Biden Is The Riskiest Choice Of All

At Medium, I explain why Joe Biden is not at all the safe pick he is made out to be. If you support his policies, or if you are swayed by his being the former VP under

Obama or that he is the best-known of the Democratic candidates, by all means support him. But if you’re only behind him because he’s the safe pick, please consider that this may not be the case. It is crucial that Democratic primary voters not just follow the line that says Biden is the safe bet, we can’t afford to get this wrong. I explain here why he is not at all the safe pick. Agree or disagree, but this is a conversation we need to have. Please share this piece with all your friends and contacts.

Jerusalem's Mayor is a Threat to Israel's Future

Americans for Peace Now sent a letter to President Obama today, urgently pointing out what should be obvious to him: “Engage NOW to get Jerusalem under control.” The full text of the letter can be found here.

The letter lays out the problem clearly enough. And, indeed, the solution is for President Obama to get Prime Minister

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat

Netanyahu to rein in the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. I’ll take it further—Barkat is as big a threat to Israel’s future as any individual in the world.

Barkat, a businessman, became mayor in 2008, and many thought that as a secular Israeli, coming on the heels of a very religious mayor, he would be more pragmatic. Such has not been the case.

Barkat has gone out of his way to enflame the conflict with the Palestinians. Jerusalem is the most emotional of all the issues setting Israelis and Palestinians at odds, and the mayor of Jerusalem, therefore, has more direct power than anyone to cause flare-ups.

Barkat does not pay much mind to this fact. In his campaign for mayor he made it very clear that he felt strongly that Jerusalem remain the “undivided, eternal capital of the Jewish people.” And, much more than his Haredi predecessor, he has taken bold steps to ensure that outcome. Continue reading

Flotilla Fallout: An Early Assessment

There’s a lot more information out now about the disastrous Israeli attack on the flotilla that was heading to Gaza last weekend. That doesn’t necessarily mean more clarity about what actually happened, but there’s enough to start assessing at least some of the impact.

There aren’t a lot of winners in this affair. Facts tend to be one of the first casualties in these things, and such has been the case again. We can start with that.

Israel’s claim that she’s entitled to take this action is disingenuous at best. There simply is no legal basis for taking an action such as this one in international waters, far from Israel’s zone of sovereignty. The idea that a civilian ship intending to run a blockade (one which itself has no basis in law, despite claims to the contrary) can be boarded in international waters before attempting such a run is simply absurd. Boarding civilian ships in international waters by armed commandoes invites the use of force, and the notion that such commandoes were “victims” of a “lynching” simply turns reality on its head.

Israel is also talking out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, Israel claims that they needed to board these ships in force, with an elite commando unit, because they feared they might be carrying weapons to Hamas, particularly due to the involvement of “terrorist supporters.” On the other, they say they were unprepared for significant resistance and were expecting non-violent tactics. You can’t have it both ways.

There is a lot of wailing to the effect that the real purpose of these ships was to run the blockade of Gaza and make a media splash, not primarily to deliver the goods they brought.

Well, yes. That’s not a secret, and no one is claiming otherwise.

MJ Rosenberg puts it very well: “Of course the goal of the flotilla was to break the blockade.  Of course Martin Luther King provoked the civil authorities of the South to break segregation.  Of course the Solidarity movement used workers’ rights as a pretext to break Soviet-imposed Communism.”

But the facts are not the only losers here. Continue reading

At War With America

Sometimes an authority figure – a parent, a sober friend to an alcoholic, a supervisor or a senior partner – has to make it clear that there are consequences to someone’s actions. This has been the missing piece from the United States’ “special relationship” with Israel for a very long time. Barack Obama understands this very well.

Steadily, over the course of the Clinton and W. Bush Administrations, Israel has gotten more and more comfortablewith obstructing the possibility of a two-state solution. Over that time, and far more than in the 25 years between 1967 and 1992, successive Israeli governments have expanded the settlement project massively and tightened the physical hold on East Jerusalem.

Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush looked the other way. They did that for different reasons; Clinton felt it was too much to take on with a peace process so recently started and Bush simply supported Israel’s attempt to create Greater Israel. Continue reading

Obama Starts Rising to the Challenge

Well, color me stunned.

In my most recent article, I described Benjamin Netanyahu as having won his roll of the dice in the wake of the Israeli announcement of new Jerusalem building while Joe Biden was trying to restart the peace process.

I spoke too soon. Perhaps one can say my expectations of the Obama Administration had been lowered and so the recent developments come as a pleasant surprise. But pleasant it is, and the welcome stance from Washington is going to force some recalculations in Israel. How much of a recalculation is going to depend on how steadfast Obama can remain in the face of what is likely to be a growing backlash.

Obama is explaining things these days to Netanyahu

The Obama Administration may have accepted the excuse that the timing of the announcement of 1,600 new housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo was a bureaucratic foul-up. But the Israeli apology, which went out of its way to make it clear that it was only the timing that was seen to be at fault, was not sufficient for Washington.

By stressing that the only problem was the fact that the announcement came while Joe Biden was in Israel trying to start “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel put the Obama Administration in a bad position. If Washington accepted the apology and let the matter go, the talks were doomed because it would have meant, to the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, that the US was not objecting to the expansion of a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. Even if they had continued, American credibility would have been so low as to make the talks pointless.

It is almost certain that such would have been precisely the course the Clinton or Bush, Jr. Administrations would have followed. But, recalling the early days of his administration, Obama broke that pattern. Continue reading

Bibi The Conquerer and his Pyrrhic Victories

In my latest piece for Zeek Magazine, I look at the ramifications of Israel embarrassing Vice President Joe Biden this week.

Step One: Take Down All Outposts and Totally Freeze Construction

In his recent speech at the annual conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Vice President Joe Biden reiterated President Barack Obama’s call for a freeze of Israeli settlements and the dismantling of “illegal outposts” set up by Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Joe Biden speaks to AIPAC

Joe Biden speaks to AIPAC

There are many issues that need to be resolved between Israel and the Palestinians. But settlements, an issue which has too long been on the diplomatic back-burner, are the root cause of most of the human rights problems in the West Bank.

From expropriation of Palestinian land, to severe restrictions on Palestinian movement, from the settler pogroms in Palestinian towns to putting more Israelis at greater risk of violence, the settlements make lives more miserable and hope more remote every day. And they throw Israel’s respect for the rule of law into question as well.

With Biden’s speech at so central a DC event as the AIPAC conference, it is clear that the issue of settlements is now as central in the diplomatic arena as it has been for years on the ground. This is good news but resolving the settlement question will not be easy. Continue reading