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The Gaza Hostage Crisis Is an American Hostage Crisis Armin Rosen

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Hamas terrorists with a hostage in Gaza. (Photo by: Abed Rahim Khatib/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

This piece was first published on Tablet

The hundreds of Hamas fighters who carried out a murderous rampage inside Israel over the weekend returned to the Gaza Strip with an invaluable new strategic asset. On Sunday, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, told journalists that the Islamist group had captured “dozens” of hostages with American citizenship. If this number is even remotely accurate, the assault would be the largest mass abduction of Americans since the Tehran embassy crisis of 1979.

Hamas has likely divided those hostages across unmapped underground sites throughout Gaza, foreclosing the possibility of a single, swift rescue operation. The hostage issue threatens to inject a future source of divergence into Israeli and American objectives during the crisis. Outgoing House speaker Kevin McCarthy listed “rescue all American hostages” as the U.S.’s top priority in the unfolding war.

Israel must now weigh the survival of American hostages against neutralizing active threats against other groups of civilians, and also against the country’s stated war aim of disarming Hamas, which would likely require a massive ground operation in which most, if not all, of the hostages would be killed. Hamas, meanwhile, can parade American corpses through downtown Gaza and claim that they are victims of the Israeli assault.

“Hamas will use the hostages in two ways: as human shields and as a source of leverage over Washington,” explained Michael Doran, director of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East at the Hudson Institute and a former senior director on the National Security Council. “As human shields, they will prevent Israel from destroying critical infrastructure. As a source of leverage, Hamas will convince Washington to compel Israel to make concessions—on the terms of a cease-fire, the release of prisoners, relaxing economic restrictions on Gaza, delivering payments from abroad, etc. Hamas will parade American hostages before the cameras to beg Washington to bring a halt to Israeli military operations so that the hostages can gain their freedom.”

The ways in which American hostages complicate the conflict hardly ends there. The tiny Gulf emirate of Qatar served as the laundering mechanism for $6 billion in unfrozen Iranian oil money that the U.S. used to purchase the freedom of five American citizens or green-card holders that the Islamic Republic had imprisoned, a transaction announced only last month. Doha also happens to be where much of Hamas’s exiled high command lives. Qatar, Washington’s chosen middleman for hostage diplomacy with Iran—which is Hamas’s leading state sponsor—can claim it runs an existing and effective channel for negotiating the hostages’ freedom. Any apparent progress on this diplomatic track could provide the Americans with an incentive to restrain any Israeli operation in Gaza.

Jason Poblete, one of the U.S.’s leading lawyers working on behalf of American hostages, said it is likely that officials from the U.S.’s Special Operations Command are already in Israel, weighing their options and waiting for further instructions. Poblete explained that when Americans are held hostage, an entire policy infrastructure springs into action—one that includes the State Department special envoy for hostage affairs, the FBI, the military, family engagement coordinators, and the intelligence community. “There’s a whole mechanism behind the scenes that was already working” when Erdan made his vague statement about hostage numbers Sunday morning, Poblete said.

It is the impression of policymakers in Washington that Israeli security planners believe Hamas can be convinced to release children and the elderly from captivity without major preconditions, meaning there is some degree of existing Israeli buy-in for any hostage negotiations that might already be taking place. The presence of a U.S. aircraft carrier positioned offshore may suggest that the U.S. is actively weighing some sort of operation to rescue its citizens, or at least wishes to project a willingness to do so.

However, entangling the United States in a war in Gaza would go against Israel’s entire concept of its own security. “Israel has this doctrine of defending itself by itself,” said Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “It doesn’t want American boots on the ground.”

It is unclear whether Hamas made a specific effort to kidnap American citizens. But it is fortuitous, from the Islamists’ perspective, that the price of an American hostage has never been higher. The captives freed through the deal that the Biden administration struck last month fetched about $1.2 billion a head—a sum that doesn’t include an additional $10 billion that made its way to Iran through Iraq that same week. “That by itself is opening a new door to hostage-taking,” explained Nizar Zakka, who Iran held between 2015 and 2019 and who now heads the organization Hostage Aid Worldwide. “It’s become a hostage business model.”

The Iranian hostage business model has an established official counterpart within the American policy apparatus. In response to a string of ISIS abductions and executions of American citizens, the Obama and Trump administrations formulated a set of codified responsibilities, working groups, fusion cells, and protocols within the U.S. government for securing the release of kidnapped Americans. “We have a guy now who has the [informal] title of ‘hostage ambassador,’ ” Poblete pointed out.

But like anything else in the executive branch of the U.S. government, the behavior of the American hostage-policy complex is an expression of the basic outlook and objectives of a given presidential administration. “Our hostage policy will be successful or not based on how we anchor our overall policy,” Poblete said. If the policy is anchored in a series of direct quid pro quos with a terrorist group or its state sponsor, enabled through the mediation of a government with close ties to whichever extremists are holding the Americans, the machinery of U.S. policy will spring into action within that paradigm, with the possible result of billions of dollars making their way to the Hamas hostage-takers in Gaza, along with the promise, presumably, that they will still be alive to make use of the money.

Interestingly, two of Poblete’s clients were released from Iran without a reported ransom being paid. “Trump used all instruments of state power to secure the release of hostages,” Poblete explained. These instruments might have included a credible threat of force against Iran or its proxies, financial and psychological warfare, and other tools that are outside the scope of negotiations, or even of pure diplomacy.

The war against Hamas contains the possibility of a deck-clearing regional conflagration through which Israel can correct decades’ worth of strategic errors that have led to the establishment of large Iranian-backed terror armies on two of its borders. Perhaps the unfolding hostage crisis will force a similar rethink of America’s approach to hostage issues, especially when Iran is involved. “We can use this crisis to have an end to the hostage-business model. This is an industry that has to stop,” Zakka said.

Hostage-taking limits a country’s range of actions against its enemy. It is also a shortcut for baiting very powerful governments into a parody of civilized diplomacy in which they bargain with and petition people who kidnap and murder their citizens. The hostages become stand-ins for whatever evils their societies are accused of. In return, they lose all connection to the rest of the world.

What the Hamas hostages, Israeli and American, are enduring now, with the prospect of a live-broadcast execution hanging over their heads, is excruciating, even if they have not yet been physically harmed. “The hostage-takers put you in a certain mindset that you are nobody—nobody cares about you, you are nothing,” Zakka explained. “This is what is very important for the hostages to stay alive: to know that people are working, and they’re not sleeping, to get you out.”

A country can’t easily wage a full-scale war if scores of its own people and the citizens of its closest ally are being held captive. But in the sickening logic of a rapidly escalating conflict, Israel might not have any other choice. “If Israel fights this war the way that it probably should, it will probably need to assume that the hostages are already dead,” said Schanzer.

Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet magazine. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @ArminRosen.

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Abigail Shrier: California’s New Law Lets Schools Keep Secrets from Parents Abigail Shrier

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Protests at a Chino Valley Board of Education meeting on gender policy on July 20, 2023, in Chino, California. (Photo by David McNew via Getty Images)

Child predators follow a common playbook: target the victim, gain their trust, fill a need, and, crucially, isolate the child from her parents. For several years, this has also been standard California state protocol with regard to schoolchildren questioning their gender identities. On Monday, this scheme became law.

The “SAFETY Act,” AB 1955, signed by California Democratic governor Gavin Newsom, legally forbids schools from adopting any policy that would force them to disclose “any information related to a pupil’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression to any other person without the pupil’s consent.” Schools may not, as a matter of policy, inform parents of a child’s new gender identity unless the child volunteers her approval. The law also prohibits schools from punishing any school employee found to have “supported a pupil” hurtling down a path toward risky and irreversible hormones and surgeries.

The law effectively shuts down the local parents’ rights movement in California by eliminating its most important tool: the ability to organize at the community level to stop schools from deceiving them. No longer can families hope to convince their school boards to require schools to notify parents that their daughter, Sophie, has been going by “Sebastian” in class; that her teacher, school counselor, and principal have all been celebrating Sebastian’s transgender identity; that they’ve been letting her use the boys’ bathroom and reifying the sense that she is “really a boy.” 

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the law supports the priming of minor children for a secret life with a new gender identity. This includes having school-aged children participate in sexualized discussions and make identity declarations with school faculty, which are often actively hidden from the child’s parents. Elon Musk called the law “the final straw” for families and announced his intention to move both SpaceX and X, two of California’s most prominent tech companies, out of the state as a result. “The goal [of] this diabolical law,” he tweeted, “is to break the parent-child relationship and put the state in charge of your children.”

While researching my book, Irreversible Damage, and in the four years since its publication, I have talked to hundreds of parents whose daughters suddenly identified as transgender. Many of their daughters were encouraged in this revelation by school counselors and teachers in school districts across America. One parent told me a California school counselor had given her son the address of an LGBTQ youth shelter and suggested he emancipate himself from parents who were loving but skeptical of his sudden transgender identity. Another recent California law, AB 665, would have made reclaiming that young man from the youth center all but impossible because he was over the age of twelve.

In California, instruction in sexual orientation and gender identity has been mandatory for all public school students K–12 since the passage of the Healthy Youth Act in 2016. Because such instruction typically occurs within the required “anti-bullying curriculum” rather than the sex education curriculum, parents cannot elect that their children opt out of what is, in practice, a full-bore indoctrination into gender ideology. 

When a child then predictably decides in class that she too may be nonbinary or transgender, this revelation will often trigger schools’ gender support plan, effectively a school-wide conspiracy to promote the child’s new name and gender identity without tipping off Mom and Dad. Official documents and emails and report cards are sent to parents to preserve the child’s birth name and pronouns, concealing the social transition from parents. 

I have talked to parents who discovered their middle-school daughters had spent the better part of an entire academic year known to the entire school as “Spencer” or “Ethan.” One of these girls had even roomed with the boys on an overnight school trip.

I have investigated many cases in which social transitions were concealed from families. In no case did the girl flourish with this new identity. Maintaining a new, secret identity more often became a weight and burden to the girls. Inexplicably to the parents, their daughters became morose, dropped activities they once loved, wore baggier clothing, and begged to cut their hair shorter. The parents became desperate and unsure of what to do. The hidden transition resulted in children’s alienation from loving parents trying to protect them. 

But in the years since I first reported on this practice, political opposition has grown. Parents whose daughters were socially transitioned behind their backs have filed lawsuits against the school districts in California and Florida and Michigan. California public school teachers have sued school districts to block policies that could result in their firing if they inform parents that their children’s names and identities have been changed behind their backs. And a recent statewide initiative in California to require parental notification before a school changes a child’s gender identity as well as ban puberty blockers and gender surgeries for minors garnered over 400,000 signatures, falling just short of making it onto the ballot. 

The SAFETY Act would significantly stymie, if not eliminate, this local pushback to the increasingly unpopular practice of schools playing adoptive parents with other people’s children. (Although already, the Chino Valley Unified School District has filed suit against Newsom over this act.) The plain text of the California law claims that it merely prevents schools from adopting policies that “forcibly out” trans kids—as if confused fifth-grade girls are in the same position as closeted gay adults in decades past who risked arrest and firing for being outed. 

The law’s clever sponsors are typically quiet on the subject of “outing” to whom. The entire school already knows that Lily is now “Tyler.” Teachers will cheerfully share that information with each other, school mental health staff, administrators, and other students. The only ones who don’t get to know are the parents.

A favorite talking point of activists on the left is that with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity, schools must keep secrets with young children to protect them from transphobic and homophobic parents. Even in the most progressive of states, the claim that parents who discover that their child is transgender might abuse or kick her out is used to justify a policy that would otherwise be difficult to understand and impossible to justify.

Aurora Regino is a single mother in California who last year sued the Chico Unified School District for secretly pushing social transition on her then–11-year-old daughter. Regino told me that the “phobia” rationale seemed “ridiculous.” She added, “How is it not outing a kid if you’re telling an entire school that they’re a different sex? That’s outing right there. So everybody knows except the parents? That doesn’t really make any sense to me.”

Erin Friday, a California attorney and author of bills in several states requiring parental notification for any change in a child’s gender identity at school, vented exasperation at the idea that California parents are so homophobic or transphobic they cannot be trusted. “This is California, for crying out loud.”

Regino agreed. “Both my girls are very active. We do swimming, theater, soccer, softball. We are in connection with I don’t know how many families. And there’s not one family that I can think of that we are around that would kick out their kid because they thought that they were ‘nonbinary’ or trans or gay,” she said. “I mean, to me, that’s an extreme statement that these kids are going to get kicked out. Are we saying one in ten thousand? So we’re going to risk the rest of the children and separate them from their parents during the time that they need them the most?” Her now–13-year-old daughter no longer wants to be a boy.

One might think Newsom would realize that a policy this unpopular for Democrats could easily become a political albatross in an election year. Perhaps realizing this, the governor—who is frequently mentioned as a possible 2024 presidential candidate if Biden drops out—when defending the bill resorts to dissembling. On Wednesday, the governor’s press office declared on X that the bill “protects the child-parent relationship by PREVENTING politicians & school staff from inappropriately intervening in family matters & attempting to control if, when & how families have deeply personal conversations.” The bill only “protects” the parent-child relationship if you assume that relationship depends on the parents’ being entirely ignorant of their child’s growing attachment to this new, secret identity.

Governor Newsom also declared: “Under California law, minors CANNOT legally change their name or gender WITHOUT parental consent.” That’s placing a lot of weight on the word legally. The obscurantist governor is correct only in the most technical sense: yes, a child’s legal name can be changed only on official records with parental approval. But in the world of the SAFETY Act, the parents may be the only ones in a child’s life who use that name. 

In the past few years, moderates across the American political spectrum have awakened to the pernicious effects of gender ideology on children. England, Finland, Norway, and Sweden have, in recent years, warned the public of the risks of pediatric gender medicine, banned the use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones in children, or restricted their use to research settings. The Cass Review, published this year by one of England’s premier physicians, noted the serious risks and specious benefits of pediatric gender transition. My own investigation, published four years earlier, reached the same conclusions. The Cass Review also acknowledged that social transition is an active intervention that puts many children on an inexorable path to medical transition. 

Recent polling shows that voters across the political spectrum believe that schools should be required to inform parents if their children are using different gender pronouns at school than they are at home.

But California Democrats appear ready to drag their party down with them. Parents’ best hope may be federal legislation mandating parental notification before a school can reassign a child’s name and gender. Candidates for president and vice president ought to be asked whether they would support such a bill.

Until her daughter was socially transitioned behind her back, Regino had been a lifelong progressive Democrat. “Now, I’m a registered Republican,” she said.

Abigail Shrier is the New York Times bestselling author of Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up

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Disenchanted with Democrats: The Black Voters Going for Trump Bari Weiss

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For the past few decades, it’s been conventional wisdom in D.C. that “demographics are destiny.” That the increased share of immigrants, young people, and racial minorities across the country would build a bulletproof coalition for the Democratic Party, swelling their ranks and keeping them in power forever.

Those who deviated from this expectation could expect to be called sellouts, race traitors, and Uncle Toms. Recall Joe Biden’s infamous interview with radio host Charlamagne tha God, when he said: “If you have a problem figuring out if you’re for me or for Trump, then you ain’t black.”

But in the past year, Donald Trump has been winning over more minority voters than any Republican in decades. Recent polls have consistently shown that Trump has reached a shocking 20 percent support among black voters. That’s compared to the 8 percent he got in 2016. And Biden’s polling with black voters has dropped dramatically.

This is a monumental, and to many, unexpected turn. And it was noticeable at the RNC. When Michael Moynihan went to the 2016 Republican Convention in Cleveland, the audience was more monochromatic. While certainly not as racially diverse as the Democratic coalition, the convention in Milwaukee felt younger and less white.

Monday night, Amber Rose opened the proceedings. Tuesday night, Madeline Brame, the mother of a murdered veteran, gave a thunderous speech explaining why she’s supporting Trump. She said: “Our eyes have been opened, just like so many other poor minorities across America. Donald Trump shares our values, love of God and family and country. He’s been a victim of the same corrupt system that I have been and my family has been.”

What’s behind this shift? Why do Biden and the Democratic Party seem to be losing their edge with black voters? And could this end up making a real difference for the 2024 election?

Last night, Michael Moynihan went to an event at the RNC put on by the Black Conservative Federation to ask them why they think that MAGA conservatism is appealing to black voters.

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July 17, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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