In San Francisco, the belly of the beast, conservatives came to Temple Emanu-El on December 9 to hear Dennis Prager, Mona Charen, and John Podhoretz discuss the Middle East. The esteemed panel was moderated by Michael Medved. The event itself was sponsored by the Jewish Policy Center, led by Jonathan Schanzer.
Yesterday, I discussed the quality of the event, which was sky high.
Today I will discuss the substance of the forum, and there was substance in abundance. Below is the recap of the discussion. These are not direct quotes, but provide an essence of what each panelist had to say.
Michael Medved: "Are there reasons for optimism coming out of the recent Arab-Israeli Peace Summit in Annapolis?"
Mona Charen: "No. This is like Lucy holding the football, and Charlie Brown thinking he is finally going to kick it. How many times does Lucy have to pull the football away before Charlie Brown realizes this is not going to happen? ‘Peace process' is an absurd expression. Peace is a state of being, not a process. Although President Bush is the most Pro-Israel President America has ever had, this is a betrayal. Annapolis is a negotiation with a weak Abbas. He is not a man of peace. The only question regarding Annapolis is how much damage will be done. Failure itself is not in doubt."
John Podhoretz: "Syria sent their deputy foreign minister to Annapolis. You know a country wants no desire to be a part of anything when all they send is their deputy foreign minister. He walked around scared to death the whole time that somebody might ask him a question. However, the major danger in Annapolis is not Syria, it's Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert. Ohlmert has questioned the legitimacy of the 1967 borders. Jerusalem is supposed to be on the table, and the surrender of Jerusalem is a preposterous non-starter. Israeli attendee Tzipi Livni was wondering why no one would shake her hand. Annapolis is meaningless. Unlike most negotiations that start fresh, Israelis always begin with the last point of negotiation from the last summit, and are then asked to move more."
Dennis Prager: "My whole life I was open to land for peace. I am no longer willing to delude myself. There are two types of liars, those who lie to others, and those who lie to themselves. Those who lie to others are sinners. Those who lie to themselves are hopeless. There cannot be peace when there is no one to make peace with. Peace activists are sweet, but naive human beings. I told a leftist Jewish peace activist to go up to the Arabs, disclose they are an American peace activist, and ask them if Israel should exist. They came back and said they did not understand the response. It is a yes or no question. An unclear answer is a very clear answer. The answer is no. Annapolis was based on two preconditions, that Israel not be defined as a Jewish state, and that terrorism not be mentioned. What is left to talk about? I love peace, and I love Israel being alive. If you hate President Bush and Israel, the left loves you. The New York Times reserves page A 46 for terror stories, and even they did not cover Annapolis. There are only two purposes for Annapolis. Either this is purely emotional, or the same State Department still will not give up its goal of undermining President Bush."
Michael Medved: "Does the new National Intelligence Estimate report justify the view by many on the left that, 'Bush lied, people died?'"
John Podhoretz: "The NIE is a perplexing document. The old report stated that Iran could have nuclear weapons by 2009. The new document states that Iran stopped actively pursuing nuclear weapons in 2003. However, it also states that because Iran currently harvests uranium, it could harvest enough uranium to build a bomb by 2009. Nothing has changed. The report was declassified because if it was leaked, President Bush would look bad. It is awful that we have gotten to the point where classified information has to be released for political reasons to avoid public relations nightmares. People have speculated on the reasons why Iran stopped their weapons program in 2003. Nobody in America knows. The only people who know the reasons for what they do are Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs. Some say international diplomatic pressure was the reason, but in 2003 there was no diplomatic pressure on Iran. Were there phone calls from Germany, Russia and France telling Iran to cool it? Were they on the phone saying that Bush was a cowboy, and they could not stop him if Iran did not back down? This is doubtful. We do know that in 2003, Saddam was deposed and Khadafi then stopped his weapons program."
Dennis Prager: "What keeps me sane? We live in the age of stupidity. Why is this the age of stupidity? Because so many people have gone to college. They think they know things. I make an exception if you went to Community College. University Professors are secular. We live ina secular age. There is no wisdom in secularism. Secular intellectuals are people who give girls trucks and boys dolls. What often happens is the girls name the trucks and take care of them. Expertise has nothing to do with wisdom. Firefighters have expertise putting out fires. However, go to any school and all the doors are locked. School fires are so incredibly rare, yet classrooms are scorching because of prohibitions on opening the doors. Fire codes set in place by experts for situations that virtually never occur. Expertise is not wisdom. Let non-intelligence experts receive information and evaluate it themselves. Experts can present their findings and non-experts can analyze it. I want to know what people know, not what people think. By leaking this document, the NIE subverted American security."
Michael Medved: "My boys used Barbies as guns."
Mona Charen: "There is no getting around nature. As for the NIE, how could we be so blind in the 1930s? Yet we were. We are still blind in 2007. The NIE report makes this whole Iran mess seem like nothing more than a terrible bad dream. I was reading a book to my sons, ages 8 and 10, about mice being attacked by rats. The rats disappear into the shadows, and the mice then think everything is safe. My sons innocently asked me if this was a book about liberals. As for our intelligence experts, the CIA stereotype of the tough guy that comes in rough and savs the day no longer exists. The CIA is now filled with Valerie Plame types. They are Milquetoast, New York Times editorialist readers."
Michael Medved: "The Arab world is actually now disseminating a documentary explaining why Walt Disney created Tom and Jerry cartoons as a Jewish conspiracy. The documentary states that Walt Disney was a Talmudic scholar, which he wasn't. Walt Disney did not create Tom and Jerry. The Jewish angle is that Jerry represents Israel, who is tiny, but somehow always manages to escape and oppress bigger Tom. How do we deal with a virulently Antisemitic media?"
Dennis Prager: "The worldwide media is a problem. One Palestinian video was staged to show a dead child being carried out, but at the end of it the child looks up to see if it was staged ok. Footage of videos that is damaging to their cause gets lost. One video had a boy being carried out on a stretcher. The guys carrying him tripped and fell, and then the boy got up off of the stretcher and and away. I want to believe in the resurrection of dead guys. The media story of our time is the perversion of life. This is why talk radio is so valuable because it provides and alternative view. The mainstream news cares about blonds killed in places like Aruba."
John Podhoretz: The internet is the best thing that has ever happened. It is a fact checker. It allows for amateur communicators, and exposes commentators, who often know less. I am a commentator, but lawyers and doctors know more about law and medicine even though people like me may write about them. Newspaper columnists have been anointed, but in the past the newspaper columnist was the guy that didn't get the editor job. Being a columnist meant you were shunted aside, not given prestige. The internet allowed one guy whose expertise was music to bring down Dan Rather. He knew enough about computers and the web to see that the documents were typed using Microsoft word. One music guy was a fact checker. The mainstream media spends more time covering Palestinian celebrations. Has anyone asked why they love cars so much? Palestinians are always celebrating around cars. They are probably celebrating that they stole the cars from Jewish people."
Mona Charen: "Despite the internet, the mainstream media still decides what is news, what are scandals, what gets discussed. The internet helps, but the mainstream media is still in charge."
At this point audience questions were asked. These were "lightning round" questions, so brief answers were requested by the moderator.
1) What can we do about Syria?
John Podhoretz: "Unfortunately, beating up on Israel gives the USA credibility, and we seem to badly care about credibility from places like Syria. We have to stop."
2) What can we do about Saudi Arabia and oil?
Dennis Prager: "They are barbaric, misogynistic…I need more big words…people, yet we regulate Detroit. We need to get tour own oil. We have it in Alaska. The caribou like oil lights. They make love better around heat. Alberta, Canada has oil. We need to invest in nuclear power. 56 people died from Chernobyl, and that was a badly built facility in Russia. The left prefers windmills."
3) How do we get Arabs out of Israel?
Mona Charen: "The Israeli Arabs like their standard of living in Israel. They do not want to leave. Legislation was proposed to remove them, and they got very nervous. I don't think you can remove them."
4) How can we counter Arab propaganda?
John Podhoretz: "The administration sends out Karen Hughes to explain to them that we want to understand them. We have not countered anything yet."
5) What do we as Jews do about Iraq?
Mona Charen: "Many Arabs believe that the Iraq War was a Jewish conspiracy, aka the Neocons. Most Jews were against the initial invasion. There should not be an official Jewish position. There should be an American position, and that should be to win the war, despite the leftists."
Dennis Prager: "It is one of the greatest shames of Jewish history that Jews opposed the deposition of Saddam Hussein, one of the world's biggest anti-Semites, who murdered Jews and paid $25,000 to the families of Palestinian homicide bombers. Opposing the removal of Saddam is a disgrace among Jews. It is a disgrace to Reform Judaism, whose leaders issued a resolution opposing the war. It is a disgrace on all of American Jewish life. It is mind boggling."
6) What can be done about anti-Semites such as Ron Paul, Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, and James Baker?
John Podhoretz: "Ron Paul is an anti-Semite, Carter is an anti-Semite, Buchanan is an anti-Semite, James Baker is not in the sense that he is not an existential opponent of Jewry. They are irrelevant."
Mona Charen: "Paul, Carter and Ahmadinejad all saved Israel! They keep Israel alive in the press. David Duke is campaigning for Paul."
7) What should Israel do?
John Podhoretz: "Sometimes there are no ready solutions. Cures cannot be invented if the disease is not isolated."
8.) What about God's promise to defend Israel if Jews become religious, and punish them if they stray?
Denis Prager: "I don't know. We bury somebody and then daven Mincha (pray at the afternoon service). We fight with God, but stay devout. We are devout because God said so, not to get benefits."
9) How do we respond to those who think that being Pro-Israel and Pro-American are antithetical?
John Podhoretz: "America and Israel share a love of freedom, and the idea that all are equal in the eyes of God. A hard work ethic and self reliance are common. This allowed Israel to turn a small area of Arab desert into a lush greenery."
Mona Charen: "Most Christians are more Zionist than most Jews. We have similar kinships, politics in the sense that both are democracies, and shared values."
Michael Medved: "Some Arabs fantasize that the mother ship will come from above and remove all of the Jews and then there will be peace. Has anyone seen Gaza? Israel believes in peace. Israel's existence helps the United States as an agent of peace."
I would again like to thank this outstanding panel of Mona Charen, Dennis Prager, John Podhoretz, and moderator Michael Medved. Special thanks again go out to Jonathan Schanzer and the Jewish Policy Center. Lastly, Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco should be given all the thanks in the world for allowing hundreds of conservatives to enter the Belly of the Beast, and leave the way they came…in peace.
Ronald Reagan described America as the shining city on a hill. Intelligent discussions such as this one fill me with his hope and optimism for the future.
A Happy Hanukkah to all. Happy Hanukkah, indeed.
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