My selection of the best essays of the past year on Israel, the Mideast, Obama and Iran, the conflict with the Palestinians, Jewish life, and anti-Semitism.
It’s fun to look back at recent political commentary, and award the essays which best stand the test of time in terms of perspicacity, accuracy and utility. Here are my picks for 2015, drawn from global publications, on the issues most closely tracked by readers of this paper: Israel, the Mideast, Obama and Iran, the Palestinians, Jewish life, and anti-Semitism.
Call this the “Know Comment Awards” for best commentary.
Cynthia Ozick, the greatest American fiction novelist of the current era, is also a penetrating critic of contemporary society and its attitudes to Jews. In “Understanding Terror,” she decried the way in which the intelligentsia of the political Left explain away, apologize for, vindicate and nearly exonerate Islamic terrorism, all under the gentle rubric of “understanding.” Worth reading for both the brilliant analysis and the beautiful language.
Bret Stephens similarly focused on Europe’s “fetish of tolerance for intolerance,” opening the door to Islamic terrorism, in his “Islamist Tantrum.” Stephens also asked whether America was changing so much that Israel was now “Alone” in the world without a major strategic ally.
Harvard historian Niall Ferguson explained in a piercing essay entitled “Paris and the fall of Rome” that the complacency of France (and Europe generally) is killing it. “Europe has grown decadent in its malls and stadiums. This is exactly how civilizations fall.”
Sohrab Ahmari of The Wall Street Journal specializes in long-term perspectives. He perceptively tracked how Iran’s apologists in Washington have conducted a “36-Year Project to Whitewash Iran” (a topic that I, too, wrote about in 2012 and 2013); how Islamo-fascism has brought about “The End of the Arab Spring Dream”; and how Arab disintegration has brought “The Middle East Diaspora Descending on Europe.”
Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute has consistently been the deepest and most trenchant critic of President Obama’s radical transformation of American foreign policy, especially with regards to Iran and Israel. In “Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy” he showed how Obama had been signaling appeasement of Iran even before he became president.
In “A Letter to My Liberal Jewish Friends,” Doran pithily analyzed Obama’s attempt to weaken opposition within the American Jewish community to the pact with Iran by appealing to “liberal values” and driving a wedge between American Jews and Prime Minister Netanyahu. In “Our Man in Moscow,” he detailed Obama’s abdication of global influence to Vladimir Putin. (All of Doran’s essays were published in the excellent, online Mosaic Magazine).
In comprehensive and bleak testimony before Congress on the “Strategic Impact of the Iran Deal,” Walter Russell Mead clearly laid out how the deal strengthens Iran’s hand in the region by reducing its isolation and adding significantly to its economic resources. “The JCPOA will make the Middle East as a whole less secure, and increase the prospect that the United States will be forced to choose between war and strategic setbacks that gravely undermine America’s global strategy and our peace and prosperity at home.”
In “Anatomy of a Disaster,” Charles Krauthammer said of Obama: “You set out to prevent proliferation and you trigger it. You set out to prevent an Iranian nuclear capability and you legitimize it. You set out to constrain the world’s greatest exporter of terror threatening every one of our allies in the Middle East and you’re on the verge of making it the region’s economic and military hegemon.” He called the JCPOA simply “the worst agreement in U.S. diplomatic history.”
In a frightening column entitled “Does Iran’s anti-Semitism run too deep for deterrence?” George Will suggested that Israel may have to take military action against Teheran’s nuclear program because of Iran’s deep genocidal anti-Semitism.
Closer to home, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser wrote a revealing, insider account of “Israel’s Role in the Struggle over the Iranian Nuclear Project.” This is a unique article from someone who has been intimately involved in tracking the Iranian nuclear program since its inception 27 years ago, and who personally battled Washington as it backed away from its commitment to end the Iranian program.
Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution explained how “Obama’s Distorted Views on Israel” extends to whitewashing of Palestinian Authority hatred, incitement and anti-Semitism. “The Obama administration’s recourse to moral equivalence in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict only encourages Palestinians to think they can get away with this.”
The brave journalist Khaled Abu Toameh painstakingly detailed how Palestinian leaders have failed to prepare the Palestinian public for compromise and tolerance. In “Why Palestinians Cannot Make Peace with Israel” he writes that “If you want to make peace with Israel, you do not tell your people that the Western Wall has no religious significance to Jews and is, in fact, holy Muslim property; and you don’t falsely accuse Israel of war crimes and genocide.” His sad conclusion: Those who believe that whoever succeeds Abbas will be able to make real concessions to Israel are living in an illusion.
In an important article, Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman tore into “The Lies of Saeb Erekat,” showing how Palestinian propaganda warps the truth and undermines peace efforts. Lerman dissects an incendiary propaganda document replete with blatant lies and utter distortions of history that was distributed by Erekat to foreign media, revealing just how far the Palestinian leadership is from accepting the premises necessary for true peace with Israel.
In a study published in Mosaic entitled “What Do Palestinians Want?” Daniel Polisar conducted comprehensive research into Palestinian support for violence against Israelis and Jews, and the underlying attitudes that become entrenched over a period of decades. “If the U.S. and other Western powers were to begin vociferously condemning violence initiated by Palestinians, to penalize the PA and Hamas until attacks stop, and to ensure that under no circumstances will gains, diplomatic or otherwise, accrue from them, this might exercise a meliorating effect over time.”
How does Israel get out from under a relentless global microscope and away from inflated and unfair global expectations? This is the topic of Evelyn Gordon’s seminal essay on Israel’s global diplomatic posture. In “Israel’s Diminishing Returns” she argues that Israel’s over-emphasis on peace is self-defeating. “By encouraging the world to judge it on its peacemaking credentials rather than on the myriad positive goods it provides, Israel has invited the perverse and false conclusion that the Jewish state has been a failure rather than a resounding success.”
In a major essay entitled “Perfect Storm,” Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror studied the long-term implications of Middle East chaos. He sees civilizational shifts of historical proportions underway, and argues that there is no way of knowing how long the upheavals will continue or how they will end. This dictates, he says, a great deal of modesty in policy planning, and security caution too. His recipe for security in the crumbling Middle East is patience, vigilance and steadfastness.
Eric Cohen’s profound essay on “The Spirit of Jewish Conservatism” sought to outline a package of conservative beliefs in the spheres of security, economic and identity policies that can form the basis for a healthier and more secure Jewish community and Jewish state. The liberal faith of too many Jews has imperiled the Jewish future, he argues.
The magnificent Col. Richard Kemp, who commanded British Forces in Afghanistan, has become one of Israel’s top global defenders. His talk on “The Amoral Revolution in Western Values” is a classic document that needs to be read widely. He argues that over the past 30 years Judeo-Christian principles of honesty, honor, loyalty, family values, patriotism and religious faith have been terribly eroded, and this has paved the way towards the upsurge in anti-Jewish and anti-Israel attitudes and policies.
Jeffrey Goldberg wrote penetratingly in The Atlantic on the agonizing choices for Jews in Europe. Renewed vitriol among right-wing fascists and new threats from radicalized Islamists have created a crisis, raising the question “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?”
Joshua Muravchik once thought it possible to address the world’s turn against Israel without bringing in anti-Semitism. No longer. He explains why in “Why I Changed My Mind about Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism.” “Whether or not anti-Semitism is the unspoken source of hostility to Israel, the converse is certainly true: hatred of Israel has grown so febrile as to have unleashed an unvarnished hatred of Jews. Ultimately, whichever comes first, the boundary between anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism grows fainter by the day.”
The last essay by Prof. Robert Wistrich, the great scholar of anti-Semitism, was published in The Jerusalem Post the day after he passed away. In “Anti-Semitism and Jewish destiny,” Wistrich of blessed memory wrote that today’s anti-Semitism is a product of a new civic religion termed “Palestinianism.” He called upon Israelis and Diaspora Jews “to rediscover, redefine and strengthen their Jewish identity, core Jewish values, and the depth of their own connection to the Land of Israel as well as to their historic heritage.” This, Wistrich wrote, is the only true and best response to contemporary anti-Semitism.