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Week in Review: Two Changes of Heart; Still the Same; Frenemies

Two Changes of Heart

Israel recently received significant support from two unexpected sources.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I – Vt.) earlier this month told an Al Jazeera interviewer that he supports Israel’s right to exist and opposes boycotts that single out the Jewish state. When the interviewer asked him if signing a letter with all 99 of his Senate colleagues calling for an end to anti-Israel bias at the United Nations was an attempt to “shield Israel from criticism,” Sanders objected.

“No, no, no, no, no, I don’t accept that,” the senator stressed, explaining that the letter was meant to question why UN criticism is regularly directed toward “only Israel when you have other countries where women are treated as third-class citizens, where in Egypt, I don’t know how many thousands of people now lingering in jail.”

The editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton, also provided unexpected support this week by devoting an entire issue to Israel’s health care system. He was heavily criticized three years ago for publishing a letter in the prestigious medical journal that accused Israel of war crimes and whitewashed Hamas terrorism.

Horton, who has since visited Israel, said that he “deeply, deeply regrets” publishing the incendiary letter and hopes the new issue will “lead to recognition of Israel’s advantages for global health.”

What changed?

In the case of Sanders, it’s possible that new political considerations may be at play. Washington’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has been vocal about changing the institution’s anti-Israel bias, which was also condemned by the secretary general of the UN. Their efforts have helped the bipartisan nature of support for Israel in the United States reassert itself.

The dynamic surrounding Horton and The Lancet is different. Shortly after the offending letter was published, Horton visited Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and described it “as one example of a vision for a peaceful and productive future between peoples, which I learned exists throughout Israel’s hospitals.” Apparently, understanding the realities on the ground in Israel helped him see the country differently.

Still the Same

Perhaps the least surprising news this week came from Hamas official and co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar, who said that his terror group still wants to destroy Israel.

Earlier this month, Qatar hosted Hamas officials as they released a new political document that aimed to give the group a more moderate appearance. The document referred to the 1949 armistice lines, leading some to conclude that Hamas was willing to accept Israel’s existence.

A number of headlines suggested that the organization had really changed, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to release a video dismissing these reports.

The apparent impetus for Zahar’s honesty was criticism from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another Islamist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction. “We are opposed to Hamas’s acceptance of a state within the 1967 borders and we think this is a concession which damages our aims,” said Ziad al-Nakhala, PIJ’s deputy leader.

Al-Zahar affirmed in turn that Hamas is still committed to “resistance,” a popular euphemism for terrorism, and aims “to liberate the rest of Palestine and the territories of 1948″ with “no negotiations.” He also said that the new political document did not contradict or overrule Hamas’ original, genocidal 1988 charter. “There is no contradiction between what we said in the document and the pledge we have made to God in our (original) charter,” he declared.


What should the U.S. do with friends like Turkey and Qatar?

In a recent Tower essay supporting Washington’s recent decision to arm Syrian Kurds, Michael Totten noted that since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Turkey “threw its tacit support behind ISIS by bombing Kurdish positions while allowing ISIS to smuggle people and weapons over the border.”

“For years, we pretended Turkey wasn’t helping ISIS,” Totten added. “And we pretended we weren’t arming the Kurds while the Turks pretended to believe us. That’s over now. And in response, Turkey is threatening to step up its attacks against Syria’s Kurds.”

“From their point of view, the United States is now a state sponsor of terrorism. The way everyone else sees it, though, Turkey is at war with America’s best and only real allies in Syria at a time when every other country on earth wants ISIS destroyed yesterday,” he observed.

But Turkey isn’t the only questionable U.S. partner in the region.

Jonathan Schanzer and Kate Havard of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies pointed out this week that Qatar has been a sponsor of Hamas, the al-Nusra Front (an al-Qaeda affiliate), and the Taliban. Thus far, however, Washington has turned a blind eye to Qatar’s support of terror because it hosts the strategic al-Udeid air base, which is used by the U.S. military.

The question for U.S. policymakers on both Turkey and Qatar is whether the value of these alliances still outweighs each country’s support of terror.

Feature: Why Arming the Kurds Is Worth Angering the Turks

“It’s about time,” Michael Totten wrote in The Tower this week of the U.S. decision to provide military aid to the Kurdish Protection Units (YPG) in an effort to retake Raqqa, the “capital” of the ISIS “caliphate” in eastern Syria. The faction is the largest “in the Syrian Democratic Forces and the military arm of the leftist Democratic Union Party.”

However, arming the YPG is problematic as it is loosely allied with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. and Turkey, Totten observed. Still, the YPG has established an autonomous region in northern Syria and is, according to the Pentagon, “the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”

Totten explained that the U.S. has been reticent about openly arming the YPG as the group is secular, feminist, and quasi-Marxist, while the Arabs in the region tend to be more conservative. If the YPG takes Raqqa, it could lead to other political, cultural, and ethnic conflicts. Furthermore, the YPG’s ties to the PKK, which has been in conflict with Turkey for 40 years, means that openly arming the group will lead to tensions with the Turks.

However, Totten concluded, “it is insanely not in our interests to prioritize a b-rate regional squabble with no end in sight over the destruction of a worldwide terrorist menace that massacres people from San Bernardino to Paris. If the Turks don’t like it, that’s their problem.”

The Week’s Top Posts

• Texas Bank Shuts Account of Anti-Israel Boycott Group

• Lone Senator Blocking South Carolina’s Landmark Bill to Fight On-Campus Anti-Semitism

• Israeli Hospital Takes Lead in Treating Syria’s Wounded

Three Big Questions

Khaled Abu Toameh reported this week that the Palestinian Authority had stopped, or would soon be stopping, shipments of milk and medicine to Gaza. This is an apparent attempt to turn Gazans against Hamas. While the PA denies the story, last month it stopped sending fuel to Gaza. How can PA President Mahmoud Abbas claim to represent all Palestinians if he’s willing to sacrifice the well-being of Gazans in order to wage political war against Hamas?

FIFA, the world’s governing body for soccer, this week deferred taking action on a Palestinian motion to penalize Israel for having teams in the West Bank. In 2014, the head the Palestinian Football Association called a match between Israeli and Palestinian children “a crime against humanity.” FIFA’s code of conduct forbids “discrimination as a result of race, ethnicity, origin, skin colour, nationality, religion, age, gender, language, physical appearance, sexual orientation or political opinion.” Shouldn’t Rajoub’s objections to a match between Palestinians and Israelis be considered a violation of FIFA’s code of conduct?

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted a picture of American Jewish financier George Soros this week, describing him as a “wealthy, vicious American Zionist” and suggesting that Soros is seeking to influence Iran’s upcoming presidential elections. The Soros-backed Ploughshares Fund was one of the top promoters of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which freed up billions of cash for Khamenei’s regime and helped strengthen his hold on Iran. Isn’t a bit ungracious, then, for Khamenei to threaten Soros and call him a “vicious Zionist” to boot?

[Photo: AJ+ / YouTube ]