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Sunday Reads: Is the American Public’s Isolationism Real?, Hamas’ Weakness, Behind the J Street Vote

by Shmuel Rosner

May 4, 2014 | 4:00 am

Palestinian Hamas supporters take part in a Hamas rally marking the anniversary of the death of its leaders killed by Israel, in Gaza City March 23, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Mohammed Salem

US

John Kyl and Joseph Lieberman believe that the recent polls concerning the American public’s attitudes toward global affairs have been misrepresented –

Here are the facts: In the poll that drove the headlines on April 30, 47 percent of respondents said they want their country to be "less active in world affairs." Thirty percent favored the current level of activity, while 19 percent wanted the United States to be more active. No one said they wanted to "retreat from the world stage."

The National Interest's Robert Golan-Vilella argues that the US' much talked about general reluctance to use military force in recent years is not merely the result of Iraq fatigue –

Thus, even in the aftermath of Iraq, the United States remains perfectly willing to use military force when it considers it to be worth the cost. It may not be as often as some would like. But aversion to using force elsewhere—in Syria, for example—can’t simply be written off as a malign effect of the hangover from Iraq. In that case, it also reflected the fact that, as James Joyner argued last fall, it was impossible to see how the proposed cruise-missile strikes would achieve any strategic goal or meaningfully improve the situation. This still would have been true even in the absence of the Iraq War. Iraq served as a cautionary tale for critics of intervention to point to, but the real root of their opposition was that the case for military action didn’t hold up on its own merits—a conclusion that was fully deserved.

Israel

According to fomer Mossad Chief Efraim Halevy, Hamas is really weak at this point and Israel has a serious opportunity to take action –

This is the moment for the Israeli government to seriously consider the option of destroying Hamas fervently. No one will come to its rescue, no one will incite the public opinion to save it, no one will suggest the appointment of an international commission of inquiry into what happened in this war. This way, the prime minister will be able to "remove the threat from its root" and prevent a future Hamas takeover of Judea and Samaria sponsored by a Palestinian national unity government.

Emanuel Ottolenghi believes the world needs to understand that, for both Israel and Palestine, a Middle East peace agreement just isn’t worth the compromises it entails –

Nobody, on the other hand, seems to have grasped the obvious, because it is unpalatable and inconvenient, especially to those who have spent a lifetime believing in Middle East peace both as an end in itself and a panacea for other problems. There is no deal because the cost of peacemaking far outweighs its benefits for either side.

Middle East

Andrew Tabler writes about the importance of Bashar Assad’s re-election campaign –

Why, then, should anyone care about another rigged election in the Middle East? Because Assad’s reelection is actually part of his larger strategy to destroy the international community-backed plan for a negotiated solution to the increasingly sectarian Syrian crisis in favor of a forced solution on his terms. This solution includes sieges and starvation of opposition-controlled areas, the manipulation of aid supplies, and the dropping of “barrel bombs,” Scud missiles, and alleged chlorine gas canisters on his enemies. While this approach has helped him gain ground in western Syria with help from a legion of Hezbollah, Iraqi, and other Iranian-backed Shiite fighters, Assad lacks the troops to retake and hold all of Syria, unless his allies expand their involvement to a much more costly degree. Short of Syria’s occupation by what is often described as “Iran’s foreign legion,” the opposition and their regional backers will not agree to a Potemkin transition with Assad and his Iranian allies calling the shots.

Lee Smith argues that ill-conceived national borders are not the cause of the tumult spreading across the Middle East in the past few years–

But just because tribe or faith often resonate more plangently than secular citizenship for Middle Easterners doesn’t mean that states, or their borders, don’t matter any more. Indeed, it is because many of these states have relied on tribal and religious affiliation to build legitimacy that national identities today register, sometimes deeply. For instance, one of the titles of the king of Saudi Arabia is guardian of the two Holy Shrines, which, by asserting sovereignty over Mecca and Medina, ties the modern kingdom to the origins of Islam. Syrian borders may have been drawn by the European powers, but Syria, what Arabs call Bilad al-Sham, or “country of the north,” is also revered as the capital of the first Arab empire, the Umayyad caliphate of 661 to 750, and hence the historical heartland of Sunni Arabism. Conversely, Baghdad, long a rival of Damascus, was the seat of the Abbasid empire, from 750 to 1258, and that history in turn confers legitimacy on modern Iraq.

The Jewish World

JJ Goldberg takes an educated guess about which organizations voted against including J Street in the Presidents Conference –

I think I’ve identified all 17 of the “yes” votes, 14 of the 22 “no” votes, 1 abstention and 5 absentees. I’m left with 12 whose actions are unknown. Of the unknowns, 6 are known to have been present at the vote, which means they either voted “no” or abstained (again, all the “yes” votes are accounted for). The other 6 weren’t known to my sources; 2 of them were absent, and the other 4 voted “no” or abstained. The bottom line is that 8 organizations voted against J Street’s membership but haven’t acknowledged it. The beauty of the system is that it allows them to keep their actions from the public, their members and their donors.

Rabbi Avi Weiss suggests incorporating Shoah memorial rituals into the Jewish calendar –

Indeed, fifty years or one hundred years from now, we will have the challenge of remembering the atrocities of the Holocaust with no survivors remaining to tell their story. But if we ritualize Shoah memory until it becomes imbedded in our consciousness, that challenge would instead become a meaningful aspect of our collective identity.

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