Saturday, January 29, 2011

GOP Conference Chairman Comes Out in Favor of Mubarak

There's a fair critique to be made that the Obama administration's response to the street revolution in Egypt has been a bit muddled. There's a fair excuse for that too -- we're in a tough spot, between the fact that Mubarak is an autocrat who has consistently stymied democratic reform in his country, and the fact that he's our autocrat and has managed to keep an uneasy peace with its neighbor to the east. The devil you know and all that. Still, there is little evidence that these protests have been driven by Islamist forces. And ultimately, the US will suffer far more if the Egyptian people believe that, when the chips were down, the United States wasn't there for them when they took to the streets and demanded their legitimate rights to democratic self-governance. And so, while there might have been a bit more hedging than I'd prefer, I was heartened to see Obama strongly back the rights of the Egyptian protesters and call for desperately needed reforms in the country. At the same time, folks who claim they haven't been nearly clear enough have a point.

In any event, whatever failings of clarity Obama may have had, there is no such ambiguity in the position of Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), GOP Conference chairman. He's loud and clear: the US needs to back Mubarak and make sure these protests are crushed. Presumably, he will then wonder why American credibility regarding democracy is shot to hell.

Friday, January 28, 2011

There's Rape and Then There's Rape

If you know what I mean. And House Republicans sure do:
For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman.) But the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed a top priority in the new Congress, contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to limit drastically the definition of rape and incest in these cases.

With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to "forcible rape." This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion. (Smith's spokesman did not respond to a call and an email requesting comment.)

Of course, there is a well-known tension between the idea of abortion being about murder (as opposed to the regulation and punishment of non-reproductive female sexuality), and an exception for pregnancies caused by rape. If the idea is that the unborn child is innocent, then the idea of a rape exception makes no sense. If the idea is that rape renders the mother innocent, then it does -- but that just goes back to the notion of abortion regulation being about judging women for having sex.

But in any event: to the extent we are saying that the massive trauma of being raped cannot be ethically reconciled with forcing the victim to give birth to her rapist's child, this law is incredibly insensitive to the wellbeing of rape victims whose rapists didn't use (physical) force -- as in the case of many statutory and date rape cases. Basically, it's back to the old days of that not really being rape.

Via LGM.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Interview with Gadi Taub

Very cool interview by Michael Weiss with the left-wing Israeli Zionist and polymath Gadi Taub, who has a new book out: The Settlers and the Struggle over the Meaning of Zionism (Yale UP). Taub is of the opinion (and I agree) that the religious-nationalist settlement movement is Israel's largest homegrown threat to Israel's status as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people (not unrelatedly, as embarrassing as the McCarthyist Knesset inquiry into leftist NGOs is, I can't tell you how thrilled I am that the Kahanist-linked, terrorist-sympathizing Michael Ben Ari of all people will be the man in charge of the panel).

But anyway, back to Taub, who, if Ben Ari represents Israel's worst, represents Israel's best. And the best of the best excerpt:
MW: One of the more interesting points you make in your settlements book is that settlers seem to be echoing the sentiments of the anti-Zionist left in calling for a binational state. You quote Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook and Shlomo Aviner and others who make it plain that they’d rather see Greater Israel with an Arab majority than any division of land. That the intelligentsia of the Yesha Council more and more resembles the collective wisdom of the London Review of Books might be taken for a sign of how just marginalised and discredited the settlement project is.

GT: I think that’s very true. Which is why recently some on the right have been arguing for annexation which will include full citizenship to all residents of the territories.

I have very little respect for that solution when it comes from them, just as I have little respect for it when it comes from anti-Zionists.

A look at Gaza, where the differences between Hamas and Fatah were settled by the use of arms, should help us all wake up from imaginary schemes of peaceful bi-nationalism. I don’t see how Gaza would have turned into a liberal democracy if only there was a Jewish faction added to the mix. What the one-statists are promoting is going to be a chronic Lebanon style civil war. And the odd thing is, how little the London Review has drifted from old colonial habits of mind. The natives – we Jews and Arabs – aspire to national self-determination. But the good ol’ Brits, never tired of carrying the White Man’s Burden, know that the natives are too barbaric to understand what the right form of self-determination should be for them. So until they grow up, we, Western intellectuals, will serve as their political parents, and impose on them the state we know they should want. Because it is Western and enlightened, of course.

Anyone who can, in such short space, make the accurate conflation of "left" and "right", "pro-Israel" and "pro-Palestine" one-staters, defend two-states, and nail British pseudo-anti-colonialists for so unabashedly taking back up "the White Man's Burden" is an automatic winner in my book. And the whole interview is excellent. He makes no apologies for anti-Semitism or denying Israel's right to exist, but notes the fundamental fact that Israel -- as a matter of basic national self-preservation -- has to extract itself from the occupation. It may not be fair that this burden falls upon Israel, even though the conditions of occupation and the lack of peaceful two-state solution are not entirely (primarily, whatever -- I'm not interested in hashing over degrees of fault) Israel's fault. Life isn't fair. Get over it, and do what needs to be done. Everything else (including, frankly, a comprehensive peace treaty -- even in a state of formal war like that which exists between Israel and Syria, I think the IDF is strong enough to keep Israel safe from any military threat from a Palestinian state with or without the occupation. Cast Lead, more or less, proves that) can come later.

Meanwhile, with respect to Taub's point about externally-imposed solutions, it's worth noting that, while I haven't seen immediately-recent polling out of Palestine, the most recent numbers I recall reading, from about two years ago, had a two-states for two-peoples solution as the clear consensus choice amongst Palestinians, taking 53% of those polled (32% want solely a Palestinian state on all the land, while only 15% preferred what is forwarded as the classic "one-state", binational solution).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


While I understand the impetus for mixed-party seating at the State of the Union after Tuscon, and I even think it is, all told, sweet, I do think that the "statement" it makes regard a new era of bipartisan cooperation is, well, overstated. Hence, I was amused to read this statement by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on the event:
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, asked reporters covering Tuesday's State of the Union address not to spend too much time focusing on prom-like questions about where Republicans and Democrats are sitting, but instead to concentrate on the content of President Obama's speech.

"It's like going to the prom and who's wearing what dress," Murkowski said. "And to a certain extent this has been a little bit of a dating show. You know, who are you going with? Reminds me a little of 8th grade."

That is, in fact, exactly what it reminds me of, and I thank Senator Murkowski for giving words to my inchoate senses on the subject.

A Better Title for "The Elements of Style"

This one's for all the Managing Editors out there.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Palestine Papers

The big news out of the Middle East is the leak by al-Jazeera of the so-called Palestine Papers, which appear to demonstrate a Palestinian government offering record concessions on issues important to Israel. Unfortunately, the Netanyahu government broke off negotiations upon its election, and the Palestinian Authority has refused to renew them, so we're at an impasse.

On the one hand (operating on the assumption that the documents are accurate), it's obviously a good thing that Palestinian negotiators were willing to make such drastic concessions on the issue of settlements ringing Jerusalem -- not so much because I have strong beliefs as to who gains ultimate jurisdiction about any (well, most) particular acre of land near the Green Line as because I prefer a great deal about agreement being closer rather than further, and concessions on points of contention -- regardless of my Platonic ideal resolution of the conflict -- further that interest. To that end, it is of course disheartening that the PA has been forced into furious denials over the contents of the memo. Their defensiveness is understandable -- the only thing more unpopular than making controversial concessions in pursuit of independence and a comprehensive peace agreement is making controversial concessions and then not getting independence or peace. But I would hardly say it is doing anyone any favors to, say, write that "The shame on the ‘negotiators’ (collaborators) who offered this will never be eradicated." The political fallout is disheartening, but it reflects well on the PA that it was willing to take a bold leap of faith here, and poorly on the Israeli government that it wasn't able to reciprocate.

Hence the conventional wisdom -- that the Palestinian Authority is a true partner for peace, but it is questionable the extent to which it can deliver democratic legitimacy to the peace process, seems to me apt. At the same time, for all the famous lines about Palestinians "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity", it seems very obvious that the Israeli government missed a major opportunity to push the ball forward during this round of negotiation, and it deserves to be held to task for its failing.

Meanwhile, the first half of the Turkel Committee report on the Gaza flotilla incident is out. I've skimmed part of it (I was curious as to whether my intuitions regarding the legality of the blockade under San Remo were on target), but I haven't read it carefully (I was hoping that Opinio Juris would have weighed in on it, but they haven't yet). I will note that it is released just in time to greet a new flotilla ready to sail to Gaza, so that's "good".