What Happened Today
December 8, 2023
The Big Story
Photos and video circulated widely on social media yesterday of dozens of Palestinian men detained or “arrested” by the IDF in Gaza. The men had been stripped to their underwear; in some photos, they were also wearing blindfolds with their hands tied behind their backs. Here’s one of the most striking:
The origin of the images was unclear; social media posts sourced them to Israeli Telegram channels, and they appeared uncredited in Israeli media alongside reports of Hamas fighters surrendering in Jabalia, a Hamas stronghold in northern Gaza that has seen intense fighting in recent days. IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said of the images, “We check who is connected to Hamas and who is not, and we detain and question everyone.”
Some on the Western left responded by accusing the IDF of intentionally humiliating and sexually abusing the detainees in violation of international law. Hyperbole aside, there may be a point buried in there somewhere. As John Spencer of West Point’s Modern Warfare Institute explained on X, it’s normal for Western militaries to immediately search captives, including through strip searches. Given that combatants may have weapons or explosives on their bodies, “a tactic of the IDF is to have the prisoners remove their clothing down to their underwear from a distance to ensure they are not a threat to their captors or other prisoners.” That’s standard practice. What’s not standard practice is publicizing photos of this process, which—if the images indeed came from the IDF—could open Israelis up to the charge that they are violating Geneva Convention rules prohibiting “outrages upon [the] personal dignity” of POWs and requiring capturing authorities to protect them from “insults and public curiosity.”
But arguments over whether it’s legal to publish photos of a process that is, in itself, legal, don’t have quite the same emotional charge as allegations that the photos depict a modern-day Babi Yar massacre, complete with IDF Einsatzgruppen. Ramy Abdul of Euro-Med Monitor, an NGO that has been caught in numerous lies—such as that IDF troops were exhuming “mass graves” in Gaza for the purposes of organ harvesting—retweeted a photo of the detainees alongside claims, apparently sourced to Arabic-language Telegram channels, that the IDF was engaged not merely in mass detentions but in mass executions:
The published Euro-Med Monitor report, which was shared on X by such luminaries as the D.C. bureau chief of The Intercept, dropped the mass-murder allegations in favor of claims that the captives were beaten and abused. But not everyone got the memo: New Statesman foreign affairs correspondent Bruno Maçães posted that the “images of mass executions now coming out of Gaza are if anything even more disturbing than the images from the bombings,” while Myriam François, a longtime presenter for the BBC who now works with Al Jazeera English, said in an X post, “We are working to identify all the men lined up in front of what appears like a mass grave. We will know who they are and what you have done to them. It will be made public. This looks like a mass execution picture.”
While these allegations will soon be forgotten amid a wave of other real and fake horror stories from the war, the willingness of relatively mainstream journalists to run with unsourced and clearly ludicrous tales of IDF “mass executions”—which, they apparently believed, the IDF would not only commit but publish photos of—is indicative of two significant impulses among Western partisans of the Palestinian cause. One is the apparently irresistible drive toward moral panic, hysteria, and hyperbole—whatever legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy may exist, they are rapidly drowned out by lurid and fantastical claims of Israeli depravity. The second is an increasingly explicit Holocaust envy, which seeks to recast the conflict in the terms of the postwar West’s founding mythology, with Jews in the role of the Nazis and Palestinians in the role of Jews. That may be an interesting subject for a psychologist, but it’s pathological when applied to politics—and especially to life-and-death matters of war and peace.
For a rundown of what we know about the detentions, check out The Times of Israel’s report here: https://www.timesofisrael.com/footage-shows-numerous-gaza-terror-suspects-who-apparently-surrendered-to-idf-troops/
IN THE BACK PAGES: Is Antony Blinken a new Kissinger? No, says Gadi Taub—more like Neville Chamberlain with an iPad
→Stat of the Day: $683,212
That’s how much Hunter Biden made in payments to “various women” between 2016 and 2019 instead of paying the more than $1 million he owed in taxes, according to an indictment filed yesterday by Special Counsel David Weiss in the Central District of California. The indictment charges the president’s son with nine counts of tax evasion, including three felonies. Some of Hunter’s other expenditures from that period:
$1,664,004 in cash withdrawals
$397,530 on “clothing & various accessories”
$188,960 on “adult entertainment”
Plus there was an $11,500 payment to a hooker and a $1,500 Venmo payment to a stripper, both of which Biden deducted as business expenses. Of course, due to Weiss’ foot-dragging, the statute of limitations has expired to charge Hunter for financial crimes committed before 2016, during the period when his father served as vice president of the United States.
For a rundown of the rest of the indictment, read TechnoFog here:
→The White House distanced itself from the Council on American Islamic Relations on Thursday, after video circulated of the group’s executive director, Nihad Awad, praising the Oct. 7 attacks, which The Scroll covered in its Big Story yesterday. “We condemn these shocking, antisemitic statements in the strongest terms,” a White House spokesman told Jewish Insider. The White House scrubbed any mention of CAIR from its National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism fact sheet and further stated that “CAIR is not consulting on the development of the Islamophobia strategy, period.” It might seem strange that the video was too much for an administration that had previously partnered with CAIR despite sworn public testimony from FBI agents that the group was a Hamas front, but we suppose it’s still progress.
→The United States is working with the Palestinian Authority on plans for postwar Gaza that could include Hamas joining the Palestine Liberation Organization as a “junior partner,” according to PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. Shtayyeh, one of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ top lieutenants, made the remarks in a Thursday interview with Bloomberg in which he also announced plans to fly to Doha to lobby the Qatari government to switch its financial support from Hamas to the PLO. After Shtayyeh’s remarks were published, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu shot back on X, “There will be no Hamas—we will eliminate it. The mere fact that this is the Palestinian Authority's proposal only strengthens my policy: the Palestinian Authority is not the solution.”
→The FBI has arrested a suspect in the Thursday shooting outside a synagogue in Albany, New York. Mufid Fawaz Alkhader, 28, an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen, was taken into federal custody and charged with possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, according to an FBI spokeswoman. Alkhader had fired two shots from a shotgun outside of Albany’s Temple Israel before fleeing the scene. No one was hit or injured. Initial reports were that Alkhader had shouted “Free Palestine” while firing the gun, but authorities said Thursday that he had made the comment to the responding officer during his arrest. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said that Alkhader had a long “rap sheet” but did not offer any specifics on his criminal history.
→University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill lost her school $100 million with her performance in Tuesday’s Congressional hearing on campus antisemitism, and may lose her job. The donation was withdrawn by Ross Stevens, a UPenn alum and the founder and CEO Stone Ridge Asset Management, whose lawyers stated in a letter that UPenn’s “permissive approach to hate speech calling for violence against Jews … would violate any policies or rules that prohibit harassment and discrimination based on religion, including those of Stone Ridge.” The board of UPenn’s powerful Wharton Business School has also called on Magill to resign, and a source told CNN that a representative of UPenn’s board would ask Magill to step down on Friday, though another source said there was “no board plan for imminent leadership change.”
→For a little more on the Ivies, here’s Michael Brendan Dougherty in National Review:
These standards of conduct—Maoist self-criticism for FedSoc party emails, and impunity for progressive non-white antisemites—are completely unfit for the type of institutions the Ivy League aspires to be. These standards of conduct are fundamentally at odds with the insane amount of patronage these institutions receive from the great American families, charitable institutions, and government of this nation. They are a recipe for producing shrieking human know-nothings where once there were citizens.
In other words, these institutions are breeding a profoundly unfit leadership class that will bring civil strife and ruin to this country. Protecting the First Amendment requires that we preserve civilized discourse from being drowned out by the yawping of barbarians. The Ivy League is producing an idiotariat; everyone could see that this week. Asking it to change is not hypocrisy. It’s the bare minimum of civilizational self-defense.
Read the rest here: https://www.nationalreview.com/2023/12/cancel-the-ivies/
→Oh, and one more note on the state of American education:
Yes, that’s 20% of Americans aged 18-29 agreeing with the statement “The Holocaust is a myth,” according to a new Economist/YouGov poll.
Read the rest of the survey results here: https://d3nkl3psvxxpe9.cloudfront.net/documents/econTabReport_tT4jyzG.pdf
TODAY IN TABLET:
As Hanukkah Begins, a Call to Reconsider Jewish Giving, by the Tablet Editors
This holiday is about battling the erasure of Jews and Judaism from public life. To fight it today, the least we can do is stop helping those who support it.
SCROLL TIP LINE: Have a lead on a story or something going on in your workplace, school, congregation, or social scene that you want to tell us about? Send your tips, comments, questions, and suggestions to email@example.com.
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Antony Blinken Is Hardly the Next Kissinger
The American secretary of state may think he is borrowing a page from his late predecessor’s Middle East playbook in Gaza. He’s doing the opposite.
by Gadi Taub
Comparisons between the Oct. 7 massacre and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 naturally abound. First there’s the date: Hamas committed its massacre exactly 50 years and one day after that fateful Day of Atonement in 1973. The new trauma was intended to echo the old.
Then there is the astounding intelligence failure. Fifty years ago, Israel failed to understand the enemy’s rational calculations. Now it failed to see the enemy’s irrational devotion to genocidal antisemitism. In both cases, Israeli intelligence was beholden to a mistaken preconception: Since it can't be in the enemy's interest to attack, any information that suggested otherwise must be unreliable.
There is also, in both cases, Israel’s overdependence on American materiel, which gives the U.S. powerful leverage over our policy at a time of mortal peril. And this similarity naturally leads to a comparison between the roles played by two American Jewish secretaries of state—the late Henry Kissinger in 1973, and Antony Blinken in the present.
According to a report in The Times of Israel, Blinken told Israel during his most recent visit that “it cannot operate in southern Gaza in the way it has done in the north.” He also warned that the U.S. would frown upon further displacement of Gaza’s population: “You need to evacuate fewer people from their homes, be more accurate in the attacks, not hit U.N. facilities, and ensure that there are enough protected areas [for civilians]. And if not? Then not to attack where there is a civilian population.”
Given the fact that Hamas is using noncombatants, including children, as human shields, and that it stores its weapons and hides its combatants in residential neighborhoods, under hospitals, and in U.N.-sponsored schools, operating within Blinken’s restrictions makes it difficult, if not impossible, for Israel to achieve the goal it set for itself, and which the U.S. is supposedly backing: destroying Hamas. Blinken also imposed a time constraint: According to the leak, when Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant told Blinken that “The entire Israeli society is united behind the goal of dismantling Hamas, even if it takes months,” the U.S. secretary of state replied, “I don't think you have the credit for that.”
Kissinger, too, angered many Israelis when he intervened to prevent the crushing of the Egyptian army. He wanted to allow Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to save face, so as to make him and his people more amenable to compromise and even a peace accord further down the road.
Blinken likewise appears bent on saving Hamas from a crushing defeat, though the leaders of that genocidal terrorist organization hardly seem like natural successors to the Egyptian peacemaker—who was murdered by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ parent organization. This is where the picture gets fuzzier. The declared American position is that the Palestinian Authority (PA), not Hamas, will take power after the war ends—uniting the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza under a single “revitalized” PA, as the administration is now putting it, so that Israel will once again have a partner theoretically able to deliver a two-state peace deal.
On the face of it, saving Hamas from destruction seems unlikely to serve the cause of peace with Israel. Perhaps Secretary Blinken believes that a weakened Hamas would accept the PA's authority, or maybe he fears the humiliation that greater destruction in Gaza must engender would kill the goodwill that he imagines some Palestinians still have for Israel. (In reality, polls show that over 75% of Palestinians support Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and a single Palestinian state “from the river to the sea.”)
So, if Blinken thinks he is walking in Kissinger’s footsteps, he is mistaken. Kissinger’s calculations were based on a clear-eyed understanding of the balance of power and of Sadat's disenchantment with his Soviet patrons. Kissinger helped Sadat forge a path that the Egyptian leader was already trying to find.
Blinken’s calculations, by contrast, appear to be completely out of touch with reality. There is no Palestinian Sadat. The PA, many of whose leaders expressed support for the Oct. 7 massacre, has never agreed to any concrete plan for a two-state solution, except under conditions that would, in practice, ensure two Arab-majority states. It has never given up on the so-called “right of return,” which is a plan to naturalize the Palestinian diaspora inside Israel. No Israeli leader will ever agree to such an idea because it amounts to national suicide.
Furthermore, whereas Kissinger’s reading of the larger strategic map was subtle and accurate, Blinken’s is obviously incorrect. Kissinger aimed at cutting the noose that Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sadat’s predecessor, had been trying to tie around Israel's neck. Nasser, the radical Arab nationalist leader of the time, sought to unite the Arab world under his leadership, and then use that power in order to annihilate Israel. After Nasser's death in 1970, Kissinger sought to help Sadat extract himself from commitment to this plan, and thereby kill both Nasser’s vision and the Soviet influence that backed it. Kissinger’s aim was to flip Egypt from the Soviet camp into the Western alliance system, breaking the spine of Soviet regional power and in the process freeing Israel from the specter of encirclement.
It was a masterstroke. Kissinger rightly saw that clumsy Soviet diplomacy would bring the Arabs nothing. In supporting the most extreme Arab demands, the Soviets excluded themselves from the position of possible deal-brokers. In the end, Kissinger thought, Arab leaders would understand that only the U.S. could deliver Israeli concessions, and that the price—peace with Israel and breaking with the Soviet orbit—would be worth it. It worked.
Now, once again, Israel is facing the specter of encirclement—this time led by Iran. But Blinken’s attempt to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians will hardly block Tehran's bid for hegemony. Quite the opposite. Iran is at war with the old American regional alliance system—which includes Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states. But Secretary Blinken and President Biden are appeasing the new radicals, not containing them. Restraining Israel is part of that appeasement policy, which began with Barack Obama’s Iran deal.
What Blinken and Biden have been trying to do since Oct. 7, is to rescue that policy from the possible consequences of the current war. For the administration, that means preventing the war from flaring into a regional conflict between Israel and Iran’s other proxies.
The U.S. therefore sent an aircraft carrier to the region along with a televised presidential warning: “To any country, any organization, anyone thinking of taking advantage of the situation,” President Biden said, “I have one word: don’t!” Israel breathed a sigh of relief. U.S. policy seemed geared toward deterring Hezbollah from fully joining the war, which was crucial in those first days when Israel was gathering its forces in the south, and could not yet afford a full-fledged second front in the north. But it soon became apparent that the American protective umbrella extended to the other side as well. Washington explicitly warned Jerusalem not to preemptively strike Hezbollah.
This made clear that the assumption of a convergence of interests between Israel and the U.S. was an illusion. The dictates of appeasement, which required limiting the war to Gaza, are at odds with Israel’s vital interests. Israel will have to take out Hezbollah, and the sooner the better. So long as that Iranian proxy, which is far stronger and better equipped than Hamas, is allowed to retain its military capabilities right on our border, Israel will not be able to repopulate its northern region, where towns and villages have been evacuated in the wake of Oct. 7. Leaving that region deserted is simply not an option.
As the war continued, the divergence of interests became more pronounced. While Israel fights Hamas, the Biden administration has continued to loosen the sanctions regime against its patrons in Tehran, providing the Iranian-led “axis of resistance”—which includes Hamas, Hezbollah, and a host of proxies in Iraq, Syria and Yemen—with an accelerating supply of economic oxygen. At the same time, the U.S. has steadfastly refused to acknowledge Iran's involvement in the lead-up to the Oct. 7 massacre, and its aftermath, even as Tehran has intensified its attacks on American forces.
If Kissinger’s policy loosened the noose around Israel’s neck, Blinken's policy of appeasement will only tighten it. Restraining Israel would save Iran's proxies from defeat and strengthen the Islamic Republic’s position. And if Tehran is playing Cairo's former role in this drama, then China and Russia are playing the role of the Soviets. By empowering the Iranians, Blinken’s policy will inevitably also further the penetration of the region by Iran's patrons, the Russians and the Chinese, at America's expense. Kissinger’s policy was focused on pushing America’s great power rivals out. American policy today is inviting them in.
Far from being a new Kissinger, Blinken is more like a new Neville Chamberlain with an iPad instead of an umbrella. The former British prime minister’s policy of appeasement toward German aggression in 1930s set the stage for World War II. The current misguided American policy of “realignment” with Iran, as Michael Doran and Tony Badran have called it, is what set the stage for the Hamas attack, and is likely to lead to larger disruptions of the regional and international order.
Appeasement is not an offhand mistake the Democratic Party drifted into carelessly, or stumbled upon out of weakness. It is a premeditated strategy designed to strengthen Iran at the expense of America’s traditional allies, based on the misguided idea that “integrating” the mullahs of Tehran into a regional system, and giving them a stake in the game, will make them responsible players. Its long-term goal is a new equilibrium between Iran and America’s allies, who will learn, in Obama's terms, to “share the neighborhood.”
The Biden administration is clearly unable to change direction. The raw savagery of the Oct. 7 slaughter sponsored by Iran, which is now a nuclear threshold state, may have shocked many around the world, but it has not forced any serious rethinking in Washington. Instead, the Biden team continues to offer Iran sanctions relief. This is an increasingly dangerous game, and not just on the regional level. On the global stage, it signals the potential for a violent dissolution of the American-led security system that has kept the West safe since the end of the Second World War.
For Israel, the danger is clear and present. It is an urgent question of national survival, which will require us to devise a new long-term strategy. Such a strategy cannot rely on the goodwill of the current U.S. administration, which has demonstrated it will protect its Iran policy at Israel’s expense. The short time frame and increasingly suffocating restraints that Blinken is trying to impose on Israel’s Gaza offensive reveal a serious misunderstanding of our situation, or worse, a fundamental betrayal of Israel's vital interests.
It took Israel almost a quarter of a century and four wars to break Nasser’s stranglehold. We are now in a war to remove Iran's. Completing this task will take time. It will also require Israel to shed its defensive strategy and go on the offensive. Such a shift in policy will likely require taking out Hezbollah next.
But even a victory over Hezbollah would not be enough. Israel must prepare for a multifaceted struggle against Iran over its drive for regional hegemony and its nuclear weapons program. This fight will call for stronger exercises of national will and greater sacrifices than Israelis have so far been forced to make.
There is no cause for despair, however. Israel has proven its resilience when great sacrifices were needed before. The mood here is that we are back in 1948. Israel won that war, and the ones that followed. It can win this war, too. Moreover, given the views of most Americans, and their representatives in Congress, Israel may have more wiggle room vis-à-vis the White House than it usually assumes. Hanukkah is an appropriate occasion for Israel’s leadership to remember that the people of Israel can stand firm to defend their sovereignty.