable, and as if the terror did not happen, is not happening and will not happen in the future. As if the current PA has no connection to the PA of a decade ago. As if current dictator Mahmoud Abbas was not the deputy to the murderous Arafat and was uninvolved in funding terror. As if Abbas did not personally approve payments to terrorists in the last decade, including some of the terrorists whose deeds were on trial in the federal court of New York’s Southern District.

In fact, the PA was found liable in the matter of Sokolow et al v. the PLO and PA specifically because the governing agencies of the PA were directly involved in sponsoring and funding terror and terrorists, and creating an environment in which terrorism was (is) not only acceptable but laudable. The PA leadership, the jury found, promoted terrorists, increased their salaries, paid their families a healthy wage, honored dead terrorists by naming town squares and summer camps after them, and generally incentivized terror.

I attended the defense summation last week (close friends of mine were among the plaintiffs), and the PA lawyer was certainly game. In essence, his argument was that the money paid to the terrorists was not an inducement to terror, the job promotions were not limited to the terrorists and the suicide bombers acted on their own (perhaps purchasing the suicide vests over the counter at the Ramallah shopping mall). He asserted, probably truthfully, that these terrorists would have acted even without the inducements, and under the principle of respondeat superior, an employer is only liable for the acts of his employee if the employee is acting within the scope of his employment and in furtherance of the objectives and goals of the employer. And of course, he claimed, these terrorists were not acting pursuant to PA doctrine but were rather free agents, moved by personal considerations. Even the fact that many terrorists – and behind the scenes organizers – were PA police officers was minimized or excused.

The jury rejected those contentions completely. The terrorists were acting in a way that promoted the objectives of their employer, who even compensated them or their families for their diligence in dismembering innocent shoppers and bus passengers. They knew that their superiors approved of what they were doing (especially when, um,  the superiors were involved in the planning). The PA could no longer hide behind its traditional fictions such as the ritual denunciation of terror to Western but not Arab audiences, the shell game of the creation of “new” terrorist groups with unusual names and acronyms (same thugs, different titles) and the fabricated attribution of terrorist acts to this or that alleged provocation. It was all planned, coordinated, executed and paid for by those two organizations and their derivatives, and with the connivance of too many others who preferred to look away rather than accept reality.

The defendants were found liable on every count. Finally.

This is a diplomatic earthquake.  It exposes the hollowness – again – of the failed and humiliating Oslo process, backed by more Israelis and American Jewish leaders than one cares to remember. The premise for two decades of the peace processors – American, Israeli, and European – has been that the PA wants peace, loves peace, has renounced terror forever and wants to be a civilized nation among the family of nations. That premise has been shattered as – what many of us have long known – a complete and utter hoax, an act of self-delusion among its proponents, especially many American Jews and most American Jewish organizations. Sadly, they will not be dissuaded by this decision. After all, the State Department had no comment, and therefore the decision has no practical application. To them. In the world of reality and truth, as opposed to the world of fantasy, falsehood and photo ops, it matters greatly.

What’s next? There will be appeals and further legal maneuvers. The U.S. government can step in at any time and save the PA’s skin, absolving it of its financial responsibility and announcing – when it decides to comment – that the decision related to the “old PA,” but the new PA, all good ‘ole boys, has nothing to do with that or them. The PA is already claiming to be on the verge of bankruptcy, not a great surprise for an entity that has no natural resources, no functioning economy, has been propped up for years by the West’s blackmail payments, and whose primary export is terror. (Israel this week temporarily suspended the provision of electricity to two major Arab towns for failure to pay their electric bills. Another Israeli anomaly: the Israeli taxpayer has been subsidizing its enemies’ electric needs for almost two decades.) The US government would have to allow PLO and PA assets (especially real property) to be attached.

The PA will do everything in its power and use every threat and gambit it can to avoid paying this new debt to the victims of their craving for terror.  And diplomats – stripped of the fig leaf that the PA is a civilized entity ready for statehood – have had their foundation torn out from under them. Well, that is true unless they deny what has happened, and continue to have no comment.

Not coincidentally this week, the Obama administration has doubled down in its antagonism towards Israel. The attempt to suppress PM Netanyahu’s speech has become obsessive; after all, it’s just a speech. Susan Rice, dispatched by the Obama administration (does it sound like Valerie Jarrett?) to lie about the causes of the Benghazi attacks, was irate, criticizing Netanyahu for “destroying” the US-Israel relationship, clearly an exaggeration  but something for which presumably she believes neither she nor her bosses have any – any – responsibility. How dare Netanyahu argue against the planned annihilation of his people! The nerve of those uppity Jews.

She, too, probably has no comment on the jury decision. Will she, the National Security Advisor,  recommend the designation of the PA as a “terror entity,” as common sense would demand in the wake of the verdict? Nah, the enemy is in Jerusalem, not Ramallah. It is best to ignore the jury ruling in New York.

One thing seems increasingly clear: Obama will recognize a Palestinian state before his term ends, either through a UN resolution or on his own initiative, or both. Snipers at Israel will attribute it to his poor relationship with Netanyahu, but the signs are already clear and a Netanyahu defeat in the elections will only hasten it, even as a victory will not forestall it for long. And when Obama does, his Jewish acolytes will continue to fawn over him and dote on his every word and gesture. But, his is not the final word. What happens in Israel will be decided in Israel – not in Washington and not by Obama.

What’s Obama’s biggest fear about Netanyahu’s forthcoming speech to Congress? It is not just that the Prime Minister will oppose the pending sellout to the Iranians; let Obama make his case why he thinks it is a good deal. But Obama’s greatest fear is that Netanyahu will be gracious and statesmanlike, showering praise on Obama for what he has done for Israel and critiquing the dangers implicit in abandoning the US commitment to prevent a nuclear Iran. Netanyahu will sound like a leader, a stark contrast to the pettiness, and verbal and legal thuggery, that the Obama administration has routinely employed against its perceived enemies, domestic and foreign. Netanyahu could wind up more popular – in America, at least – than Obama is, as the nation is yearning for leadership and an assertion of American exceptionalism.

It should frighten all Americans that the Obama administration has spent its last six years empowering every American enemy across the globe and alienating every ally. Israel is in Obama’s cross-hairs for several reasons, but primarily because Obama sees Israel as the impediment to the United States’ rapprochement with the Arab-Muslim world that Obama imagines will bring “peace in our time.”

It is strange that the loquacious Obama, like his State Department, has had no comment on the verdict in New York, and all because it does not fit his narrative of events, past and future.  But good people do not forget the reign of terror of the evildoers and forever extol the virtues of those who fight the good fight trying to thwart them. The Jewish people especially have a long memory – certainly this week we do – of the Amalek of old and of the Amalek reborn in our generation, and what has to be done in order to defeat it and redeem the world. The tide of history is on the side of Mordechai and Esther – those unafraid to speak truth to power and will vigorously defend the interests of the Jewish people.

 

Of Course!

Of course PM Netanyahu should address Congress on the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran and the ongoing threat of Islamic terror. If not him, then who? If not now, then when?

For one reason, Netanyahu will be in Washington anyway for the AIPAC Policy Conference. That, too, is on his agenda notwithstanding its proximity to the Israeli elections. There is a second reason as well: while Netanyahu is the probable winner in those elections and therefore will head the next government, that is by no means assured. The election campaign – as tawdry and sordid as it is – has changed no minds. Israel’s electorate is as ideologically frozen as the New Jersey tundra this winter, and the outcome will be based on the obvious: turnout of one’s supporters, as it invariably does. The percentage of Israelis actually voting in elections has steadily declined over the last two decades and is slightly above the poor participation rate in the United States. The notion that Netanyahu is coming here in order to win votes is risible. But who knows if a Prime Minister Herzog – not the strongest personality in the country – will project the same resolve or even deign to oppose an Obama whose campaign team was dispatched from the US to get him elected? It might be the last time that Netanyahu has a chance to sound the alarm.

There is a third reason why he should come and speak, and was right in accepting Speaker Boehner’s offer to become only the second foreign leader – Winston Churchill was the other – to address a joint session of Congress three times. Who will alert Congress and the American people to the clear and present danger of a nuclear Iran and the epidemic of Islamic terror – Barack Obama? He is preternaturally incapable of even uttering the phrase “Islamic terror” and has no plan to thwart the Iranian nuclear program. Obama, in just the last few years, has eviscerated the effect of two decades’ worth of diplomacy, UN resolutions and the sanctions regime that was weakening Iran, all in exchange for nothing.

Obama has two goals, both of which have combined to make him the weakest American president in the last half-century, and perhaps in the last century: he is determined not to send any American troops abroad to fight in a war of his choosing (becoming the first President in generations to accomplish that “feat,” and completely oblivious to the cost to American and human life, and world stability, now and in the future); and, he has no objection to the Iranians acquiring a nuclear capacity – as long as they don’t do it on his watch. In essence, he wants to kick the can down the road, pacify the Iranians with the carrots of trade and sanctions relief, and threaten the Israelis into inaction. Obama is today the mullahs’ best friend, and through passivity has allowed Islamic terror – of which the Iranian bomb is just one facet and future tool – to proliferate, all while he denies it really exists.

No wonder Obama reacted apoplectically to the Congressional invitation. (The lie that his minions proffered – that the White House was unaware of the offer until after it was extended and accepted – has already been exposed by the NY Times.) It was the breach of protocol – that wasn’t. No matter.

There are two issues that Netanyahu will raise that threaten to undermine the Obama plan: one is the imminence of the Iranian threat. The pending deal essentially leaves Iran with the capacity to enrich at will and produce a weapon at the time of its choosing, even assuming that it will adhere to any limitations placed or to an inspections regime. The current president, Rouhani, who headed the Iranian negotiating team over a decade ago, admitted lying back then in order to build new facilities, conceal them from UN inspectors, and continue enrichment surreptitiously. If necessary, they will lie again, except for this: Rouhani has been quite open that nothing will deter Iran from obtaining a nuclear capacity and any agreement will have to recognize that right.

Contrast his candor with Obama’s repeated assertions that he will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon – this from the same person who said “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”; who said there is “not a smidgeon of evidence of scandal” at the IRS; and who does not believe that Islamic terror even exists.

Netanyahu will burst that bubble and acquaint Americans with the dangers that an Iranian nuclear capacity poses to them and not just Israel and that the deal now pending will make Iran a nuclear power within a short time. Better to state that publicly – loudly and clearly – before the deal is finalized than do it after the deal is formally reached when such opposition by Israel’s leaders will be perceived as a frontal attack on the American President.

There is a second aspect to the Obama disenchantment with Netanyahu of which Americans should be aware. At present, Obama has no intention of bringing an accord with Iran to the US Senate for approval. He wishes to bypass Congress – again; immigration reform, anyone? – and shape US foreign policy on his own. He doesn’t care about constitutional limits; his attitude since he became president is to do what he wants and let the courts sort it out, which takes years.

Netanyahu’s address to Congress essentially re-asserts Congressional supremacy in treaty-making but, more importantly, Congressional relevance in foreign policy. It would be extremely hard for Obama to ignore Congress after Netanyahu has roused them – even subtly – in asserting their constitutional prerogatives. If I had to choose, I would suggest that this reason plays more of a role in Obama’s current disenchantment than the first, and even more than his visceral dislike of PM Netanyahu.

Allegedly, Netanyahu is being “punished” by being denied an audience with President Obama. Well, some people are glad they are not meeting. Would that they never meet again! Those meetings have never gone well for Israel, and they are always accompanied by the expectation that Israel will provide some concession in exchange for the great privilege of sitting down with the most hostile president to Israel in memory. It’s no honor, no privilege, and no good comes out of it. Sometimes a curse is actually a blessing in disguise.

Many suggest that Netanyahu’s visit threatens a rupture in US-Israel relations. Hogwash. The US-Israel alliance and friendship is not based on Obama – or even on Netanyahu – but on the American people’s recognition of justice. A poll this week showed support for Israel among Americans to be four times greater than for the Palestinian “cause,” and a majority supporting Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. And given Obama’s unpopularity in Israel – despite the way Israel’s media elites fawn over him – a confrontation with Netanyahu can only benefit Netanyahu, even if he doesn’t seek one.

Worse, Americans are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Obama’s stewardship and America’s declining role in the world. It is not just Obama’s bizarre refusal to underscore the problem of Islamic terror; that is just part of the pro-Muslim bias that clouds his thinking about world affairs. Consider: when Muslims (in America) were killed recently, they were killed – as per Obama – because they were Muslims. When blacks are killed, they are killed because they are black. But when Jews are killed, or Christians are killed, across the world, they are killed because they were “random folks” caught in the web of some never-to-be-named “violent extremists.”

Thus, to combat Islamic terror of all stripes and varieties, this is the Obama track record: Boko Haram and its kidnapping, raping, murdering and pillaging – nothing (except for a twitter campaign, for what that is worth); Syria and Iraq – next to nothing. ISIS – a barrage of verbiage, even with Americans being tortured and murdered. Al Qaeda – reborn. Afghanistan – pending withdrawal, which will again empower the Taliban. Yemen – fall of that country to Muslim radicals. Libya – the same. Some of these groups are themselves rivals but they all share one thing in common: they are not Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians or Shintos. And the enemy remains unnamed.

At a certain point, this denial moves from the realm of willful blindness into the realm of pathological blindness. And we have moved from an inability to state the truth openly – because of fear or other reasons – to an inability to state the obvious with clarity.

How many innocent heads have to roll in the Middle East before the United States reasserts its indispensable role as a force for good in the world?

Let Netanyahu come as the voice of reason and leadership, and let him sound the alarm. Those Senators who forever proclaim their love for Israel – Schumer and others – let’s see whether their Jewishness and love for America exceeds their fear of Obama and commitment to the Democratic Party. If they find an excuse to absent themselves, they should be called to account. Now is crunch time, time for Jews to move past empty expressions of support for Israel by a host of politicians and demand forthrightness, courage and action.

Those who are unwilling to face the truth and prefer to be ensnared in Obama’s tangled web will have to answer for their poltroonery. Let Netanyahu come, and let lovers of Israel, America and truth show their support for him, and for combating this generation’s greatest foe.

 

Dust Storms

Here in Israel, the election campaign is as brutal and nasty as the winter’s weather has been in New Jersey. It has, though, elicited this rare agreement among all the competing parties. They all agree that anyone who is not a candidate from their own party is a scoundrel, unfit to lead, and will guide the country toward imminent catastrophe if he/she is allowed anywhere near the reins of power. Not all unity is comforting.

The contentiousness is attributable in the first instance to the parliamentary system extant in Israel, with proportional representation that sees many small parties competing for small shares of the pie. Such an unwieldy system has never produced a majority party; yet other parliamentary democracies have not engendered the same viciousness in its campaigns or incapacity to govern after the elections have taken place. (There are eccezioni.) More likely, the acrimony is due to the fragmentation of the electorate and the inability of any leader to project a vision that is appealing to, or even interested in, a majority of the nation.

This “group identity” politics was pioneered by FDR, who concentrated on attracting support from a variety of disparate interest groups (labor unions, farmers, Jews and blacks, to state the four leading blocs) and handily won his elections from that base. In Israel, the “victorious” party will win – if it is fortunate, and if that indeed can be called a victory – anywhere from 20-25% of the national vote. Said another way, the new Prime Minister will be opposed by 75-80% of the nation. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement or a formula for success in governance.

As such, each party seeks just enough votes to get a seat at the governing table, enabling it to provide the benefits (usually money in one form or another) to its voters. These voters reflect different elements of society who each desire its share, and, however incomplete and in no particular order, include: labor unions, peaceniks, settlers, Russians, Arabs, religious Zionists, Haredim, working people, non-working people, the rich, the poor, the middle class, the honest, the not-yet-honest, et al. Each group wants something – and usually something that other groups do not wish to give: increased welfare allowances, more government spending, less government spending, higher taxes on the rich, lower taxes for everyone, more army service for all, less army service for all or for some, a more religious state, a more secular state, amore socialist state, a more capitalist state, etc. The various parties contort themselves into finding some way into the governing coalition, get enough of what they need to mollify their base, and then jump ship when they can’t get more. And we wonder why no government is stable or able to effect any meaningful changes in policy.

There are daily polls measuring the sentiment of the electorate. Israelis poll themselves like a hypochondriac measures his pulse: incessantly and always with the direst possible conclusions. It augments the tension that already exists, owing to the constant threat of Arab terror, the Iranian bomb, the perceived unfriendliness of the American President and other such trifles.

The Jewish Home Party (Habayit Hayehudi) is one of the few parties that does aspire to national leadership and seeks to expand its influence beyond its natural base. That is both its strength and its weakness. The fact that in the last election the party list included men and women, religious and secular, was, as noted here, an honest reflection of what today’s Jewish home looks like. It was a welcome and, for the most part, unprecedented development in Israel.

But leader Naftali Bennett stumbled recently in using one of his personal picks for the party list to nominate a secular soccer player. The hostile reaction encouraged the former athlete to decline the offer. Certainly, Bennett meant well – it was an attempt to be trendy, appeal to Sefaradim and to other secular voters. Nonetheless, he violated one of the first rules of politics: do not offend your base! Secure your base and seek to expand it, but do not repel your natural electorate and assume they have nowhere else to go. The most damaging accusation against the “Jewish Home” is that it constitutes just a “Likud B.” If so, then voters will naturally be drawn to “Likud A.” This precipitated a recent decline in the Jewish Home’s standing in the polls, but it seems to have righted itself. And just in time: it is the party of the right, staunch advocates of Jewish settlement throughout the land of Israel, a strong defense both militarily and diplomatically (summarized in the best campaign slogan: “we have ceased apologizing”), and the application of Torah to modern circumstances.

Its other weakness is that, notwithstanding its outreach to all sectors of the population and its desire to be a national party, most of the country is still locked in to the parochial, sectoral, zero-sum politics of the past. Many (most?) voters still want that – the small party that will wield outsized influence and earn them some of the spoils of government. It is as hard to compete against free stuff in Israel as it is in America. (Labor Party billboard with the year’s most astonishing political promise: Efes kshishim aniyim toch shana – or, “no poor elderly people within one year.” Huh? Does anyone believe that?) And so voters remain drawn to the narrow, partisan vision rather than the broad vision, and some secular voters will never vote a religious party no matter how it is constituted.

Most other contestants are essentially vanity parties, led by individuals who want to exercise power for a small group and protect that group’s interests, not to mention their own perks. These parties are headed by Lieberman, Deri, Lapid, Yishai, and Kachlon. Sadly, the Haredi party – Degel HaTorah – has never aspired to national leadership and has little to offer to the debate on the application of Torah to a modern society. It is still mired in the old politics of trying to grab as many things off the table as is possible – welfare, child allowances, kollel stipends, military service exemptions – before others cry foul. That is sad. If Haredim would take a more active role in society, in the public debate, and in the development of the Jewish state, Israel would be a different country.

The main opposition to Likud is a revived Labor Party, cleverly renaming itself “the Zionist camp” even though its list contains candidates who favor the expulsion of Jews from their homes and the end of the Jewish settlement, who construe the Hatikva as racist, and whose leaders present as more post-Zionist than Zionist. Over her long political career, Tzippi Livni has been on every side of every issue at least once, while moving right to left, and, like a circus acrobat, can twist herself into any position for the sake of attracting votes. Her partner – Buji Herzog (with Bibi and Bogie, every Israeli leader seems to require a childish nickname) – is the choice of President Obama, who so admires his malleability that he has sent over part of his campaign team to assist the Labor election effort, much like Bill Clinton did – to Netanyahu in fact – in the 1999 election. One would think that Herzog has no chance but the Israeli public has long been fickle, and swings back and forth from right to left almost every other election since the early 1980’s. And the peace idol still lords over a decreasing but still sizable element of the population. Illusions die hard, but the real problem is that real people die as a result of those illusions.

That leaves the current prime minister and front-runner Binyamin Netanyahu. If elected again he may exceed David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest serving prime minister – hard to fathom given the antipathy so many media types have for him. However one feels about him, the daily accusations against him and especially his wife – and I mean daily – are really beneath contempt, and so obviously contrived as to be laughable. Sara was accused last week of stealing the deposit money on bottles used in the prime minister’s residence, and the two were accused this week of double billing on their overseas trips in years past (both charges quickly disappeared). In every election cycle for almost two decades, she has been attacked by disgruntled employees. In fact, I have yet to hear of even a single “gruntled” employee; they are all disgruntled. It is a shameful display of media distortion and excess and it is hard to imagine a politician who has been more consistently mistreated by the media than PM Netanyahu.

I am lukewarm towards the Prime Minister because, even though his rhetoric – especially during campaigns – is inspiring, he has been a very cautious leader, essentially maintaining the status quo in a very volatile region and gradually leaving Israel more vulnerable. He always seems to do enough so as not to be accused of doing nothing but never enough to actually make a difference and change the dynamic. Perhaps that is part of the tightrope that he walks daily balancing all the diverse interests of the nation, the entreaties of friends and the blandishments of enemies.

In effect, he responds to every enemy attack on Israel – but no more. He has led two invasions of Gaza, both with inconclusive results. He has stood up to a feckless and dangerous American president – but so far in words more than in deeds. He supports Jewish settlement, but officially froze it for almost a year and unofficially for far longer. He supports rights in theory – prayer on the Temple Mount, for example – but not in practice. He has forcefully spoken and written against craven surrenders to terrorists and yet released more than 1000 to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, and continued to provide electricity, food and fuel to Gazans even during the battles. He has championed the right-wing without doing many simple and basic steps that would appeal to the right-wing. Ultimately his words expose a much more determined leader than his actions alone would justify. He is a centrist because that wins elections, even if it disables his actual policies.

Worse, regardless of the campaign slogans, there is a real fear that a victorious Netanyahu will seek a national unity government with the left, if only because that will win him good local and international press and diplomatic plaudits. Whatever protestations are issued now will be ignored the day after the election, as they were in 2012, the last time this dance was held. But such a government would be a disaster for Israel. That prospect alone is worth this timely reminder: it has been Likud politicians who have surrendered most of the land liberated in the 1967 war. It has always been one of the ironies of Israeli political life that Labor proposes and Likud disposes. May Hashem protect us from that scenario again!

In this, Naftali Bennett makes a compelling case for a strong and large “Jewish Home.” It is not only that he is a better ideological fit for the Religious Zionist voter, but also that he is the only leader who can serve as a brake on Netanyahu’s populist ambitions. Today’s insults will be forgotten after the polls close and each party scrambles for its share of the water in the trough.

A large “Jewish Home” will ensure a government of the right that will be sensitive to the traditions and world view of the Torah Zionist world. A small “Jewish Home” will almost ensure the short-term popularity of the Israeli leaders with the most of the international community that has soured on the Jewish historical narrative, Jewish rights and Jewish self-defense but at enormous cost to Israel. It will almost ensure the reality of a second Palestinian state being created with all that entails for Israel’s identity and security.

The strongest argument raised by the left against Netanyahu is the facile appeal for “change.” Americans can surely warn Israelis about the disasters that come about in the wake of that empty call.

The dust storms now sweeping the country have fostered a murkiness that mirrors that of Israel’s political scene. The stakes are great, but then again, the stakes always seem great. Yet, as always, “there are many thoughts in the mind of man, but the plan of G-d that shall prevail.”

 

Fate of the Union

There was a character in Chicago who felt himself so inconsequential, so invisible, to others that he dubbed himself “Mr. Cellophane.” Barack Obama is neither invisible nor inconsequential, but he is so transparent as to deserve the moniker “The Cellophane President.” Just read or listen to the State of the Union address, and you can see right through him.

It is conceded that he delivers a speech well. Some of the boasts can be forgiven as well, despite their detachment from reality. The deficit has been cut more than half, not that difficult considering that he ran up multi-trillion dollar deficits in his first four years in office, an unprecedented feat. America leads the world today in the production of oil and natural gas, a fact having absolutely nothing to do with the White House which has stymied the production of both since 2009. The proliferation of energy is entirely due to the private sector, which has been clamoring for years for the right to drill offshore and build the Keystone XL pipeline and has been thwarted by President Obama. The price of oil has dropped precipitously, which he touts despite his utter uninvolvement.

The pleas for bipartisanship are by now so hollow as to be risible. He implores Congress to talk to him – and then flies off to Idaho and Kansas to complain that Congress won’t talk to him. Huh? Perhaps he should stick around for a day or two. He has pioneered the permanent campaign because campaigning is his natural skill: the articulation of sentiments and the dispensing of rhetoric, sometimes lofty and inspiring and sometimes rancorous and tenebrous, are his stock-in-trade. He should never be the CEO of any corporation (much less the US), but he would excel as Vice-President of Marketing. The marketer need concern himself only with selling the product, and not at all with the nature of the product itself – its uses, its viability, and its manufacture. Just sell the product. “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor!” Enough said.

His method of governance, so to speak, is galling. Catch the words, not just the tone. Accept his policies or be castigated as “partisan.” (He is never partisan.) Adopt his “practical” solutions, or you are playing politics. If Congress tries to undo anything that he has done – whether or not it is working or popular – it will be vetoed. If he and Congress do not agree, then “work with” him where they do agree. The thought that he should work with them – indeed, the thought that any idea that he has not spawned has any merit – has clearly not dawned on him. And by the snarky but likely rehearsed crack (“I won both elections”), it hasn’t yet hit him that everyone on the flooe with him also won their elections. He is not the only elected official in the nation. Oh, and then lament the sour tone of modern politics. That’s rich. Or oleaginous. Or both.

It is a clever polemical tactic – take credit for whatever good and ignore (or blame someone else – Republicans? Bush? Partisan hacks?) for the bad. Figures lie and liars can figure. One can parse the economic statistics in five different ways, pro and con. Official unemployment is down, but tens of millions of Americans have dropped out of the work force and/or are not looking for jobs (so they don’t register in the unemployment rate) or are working part-time (so they count as employed but cannot support themselves). The recovery would have happened if Donald Duck was the president – it’s the natural economic cycle – but growth, jobs and personal income are being artificially suppressed because of the increased costs to businesses for Obamacare and over-regulation. That is why his solution is more handouts to the “middle class,” rather than health care freedom, lower tax rates and deregulation. Tax and spend, again? Really?

But the President is most dangerously out of touch on foreign affairs. After years of saying that Al Qaeda is “on the run,” “decimated,” etc., a resurgent Al Qaeda went…unmentioned in the speech. Terror still has an amorphous provenance – “extremists!” – and not, perish the thought, radical Islam. How will decent Muslims deal with the catastrophe unleashed on mankind by their co-religionists if the so-called leader of the free world accords them no role in the process, indeed, deems it repugnant and inaccurate to link terror to Islam at all?

Perhaps nothing demonstrates Obama’s disconnect as much as this: the enemy de jour is ISIS (ISIL, as he persists in labeling them, contra their own designation), and that enemy’s advances have been halted, or so Obama opines. Well, here’s this morning’s report from the Institute for the Study of War, which daily tracks the conflict in Iraq and Syria, region by region, town by town:

      “The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has begun to expand its presence in the Syrian central corridor which stretches from the Jordanian border through Damascus to the central cities of Homs and Hama. The “central corridor” is highly-contested key terrain for both the Syrian regime and its armed opposition, while ISIS presence has generally been limited in the area until recently. As one major exception, ISIS maintained a notable foothold in several opposition-held areas of Damascus in early 2014 before retreating due to pressure from local rebel groups. A small ISIS contingent, largely overlooked, endured quietly in the southern suburbs of Damascus throughout late 2014. Over the past two months, ISIS has once again escalated its military and public relations activities in this area, threatening to divert both regime and rebel resources away from active fronts in the Damascus area in order to contend with the ISIS threat. This development may provide an indicator of ISIS’s broader expansion plans in western Syria and the potential response of Syrian opposition fighters to this expansion.”

If you just peruse the map, you will see that ISIS, rather than being on the run, now controls almost half of Syria and most of western Iraq. Israel is well aware of the danger, as is Jordan, as is Saudi Arabia. Only Obama seems blithely dismissive of their prowess and progress, as the success of ISIS does not fit his political narrative as the omnipotent shaper of world events “from behind.” Yemen, a US ally, is about to fall to radical Islam. Obama has still not reconciled himself to the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. Finger-wagging does not seem to be a sufficient deterrent to people who readily wield hatchets and massacre with abandon.

As was forecast here several times, Obama has little interest in halting Iran’s nuclear program, and will negotiate and negotiate with them until the initial blast. His best scenario is kicking the can down the road so it becomes the next president’s problem. “Not my job!” That’s what makes Congress’ invitation to PM Netanyahu to come address a joint session next month on the twin threats of radical Islam and Iran’s nuclear ambitions so intriguing. Rarely does one find a congressional smack down of a president so blatant, transparent and delicious. The President can hardly complain that Congress did not consult him when he never consults Congress before acting unilaterally. And Congress – on a bipartisan basis, led admirably for years on this issue by our own Senator Bob Menendez – clearly is in favor of passing strong sanctions legislation now, to go into effect when the current round of negotiations fails in June.

In essence, few presidents have been distrusted by Congress more than Obama is by the current legislature, and there are few leaders in the world who are as disliked by Obama as is Netanyahu. What a triangle – Congress is using Netanyahu to poke and prod Obama, and rally support for the two-thirds Congressional majority that can override Obama’s expected veto of sanctions legislation. Netanyahu loves it as well.  Right in the middle of a heavily contested election campaign, Netanyahu gets to look magisterial in the well of Congress, defending Israel’s interests and tweaking an American president who is widely disliked in Israel. It can only win him votes and support, one reason why his visit might be sabotaged by the administration before he even arrives, and why Obama’s favorites in Israel ‘s upcoming elections – the malleable Herzog and Livni – will dutifully condemn the proposed visit as a gimmick. It is a chess game.

Except for the fact that there are real dangers in the world to which Obama seems detached as he pushes for universal child care or something, always paid for by someone else. Terror has grown exponentially on his watch. Country after country has been pulverized, and most security experts see another devastating attack in the US as simply a matter of time. America is the country most equipped to lead the world and engage the enemy. It has the capability. Does it have the will? The leadership?

Not yet. And no amount of verbiage, empty promises, recycled speeches, boasts and cellophane can cover that up.

Fear and Courage

It is hard to deny that fear pervades much of the civilized world these days, fear in a variety of forms. There is fear of terror, fear of violence, fear of driving on certain roads or visiting particular neighborhoods, fears stoked by the sense that Western political leaders have no answers, fears of the outsized reach of dictators as evinced by the recent contretemps involving North Korea, Sony, and the awkward release of a movie comedy,  and even fear of repercussions – public ridicule and the like – for saying the “wrong” thing, using politically incorrect language, or otherwise not toeing the ideological line imposed by elite thinkers.

There is a sense that matters are escalating out of control across much of the world, that the civilized world is in the gun sights of the evildoers, and that – as an older and wiser person suggested to me last week – the malevolent forces are unstoppable.

That attitude, while plausible, has engendered a world of fearful people and that is an unhealthy development for two reasons: it robs life of its vitality and purpose and it only further encourages the evildoers. When FDR said at his first inaugural, in the throes of the Great Depression, that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (a late addition to the text, and apparently borrowed and paraphrased from an advertising slogan), he knew exactly of what he was speaking.

The Talmud (Berachot 60a) relates that a disciple of Rabbi Yishmael was walking in the market of Zion, and the teacher saw that his student looked petrified. Rabbi Yishmael said to him, “you are a sinner, because the verse in Yeshayahu (33:14) reads, ‘the sinners were afraid in Zion.’” The disciple countered, “but doesn’t Scripture (Mishlei 28:14) also teach, “Fortunate is the one who is always afraid”? There is a value in being fearful! It keeps one alert and vigilant to all dangers, physical and spiritual.

Rabbi Yishmael explained that the latter verse – extolling the virtues of fear – relates only to Torah matters. We should be afraid of forgetting our knowledge, so that we will review our studies constantly. Similarly, we should be afraid of sin, so as to make us more attentive to our temptations, shortcomings – and strengths.

Rav Shlomo Aviner commented that the only true fear we should ever have is about our status before G-d. All other fears are a frivolous waste of energy, especially fears of human beings and their evil. This echoes something that Rav Soloveitchik wrote – the one fear (of G-d) should overwhelm any other fear that a person has. Consequently, those other fears become trivial, and succumbing to those fears betrays a lack of faith.

While in exile, fear was always a constant companion of the Jew. “And your life will hang in the balance. You will be frightened night and day and not be sure of your life” (Devarim 28:66). It is a measure of the unprecedented safety that Jews have felt in the United States in the last half-century that we are markedly uneasy with even the slightest threats, however vague, to our well-being. It is not like that elsewhere in the world – where threats are real and palpable – and not even in Israel today where, notwithstanding the statistical improbability of being attacked by terrorists, there is a foreboding sense that any driver/shopper/pedestrian can encounter stoners, shooters and worse, not to mention the threat of war on the northern and southern borders.

And, of course, the situation in America can change on a dime if too much deference is paid to anti-social forces or purveyors of terror. No geo-political situation is permanent.

That is why even in Israel caution rather than fear is warranted, and the same could be said for here as well. Certainly, the Torah has promised tranquility to the Jews dwelling in Zion, even if that serenity is conditioned on good behavior and rational, Torah-based responses to one’s enemies. If we are neglectful on either front, then evil will gain the upper hand, as it has several times in the past. But the capability of feeling serene and unruffled even amid occasional chaos is a gift to Jews in Israel and elsewhere. But it has to be embraced and not neglected.

The backlash by the American public – demanding to see (what is by many accounts) a bad movie – is a constructive response to the spinelessness that has afflicted much of the Western leadership in recent years. Perhaps it will serve as a wakeup call because decision-making by fear and the coddling of bullies is not restricted to the film industry.

We have grown accustomed to the sight of rioters having their way, unchecked and unrestrained. Whether their grievances are legitimate or illegitimate is not relevant; no grievance gives anyone the right to rampage, run amok, burn down the buildings and loot the property of innocent third parties. Yet, America has been treated to that sight several times in the last few months. Mobs are allowed to vent – at the expense of the innocent – out of fear that the violence will be worse if the looters are challenged, thwarted or arrested. But such reticence is a victory for the bullies over the civilized.

Whenever Israeli soldiers run from Arab rioters who are throwing stones, burning tires or otherwise causing mayhem – most recently in Jerusalem itself – it only emboldens the perpetrators of violence, and leaves the good people wondering to whom they can turn for protection and justice. Something is wrong with all those pictures.

Free speech is a casualty of fear. Truth is a casualty of fear. Suppressing an articulation of one’s values is a casualty of fear. Even the right of self-defense can be a casualty of fear. Those casualties take a very high toll, not in life but in self-confidence and personal happiness and on the norms of civilization.

On college and graduate school campuses across America, there are certain words that can no longer be uttered and certain opinions that are deemed unacceptable for discussion (whether pro-life, pro-gun, pro-death penalty, pro-Israel, etc., depending on the campus and on the professor). The WSJ recently noted that a law professor was asked by some tender students not to use the word “violate” in class (as in, “said conduct violates the law”) because the word “violate” also connotes, to some, a sexual assault, and therefore might cause pain to some of the listeners. This strikes me as not normal, as there will always be some person taking offense for anything said by anyone. It is as if some people demand a guarantee that they will pass through life never being offended by anyone, or else. Or else… what?

One of the worst fates a person can suffer today – in certain circles – is being branded a racist, sexist, homophobe, Islamophobe, etc. Proof and evidence are superfluous; the indictment itself is tantamount to a conviction. These are bullets fired recklessly that bring some political or social gain to the accuser, and cause people to bite their tongues when they should be speaking out. By contrast, some accusations don’t matter. Accusing someone of being anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, anti-white, anti-American, etc. simply carries no weight; they are blanks that are fired, make noise but have no consequences except for the intimidation of members of the besieged groups.

The only way to reverse the trend is to live without fear and speak freely – of course, without giving needless offense to anyone – but fearlessly and freely nonetheless. To allow unlimited rights to intimidators and fewer rights to the intimidated is not a recipe for societal harmony or the triumph of justice.

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that “courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier.”

It is a lesson that the Western world needs to re-learn and that Jews in particular forget at our peril. Ultimately, that courage comes naturally to people of faith. It is the message that we reinforce to ourselves when we conclude the reading of each book of the Torah – “be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!” – and the mandate given us by Yehoshua when we first entered the land of Israel: “Chazak ve’ematz – be strong and courageous!”

It will work as well today as it did then.

 

The Cuban Initiative

President Obama’s overture to Cuba – reversing a staple of American diplomacy of more than fifty years – fits the pattern of his conduct of foreign policy since he took office. He has routinely courted enemies and alienated friends. The latter approach – think Israel, Britain, Poland, the Czech Republic, etc. – is peculiar both in statecraft and in life. The former approach at least, in theory, has the merit of fulfilling a dictum of our Sages: “Who is powerful? He who turns his enemy into a friend” (Avot d’Rabbi Natan, Ch. 23).

That is in theory. In practice, it is laudable only if the enemy actually becomes a friend, as opposed to remaining an enemy exploiting the weaknesses of the moving party to strengthen itself, enrich its rulers and further enslave its people. Judging by the early statements from the Cuban dictators, only a dewy-eyed optimist or a person of the political left who is ideologically comfortable with Marxism would anticipate any success here. Obama’s rationale – “if something hasn’t worked for fifty years, it is time to try something different” – begs the question: what exactly hasn’t worked? If the goal is to isolate Cuba to force political liberalization, then Cuba has been isolated, is impoverished, and is not self-sufficient. Every inducement to change is in place, if the dictators so desired. But political liberalization has always been a pipedream, as dictators rarely need to be responsive to the needs of the citizenry, and especially not when the regime’s opponents are regularly jailed for long periods of time for even mild protests.

The Cuban government has certainly expressed an interest in American dollars and investment, but it is farfetched to conclude that any of that bounty will filter down to the average citizen. In any event, rogues find it relatively easy to wait out a sanctions regime, and in recent years have dangled spurious concessions in front of Obama’s diplomats to successfully induce their dismantlement (Iran, Russia). There is no reason why this should be different and every reason why it should be exactly the same – same game, same tactics, same outcome.

That being said, what exactly is the value of a boycott? It seems to have worked only with the apartheid governments of South Africa and Rhodesia but those were unique situations – minority governments suppressing the majority population. (Few seem to care that, at least in Zimbabwe, blacks are persecuted more today living under the Mugabe regime than under the white government.) Otherwise, boycotts are usually not successful, and not only because they create an underground market for needed goods and services. I have seen Cuban cigars for sale in Canada, Denmark, Russia and Israel. Most of the world’s countries do not seem to be bothered by the excesses of the Cuban regime. Even the United States exhibits selective outrage against Communist dictatorships, doing business with Russia and China for decades while shunning Cuba. Certainly the human rights records of those two countries inspired Cuba for much of the last half-century, and America’s relaxation of sanctions against Iran has enabled big business to restart relationships with that human rights-abusing, Holocaust-denying and nuclear bomb-building government.

So, why was Cuba singled out?

A number of possibilities exist. Cuba under Batista was an American ally and a magnet for investment (especially mob investment). The loss of that capital surely grated. Cuba is also a scant 90 miles from Florida, and the presence of a Communist outpost so close to US soil was always a cause for concern. Of course, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 gave the US a black eye and the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 brought the US and the Soviet Union to the brink of a nuclear exchange, both of which surely underscored Cuba’s negative image in the American eye. And the Cuban émigré community is a potent political force, especially in Florida, and consists of people who suffered enormously to other US nemeses in that part of the world,under Castro. Many have relatives who are still stuck in that island prison. Those reasons are surely valid but do not explain the shunning of Cuba as compared to other US nemeses in that part of the world, such as Venezuela in the last 20 years.

There is another possibility: American foreign policy has always been a bit schizophrenic, in part because of the unresolved clash between the realists and the moralists. There has always been a moralistic streak in US diplomacy, which represents the highest aspirations of the American character. This country – until recently – always tended to embrace fellow democracies and other nations that shared core American values. Those countries were showered with support and embraced with friendship. But, by the same token, the realists recognized that no country has permanent allies or friends but only permanent interests, and the promotion of those interests has frequently demanded the maintenance of relations with some unsavory governments.

This type of diplomacy required “holding one’s nose” while doing business, and encompassed dictators across the globe, from Latin America to the Pacific to Africa. It was best exemplified by a statement attributed to FDR and referring to Nicaragua’s Somoza (the first): “Somoza may be an SOB but he’s our SOB.” Needless to say, that quote – and sentiment – has been applied to many other dictators who have been allied with America.

Such an approach is not completely unreasonable. The person or nation that wishes to associate only with the completely righteous will find itself lonely and isolated. It is unrealistic to expect the complete isolation of every scoundrel. On the other hand, that association will inevitably drain the good character out of even the most resistant entity. (Targum Yonatan, explaining the injunction in the Decalogue against murder, admonishes Jews “not to be friends or partners with murderers.” There is a moral price that is paid for those relationships; often, evil itself becomes less horrific and the innocent suffer even more.)

Furthermore, there is an argument to be made for non-interference by outsiders in another country’s domestic affairs (if only the world would leave Israel alone and not become apoplectic every time a porch is built in Jerusalem!), but that too can be taken to an extreme. That attitude would justify the world’s disregard of the Holocaust in its time, Stalin’s and Mao’s genocide in their own countries, and of course even lesser abuses of any country’s citizens. That would be unconscionable.

How then does the US retain relations with some evildoers and simultaneously maintain its self-image as defender of liberty, freedom and other moral norms? Perhaps – and this is pure speculation – by singling out some countries – like Cuba – for “special” harsh treatment as an affirmation of American values. Is it fair? Not really. But such is far better than turning into an amoral entity like Europe that for decades sought to sell out Israel for Arab oil and is presently just selling Israel out, period. Even paying lip service to core values has lasting significance.

It is a stretch to say that Obama’s planned recognition of Cuba is designed to “open up” Cuba so that the average citizen is lifted out of poverty, or that the air of liberty will suddenly waft through that Communist jail and transform the society, or even that a post-Castro Cuba will find its way back into the free world. Cuba is not destitute because of the US boycott; there is nothing marketed here that Cubans cannot import from the rest of the world – Latin America, Asia and Europe. Cuba is destitute because its rulers enrich themselves at the expense of the citizenry, and jail anyone with an untoward thought. Ceasing the boycott while keeping the same corrupt system of government will help the elites and not the people.

Many remember the Cuban boat people who risked their lives fleeing to US shores on rickety boats. The test of this relationship will be whether or not those who wish to leave are allowed to leave, those incarcerated for their opposition to Castro will be released, and those American dollars invested in Cuba better the material lives of those who stay.

Why then is Obama doing this? Because he can. He is a man much more comfortable with the rhetoric and ideology of the Third World, and sees the American boycott of Cuba as a relic of America’s imperialist past. Indeed, the moral preening of US diplomacy has, in recent years, only been exercised against Israel. One example suffices: a recent study reported that 96% of those killed in US bombing raids in Syria have been civilians, but Israel was forced to stand down from Operation Protective Edge in Gaza because roughly 30% of those killed were civilians. And, yet, Israel was accused by the State Department of “not doing enough” to avoid civilian casualties. Go figure.

Obama has sought to re-orient American foreign policy and the outreach to Cuba is part of that. The good news – if there is any good news – is that this reorientation is unlikely to be continued by Obama’s successor because it is empowering many objectionable agents. The bad news is that, by then, the power of Iran and the militarism of Russia, among others, will be very difficult to reverse.

NOTE: My new book “Tzadka Mimeni: The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility” can be ordered at a discount from Amazon.com and at a slightly greater discount at  Sales@gefenpublishing.com, or purchased at fine Jewish bookstores. Enjoy!

– RSP

Jerusalem on Trial

How often does a United States Supreme Court decision affect you personally? The decisions of the Supremes certainly touch our lives, but usually without the immediacy of one case now awaiting decision.

Here in Israel, we have been blessed with the birth of a grandson, and his arrival brings not only great joy but also the confusion that has engendered the case of Zivitofsky v. Kerry. Our grandson was born in Jerusalem, and, under current US consular practice, his place of birth will be recorded on his American passport as “Jerusalem,” and not as is done elsewhere in the world, with the country name rather than the city name. Indeed, if he had been born in Tel Aviv or Ramat Gan, his place of birth would be recorded as “Israel.” Not so in Jerusalem, capital of Israel for, oh, going on 3000 years and the focal point of the impending holiday of Chanuka.

This discrepancy exists because, as is well known, official US policy does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, notwithstanding repeated promises and Congressional legislation to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. What is less known, and outrageous, is that official US policy does not even recognize Jerusalem as a city in Israel. That is a remarkable incongruity. Jerusalem is considered to be a disputed city whose ultimate fate is yet to be negotiated, and those born there, apparently, are stateless.

A number of years ago, the Zivitofsky family (Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivitofsky, the father, is a tremendous resource to the Jewish people in the realms of halachaminhag, science and now law) sued to have their Jerusalem-born son’s place of birth on his US passport be recorded as “Israel.” Their appeal was first denied by the Consulate, and a sympathetic Congress then passed a law mandating that any American child who is born in Jerusalem shall have his passport state that he was born in Israel. (That happened in 2002; the child in question is already Bar Mitzvah age, so long has the matter been meandering through the legal and political system.)  The bill was signed into law by President Bush, who nonetheless attached a signing statement arguing that this Congressional act was an unconstitutional violation of the president’s right to conduct foreign policy. The State Department, on those grounds, refused to implement the law. The Zivitofsky’s sued in US federal court, and the denial of their right to sue was upheld until the Supreme Court in 2011 ordered that the matter be decided on the merits.

When it was finally heard, their claim was systematically rejected on the grounds that this was a political/diplomatic question, and therefore solely the purview of the President. The appeal of that ruling is now pending before the Supremes.

How will the case be decided? The lamentable rule of thumb has usually been that “the Jews lose.” Most cases in memory of parochial Jewish interest have been decided against what could be called “the Jewish side.” It certainly does not help that the three Jewish justices who currently sit on the Court (Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan) were notably hostile to the appellant’s case. When one adds to that number the clear opposition to the law of Justice Sotomayor, it means that the Zivitofsky’s have to run the table – gain the support of all five other justices – in order to prevail.

It is certainly possible, although, as is frequently the case, Justice Kennedy might again prove to be the swing vote. Three other justices (Roberts, Scalia, and Alito) appeared to be favorably disposed to the law and appellant’s arguments (with Justice Thomas reticent as always). How is this for irony? If the Zivotovsky’s prevail, it will be because five Catholic jurists outvoted three Jews and upheld the Jewish connection to Jerusalem!

At first glance, the case appears to be unwinnable. The recognition of foreign governments and their territories is a presidential prerogative. The president is the official who is primarily responsible for the conduct of foreign policy, with Congress playing a subordinate role. Here, too, the government argued that registering the birth of an American citizen in Jerusalem as “Israel” would negate one of the norms of US foreign policy since 1948: that the status of Jerusalem is to be determined through negotiations between the parties and not unilaterally by either side. Recording in a passport that, in effect, Jerusalem is Israel (even so-called West Jerusalem), would undermine that, and presumably ignite the tinderbox that is the Middle East.

What are the counter-arguments? (The oral argument before the Court can be read and even heard in full; it makes for fascinating reading and listening.) Issues were raised by some of the justices in support of the law that even appellant’s attorney did not mention in oral argument. For example, the passport would simply record “Israel” (not Jerusalem, Israel), same as for a child born in Tel Aviv. There is nothing on the face of the passport that makes any kind of political statement; a reader would not even know that the child was born in Jerusalem.

Justice Kennedy suggested attaching a disclaimer to the passport to avert the political problem – to the effect that nothing recorded on the passport should be perceived as tantamount to recognition by the United States of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Such is done with Taiwan, which is not recognized as a country by the US but whose US citizens born there are listed as having been born in Taiwan, not, if appropriate, Taipei the capital.

Appellant argued in the alternative – that the information on an individual’s passport is a personal choice and therefore does not at all imply any formal diplomatic recognition, and that even if it does imply recognition, Congress has the right to override the president’s view, as was done more than a century ago when the Congress recognized Cuba over President McKinley’s opposition. (He later came around.)

Justice Scalia, logical as always, questioned whether recording a geographical fact in an official document amounted to formal diplomatic recognition, and asserted that Congress had the right to pass a law even if it angered the Palestinians or anyone else.

Indeed, Justice Alito underscored the farcical nature of this diplomatic dance by asking, rhetorically, does the United States recognize a birth certificate issued by Israel for those born in Jerusalem? Of course. Does the United States maintain that Israel is not sovereign in Jerusalem, such that Israel would have no right to prosecute a crime committed by an American in Jerusalem? Of course not. Additionally, diplomats and presidents who wish to visit with Israeli leaders and speak before its Parliament all go to Israel’s capital.

It emerges then that obviously some – in fact, many – attributes of sovereignty are exercised by Israel in Jerusalem and accepted by the United States – despite the State Department’s refusal to recognize the births of Americans there as occurring in Israel. As such, it falls under the purview of a congressional statute that should be enforced, regardless of the diplomatic consequences.

Appellant further claimed, slightly less persuasively, that individuals have the right to self-identify on their passports. The point was to negate the argument that recording “Israel” was the equivalent of recognition, but it leaves open the possibility of “Palestine” someday appearing on American passports as well.

Clearly, if the Court wished to do so, there are ample legal grounds to uphold the statute. There are also compelling logical grounds: for how long will the United States tap dance around the reality that Jerusalem is a city in Israel, much less its capital? Even farce should have its limits. We are no longer in1948. We are 47 years past the reunification of Jerusalem as one city under the sovereignty of Israel. If Barack Obama or John Kerry faced a Final Jeopardy question with their fortunes at stake that asked for the capital of Israel, they would both know what to answer. So,  why not stop the charade already?

In a week or so, hundreds of Jewish bigwigs will descend on the White House for the annual Chanukah party. Rather than making small talk with the President, half of the VIPs should ask him to free the ailing Jonathan Pollard and the other half should ask him to recognize Jerusalem as a city in the State of Israel. That would be an effective and intelligent use of their face time, perhaps accomplish some good, and vitiate the need for the Court to decide.

It would also justify the party itself, for Chanuka without Jerusalem is lame – just as Israel without Jerusalem is missing its soul. Let us hope that the people who attend and the Jewish organizations they represent can save one soul and redeem one holy city.