Controversy of the week
Israel: Obama’s parting shot at Netanyahu
With the end of his term in office drawing near, President Obama should be fading into the “customary, dignified obscurity” of all ex-presidents, said F.H. Buckley in the New York Post.Instead, he decided to pick “a childish spat with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu”—and try to tie the hands of the resolutely pro-Israel president-elect, Donald Trump. First, Obama reversed a half-century of U.S. policy and ordered our United Nations representative not to veto a resolution condemning Israel’s settlements in the disputed West Bank. Then Secretary of State John Kerry pummeled Netanyahu in a long-winded speech in which he essentially called the prime minister a liar and accused him of deliberately sabotaging the peace process. Although Netanyahu “publicly supports a two-state solution,” said Kerry, his government—“the most right-wing in Israeli history”— is deliberately accelerating the settlement program to make any future Palestinian state impossible. The president’s “scathing contempt” for Netanyahu has never been a secret, said Peter Wehner in RealClearPolitics.com. But for Obama to target Israel itself for diplomatic isolation is a final, “shameful act by the most relentlessly anti-Israeli president in American history.”
Obama and Netanyahu may hate each other, said Daniel Kurtzer in the New York Daily News, but Obama’s administration has actually “been more supportive and protective of Israel than any other.” The president helped the Israelis fund and deploy their Iron Dome missile defense system, and recently approved a $38 billion package of military aid to Israel over 10 years—more than we’ve ever given any ally. Besides, Kerry and Obama are right, said Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. The Israeli consensus is lurching to the right, away from a two-state solution and toward full annexation of the West Bank. If that happens, Israel either has to grant full voting rights to the Palestinians who live there, and eventually cease to be a majority Jewish nation, or deny them rights and become an apartheid state in permanent conflict with not just the Palestinians but the entire world. As Kerry put it, “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths.”
“Nonsense,” said Charles Krauthammer in Washington Post.com. By allowing the U.N. resolution to pass—and almost certainly helping to craft it— the Obama administration vindictively stabbed Israel in the back. The resolution even lists “East Jerusalem” among the “occupied territories” that Jews must one day relinquish. Jerusalem, of course, is Israel’s historic capital and home to the holiest sites in Judaism. To say that Jews have no right to the city is “not just scandalous; it’s absurd,” like telling Muslims they have no claim on Mecca. Obama’s act of spite has actually made the “two-state solution” much less likely, said Alan Dershowitz in The Boston Globe. With the U.N. and the U.S. now backing their territorial claims, “what incentives do the Palestinians have to enter negotiations” with Israel?
He’d never admit it, but “Netanyahu will miss Obama,” said Philip Gordon in The New York Times. Until now, Netanyahu could hold off the far right-wingers in his cabinet by telling them that annexing the West Bank would anger Obama and jeopardize U.S. aid. Trump, however, has already pledged complete, uncritical support for Israel. That will greatly increase the political pressure on Netanyahu for annexation—which would alienate the world and even a majority of American Jews. If having a sympathetic ally in the White House emboldens Israelis who dream of a Greater Israel, said Gregg Carlstrom in Politico.com, both sympathy and allies will soon “be in short supply elsewhere.”
Only in America
■ A convenience store owner in New Mexico sparked outrage by hanging a sign in his shop that reads, “Obama and other Muslims not welcome here.” The owner also has signs mocking NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whom he calls a “half-breed.” A former worker said that many locals in the rural area try to avoid going into the store, but can’t, because it’s “only place to get milk and bread.”
■ A Honolulu restaurant owner came under fire for banning Donald Trump supporters. “If you voted for Trump, you cannot eat here,” a sign posted by owner Robert Warner said. “No Nazis.” Warner took the sign down after an online uproar, but said his business actually went up. “If I don’t want to serve a Trump person,” he said, “I can do that.”
Good week for:
Cussing, after a University of Cambridge study found that people who swear are more sincere and less likely to lie. “They are not filtering their language,” said researcher David Stillwell. People who filter out curses, he said, also tend to filter the truth.
Sibling rivalries, after Sawyer Shay was born in Glendale, Ariz., at 11:51 p.m. on Dec. 31, a year earlier than his identical twin, Everett Shay, who arrived 10 minutes later on Jan. 1, 2017. “I think Sawyer might give his brother a hard time,” joked their mother, Holly.
Really long-term projects, after New York City’s Second Avenue subway line, which has been in development since 1929, officially opened for business in New York City on New Year’s Eve. The much-delayed line cost $4.5 billion and has only three stations.
Bad week for:
Censorship, after Facebook told an Italian art historian to remove from her page images of the Roman god Neptune. The photograph of a classical statue was deemed “explicitly sexual,” since “body parts” from Neptune’s nether regions are visible.
More censorship, after a bank executive in upstate New York tried to buy all copies of a local newspaper in a failed attempt to conceal his drunk-driving arrest. Police said Joseph Talbot bought nearly 1,000 issues of the Times of Wayne County, at $1.25 each, to prevent the community from seeing his mug shot.
Cybersecurity, after an Arkansas 6-year-old used her sleeping mother’s thumbprint to unlock her iPhone and buy $250 worth of toys. Bethany Howell thought her phone had been hacked, but her daughter proudly explained, “No, Mommy, I was shopping.”
Boring but important
Obama’s final Gitmo move
In a last-ditch attempt to lower the Guantánamo Bay prison population ahead of President-elect Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, the Obama administration last week revealed that it plans to resettle as many as 19 detainees who have been cleared for release in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and possibly Italy. President Obama pledged to close the controversial military prison in Cuba during his first term, but faced staunch opposition from Congress, which rejected his plan to transfer some inmates to U.S. soil. The late-hour transfer plans would leave about 40 inmates at Guantánamo. Trump criticized the move, tweeting this week that “these are extremely dangerous people” who “should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”