Analysis News

U.S., Israel break not only on Iran, but on Palestine, too

In the last week, things have changed between the U.S. and Israel. Kerry may have the guts to continue refusing to lie for Israel’s occupation – which is all that’s needed to shake its foundations. This is no tiff.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem, June 27, 2013. (State Dept. Photo)

If it hadn’t happened on the same day, last Thursday, that the breakthrough came in the Geneva talks on Iran’s nuclear program, John Kerry’s joint interview on Israeli and Palestinian TV – and the chain reaction it would have set off – would still be dominating the news from the Middle East. Instead, it was a one-day story, overtaken by the chain reaction from the Geneva breakthrough, notably Netanyahu’s furious attempt to block what he calls this “bad deal” with Iran.

If it hadn’t been overshadowed by the Iran story, Kerry’s interview, coming on the heels of a report that the U.S. was going to present an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan in January, would have been seen for what it was: a very high-profile signal that the Obama administration has decided to stand up to Netanyahu, to tell him publicly what it thinks of his policy and to make clear that until he changes direction, the United States views him, not Mahmoud Abbas, as the main obstacle to peace.

I don’t know of a precedent for a U.S. secretary of state, or a president, publicly attacking Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians like Kerry did – and in front of not only the Israeli public, but the Palestinian public as well. Just look at what he said:

And this:

And this:

And this:

The reaction from Netanyahu’s circles was brief and bellicose: Israel would not “give in to the intimdation tactics.”

This is not the way Americans and Israelis ordinarily talk to each other in public. This is not a tiff. This is not one of the natural ups and downs in the unshakable relationship bla bla bla. This is a break between the U.S. and Israel on the peace process, caused by the secretary of state’s decision to finally...

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Coming attraction: Liberman the peacenik

If a militant nationalist wants to get elected prime minister of Israel, he has to repeat the word ‘peace’ over and over.  

Unlike a lot of other leftists in despair over Liberman’s acquittal on Wednesday, I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion he’s going to succeed Netanyahu as prime minister. I agree that he may do it, it’s definitely a possibility, but first he has a problem to overcome: as a candidate, he’s scary to a lot of Israelis, maybe most Israelis, especially women. On the “Eretz Nehederet”  (“Wonderful Country”) TV news satire, he’s portrayed as a KGB liquidator. The poker face, the dead eyes, the quiet monotony of his speech, combined with the violence in his background and the violence of his message — he’s an intimidating guy. Hardliners love him, of course, but the broad center of the electorate, which no one who wants to be prime minister can dare frighten off, has a sweet tooth when it comes to the national elections. They want a leader who’ll give them a little hope, a little reason to believe, a little vision of a brighter future. In a word, peace.

Read also: Liberman is acquitted in corruption trial

If a militant nationalist wants to get elected prime minister of Israel, he has to repeat the word “peace” over and over, nonstop, until it’s linked in the voters’ mind with his name and image. The pro-war, anti-Arab stuff is all to the good, that’s necessary too, but in the campaign it has to be leavened with something soft and fuzzy and optimistic because the average Israeli — certainly the average Israeli woman –  doesn’t want to think of herself or himself  as an incorrigible hardass, and also doesn’t want to think that the way things are in this country now — with nothing on the horizon but the next war — is the way they’re going to be forever.

So when Bibi ran for prime minister in 1996, after doing nothing but slagging off Rabin, the Oslo Accords, Arafat and Arabs in general, what did he do to soften his image, to give folks a little hope for a respite from the old blood and fire? He came up with the slogan “secure peace,” and plastered it and broadcast it up and down the country — and it worked.

Ariel Sharon, when he ran for prime minister...

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Israel 2013: Netanyahu preaches the lessons of Rabin's murder

And nobody objects.

PM Netanyahu, with President Peres and Supreme Court President Grunis (L) at the official Rabin memorial, Mount Herzl, October 16, 2013. (Photo: GPO/Mark Neyman)

I was listening on the radio to the prime minister’s speech in the Knesset on Wednesday for the 18th anniversary (on the Hebrew calendar) of the Rabin assassination, and it just struck me how far we’ve come in this country. Bibi Netanyahu is now preaching to Israel the lessons of Rabin’s murder. And nobody says anything. Members of the Rabin family sitting in the Knesset, whatever they were thinking, didn’t say a word. Neither did the MKs of the Labor Party or Meretz, or MK Ahmed Tibi or anybody else who lived through that time and understands what was wrong about the scene taking place. Nobody in the whole country saw anything about it worth mentioning. That’s the way it is now – Netanyahu preaches to Israel the lessons of the Rabin assassination with all the fake pathos he can muster up, and anybody who’s got a problem with that shuts up, and everybody else, the great majority, accepts it as natural and right.

I was standing toward the front of a huge crowd at an anti-Oslo rally in Jerusalem in 1994, and the chants of “Rabin boged!” (“Rabin is a traitor!”) were so loud that Netanyahu, speaking at the microphone on the stage, had to pause a few times until the roar died down so he could hear himself.

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the infamous “Zion Square rally” in Jerusalem, October 1995. (Screenshot)

After Netanyahu won the election in 1996 and became prime minister, then-Labor MK Dalia Itzik said she could not bear the thought that he was sleeping in Rabin’s bed. This was what made his election victory over Peres that year, eight months after the murder, so unspeakable – Netanyahu had metaphorically “murdered and also inherited,” in the Biblical phrase that was often applied to him. This was something that was understood for years after the assassination; Netanyahu’s role as leader of a toxic opposition to the Oslo Accords, as the ringmaster of that satanic circus, followed him wherever he went.

But then, in 2000, the Oslo Accords...

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Hooray, we brought the Iranian people to their knees

With nuclear talks resuming Tuesday, the happy consensus is that the sanctions have forced Iran’s regime to blink. But hardly anyone wants to think about the effect they’ve had on the country’s 80 million people.  

An unidentified poor Iranian man sells vases to tourists in Esfahan, Iran. May 09, 2011. (Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com)

If you Google “bringing the Iranian economy to its knees,” you’ll have a lot of reading to do. This is the new cliche regarding sanctions – they’ve brought the Iranian economy to its knees. And the United States, Europe and, of course, Israel are thrilled to hear it; to the leaders and no doubt the great majority of the public in the West (not to mention here), that cliche spells success. Bringing the Iranian economy to its knees is what led Iran’s leaders to blink, to sue for economic peace, to offer – whether they mean it or not – to meet at least some of the West’s demands regarding their nuclear program. In the consensus view, the sanctions worked precisely because they were “crippling,” to use another favorite cliché – because they brought Iran’s economy to its knees.

Related: ‘The myth of benign sanctions against Iran’

And I’m sure this is true. I don’t doubt that the reason Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei changed his tune, or the reason President Hassan Rouhani got elected, was because the sanctions had devastated the Iranian economy. But what does it mean to devastate the economy of a country of 80 million people? How do you bring a country’s economy to its knees without bringing the country’s people to their knees, too?

You can’t, can you?

There have been plenty of news stories and NGO reports about how the sanctions have cut so deep into the Iranian economy that they have indeed crippled the basic well-being of all but the rich and well-connected. (Here, here, here and here, for starters.)  Health care, especially the availability of a range of life-saving medicines, has been crippled; peace of mind about providing food for one’s family has been crippled; the belief that one will still have a job next month has been crippled, and the hope of finding a job has been lost altogether. Here’s a...

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With tens of thousands of Jews living in Iran, why is Bibi calling their rulers Nazis?

A. He’s lying; B. He’s reckless; C. He’s both.  

If Netanyahu really believes the Iranian regime is another Nazi Germany, if he really believes its creed is “death to the Jews” as he said in his speech this week to the UN General Assembly, why does he heap contempt on the regime and its leaders, why does he threaten to bomb the country, when there are, depending on the estimate, between 15,000 and 35,000 Jews living there?

In his speech, he named “Supreme Leader” Khamenei and his predecessor Khomeini as “dictators.” He called Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and Ahmadinejad a “wolf in wolf’s clothing.” He referred to Iran’s “savage regime” and its “savage record.” He likened it to the “radical regime(s) with global ambitions” of “the last century” (a milder version of his 2006 statement, “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany”). He described it as a “rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us off the map.” Finally, he warned, “If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone,” and everyone knows what that means.

With 15,000 to 35,000 Jews living in Iran, how can he say all that in such a high-profile international forum, with the Iranians listening to every word? If he believes what he says, it stands to reason he would fear that the regime will pay the country’s Jewish community back for the unrestrained contempt that he, the leader of the Jewish state, showed it – and not for the first or the hundredth time, either. Unless you believe Netanyahu actually intends to bring persecution down on the Jews of Iran, which I think is a ridiculous, mindless idea, then either he doesn’t believe that the Iranian regime is the Nazis incarnate, which means he’s been lying all this time; or he believes it, but puts it out of his mind because the thought of endangering Iranian Jews would cause him to tame his rhetoric, which he doesn’t want to do, and Netanyahu is one of those people who has immunized himself against any thought that might impede him from doing what he wants to do.

The first explanation, that he doesn’t believe what he’s saying, makes him out to be lying. The second, that he does believe it, makes him out to be playing recklessly with the fundamental well-being of Iran’s Jewish...

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It's stupid, dangerous and wrong to demand Iran's humiliation

Whatever he tells the UN, Rouhani will not agree to give up nuclear weapons to please his country’s nuclear-armed enemies. And when it’s clear that he won’t, it’s his enemies who will face humiliation.

I don’t believe Rouhani means it when he says Iran doesn’t want nuclear weapons. And even if he does, I don’t believe the supreme leader, Khamenei, would back him up, nor would the Iranian political/military establishment, nor would a very large proportion of the Iranian public, maybe a majority, maybe a large majority. Why shouldn’t Iran want nuclear weapons? Every major power and would-be major power wants nuclear weapons; look at the ones who’ve got them. The present nuclear powers don’t want to nuke anybody, if for no other reason than that they don’t want to be nuked in return. (If Japan or one of its allies had had nukes in World War II, there would have been no Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) Ambitious countries want nukes for protection and for the prestige they bring.

This, I believe, is why Iran wants them, too, and this is one of the reasons I don’t think Iran will hand them over, even under terrible economic pressure from sanctions. But the main reason I don’t see Iran giving up its nuclear program is because it would be a colossal humiliation – letting enemy countries with nuclear weapons, including one that actually used them on two cities, force Iran to wash its hands of them, and after all these decades of work and expense and hope and pride, after all these decades of saying no to America, Israel, Britain and the like. There’s no way I can see Iran doing it – and I’m one of those who think Iran is a rational country, one that would not nuke Israel or any other country if only because it doesn’t want to get annihilated in return. Those others who think Iran has to be stopped because it is irrational, yet who at the same time believe it will humiliate itself so abjectly before its nuclear-armed enemies by defanging its own nuclear program – these people, and there are many, beginning with Benjamin Netanyahu, are the real irrational actors in this story.

If it were up to me, I would say: If the Iranians want to build nuclear weapons, let them. If they use them against us, they’re dead. If they...

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Overplaying the 'terrorism' card

The reaction to this week’s killings of two IDF soldiers showed that Israel’s moral condemnation of deliberate civilian killings is a tactic, no more.     

The most powerful argument Israel makes in its campaign to paint the Palestinians as the bad guys and itself as the good guy is to point out that Palestinians deliberately kill innocent civilians, which Israel doesn’t do, at least not as policy. Although this claim conceals much more than it reveals (for example, that Israel doesn’t have to target civilians because its policy of aggression makes killing them inevitable), it is true as far as it goes. By making this claim, Israel is saying that it’s okay when it kills Palestinians, it’s okay when it kills Palestinians at a rate of 20-to-1, or 50-to-1,  or 100-to-1 as in Operation Cast Lead, because Israel only aims at legitimate targets (including political leaders and “ticking infrastructure”), while the Palestinians aim at civilians (even though given the opportunity, they’d just as soon kill soldiers, probably sooner).

Another reason Israel leans so heavily on this argument about targeting civilians is to preempt  discussion of whether it has the right to rule over the Palestinians. This, after all, could lead into a discussion of whether the Palestinians have the right to resist, which could lead to a discussion of what Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and their comrades did when the Jews of Palestine lived under British rule, and who wants that? Keep it simple: The Palestinians deliberately kill innocent civilians, we don’t, which is above all what makes our cause right and theirs wrong.

>Read more: Netanyahu’s lesson from killing of Israeli soldier in Hebron: Fortify occupation

Yet look at the Israeli reaction this week to the killing by Palestinians of two Israeli soldiers, Sgt. Tomer Hazan and Staff Sgt. Gal Kobi. Did anybody here say, “It’s tragic, but that’s war, soldiers get killed.” Did anybody even say, “It’s evil, but not as evil as when civilians are killed.” Of course not. Nobody said it, and I doubt if anybody outside the left-wing fringe even thought it.

As far as Israel is concerned, the killings of Hazan and Kobi qualified as terrorism every bit as much as the killings of civilians, and the Palestinians who killed those two soldiers are terrorists no less than the killers of an Israeli cab driver or hiker...

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Roger Waters discusses boycott with Israel's 'newspaper of the nation'

The interview with rock n’ roll’s lead boycotter of Israel was published in Yedioth Ahronoth, but it could have been put out by the Ministry of Public Diplomacy.  

I love when Israelis describe the media here as “leftist,” and when polite foreigners describe it as “robust” and “independent.” It goes along with our “vibrant democracy,” and our citizens who “all want peace,” especially, of course, our young people.

On Wednesday, Yedioth Ahronoth – the “newspaper of the nation,” by far the best-selling paper in the country – published a long interview with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, the unofficial leader of the rock n’ roll chapter of the boycott against Israel. Presumably the writer, Alon Hadar, is young, presumably at least some of the editors of the holiday supplement it appeared in are young, yet the interview and its packaging had no youthful, open-minded spirit. It could have been put out by the Ministry of Public Diplomacy.

“He declares a boycott against us,” reads the intro, “floats a toy pig at his concerts with a Star of David on it and demands of his musician friends not to come to Israel. Now Roger Waters, founder of Pink Floyd, explains for the first time what he has against the government of Israel and why he automatically takes the Palestinians’ side, yet is in no rush to get involved over the massacre in Syria. Yedioth Ahronoth’s writer accompanied one of the greatest musicians in history, and examined why he insists on building a wall around us.”

Some of the writer’s questions:

“You talk about the apartheid regime in South Africa. But the situation here is completely different.”

“You forget that Netanyahu has declared his support for the idea of two states and has called on the Palestinians to enter negotiations without preconditions.”

“Israel never annexed the territories. It declares at every opportunity that the situation is temporary. There isn’t a citizen in Israel who isn’t interested in peace.”

The writer accuses Waters of “hurting the feelings of the Jewish people” with the Star of David on the inflated pig, though he stops short of accusing him outright of anti-Semitism, and lets Waters answer his critics. “There are various symbols on it,” Waters says, “not just the cross and the Star of David, also the hammer and sickle, all the symbols are...

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A case for isolationism

America and its Western allies should either reinstate the military draft or put down their arms, because their way of going to war these days is too unjust, too inequitable to abide.   

Whenever I read or hear somebody say that America, the West, the world must intervene militarily in Syria, I think, very cynically, that if such an intervention were to get messy, as military interventions have been known to do, it’s not America, the West, or the world that will be risking its life – it will be Bill Jones of Omaha and Jane Smith of Denver and lots of other young people who’ve been ordered to Syria by their commander in chief (and lifelong non-combatant) Barack Obama.

So beyond whatever specific objections I have to a U.S. or Western military move in Syria, or in any other conflict where innocents are being killed en masse and where the world supposedly “cannot stand idly by,” I have a fundamental problem with all of these “humanitarian” uses of force, these “responsibility to protect” operations – because who am I, who is anybody with immunity to the danger and whose family is similarly immune, to urge other people, invariably young people, to do what we and our families have no intention of doing?

But that’s the way the West goes to war these days. That’s the situation in the United States, Britain, France and every other country whose leaders and opinion-makers are apt to consider it a matter of national responsibility to use force in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Bosnia or any other strategic spot (which leaves out Africa, ironically) where major crimes against humanity are taking place.

In the United States, less than a half of one percent of the population – fewer than one out of every 200 citizens – serve in the military, which has been all-volunteer since 1973. I imagine the figures are similar in Britain, France, Italy, Australia, Canada and other American-allied countries where military service is voluntary, and whose leaders and opinion-makers are expected to at least sound interested when a “coalition of the willing” is being gotten up to go fight somewhere.

And I imagine that like in the United States, the volunteer ranks of the armed forces of America’s Western allies are rather thin, shall we say, on the sons and daughters of...

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Obama puts U.S. on collision course with Russia

The Syria crisis doesn’t look like it’s going away. It looks like it’s escalating.  

What if Russia doesn’t get Assad to hand over his entire chemical weapons arsenal, as Obama – backed loudly, of course, by Netanyahu – is demanding? Is Obama going to bomb Syria like he’s been threatening? At this point, with Putin so deeply involved in trying to prevent an American attack, and with Washington and Moscow now walking hand-in-hand at the front of this crisis, a US strike on Syria would risk a US war with Russia.

Yet does anyone believe Assad is going to give up his vast reservoir of chemical weapons? I don’t. Is Putin going to force him to? I don’t think so, because if Putin does, he will look like he’s doing so out of fear of America’s raised fist – and that is absolutely the last thing on earth Putin wants to do or appear to be doing.

But that is America’s demand. And Obama, with speech after speech, has by now gone so far out on a limb with his military threats, that the idea that he will settle for Assad doing anything but trashing every last one of his chemical weapons ASAP is hard to imagine. He keeps raising the stakes – and now he’s on a collision course not with Assad, but with Putin.

The sane majority in America and the rest of the world is relieved at the recent developments that have put off a US attack. That sane majority wants Obama to forget about attacking, period, and hopes the crisis is now about to peter out, and then Syria will go back to being a local or at worst regional problem.

But Kerry is in Geneva today for two days of urgent talks with the Russian foreign minister about getting rid of all of Assad’s chemical weapons. The White House, helpful as ever, asserts that “Russia is now putting its prestige on the line.” Very shrewd – lean into Putin publicly, that’ll bring him around.

This thing doesn’t look like it’s going away. It looks like it’s escalating.

And it’s all about the President of the United States having to prove that when he draws a line in the sand, or a red line, or any damn line...

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Obama's handling of Syria crisis revives Bibi's hopes of bombing Iran

And this time, it’s hard to see who will be able to stop him. 

Netanyahu hasn’t said anything publicly, but the consensus here is that the lesson he’s taking from Obama’s refusal to bomb Syria straight away, and instead to turn to Congress for approval, is that the U.S. president can’t be trusted to keep his word about preventing Iran from going nuclear – so he, Netanyahu, must prepare to carry out the task alone. And the consensus seems to be that this is the correct conclusion, too.  

“Netanyahu was right when he sought to act [against Iran in the past] on his own. No others will do the job,” wrote Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Yoaz Hendel, who used to be the PM’s hasbara chief.   

Herb Keinon, the Jerusalem Post’s pro-government diplomatic correspondent, wrote:

The lack of a strong international response in the face of rows and rows of gassed bodies wrapped eerily in white shrouds just 220 kilometers from Jerusalem might not compel Israel to take action against Assad, but it surely may compel it to think twice about relying on the world to rid it of the Iranian nuclear menace.

Even Haaretz’s liberal military affairs reporter Amos Harel seems to see the wisdom in this view:

The theory that the U.S. will come to Israel’s aid at the last minute, and attack Iran to lift the nuclear threat, seems less and less likely. … With the U.S. administration’s year of hesitancy since Assad first deployed chemical weapons, American difficulty in building an international coalition for a strike in Syria, and [U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin] Dempsey’s excuses, it’s no wonder that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is becoming increasingly persuaded that no one will come to his aid if Iran suddenly announces that it is beginning to enrich uranium to 90 percent.

I think it is pretty obvious that this indeed is Netanyahu’s thinking. He wanted to bomb Iran last year, sometime before the U.S. presidential election in November; what stopped him (and his partner, then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak) was the opposition of Israel’s military-intelligence leadership, headed by IDF Chief Benny Gantz. Afterward Netanyahu went to the UN and drew a cartoon bomb with a red line, saying that Iran would cross...

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Why Obama should stay out of Syria

It’s a mission impossible.

Because of the severe (and understandable) limitations it’s placing on a possible military intervention in Syria, the Obama administration would do better to pass on the idea. The U.S. shouldn’t try to play the humanitarian in a civil war like that one under such self-imposed restrictions; it’s much more likely to end up doing harm than good.

Since last Wednesday’s chemical weapons attack that killed at least many hundreds of Syrian civilians, and which the U.S., Britain, France, Israel and others are convinced was carried out by Assad’s forces, Obama has been gearing up for some sort of military move. The ones most discussed are reportedly a “surgical strike” on the Assad regime’s chemical weapons by missiles fired from long range by U.S. ships, and/or the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria. Nobody is talking about putting American or other Western soldiers on the ground there, not as fighters or as peacekeepers; after Iraq and Afghanistan, nobody wants to get in the middle of another Middle Eastern civil war. Instead, the idea is a no-risk, remote control operation that stops the use of chemical weapons, doesn’t last long, and that has a guaranteed exit strategy.

In other words, if the Syrians or their ally in the field Hezbollah hit back at American targets after a U.S. missile strike, or violate a no-fly zone, or attack Israel or Turkey or Saudi Arabia or some other enemy and thereby take the Syrian war regional, it would screw up the plan. America would have to strike back decisively – as many times as it takes – or walk away humiliated, giving Assad, Hezbollah and Iran an undreamed-of victory.

Neither America nor any other Western power has the stomach for such an adventure. And the thing is, Assad, Hezbollah and Iran know it, which would seem to almost guarantee that if the U.S. acts militarily in Syria, it will meet with military resistance. Real simple: If America can’t stand the heat, and it can’t, it should stay the hell out of the kitchen, or rather the oven that is the Syrian civil war.

But even if Assad and Hezbollah didn’t retaliate against U.S. action, how much good could America do?  At best it would destroy a lot of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons, but there will still be plenty left. And it would...

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Israeli racism and American Jewish hypocrisy

On the U.S. Jewish establishment’s double standard regarding what gentiles can say about Jews and what Israeli Jews can say about Arabs and blacks.

The Anti-Defamation League and the rest of the American Jewish establishment owe Jesse Jackson an apology. They put the man through the wringer, they made him apologize in every possible forum for his “Hymie” and “Hymietown” remarks back in 1984. Yet look at the kinds of things Israeli leaders – senior government ministers, chief rabbis – get away with without ever having to apologize, without ever being punished in the slightest.

A couple of weeks ago the economy minister, Naftali Bennett, the fresh new face of right-wing Orthodox Judaism, was saying in a cabinet meeting how he didn’t like these releases of Palestinian prisoners. “If you catch terrorists, you simply have to kill them,” he was quoted in Yedioth Ahronoth as saying. The head of the National Security Council, Yaakov Amidor, told Bennett, “Listen, that’s not legal.” Bennett replied: “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there is no problem with that.”

The media, the left and the Arabs made a big deal out of it, nobody else. Bennett defended what he said, and so did countless talkbackers and Facebookers.

Two days later the newly-elected Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, David Lau, was seen on a video telling an audience of yeshiva boys that they shouldn’t watch Euroleague basketball games in public; it was bad for their image. “What difference does it make,” Lau said, “if the kushim who get paid in Tel Aviv beat the kushim who get paid in Greece?” Kushim, especially when used in a dismissive context like Lau did, is a well-understood derogatory term for blacks.

Again, the media, the left, some Ethiopian Jews and presumably some African refugees were outraged, but Lau defended his words, blaming the media, saying “they made a big deal out of a joke.” Who else defended his remarks about “kushim”? Bennett: “The media are pouncing on him for a joking, insignificant remark.”

So really – what was so bad about “Hymies” and “Hymietown”? Or the thousand other anti-Semitic or even just possibly anti-Semitic remarks that the ADL and other American Jewish organizations have “pounced on” since then? Israeli public figures say the same kind of garbage, the difference is that they...

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