The Virtues of Empire


For the first time since the Ottoman Empire fell, Muslims in the Middle East are free to pursue the same dream that inspired Europe’s nationalists. Next: widespread ethnic cleansing?

Read more at First Things

More about: Ethnic Cleansing, Europe, Genocide, Islamism, Middle East, Nationalism, Ottoman Empire, Syrian civil war, Woodrow Wilson


How to Restore the U.S.-Israel Alliance


Noah Pollak suggests what the U.S. can do to move relations with the Jewish state in a new and better direction after Barack Obama leaves office:

The first thing the next president, Democrat or Republican, might consider doing is downgrading the peace process as the central feature of the U.S.-Israel relationship. . . . The pursuit of Palestinian statehood over the past quarter-century has damaged U.S. credibility. It has committed our country to a diplomatic proceeding whose expectations have always been set too high, and in which corrupt and violent figures are promoted as peace partners while an ally is set up to play the role of scapegoat.

It doesn’t have to be like this. The next president can acknowledge the benefits of a Palestinian state that is truly and permanently at peace with Israel, yet recognize that such a state is unlikely to emerge soon, given Hamas’s control of Gaza and the corruption, sclerosis, and terror-friendliness of the Palestinian Authority (PA). There will be a time, the next president could say, to discuss statehood. Until then, our emphasis should be on encouraging Palestinian reform. A good place to start would be by insisting that the PA stop paying benefits to terrorists and their families, and conditioning further American aid on the cessation of such payments.

Freed from this diplomatic rut, the next president can move to rebuild the alliance on a foundation that serves American interests and strengthens Israel’s security and legitimacy. The broad goal should be a reduction of the kind of ambiguities about Israel’s borders and territory that have created opportunities for mischief-makers around the world to manufacture diplomatic crises.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Barack Obama, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian statehood, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations

A Jewish Journalist Visits Britain’s “Israel-Free Zone”


The left-wing British parliamentarian George Galloway has for several years represented the majority-Pakistani electoral district of Bradford West, where he has built a constituency based on his alliances with local clans and his longstanding record of hatred for Israel. Last summer, he declared Bradford West an “Israel Free-Zone.” Ben Judah visited the district and met with members of Galloway’s staff, who invited him to attend a rally the next day:

A . . . press officer for Respect [Galloway’s party], comes up to me: “Who are you, I recognize your face?”

I tell her my full name, Ben Judah. Her face sours. . . . A few months ago I had reported from the city for a Jewish online publication, and had been critical of Galloway’s anti-Zionist rhetoric. I reported that he has inflamed a hissing conspiracy theory where Jews were blamed for 9/11, for all wars all over the world, and were seen as the new Nazis.

The woman from Respect does not approve. I inform her that Respect’s Bradford headquarters has given me the address and told me I could come. She then disappears, makes calls, and talks to several of the Asian men at the doorway. She returns saying I have to leave. I try to explain I am a journalist and this risks looking bad for a party that is frequently accused of inciting anti-Semitism and intimidating journalists. . . .

The press officer—whose name I miss—says she has called Bradford HQ and they now “know who I am”: I must leave immediately.

I walk out and onto the sidewalk, and take a picture of the Respect activists and the seven Asian men milling about outside the church. They have come to see Galloway. The event is described on social media as a rally for supporters.

A burly Asian man in a black suit and sunglasses rushes up and grabs me around the neck, pinning me to a low perimeter wall. “Get out, you fucking Jew,” he shouts. I am being throttled as around ten Asian men surround me. My teeth chatter as a man in a tracksuit punches me in the head.

“Delete, delete,” they shout at me. “Delete the photos.”

Read more at Politico

More about: Anti-Semitism, British Jewry, European Islam, George Galloway, Politics & Current Affairs, United Kingdom

Is Religion Responsible for Religious Violence?


In Fields of Blood, Karen Armstrong defends religion against those who would blame it for wars, persecution, and the like. The crux of Armstrong’s argument, according to David Nirenberg, is that religion is only religion when it endorses behavior of which she approves. All cases of violence in the name of religion are thus really about power, oppression, and inequality. Nirenberg writes:

Perhaps we should not judge religions by the company they keep. Still, even (or especially) if we share Armstrong’s sympathies—that is, her view that religion is generally innocent as charged—we should want to ask why religion so often finds itself in arms with the wicked. . . . Divorcing religion from power might ease one’s conscience about faith traditions, but it won’t help us understand why those traditions have so often sought dowries from dominion, which seems to me precisely what we most want and need to know. . . .

Armstrong’s yearning to think of religion as separate from power is unsatisfying and unpersuasive, but it is also an exceedingly common position among Westerners today. Perhaps we should think of this tendency as the secularized form of a religious idea—namely, a particular self-understanding of Christianity as a persecuted and nonpolitical religion of love. This possibility points to another conviction common to Fields of Blood and much other writing on the topic of religion and violence: that it is easy to distinguish between religious and secular ideas, between religious and nonreligious motives for violence. . . .

It is not religion, but powerlessness and oppression, the argument goes, that motivate religious violence. This argument depends on a misplaced confidence in a moralizing distinction central to discussions of post-colonialism: the distinction between power and powerlessness. This is often conjoined with the conviction that the violence of the powerless is ethical or moral, that of the powerful unethical or immoral—and that a line can easily be drawn between the two. Once that line is drawn, it is but a short step to saying that the victims of violence by the powerless are morally more culpable than the perpetrators, because they are beneficiaries of oppression.

Read more at Nation

More about: Fundamentalism, New Atheists, Religion, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics

For Lag ba-Omer, a Story of the Land of Israel by S. Y. Agnon


The minor holiday of Lag ba-Omer, which falls today, marks the 33rd day after Passover. In Israel, many celebrate it with pilgrimages to the putative grave of the 2nd-century sage Shimon bar Yoḥai, located in the Galilean town of Meron. All of this figures prominently in a Hebrew story, “To the Galilee,” by the Nobel laureate S. Y. Agnon. Set in 1911, the story has been newly rendered into English by Jeffrey Saks (with an introduction here). It opens like this:

After a few years in Jaffa and her settlements and in Jerusalem and her study halls I decided to go and see the land—the [Sea of Galilee] and Deganya kibbutzim and their inhabitants, who have added two settlements to the existing 37. I had too little money to hire a donkey to ride on or a wagon to travel in, but I had plenty of time, so I decided to make my way by foot.

I timed the trip to celebrate Lag ba-Omer in Meron, because I still remembered something of what I had heard in my childhood about the spectacles and wonders witnessed on Lag ba-Omer night at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai.

I placed a loaf of bread and some olives in my pack, took my walking stick, and locked my door. I placed the key on the windowsill behind the blinds, so if a friend came to visit and found me away he could still find the key, open my room, and find himself a place to rest. It was the custom in the Land in those days that a person could always find lodging with a friend—if not a proper bed, then at least a floor to sleep on and a roof above his head.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Galilee, Lag ba'Omer, Land of Israel, Modern Hebrew literature, S. Y. Agnon

An Israeli Organization Spreads Misleading Information about the Gaza War


An Israeli organization called Breaking the Silence has released a report, based on statements made to it by Israeli soldiers, excoriating Israel’s conduct in last summer’s Gaza war. Matti Friedman explains why the report—which has received much media attention in the U.S.—lacks credibility and, more importantly, what is fundamentally wrong with Breaking the Silence itself:

Breaking the Silence is described as an organization of Israeli veterans trying to expose Israelis to the nature of service in the occupied territories, in order to have a political impact on Israeli society. That’s what it was a long time ago, and it once had an important role to play. But now it’s something else. Today, like B’Tselem and others, it’s a group funded in large part by European money which serves mainly to provide international reporters with the lurid examples of Israeli malfeasance that they crave. They are not speaking to Israelis, but are rather exploiting Israelis’ uniquely talkative and transparent nature in order to defame them.

There is actually a fairly straightforward solution to this problem. Any group genuinely fighting for the character of Israeli society should do so in Hebrew, which is the language that Israelis speak—and only in Hebrew. . . . How is speaking to the international press supposed to swing Israelis in your direction? Of course it has the opposite effect.

As long as this state of affairs continues, Israelis will be correct in identifying this group and its sister organizations as people paid by foreigners to say things that a lot of foreigners want to hear Israelis say.

Read more at Facebook

More about: IDF, Israel & Zionism, Laws of war, Media, NGO, Protective Edge