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dotCommonweal Blog

New stories now on the homepage

Now featured on the website, the editors on negotiating with Iran, and the first in our special series on raising kids Catholic (more on that below).

From the editorial “The Threat of Peace”:

Iran insists that its nuclear industry is intended only for peaceful purposes. But it would be irresponsible to take Iranian promises at face value. … Still, almost by definition, most efforts to avoid war involve dealing with dangerous and untrustworthy foes. Consequently, confidence-building steps are necessary. Led by Secretary of State John Kerry, the international community has proposed an interim agreement to test the regime’s real intentions…. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a vociferous opponent of any interim deal, claiming that if sanctions are lifted even temporarily it will be impossible to re-impose them. Netanyahu and some in Congress want the sanctions tightened further, arguing that only the harshest pressure can force the Iranians to make meaningful concessions. Given his previous objections to the administration’s Iran policy, Netanyahu’s new-found faith in sanctions is curious, to say the least. …

Diplomacy rarely succeeds unless each party offers the other a way to save face with hardliners at home. In that light, the sort of interim agreement Secretary Kerry is proposing seems worth the limited risks involved.

Also live, the first in our multipart series “Raising Catholic Kids,” in which we asked parents to discuss and reflect on their experiences in “rooting family in faith.” We’ll be posting new installments on a regular basis in coming days, and we’ll be packaging the series so that as new articles go live they’re collected all in one place. Featured today, J. Peter Nixon:

I have two children of my own now. Many parents react to perceived deficiencies in their own childhood by leaning violently in the other direction. I am no different. I have done everything in my power to give my children the deep roots in the Catholic tradition that I did not have. My wife and I have made the financial sacrifice to send our children to Catholic school, a sacrifice that will become all the more difficult as they enter (God willing!) the local Catholic high school. Both of us pursued graduate work in theology and we are deeply involved in a wonderful parish where we are active in a variety of ministries.

Aside from the investment in their education, I did not do most of these things for my children. I did them because they seemed at least a meager return for what God has done for me in Jesus Christ. But I have also tried to live my faith in a way that would make it truly attractive and credible to my children.

Every now and then I feel that it’s working.

Read the whole thing here, and remember to check back at the homepage as we post additional pieces. And as the series concludes, we’ll be featuring as an online exclusive some reflections by young people (who to some might still count as kids) on what they learned being raised in Catholic families. 

Can this Marriage Be Saved?

The U.S.-Israel relationship has not run super-smoothly during the Obama Administration, but last Spring when the President visited Israel things looked to be patched up. But now.....

Nathan Guttman of the Forward has a rundown on the current dispute(s), primarily over the negotiations with Iran but also the failing talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Secretary of State John Kerry has taken the lead on these and is now the object of the usual attacks, not only by Israeli right-wingers, but our very own right-wingers (and moderate-wingers) in Congress (the well worn "anti-Semitic" has been bandied about). Congress may add to the sanctions against Iran, a move that Obama and Kerry oppose while the current negotiations continue; they resume November 20.

Of course, all of this may be papered over. Yet as Tom Friedman (surprise!) pointed out this past week, the U.S. needs to press its own interest in this matter. Friedman thinks it is in Israel's interest as well, but PM Netanyahu disagrees:

Friedman: "We must not be reluctant about articulating and asserting our interests in the face of Israeli and Arab efforts to block a deal that we think would be good for us and them. America’s interests today lie in an airtight interim nuclear deal with Iran that also opens the way for addressing a whole set of other issues between Washington and Tehran."

MORE: But then there's this account of Israeli lobbying in the Congress: "According to multiple Congressional aides, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are storming Capitol Hill in an effort to discredit the Obama administration's interim nuclear deal with Iran. The effort coincides with a visit by Israel's Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett, who is also speaking with lawmakers on the Hill. The campaign includes one-on-one briefings with lawmakers that provide data that strays from official U.S. assessments."  Whole thing at Foreign Policy: The Cable.

The Church Francis wants

Mass for Pope Francis, Church of the Good Shepherd, Our Lady of Peace Center, Amman, Jordan

Last week, here in Amman, we celebrated the feast of St. Francis of Assisi and the pope who bears his name. Parishes held large Masses, and the Franciscans friars at the well-known Catholic school Terra Sancta College performed their annual ritual commemorating the life and work of their patron. The Jordanian Catholic television channel Noursat/Telelumiere (Light TV) live-streamed Francis’s visit to Assisi and provided immediate Arabic translation of his remarks.

The most important event was a Mass in honor of the pope hosted by Apostalic Nuncio Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican’s ambassador to Jordan. Though the Mass was an elaborate affair with many non-Catholic guests, a large youth choir, posters of the pope, and a post-Mass reception, it has not yet been covered in English-language news outlets.

This post isn’t an attempt to cover the event from a journalist’s perspective. Instead, because I was in attendance as a worshipper, I hope to share some of my own reflections on the significance of the service. The Mass reflected ways in which the spirit of the two Francises is alive and well the Catholic Church in Jordan, and it illustrates what the global church can learn from the church in the Holy Land.

Nuns on a bus

Many of those in attendance at the Mass, which was held outside Amman at Our Lady of Peace Center, a Catholic-run complex that serves individuals with special needs, were nuns. Nuns from numerous orders and nationalities live in Jordan, including the Comboni Sisters who work in Amman’s Italian hospital. I met these sisters, who hail from Italy, Egypt, Syria, Poland, and Singapore, on the bus ride to the service, and I continue to see them at morning Masses at Amman’s Jesuit Center. Their humble ministry reflects two of the values promoted by Pope Francis and his namesake: simplicity and accompaniment. These sisters left their home countries to live and work among the sick of Jordan. These nuns are a reminder that the church is not just one in service of the poor, but of the poor. 

What Christian unity looks like

The Mass was not just a celebration by Catholics, but by leaders of other faiths in this religiously diverse area. Representatives from Orthodox and Coptic Churches were easily noticeable from their distinctive garb. Other Eastern leaders entered alongside dozens of Roman Catholic priests as the Mass began, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who sat beside the Catholic leaders on the altar, beneath a large icon of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

In his homily, Archbishop Fouad Twal, head of the Archdiocese of Jerusalem, which includes Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, and Cyprus, spoke about the unifying nature of Pope Francis’s papacy: “His Holiness is a source of pride for us, because during the short time of his papacy, not more than seven months, the pope has been able to seize the hearts of many people, enthrall them with his goodness and simplicity and angelic smile, whether they be Christians or non-Christians.”

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Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio reportedly alive in Syria

Great news from Syria: Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio, S.J., about whom I wrote both here and here, is being reported as alive.

“Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio is alive and is being treated well by his kidnappers, who are members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) extremist group,” anti-regime activist Khalaf Ali Khalaf was informed by Al-Qaeda-affiliated sources close to the extremist group.

Sources saw the Italian Jesuit last Saturday in an area in northern Syria where ISIS is active, Khalaf told  Aki-Adnkronos International news agency. The journalist, who is based in north-eastern Syria, did not wish to reveal the identities of his sources for fear of reprisals. Neither did he mention where exactly Dall’Oglio had been seen. The Jesuit priest went missing in the city of Raqqa on 28 July.

He had re-entered Syria in hopes of assisting peace negotiations in the Kurdish region of Syria. Over decades, he and his monastery / retreat center had become a symbol of positive Muslim-Christian relations in Syria. May he be able to continue in that work...

OMG! What if peace broke out?

Peace in the ME is not very likely, certainly not soon. Here are some articles on the varying degrees of difficulty faced by both the U.S. and Iran if serious negotiations go ahead.

"While the congressional playing field is not entirely clear yet, one thing is obvious. Obama is going to need support in his peacemaking efforts. That support will need to come from the U.S. public and he will need to know that he has it in order to counter what is sure to be a furious onslaught from the most powerful forces that oppose any normalization with the Islamic Republic. That onslaught is coming and it is going to be furious. Obama will also need support from Iran, of all places. Rouhani will need to maintain the positive face he is portraying. And Rouhani should not be alone in this endeavour. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, apparently recognizing that Rouhani had not gone far enough in distancing himself from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial, has made sure to unequivocally acknowledge the Holocaust and its horrors. However prominent one thinks that issue should be, the clear statements were obviously intended to forestall the use of that issue against progress in upcoming nuclear talks." Mitchell Plitnik at Lob Log

And this from Tehran: "Yes, a shoe was thrown at Rouhani upon his return from New York City from a group of about 50 or so male demonstrators. But there were more supporters than detractors. It is also true that the intractable Hossein Shariatmadari of Kayhan has found 5 "lamentable" aspects of Rouhani’s trip and performance (including the way the President answered the Holocaust question, his reference to Israel instead of the Zionist regime, and of course, the phone call). But he has also had to defend himself  against the charge of sounding more like Bibi Netanyahu than the Leader’s representative to the state-run newspaper." Fahrideh Farhi also at Lobe Log

"Frenemies Forever"

Here is a clear-headed analysis of a possible U.S.-Iran rapproachment:

"The apparent restraint of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday afternoon seems to have disappointed many Western observers. They charge Rouhani with failing to show much of the "heroic flexibility" that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, recently claimed would characterize Iran's new diplomatic strategy toward the West. In truth, the West should not be so surprised. Iran's diplomatic offensive of recent weeks is, in fact, a significant shift -- just not in the way most Westerners have seemed to think."

At Foreign Affairs

“Mercy-ing”: A Starting Place for Vatican-Azhar Dialogue

In the Qur’an, God’s mercy is referenced most often in Sura Maryam, which recounts the stories of Mary, Jesus, and other Biblical characters familiar to Christians. This painting, completed by the author, features an image of Mary with the word “al-Rahman” written upon her womb. The painting is intended to spread awareness and spark conversation about the place of Mary, and the importance of mercy, in both Christianity and Islam.

Amid all the excitement from the unprecedented interview with Pope Francis published by Jesuit journals worldwide, many Catholics may have missed one of the Pontiff’s more subtle communiqués: a letter sent to the head of al-Azhar University, a highly respected institution for Sunni Islamic scholarship. Unsurprisingly, and in line with the humble style of Francis’s papacy, the Vatican did not widely announce that he had sent the letter; the press only learned of the message—which was delivered by the Vatican ambassador to Egypt and expressed his hope for "mutual understanding between the world’s Christians and Muslims in order to build peace and justice"—when Ahmed al-Tayyeb, al-Azhar’s Grand Imam, made the sentiment of the letter known to the world. 

While the letter’s content (only some of which was shared with the media) is not groundbreaking, Francis’ gesture has been perceived by some, like Father Hani Bakhoum, secretary of the Alexandria Patriarchate of the Catholic Copts, to signal a desire for resumption of dialogue between the Vatican and al-Azhar. The two institutions engaged in bi-annual talks until 2011 when al-Azhar officials cited comments made by Pope Benedict as justification to discontinue the dialogue. (Read more about the freezing of the talks here.) Upon Francis’ election to the papacy, Imam al-Tayyeb sent a message to the pope, congratulating him and indicating al-Azhar’s renewed desire to restart talks. 

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Congress is thinking about it

The Forward has a round-up of Congressional views on President Obama's war resolution. Some smart people seem to be doing some serious thinking: Joe Mancini, Barbara Mikulski, Alan Grayson (who was on the Newshour, Thursday; sharp and critical)--all Democrats.

And this illumination from the White House: "The other [choice] would be to do nothing, which White House officials privately acknowledge would damage the credibility of any future Obama ultimatum to other countries." Maybe the president should stop issuing ultimatums.

A graphic showing current (Friday morning) views of House and Senate members. WashPost

The Pentagon is not gung ho--Washington Post

Catholic commentary round-up on proposed attack in Syria

The past few days have seen a burst of commentary from Catholic writers about the proposed attack in Syria. This blog has featured a lot, and the current issue of the magazine has Gabriel Said Reynolds's essential short take. A few other items of note, and feel free to add more in the comments:

Maryann Cusimano Love on the "just war" question in the Huffington Post

Drew Christiansen, S.J., on the role of prayer in Washington Post "On Faith"

Tobias Winright on "just war" analysis in The Tablet and Catholic Moral Theology

R. R. Reno on "symbolic killing" in First Things

The USCCB's letter to President Obama

E. J. Dionne's column in praise of democracy, today in the Washington Post

Michael Sean Winters taking the liberal interventionist route in National Catholic Reporter

And, of course, the Pope has been leading the way from last week's Angelus to his letter to President Putin to his forceful social media activism, about which I wrote a short piece in the Washington Post's "On Faith" section. My take-home point was: "Prayerful, prophetic denunciation of war is one papal tradition that the reform-minded Francis will not be changing."

Elizabeth Tenety offered a round-up of some of these critiques from the commentariat, and then posed the question of whether all the Catholics in political power in the United States are listening.

Are they???

Finally, if you're in the New York area, I'm sure the Pope's out-front anti-war message will become a topic of conversation at our Fordham panel about Pope Francis on Mon, Sept 9, at Lincoln Center campus.  Info and RSVP HERE.

Two voices of conscience: Iranian and Israeli on Syria's war

Former president of Iran, Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, has spoken out criticizing the Assad regime for the use of chemical weapons. This is a extremely neuralgic point with the Iranians who suffered gas attacks during the Iran-Iraq war.

"Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has roiled Iranian politics by admitting that the Syrian government gassed its own people at Ghuta in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. He was lamenting the calamities that are befalling the hapless Syrian people. He attacked the regime of President Bashar al-Assad for filling what he called “football stadiums” full of political prisoners, as well as for using gas on the rebels.

"This sign of division in the Iranian elite would ideally be used by Washington to put diplomatic pressure on that country. However, the American fixation with gunboat diplomacy will probably forestall that diplomatic approach." Juan Cole reports the speech and offers a brief analysis.

Aluf Ben, editor-in-chief of Haaretz, poses this challenge to Israeli leaders: "If the call for intervention in Syria stems from moral considerations, as its supporters claim, there’s no doubt that Israel, founded on the ashes of the Holocaust, should set an example for the world and send its air force to land a decisive blow on the “Syrian Hitler’s” SS units. The same strike could also hit the Hezbollah infantry units fighting nearby."

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Now on our homepage

Two new stories now featured on our homepage.

First, the editors on reading the mission statement of Matt Malone, SJ, editor of America, about the challenges facing his magazine and the Catholic media at large. A pressing concern of Malone’s is

what he perceives to be the destructive influence of secular political ideology on Catholic unity. “We view ideology as largely inimical to Christian discipleship,” he writes, arguing that “our secular, civic discourse...is a mortal threat to the ecclesiastical discourse.” In an effort to combat this “factionalism,” America will no longer allow writers to use the terms “liberal,” “conservative,” or “moderate” “when referring to our fellow Catholics in an ecclesiastical context.” That editorial experiment will bear watching.

Factionalism can indeed be a threat to the church (or to the country), but honest disagreement is not always destructive of ecclesial communion; in fact, it is often constitutive of it. As John Courtney Murray, SJ, once wrote, “disagreement is a rare achievement, and most of what is called disagreement is simply confusion.” Paul took on Peter in the most direct way on the question of whether the promises of Christ could be extended to the uncircumcised. The church as we know it would not exist but for that bit of factionalism. The number of such disagreements throughout the church’s history is hard to exaggerate. In fact, church unity is more often threatened when not enough room is made for the airing and resolution of honest disagreement. Nor does it do any good to pretend that the contemporary church is actually a community of harmony and virtue simply because ideally it should be. American Catholics belong to the church, but also to many other communities and organizations. They cannot, and should not, leave those attachments behind at the church door, nor should they regard their political commitments as peripheral to their Christian witness. Quite the contrary. For example, while America’s mission statement confesses a “bias” for the “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable,” it asserts that the poor have no “special parties to speak for them.” Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that all parties speak for the poor equally, or equally well.

Read the whole thing here.

Also featured now, E. J. Dionne Jr. and the position President Obama finds himself in on Syria:

[I]f Obama wanted to shift our foreign policy away from the Middle East, the Middle East had other ideas. Even before the latest reports that Syria’s government had used chemical weapons against its own people, the military’s takeover in Egypt, following abuses by the Muslim Brotherhood government, blew up the administration’s hopes for a gradual movement there toward more democratic rule.

Now, the president’s own unambiguous red line against the regime’s use of chemical weapons and his statements declaring that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad should be ousted leave him little choice but to take military action. This is the conclusion Obama has drawn, however uneasy he has been about intervening in the Syrian civil war. He no longer has the option of standing aside.

The result is an agonizing set of questions and potential contradictions. Can military strikes of any kind be the sort of “narrow” or -- and this has always been a strange word for war -- “surgical” intervention that does not drag the United States deeply into the conflict? Yet if the strikes are limited enough so as not to endanger Assad’s regime, is the Syrian leader then in a position to pronounce his survival a form of victory against the United States and its allies? Does Obama really want to get the U.S. involved, however tangentially, in a new Middle Eastern war without a debate in Congress and some explicit form of congressional approval?

Read it all here.

Attack on Syria would be "a criminal act"

WIth two bishops from Aleppo and Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio still missing, the number of authoritative Christian leaders "on the ground" in Syria has dwindled. That makes it all the more important to consider the few remaining voices, as Christians ponder military action in Syria.

Today Vatican Insider reports that Gregory III Laham, the Greek Catholic Patiarch of Antioch and leader of the Melkite church, is leading a charge to stop a possible attack on Syria:

This attack being planned by the United States is a criminal act, which will only reap more victims, in addition to the tens of thousands of these two years of war. This will destroy the Arab world's trust in the West.

In a further comment that ought to give pause to those supporting a righteous use of force, he says that an attack would be "no less serious than the use of chemical weapons."

Asia News first carried the story, which is still developing.

In related news, Paul Vallely, British biographer of Pope Francis, argues in the Church Times that military action in Syria would "not yet" satisfy just war criteria. Specifically, the principles of last resort, competent authority, proportionality, and prospect of success have not been met. He concludes:

The outraged demand that "something must be done" should not bully us into doing the wrong thing. A signal needs to be sent to President Assad that he cannot use chemical weapons with impunity. But it could yet be diplomatic. Russia and Iran were both pressured to shift on their intransigence against UN weapons inspections. That has shown that the international disunity on which the Assad regime has relied need not be permanent. There is more to be achieved by diplomacy before the Cruise missiles are dispatched.

Indeed, everyone feels that something must be done.

But the cautionary voices in the United States continue to make strong cases. The tweets of Conor Friedersdorf (@conor64) of The Atlantic, for example, offer link after link to compelling arguments against military action. This morning, he offered a pithy parable:

Grease fire breaks out at meeting of Syria hawks. They pour water on it. "We couldn't do nothing!"

Who Did It? UPDATE

UPDATE, Wednesday Aug. 28. Stephen Walt has this literary analogy to our current situation.

"More than anything else, Obama reminds me here of George Orwell in his famous essay "Shooting an Elephant." Orwell recounts how, while serving as a colonial officer in Burma, he was forced to shoot a rogue elephant simply because the local residents expected an official of the British Empire to act this way, even when the animal appeared to pose no further danger. If he didn't go ahead and dispatch the poor beast, he feared that his prestige and credibility might be diminished. Like Orwell, Obama seems to be sliding toward "doing something" because he feels he simply can't afford not to."

So look what happened to the British Empire anyway!  [Update 9 P.M., but the Parliament still functions. See comment way below.]

Original Post: As war-mongering heats up in Washington, London, and Paris, and the White House asserts that it was almost certainly the Assad Regime that used chemical weapons last week, here is a Ha'aretz story that includes six different version of who might have done it.  We can look at them all with a good deal of skepticism. The White House's plunking for the Syrian government should get equal skepticism. Story here: "More Questions than Answers."

"1. One version is that of the Free Syrian Army and the political opposition, whose spokesmen explaine at a news conference Saturday that the chemical missiles were fired by the Syrian army’s Brigade 115 from its Mount Kalamun missile base and that, during the attack, the head of the Syrian missile directorate, Taher Hamed Khalil, was present at the base.

"2. Another version is that of Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq, relying on a source in the Free Syrian Army who claims that soldiers of the Fourth Elite Unit, commanded by Maher Assad - the Syrian president’s brother - raided the Scientific Studies and Research Center and captured quantities of the chemical weapons after killing a Syrian officer who refused to let them in.

"3. A third version comes from the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah, through an Iraqi source close to the separatist Muktada al-Sadr, who says that fighters from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, in charge of some of the chemical weapons stores, fired the chemical weapons at the town of al-Ghouta, despite opposition by the Syrian army brass.

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Way down in Egypt Land!

As events have swirled in Egypt, it is not hard to follow the blood and gore. It is less clear what's really going on. When Lindsay Graham and John McCain appear as the chief American interlocutors, you can be sure our policy is adrift. Reading Pat Lang this morning, I found the following comments from a journalism professor at the American University of Cairo focused on media coverage filling in some of the missing pieces. Read it here; it's short!

And here is the NYTimes account of media coverage: not as short.

UPDATE: Here is the inevitable, "The U.S. has-had-it scenario," with Russia and Saudia Arabia joining forces to calm things down in Egypt with China as backstop. Provocative and Sobering. Asia Times.

Paul Pillar at the National Interest argues that the U.S. could let the military aid to Egypt go without serious consequences for the U.S. or Egypt, but perhaps with some consequences for Israel, which has undertaken a diplomatic initiative to keep the aid flowing to Egypt. In brief, the Egyptians have no desire for a war with Israel and the Israeli military can thwart the Sinai terrorists. The problem for Israel: in the 1979 treaty with Egypt, it promised to make peace with the Palestinians within five years. A long five years!

Waiting for Fr. Paolo

It's been almost two weeks since Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio, a Jesuit leader of interreligious peacebuilding in Syria, has vanished. It's been more than one week since the date after which he told his friends "to raise the alarm" if they had not heard from him. They -- and we -- are still waiting.

The coverage of his disapperance has been relatively widespread. John Allen's Friday column led with the story, tying it to the previous kidnappings of the Syrian Orthodox bishop and Greek Orthodox metropolitan of Aleppo. It even made the print edition of the Wall Street Journal. But no one seems to know what, if anything, can be done.

I only met Fr. Paolo once, sharing a meal, when he visited Fordham University in 2011. I obviously can't claim him has a friend. But I have been unexpectedly angry, disdainful, and plaintive in heart since hearing of his alleged kidnapping. Part of my response comes from my writing a book about early Christianity in Syria at the same time as its current civil war. Another part of it comes from having written scholarship about the art of the medieval monastery, Mar Musa al-Habashi, which is what Fr. Paolo refounded after centuries of abandonment and made into a site of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims who wanted to meet in peace and prayer.

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Is it possible that the Israelis and Palestinians will settle?

As Secretary of State Kerry undertook a form of shuttle diplomacy between Israeli authorities and the Palestinian Authority this Spring, his work has been treated as the feckless mission of a man who thinks he knows a lot about foreign policy. YET, that he was able to announce on Friday a meeting in Washington between two representatives without announcing any agreed upon preconditions has raised the hope that this time.... something might really be achieved. That would be a great achievement and a welcome blessing.

Stephen Walt sees several reasons why there may have been a breakthrough at the moment (if a breakthrough it is), and he hopes that this round will succeed where previous ones have not. There are reasons for hope and reasons for well, despair. Here are his calculations: "Faith over Experience. 

Further comments: Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, 2005-11, asks whether Israel is reaching a point of no return for a two-state solution and will become a bi-national state with demographic consequences. Tablet Magazine (not the London Tablet!). HT: Harold Hartinger

 

Four Star Chutzpah**** UPDATE

The European Union and some of its member nations have long grumbled about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Desultory efforts to object have often fallen to the wayside. Now the EU has decided to enforce a 2005 trade agreement (signed by former PM Ehud Olmert) barring West Bank settlement products from taking advantage of Israeli customs exemptions to member nations. To this stipulation, which is to be enforced in 2014, the EU will now add the requirement that all agreements between Israel and the EU state that the area beyond the green line is "occupied territory." The details at Ha'aretz.

Of course, the Israelis object. But what is their primary argument at this point: PM Benjamin Netanyahu, King of Chutzpah, objects that  It will undermine Secretary of State John Kerry in his effort to revive the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Times story.

Really? The peace talks that are going nowhere will be undermined by an EU rule to go into effect next January? Is that the only obstacle?

UPDATE:  As the world turns! The EU implemented its old and new rules today on the Occupied Territories in the West Bank. And rather than undermining Kerry's peace efforts, it appears that many Israeli right-wingers have seized upon them as the lesser of two evils. Read the analysis of Ha'aretz blogger Chemi Shalev.

Do something; do anything.... UPDATE

...or maybe do nothing.

Fast-moving events in Egypt have been front page headlines (and the New York Times has done a great job with its daily coverage; bravo David Kirpatrick and Kareem Fahim).

The Obama administration has been somewhat less fast-moving. There are desultory discussions about whether the Egyptian military staged a coup requiring the U.S. to cut aid along with questions asking if this is any way to run a democracy. On Friday, July 5, in the midst of the crisis, President Obama played golf (and Congress men and women probably did the same or equivalent). Secretary of State John Kerry was caught out sailing on July 4. Is this any way for the indispensible nation to behave?

I'm inclined to find the U.S. hanging back on Egypt refreshing. (I bracket the question of what the CIA et al may be doing!) Here's the Washington story in the Times (July 6).

For those following the crisis, Juan Cole looks at the divisions among Middle Eastern governments over the Egyptian coup: Though concluding that they are all over the place, he points to two main contingents: "Those who would want to be rescued from an ascendant Muslim Brotherhood in their own country– the GCC, Iraq and Syria — tended to support Adly Mansour and Gen. al-Sisi. Countries whose rulers saw themselves as participating in Morsi’s brand of democratic fundamentalism–Turkey and Tunisia– angrily denounced the events as an illegitimate coup."

Eenglish

It was the Bicentennial in Cairo and our plan was to go to the Embassy and eat American food. My friend Ken, with whom I was staying, had heard that the Paris and London embassies were putting on giant spreads, so on the Glorious Fourth we went to our embassy in Cairo looking for hot dogs, fried chicken and Budweiser.  But the guards at the gate had turned us away, firmly but almost politely.  Egyptian capitalists and government officials only, thank you very much.  Get your lowly proletarian butt out of here.

So we had taken our lowly proletarian butts to Ken’s favorite American restaurant in Cairo --- a Wimpy’s.

When someone takes me to his or her favorite restaurant, I expect that the food will be good, or at least edible.  But the Wimpyburger was a pathetic lukewarm paste made up of breadcrumbs and some material that might have once been part of an animal, but chances are the animal had not been a steer.  The parfait that came with it seemed to be made out of dyed cotton wool and even the Coke tasted like the laxative my mother used to give me as a child.  What on earth was special about this place?

I asked Ken, but he was unresponsive and just kept staring up at the ceiling.  Or so I thought.  He was actually staring out of the windows that were mounted just below the ceiling, since the restaurant was in a basement.  At a certain angle, one could look up the skirts of the women passing by on the sidewalk.  Ah.  I understood.  I saw that the restaurant was full of guys just like him paying premium prices for shit sandwiches so they could watch the floor (or ceiling) show.

 

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New issue, now live

Now featured on the home page, stories from our new issue

In “Beyond the Stalemate” (subscription), Peter Steinfels looks at where we are forty years after Roe:

That Americans and American Catholics remain divided over abortion is, in important ways, to our credit. But some divisions are more necessary, compelling, or expedient than others. Some are well considered and executed, others are not. Some are paralyzing and self-destructive, others point toward fruitful resolution. Forty years after Roe, it is incumbent on Catholics to reexamine their stance toward abortion and its legalization.

There is natural resistance to any such reexamination. This is a topic associated with too much pain—and often hidden pain—along with too much hypocrisy, illusion, and male betrayal. Many Catholics who are angry at church leaders or prolife activists for their harsh rhetoric, political absolutism, moral righteousness, or general attitudes toward women and sexuality simply refuse to think about the topic further. Prolife leaders, on the other hand, boost morale by seizing on any uptick in public opinion, any success in a state legislature, and every fresh summons from religious authorities as confirmation that their present course, no matter how inadequate or counterproductive, is unassailable. …

My own reexamination of the Catholic stance on abortion begins with two simple statements and then attempts to determine what conclusions and practical proposals might flow from them.

First statement: From the very earliest stages of its life, the unborn offspring of human beings constitutes an individual member of the human species deserving the same protections from harm and destruction owed to born humans.

Second statement: This conviction, taught by the Catholic Church and shared by many people, religious and non-religious, is nowhere near as obvious as many of us who hold it suppose.

David Rieff sees trouble in the calls for “humanitarian war” in Syria: 

If the conditions on the ground in Syria today, after two years of unbridled civil war, were more akin to those in Libya at the time French president Nicolas Sarkozy persuaded his NATO partners to act, or to those in Mali at the time of the recent French military intervention than they are to the conditions in Iraq or Afghanistan, then the ardor of the liberal hawks and the neoconservatives for intervention there would not seem so reckless. After all, the interventions in Libya and Mali both seemed to recapitulate the so-called humanitarian interventions of the 1990s, where the core of the debate was never whether a U.S. or NATO intervention would be successful—this, probably rightly, was taken for granted—but only whether there was really a will in Washington, Brussels, London, or Paris to intervene in a Bosnia, Rwanda, or Kosovo. But even most of those who think the United States must act in Syria concede that not only is an effective military intervention there likely to prove far more difficult than in Iraq, let alone in Mali or Kosovo; it is also by no means sure that any political result that is now imaginable will be much of an improvement over a continuation of the Assad dictatorship.

Also, Richard Alleva reviews The Great Gatsby, and E. J. Dionne Jr. remembers Fr. Andrew Greeley, the “loving pugilist.”