The Persistent Scourge Of Anti-Semitism

The World Jewish Congress typically holds its annual meeting in Jerusalem.  This year, however, the group is meeting in Budapest, Hungary — for a reason.

The WJC wants to spotlight the rise of anti-Semitism in eastern Europe.  And sure enough, the presence of the WJC caused the anti-Semites to come crawling out of their holes, spewing their hateful rhetoric.  The Chairman of the Jobbik Party — which sounds like a Tolkien character but is the third-largest party in Hungary — accused Israelis of trying to buy the country, and another Jobbik member of Parliament said his country had become “subjugated to Zionism” and was the target of “colonization” by Israel.  The ugly speeches and slanderous scapegoating are chillingly familiar and profoundly disturbing.

I commend the World Jewish Congress for confronting the anti-Semites, and for exposing the unfortunate truth:  unbelievably, even after anti-Semitism caused millions of Jews to be slaughtered in the Holocaust, there remains a deep vein of anti-Semitism in the world.  It shows up every now and then, in the rise of political parties like Jobbik, in the rantings of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or in the efforts of Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to obtain a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a libelous piece of venomous anti-Semitic propaganda that has motivated generations of bigots.

It’s important not to ignore the signs of anti-Semitism.  The years before the Holocaust showed that merely hoping that right-thinking people will ultimately prevail isn’t good enough — anti-Semitic rhetoric and conduct needs to be confronted and defeated.  That’s why moving the World Jewish Congress meeting to Budapest was the right thing to do.

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We Don’t Understand Iran, And They Don’t Understand Us

The Onion has fooled many with its fake news stories.  Now it has caught its biggest fish yet:  the official Iranian news agency, Fars.

Fars reported as fact an Onion spoof about a fake Gallup poll that found that 77 percent of rural white Americans would rather vote for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than President Obama.  The Fars story included The Onion‘s fake quote from a West Virginia resident who purportedly said the Iranian leader “takes national defence seriously, and he’d never let some gay protesters tell him how to run his country like Obama does”.

Fars has apologized for its blunder, but I think its apology tells us something more significant about Iran than the fact that Fars was initially duped by The Onion.  In the apology, the Fars editor-in-chief said:  “Although it does not justify our mistake, we do believe that if a free opinion poll is conducted in the US, a majority of Americans would prefer anyone outside the US political system to President Barack Obama and American statesmen.”

If the head of the official Iranian news agency truly believes that Americans would prefer a hateful, repressive, anti-Semitic figure like Ahmadinejad to our own President, there is a huge gulf in understanding between our two countries.  When those two countries are jousting about Iran’s reckless efforts to obtain nuclear capabilities, such a lack of understanding can be extremely dangerous.  If Iranians think it is plausible that rural Americans would vote for an intolerant, deluded bigot like Ahmadinejad, what are they thinking about President Obama’s warning, in his recent speech to the United Nations, that the United States “will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”  Are they taking that warning seriously, or are they kidding themselves about that, too?

How To Respond To Muslim Lectures, Edicts, and Bounties

The Muslim world has been giving the United States a lot of advice and information lately.  No doubt we’ll hear more thoughtful recommendations and guidance in the next few days, as Muslim leaders come to New York for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.  America needs to decide how to respond.

In Egypt — where only days ago raging mobs stormed the U.S. embassy and ripped down our flag — the new President, Mohamed Morsi, says in an interview with the New York Times that the United States needs to fundamentally change its approach to the Muslim world and show greater respect for Muslim values.  In the meantime, the head of the largest fundamentalist Islamic party in Egypt, which supported Morsi, is calling for U.N. to act to “criminalize contempt of Islam as a religion and its Prophet.”  And in Pakistan — a supposed ally — the government Railways Minister has offered a $100,000 payment to whomever kills the makers of the YouTube video The Innocence of Muslims and called upon al Qaeda and the Taliban to help in murdering the videomakers.  (Fortunately, the Pakistani government says it “absolutely disassociates” itself with the comments of its Railway Minister.  Thank goodness!)  And we haven’t even heard yet from the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will be speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, too.

It’s heartening to hear from the enlightened leaders of a region that is widely recognized for reasoned discourse and thoughtful consideration of opposing viewpoints.  But I’d like to see whoever speaks for America at the U.N. General Assembly share some of our views with the assembled Islamic leaders — and do so in pointed terms.  We should say that we relish our First Amendment, and we’re not going to change it no matter how often Muslims go on murderous rampages at some perceived slight.  We should say that will fight any effort to criminalize speech and will veto any ill-advised U.N. resolution that attempts to do so.  We should emphasize that we think that the world needs more freedom, not less, and that we stand with the forces of liberty.  We should tell the Muslim leaders that their real problems are not with freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but with tribal-based, anti-female societies that crush individual initiative, medieval economies that leave huge swathes of the population unemployed and ready to riot at any moment, and corrupt leaders who are more interested in amassing their own fortunes than helping their people realize a better way of life.  Oh, and we should make clear that we won’t do business with government where ministers are offering bounties on the heads of filmmakers.

I’m tired of our simpering, whimpering approach to defending our fundamental freedoms.  It’s high time that we stood up for what we believe in and told the Islamic world that they can riot all they want:  we aren’t going to back away from our liberties.

A Yard Work Saturday

We’ve reached the point in the summer where all of the fruits of your spring yard work have begun to, well, rot.  Those loathsome weeds have once again invaded your flower beds.  Your shrubs have sprouted stray shoots that make them look as unkempt as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Your brickwork looks more like weedwork.

Today I decided to tackle those problems.  It was a brilliantly sunny, hot summer day.  I began by trimming the shrubs and the fast-growing bushes that the neighbors planted to screen their house from ours.  Those plants grow at a ridiculous rate and have virtually made it impossible to grow anything in our side yard, so I cut them back.  It felt good to use the clipper and, after some liberal pruning, to see the sunshine once again reaching our hostas.  Then it was on to weeding and watering the beds — nothing like reliving a bit of your childhood and drinking cold water straight from the hose on a hot day! — and finally to the brickwork on the patio and the front walkway.

Some people would hate to waste a beautiful summer day on yard work, but I find it immensely satisfying.  For those of us whose jobs often do not involve clear cut success or immediate congratulations on a job well done, yard work allows you to have a sense of prompt accomplishment.  You begin with a weedy, somewhat overgrown yard and you end with neat, tidy grounds, well manicured flower beds, dirt-stained hands, and a budding farmer’s tan.  After a yard work Saturday, a cold beer sure tastes good.

Why It’s Hard To Take The U.N. Seriously

Does the United Nations have much credibility anymore?  The principal function of the U.N. these days seems to be providing ineffectual peacekeeping forces, providing an international forum for nuts like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to spout his crackpot, anti-Semitic theories, and provide legitimacy for the governments of dictators and thugs.

Here’s the latest case in point:  Syria — bloody Syria, where the despotic government is shelling and shooting its own citizens for having the temerity to protest for a more democratic government — is in line to become a member of the UN Human Rights Council.  Of course, that Council has always been a bit of a jest — it includes Cuba, China and, until quite recently, Libya.

If UN processes and procedures allow a state like Syria to don the mantle of protector of human rights, why should the UN or its pronouncements have any credibility on the world stage?

No Mo

The unrest in the Middle East has spread to Libya, where Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year reign may be ending — or not.  People apparently are protesting, and the government may have hired mercenaries and sent planes to mow down the demonstrators.  It’s hard to say, because there are no reporters in Libya, and a lot of the “reporting” seems to be sifting through “tweets” and “re-tweets” and dealing with unconfirmed rumor.

We can fairly conclude that something is happening, because Gaddafi’s kid gave a bizarre, finger-wagging, fight-to-the-last-bullet speech.  You wouldn’t expect that kind of diatribe unless circumstances were dire — although trying to assess the conduct of the Gaddafis by applying the standards of normal, rational behavior is probably doomed to failure.  From the speech, it sounds like Gaddafi Junior is a chip off the old block in the weirdness department.

At any given time, Muammar Gaddafi would easily rank in the top 5 in a “strangest leaders of the world” contest.  Right now, his chief rivals in that competition probably would be Kim Jong Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Robert Mugabe, and Hugo Chavez.  Gaddafi is a pretty strong candidate for top honors, however.  He is known for his rambling speeches, his incomprehensible political philosophy, and for wearing sunglasses, colorful outfits, and curious hats.  If he was somebody you knew in college, you would conclude that he is a complete stoner.  Instead, he has been the leader of Libya, and in control of its oil riches, for more than 40 years.

The world would be a better place if the oppressed people of Libya sent Mo packing — and his kid, too.