Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

How one film revolutionized Holocaust commemoration: Schindler’s List, two decades on

January 27, 2012

Above, scenes from “Schindler’s List”. Steven Spielberg was previously known for making highly popular Disney-type films, mostly fairy tales or adventure stories. As my late father John Gross wrote, reviewing the film when it first came out, any misgivings that the story would be overly sentimentalized "were altogether misplaced. Spielberg shows a firm moral and emotional grasp of his material. The film is an outstanding achievement."

In the decades that followed, Holocaust museums were established, memorials erected, the subject was introduced to school curriculum and survivors founds publishers – Tom Gross



[Note by Tom Gross]

This is the second dispatch today to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I attach a piece by my father, who died a year ago this month.

Although my father was mainly a scholar of literature and theatre, he also sometimes wrote on cinema, and occasionally on matters connected to the Holocaust.

Below is his review of Schindler’s List published in The New York Review of Books when the film first came out 18 years ago. Of course no film can even begin to really depict the true horrors of the Holocaust, the sheer sadism and cruelty of the killers, laughing as they went about their work.

As my father wrote in a separate piece for The New York Times in 1986: “An atmosphere of carnival or saturnalia was present from early on. There was the Saturday in Vienna in 1938, for instance, shortly after the Anschluss, when Stormtroops rounded up their Jewish victims and drove them to the city amusement park, the Prater, for such sports as strapping them into the scenic railway and driving it at top speed until they lost consciousness. In the years that followed, the diversions became much more deadly – but there can still be no mistaking the glee of the murderers, or indeed the infinite inventiveness of otherwise stupid people when it came to devising new torments.”

While it is only a film, Schindler’s List remains an important milestone in that it brought to the attention of the wider world the importance of learning about the Holocaust. For example, Tony Blair cited his viewing of Schindler’s List as the reason why he decided in the mid-1990s that the Holocaust should – finally – be taught as part of the British school curriculum. Other European countries followed.

As my father wrote in the review (below) from 1994, “Schindler’s List can’t quite match the searing authenticity of a true documentary like Shoah or Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog, and it can’t completely win us over with its artistry, as Louis Malle does in the lower-key Au Revoir les Enfants.

“But what it can do, it does superlatively well. It offers as truthful a picture as we are ever likely to get of regions where no documentary compilation could hope to penetrate. (The footage doesn’t exist.) And it reaches out toward the mass public, the public that primarily wants to be entertained, without sacrificing its own integrity.

“Holocaust denial may or may not be a major problem in future, but Holocaust ignorance, Holocaust forgetfulness, and Holocaust indifference are bound to be, and Schindler’s List is likely to do as much as any single work can to dispel them.”


The real Oskar Schindler, with his wife Emille. He is buried in Jerusalem.


Hollywood and the Holocaust
February 3, 1994
By John Gross
The New York Review of Books

A review of Schindler’s List: A new film directed by Steven Spielberg

Suppose the Disney organization announced that it was planning a film about the Holocaust. Better still, suppose Walt Disney himself had, thirty or forty years back. In common fairness, we would have had to wait and see how it all worked out; but common sense would have suggested heavy misgivings. The gap between the Disney tradition and the demands of the material would simply have seemed too wide to be bridged.

Something of the same doubts stole into my mind when I heard that Steven Spielberg was finally making his long-deferred film of Schindler’s List. Disney was the greatest popular entertainer of his time. Spielberg is his closest contemporary equivalent. Such words are not to be lightly spoken; they argue a kind of genius. But popular entertainment has its limits, and anything you can profitably say about the Holocaust – except, perhaps, at the level of simple lessons for children – lies well beyond them.

Spielberg’s films up until now have mostly been fairy tales or adventure stories, or a mixture of both. Like other fairy tales, they have their terrors and sorrows, but terrors and sorrows that are firmly contained by the knowledge that it is all finally make-believe. And at the same time, much of his most effective work has been purely playful. This past year, reading press stories about the making of Schindler’s List, I found myself recalling the fun-and-games Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (In The Last Crusade Hitler himself puts in an appearance.) Both movies are highly enjoyable hokum but one wouldn’t have said that the sensibility which informs them was particularly well equipped for dealing with the realities of slave labor and genocide.

Of course, no one could have doubted that Schindler’s List was going to be a serious film, and that it was meant to be a new departure. But here, too, the auguries were at best only mildly encouraging. The one partial precedent in Spielberg’s work was Empire of the Sun, the adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s novel about a small English boy caught up in the fighting in China in World War II; and though there are some thrilling sequences in the early parts of that film, the later Japanese prison-camp scenes struck me as superficial and melodramatic. High-level melodrama, if you like, but no more than that.


In the wrong hands, too, Schindler’s List could easily lend itself to its own forms of falsification. Schindler’s courage, and the survival of those he saved, are rays of light in a dark night; but the darkness remains, undispelled, and one should be careful not to make the positive aspects of the story seem more significant in relation to the Holocaust as a whole than they were. The problem, for a film maker, is how to celebrate them adequately without being too upbeat about it – and Hollywood isn’t exactly famous for resisting upbeat solutions.

I can’t pretend, then, that I approached the movie with a completely open mind. I was apprehensive – afraid of seeing terrible events sentimentalized, afraid of sentimentality proving all the more insidious for being applied with sleek technical skill. In the event my fears, or the worst of them, were altogether misplaced. The skills are there, certainly, but Spielberg also shows a firm moral and emotional grasp of his material. The film is an outstanding achievement.

It is also a straightforward piece of storytelling. Whether or not its box-office takings eventually rival those of ET or Jurassic Park, it is also accessible to a mass audience. No previous American movie treatment of the Holocaust (certainly not Sophie’s Choice, still less the dire [TV soap opera] Holocaust itself) comes anywhere near to it, but in its energy and confident popular approach it is still a recognizable product of Hollywood.

Scenes from Schindler’s List

We open on what looks as though it is going to be a note of dark glamour. For the moment, and it’s a shrewd narrative gambit, Spielberg holds the misery and viciousness of the story in reserve. We are in Cracow in the autumn of 1939, the Cracow of the conquerors. Oskar Schindler, his Nazi lapel badge pinned firmly in place, is preparing for an evening out. We follow him – tall, handsome, fur-collared – into a nightclub patronized by senior German officers and officials. The women are well-dressed, the drink flows, the dancers pose for flashbulb photographs. Memories of a hundred forgotten war movies stir. But these Nazis are the real thing. (Not a Conrad Veidt among them.) With a succession of subtle touches, Spielberg creates a tremendous atmosphere of unease. Curiously enough, indeed, I felt Schindler was more in danger in this scene than later in the film, though in the course of it he simply ingratiates himself with the local top brass and lays the foundation of his success as a wartime industrialist, an employer of slave labor. But then the scene is also our first introduction to the group of men who plainly intend evil. Merely to be in their presence seems dangerous, whoever you are.

They soon begin to show what they are capable of. The Jews of Cracow are deprived of their rights, herded into a ghetto, subjected to savage illtreatment. The appalling conditions under which they live are recreated in a semi-documentary style which carries complete conviction. (No decision Spielberg took about the film was more important than deciding to shoot it in historically appropriate black and white.) And bad as things are to start with, they grow steadily worse. Deportations begin; individual Jews are killed with less concern than it takes to swat a fly. In a sense, since it is now obvious that the persecutors set no value at all on their victims’ lives, we ought to be reconciled to the possibility that anything can happen, just anything. Yet nothing we have seen quite prepares us for the liquidation of the ghetto, which took place in March 1943.


If one can use such a phrase in such a context, this is the high point of the movie. (It occurs about a third of the way through.) In the space of fifteen minutes Spielberg creates an impression of terror and confusion which, in my view, equals Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps sequence – no, if I am to be honest, which goes beyond it. The camera seems to be everywhere at once, amid the shooting, the shouting, the darkness, the blinding lights, the frantic scramble, the pillaged apartments, the suitcases tossed off balconies, the random murders at street corners. There are moments that seem too grotesque to be true, though one believes in them. An SS man takes time off to play an abandoned piano. Two of his colleagues argue. Is it Mozart? Is it Bach? And on every side, homes are broken into and hiding-places winkled out. Most of the earlier ghetto scenes take place in the open; here the violation is more intimate and more absolute.

Until the liquidation, or just before, there is little direct focus on the Nazis themselves. They are not so much individuals as a malign and largely anonymous force, which Schindler (no Nazi at heart, despite the badge) does his best to handle, and which the Jews have to do their best to endure. But with the arrival of Amon Goeth, oppression and persecution assume a distinctive set of features.

Goeth is the commandant of Plaszow, the dreadful labor camp near Cracow to which thousands of Jews from the city, including Schindler’s workers, were dispatched. We learn a good deal less about him from the film than we do from the documentary novel by Thomas Keneally on which the film is based. It is to Keneally that we have to go if we want to find out about his early background, his education, his marriages, his cultural pretensions, the bizarre hatred he nourished for engineers – and about the full extent of his sadism, which was even more monstrous than anything we are shown on the screen. But to make up for this, the film sets the man vividly before us. Along with his savagery, the actor who plays him, Ralph Fiennes, conveys the sinister softness, and the touch of madness – though we shouldn’t read too much into this last. As somebody once said of somebody else, his evil isn’t a product of his insanity; on the contrary, his insanity is one of the aspects of his evil.

Fiennes is also good – as is the whole film – at bringing out the strong element of malevolent glee that so often accompanied Nazi atrocities. There is one especially revolting scene, where Goeth and his underlings shake with helpless laughter at the antics (as they suppose) of Schindler, who is trying to alleviate the agony of the sweltering victims being sent off to Auschwitz by hosing water into the cattle-trucks in which they are penned. And there are many lesser reminders of how much “humor” there was in the Holocaust, on the part of those who carried it out. You sometimes feel they saw the whole thing as a filthy joke – the filthiest (and most exciting) conceivable.

With the Jewish characters, Spielberg avoids the obvious pitfalls. He doesn’t make them unnaturally noble or lovable, neither does he reduce them to a mass of undifferentiated victims. But that is putting the matter negatively. He in fact strikes an admirable balance between portraying a huge collective tragedy, and forcing us to recognize that those caught up in it suffered their fates one by one. Time and again – briefly, tellingly, and unostentatiously – he singles out a face, a gesture, a fleeting reaction, a few spoken words. Who can forget, for example, the mother desperately whispering to her child (“Look at the snow! Look at the snow!”) while an old man is just about to be shot nearby?

It seems fair to assume that Spielberg is tapping something deep in himself in all this. (How else can we explain a success that couldn’t have been predicted from his previous work?) And that “something” plainly includes a reservoir of specifically Jewish feeling. According to Philip Taylor’s 1992 book about him, his earliest memory, a warm one, was that of being wheeled in his pram down the aisle of a synagogue in Cincinnati. Taylor adds that “he typically describes it in cinematic terms. Out of the darkness, like a tracking shot, came a burst of red light. Bathed in it, in silhouette, were bearded men handing biscuits to him: Hassidic elders, wise old sages, bringing comfort and reassurance after the fear and wonder.”

Perhaps this is more fantasy than memory, but either way it suggests the makings of the direct emotional investment that helps to give Schindler’s List its urgency.

Not that there is anything parochial about Spielberg’s approach. It is a sign of the film’s breadth that the principal Jewish part, that of Itzhak Stern, should be played (and played very well) by a non-Jewish actor, Ben Kingsley. In Kingsley’s performance, Stern – an accountant who managed Schindler’s factories for him – is above all a study in iron self-control. His impersonality may not protect him against the Nazis (what can?), but it is a strategy for getting things done as long as circumstances permit. A strategy rather than a mask: the thoughts and feelings it conceals are fairly easy to deduce, though they are all the more eloquent for remaining unspoken.


And Schindler? It seems to me an inspired stroke to have cast Liam Neeson in the part. He has the star quality Spielberg’s conception of him calls for, without being – as yet – a full-blown, over-familiar star. He may look unmistakably Irish, but he manages to look convincingly Central European as well. He gets across Schindler’s expansiveness, his opportunism, his wiliness, his nerve. And in the end you are left baffled, as you are in Keneally’s book. Schindler was a wheeler-dealer, a tireless womanizer, a slippery customer all round. That such a man should have risked his neck on a sudden generous impulse might have been understandable; that he should have acted as he did, systematically, over a prolonged period of time, seems inexplicable.

The mystery has been heightened by an extraordinary interview which his eighty-six-year-old widow gave to the London Daily Mail just before Christmas. Emilie Schindler, who lives outside Buenos Aires, is not a sweet old lady – she refers to her husband in the interview as “the asshole” – but on her own showing she has ample reason to feel bitter. Her marital troubles began on her wedding day, when Oskar was arrested on a charge brought against him by a mistress she had known nothing about; and after that they practically never stopped. Nor was it only a question of his infidelity. According to her account he was also lazy, boastful, childish, and undependable about money. After they had separated in the 1950s, for instance, he did virtually nothing to support her, even though she was living in semi-destitution: when a group of Jewish survivors gave him $1,000 to pass on to her, he pocketed half of it for himself.

On a number of points Emilie also challenges the account of Schindler’s rescue work given in the book and the film. One of these is rather more than a point of detail. In October 1944, Schindler managed to get his workers sent back from Plaszow to the comparative safety of a factory in Moravia, but three hundred women prisoners were inadvertently sent to Auschwitz. According to the Keneally-Spielberg version (although Keneally leaves the matter in some doubt), Schindler rescued them by going to the camp himself and bribing SS functionaries with diamonds. According to Emilie, the job was accomplished by a friend of the family, a young woman who offered the functionaries her sexual favors.

Who can say where the truth lies? Certainly not an ordinary reader or moviegoer; and at this late hour, possibly not even a historian. But even if we take some of Emilie’s charges with a grain of salt, it seems likely that the real Schindler was a less congenial figure than the man we see in the film.

That only makes him more of a puzzle than ever. Emilie was closely involved with the later stages of his rescue work – she did a great deal to succor the prisoners with medicine and food once they had been moved to Moravia, where she spent the war; and though she is more than willing to query his motives, she is finally forced to admit that he was “a man of principle in some respects.” They were significant respects, too; they helped to save 1,200 lives. So we are left with the same core of altruism, and same unanswerable riddle: Why did he do it? Perhaps we should stop fretting about his motives, and simply accept him, with gratitude, for what he was.


To some extent Schindler’s List is bound to be Schindler’s film, which means a film with a strong positive undertow. In all but the darkest moments he dispenses a certain cheer; having him at the center of events makes the story much more bearable than it would otherwise be, and much better adapted to popular taste.

But the film is also more than Schindler. The images which stay with one most from it are those of anguish and terror – a group of guards having a desultory technical conversation about pistols while a prisoner kneels in front of them waiting to be shot in the head; doctors arriving for a life-or-death inspection; a farmer’s child glimpsed from a train speeding toward Auschwitz, drawing a finger across her throat. Most daring of all is the image of the small girl, not much more than a toddler, whom we try to track through Schindler’s eyes as he watches the liquidation of the ghetto from a hill overlooking the city. For the first time the film acquires, as though by magic, a dab of color: the girl is wearing a red coat. In itself, the device might seem no more than a gimmick, but in the context that Spielberg has established, it is extraordinarily effective. Focusing on a single victim, we are tempted to invest all our hopes in her; if only this one special child is spared, somehow everything else will come right. About an hour later we see her again, in the camp at Plaszow. She is still wearing her red coat, but this time she is a corpse on a pushcart.

Most of the movie’s faults are minor ones, and it would seem fussy to point them out. In comparison with its enormous strengths, the brief lapses (usually into cinematic cliché) seem of small importance. But once or twice, toward the end, it does threaten to lose its way in a more serious fashion.

The episode in which the women prisoners are sent by mistake to Auschwitz, for instance. In general the hellishness of the place is frighteningly well conveyed. As the prisoners stumble through the dark, as the crematorium chimney belches smoke, as an unnamed Josef Mengele interrogates the older women (“How old are you, Mother?”), we feel that we have reached the ultimate verge of horror. But the central incident, in which a group of women, their heads shaved, are thrust into a “shower-bath,” is at odds with the rest. The whole scene has a slightly unreal, antiseptic look, and the last-minute reprieve – the showers spray down water rather than gas – is enacted in a cliff-hanging, happy-ending style which suggests that Spielberg has momentarily wandered back to the world of adventure stories.

Again, the closing moments of the film (the penultimate ones, at least) are heavy-handed. Schindler’s final address to the assembled prisoners and SS men follows Keneally’s account, but it feels contrived: you can see the way Spielberg has stage-managed it. Schindler’s prolonged leave-taking – breaking down, sobbing about how much more he could have done – seems positively stagey. Here there is no counterpart in Keneally; and according to Emilie, Oskar in fact sat paralyzed with fear as the two of them waited to be driven away. They were now about to become fugitives themselves.


After they have gone, we revert briefly to Keneally’s scenario. A Russian horseman rides into the camp. “Don’t go back east,” he tells the former prisoners, “they hate you there. But don’t go west either.” And then, abandoning Keneally, we cut to a shot of the prisoners, in full color, marching across the horizon, singing an anthemstyle Hebrew song (“Jerusalem the Golden”). This is a mistake. I’ve no trouble with the sentiment, but I wish it could have been presented more subtly, in a manner more consonant with the general spirit of the film.

The last scene of all, however, redeems everything. We are in the Latin Cemetery in Jerusalem where Schindler is buried. A group of mourners, mostly elderly, file past, placing stones on his grave. They are actual survivors from Cracow, men and women whose younger selves, played by actors, we have already met. It is an intensely moving scene, more moving than anything else in the film. Indeed, it derives much of its power from the contrast with the rest of the film. Here, after three hours of storytelling, is the point-blank proof that we haven’t just been watching a story.

For all its brilliance, Schindler’s List as a whole can’t transcend the limitations of docudrama. We remain aware, if only at the back of our minds, of the element of artifice; and if we have read Keneally, we also realize how much has been tidied up or left out. In a sense, it is a film that falls between two stools. It can’t quite match the searing authenticity of a true documentary like Shoah or Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog, and it can’t completely win us over with its artistry, as Louis Malle does in the lower-key Au Revoir les Enfants.

But what it can do, it does superlatively well. It offers as truthful a picture as we are ever likely to get of regions where no documentary compilation could hope to penetrate. (The footage doesn’t exist.) And it reaches out toward the mass public, the public that primarily wants to be entertained, without sacrificing its own integrity.

As a contribution to popular culture, it can only do good. Holocaust denial may or may not be a major problem in future, but Holocaust ignorance, Holocaust forgetfulness, and Holocaust indifference are bound to be, and Schindler’s List is likely to do as much as any single work can to dispel them. One point leaves me uneasy, though. Gulag ignorance and Cultural Revolution forgetfulness are bound to be a problem too – they already are – and indifference to the fate of the Ibo and Cambodians and Eritreans and a list that is already too long for most of us to remember. Are the other genocides and mass exterminations of our century ever going to find their Spielbergs? And how many films about them can we absorb if they do?



Those on this email list who knew my father personally may be interested in three BBC videos in which he is featured (two dating back to 1964) which have just been posted online.

There have also been several nice articles to mark the first anniversary of his death. I posted two, by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in The Spectator and by Gerald Jacobs in the Jewish Chronicle if you scroll down on that same page link above.

My father’s last book, The Oxford Book of Parodies, is posthomously published this week in the UK, and next week in the U.S. Yesterday, The Guardian called it an “essential, pretty much unputdownable anthology” and said “every lover of literature should have this on the shelf”:

Readers of this website might also be interested in some of my father’s other books, in particular Shylock -- his study of the uses and misuses over 400 years of the fictional character Shylock by everyone from Freud to Marx to Hitler; his Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters and his childhood memoir, A Double Thread.


* The other dispatch today can be read here:

The “Iranian Schindler” (& new report shows FDR deliberately let Jews die).

The “Iranian Schindler” (& new report shows FDR deliberately let Jews die)

Above: Abdol-Hossein Sardari, the “Iranian Schindler”


Items below:

* How one Iranian diplomat saved a thousand Jews.

* Mehdi Hasan, political editor, of the New Statesman: I am ashamed by the attitudes of my fellow Muslims to the Holocaust.

* New two-year study by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington reveals that FDR’s opposition to saving Jewish lives in the Holocaust was even greater than previously thought.


[Note by Tom Gross]

Today marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day. With Holocaust remembrance increasingly being blurred, there are two dispatches today connected to this cataclysmic occurrence.

The first, below, concerns the “Iranian Schindler” who saved Jews from the Nazis. (The other dispatch today can be read here: On Schindler’s List, two decades on.)

The story of Abdol-Hossein Sardari, an Iranian diplomat in Paris, has come to wider attention recently after a book was published about him.

Sardari saved over 1,000 men, women and children from the Iranian Jewish community in and around Paris, at a time when tens of thousands of other Jews were deported from France to Nazi death camps in the east.

Among those who have reported the story are the BBC and the (London) Daily Mail (articles below.)

Sardari was a member of the Qajar royal family, which ruled Iran until 1925. How different he was from the Holocaust-denying leadership of Iran today. (Only yesterday, YouTube removed a series of ten vile animated anti-Semitic clips posted by Iran, claiming the Holocaust is a “Jewish lie”.)

After the Islamic radicals seized control of Iran in 1978, they stripped Sardari of his pension and property. He died alone in a bedsit in the South London suburb of Croydon in 1981.



[Note by Tom Gross]

Today marks the 67th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp by Soviet Forces. They found 7,000 starving survivors there, well over one million Jews having already been murdered at the camp and others packed away on death marches shortly before the Russians’ arrival.

A new two-year study published this week by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC reveals that the opposition by the wartime American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to bombing the train tracks to Auschwitz in the summer of 1944 was even greater than previously thought. FDR discussed the possibility of bombing the train lines and other supply routes to the camp and rejected the idea.

According to historians, the lives of over 300,000 Hungarian Jews who were killed in the second half of 1944 and in 1945 in Auschwitz would have been saved had FDR taken action, as well as those of other Jews from elsewhere in Europe.

FDR told Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (a Jew who was pleading with him to stop the Holocaust) and Leo Crowley, a Catholic appointed to government, “You know this is a Protestant country, and the Catholics and Jews are here under sufferance.”

Above: American wartime aerial image of Auschwitz

Wartime Assistant Secretary of War, John J. McCloy, who made the decision with Roosevelt not to take action against the concentration camps, later put the onus on FDR for making the decision.

Shortly before his death, in 1986, a then 91-year-old McCloy said that when they discussed the idea, FDR “made it very clear” to him that bombing Auschwitz would seem “provocative” to the Nazis.

Furthermore, FDR was eager to ensure many Nazi units were still involved in murdering Jews and didn’t want them to be diverted to fighting the regular war.

For more, see “America’s Failure to Bomb Auschwitz: A New Consensus Among Historians”.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu commented on a previous occasion, during a visit to Auschwitz:

“All that was needed was to bomb the train tracks. The Allies bombed other targets nearby. The pilots only had to nudge their crosshairs.

“You think they didn’t know? They knew. They didn’t bomb because at the time the Jews didn’t have a state, nor the political force to protect themselves.”


* Among previous dispatches on the Holocaust, please see

“By the time the Soviet Army reached Auschwitz, my father was no longer there”.

That dispatch contains articles by subscribers to this list, Jeff Jacoby of The Boston Globe, and Daniel Finkelstein of The Times of London, both of whom are the children of Holocaust survivors.


I attach three articles below, the first of which was written by Mehdi Hasan, a senior editor at the New Statesman, and published in today’s Times of London.



I am shamed by Muslim attitudes to the Holocaust
By Mehdi Hasan
The Times of London
January 27 2012

Today, for the twelfth year running, the UK marks Holocaust Memorial Day. The date commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945.

It pains me to admit this, but the attitude of many of my fellow Muslims towards the Holocaust is a source of great shame to me. In the Middle East Holocaust denial is rife, from the President of Iran to the taxi drivers of Cairo. At home British Muslim attitudes are defined not just by denial but by indifference.

Few Muslims or mosques take part in the memorial day. In 2006 a Channel 4 poll found that a quarter of British Muslims didn’t know what the Holocaust was and only one in three believed it had occurred. This is scandalous. How can we claim to be proud, integrated, European Muslims if we ignore a seminal moment in the history of this continent?

We British Muslims prefer to wallow in vicarious victimhood. Only “our” tragedies matter: Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya roll off our tongues. But none of these surpasses the Holocaust’s barbarism. The Nazi genocide cannot be relativised or generalised. It was an unprecedented act of industrial slaughter; a uniquely horrific crime against humanity.

Yet between 2001 and 2007 the Muslim Council of Britain took the morally abhorrent (and strategically stupid) decision to boycott the day, crassly insisting that it be renamed “Genocide Memorial Day”. In 2008, the boycott was dropped only to be resumed in 2009 after Israel’s assault on Gaza. I yield to no one in my support for the Palestinian cause. But denying or ignoring the Holocaust does nothing to advance that cause. Palestinian suffering is not reduced by belittling the mass murder of Europe’s Jews.

By joining events to mark the day, British Muslims can emulate our Prophet. Muhammad once saw a Jewish funeral procession pass by and stood up as a sign of respect. His companions asked why he stood up for a dead Jew. “Is he not a human being?” replied the Prophet.

Islam is not an exclusive or separatist faith. Thankfully, since 2010, the council has dropped its boycott. But the whole British Muslim community must do much more to remember the Holocaust – whether through hosting events at our mosques or sending our children to visit Auschwitz.

“Every man is your brother,” the great Muslim caliph Ali ibn Abu Talib once proclaimed. “He is either your brother in faith or your brother in humanity.” On Holocaust Memorial Day let us stand side by side with our Jewish brethren and together mourn the deaths of six million innocent souls.



The ‘Iranian Schindler’ who saved Jews from the Nazis
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News, Washington
December 20, 2011

Thousands of Iranian Jews and their descendants owe their lives to a Muslim diplomat in wartime Paris, according to a new book. “In The Lion’s Shadow” tells how Abdol-Hossein Sardari risked everything to help fellow Iranians escape the Nazis.

Eliane Senahi Cohanim was seven years old when she fled France with her family.

She remembers clutching her favourite doll and lying as still as she could, pretending to be asleep, whenever their train came to a halt at a Nazi checkpoint.

“I remember everywhere, when we were running away, they would ask for our passports, and I remember my father would hand them the passports and they would look at them. And then they would look at us. It was scary. It was very, very scary.”

Mrs Cohanim and her family were part of a small, close-knit community of Iranian Jews living in and around Paris.

Her father, George Senahi, was a prosperous textile merchant and the family lived in a large, comfortable house in Montmorency, about 25km (15.5 miles) north of the French capital.


When the Nazis invaded, the Senahis attempted to escape to Tehran, hiding for a while in the French countryside, before being forced to return to Paris, now in the full grip of the Gestapo.

“I remember their attitude. The way they would walk with their black boots. Just looking at them at that time was scary for a child, I think,” recalls Mrs Cohanim, speaking from her home in California.

Like others in the Iranian Jewish community, Mr Senahi turned for help to the young head of Iran’s diplomatic mission in Paris.

Abdol-Hossein Sardari was able to provide the Senahi family with the passports and travel documents they needed for safe-passage through Nazi-occupied Europe, a month-long journey that was still fraught with danger.

“At the borders, my father was always really trembling,” recalls Mrs Cohanim but, she adds, he was a “strong man” who had given the family “great confidence that everything would be OK.”


The 78-year-old grandmother has lived for the past 30 years in California with her husband Nasser Cohanim, a successful banker. Mrs Cohanim has no doubt to whom she and her younger brother Claude owe their lives.

“I remember my father always telling that it was thanks to Mr Sardari that we could come out.

“My uncles and aunts and grandparents lived there in Paris. It was thanks to him they weren’t hurt.

“The ones that didn’t have him, they took them and you never heard about them again.”

Of Mr Sardari, she says: “I think he was like Schindler, at that time, helping the Jews in Paris.”

Like Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved more than 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories, Sardari was an unlikely hero.


In his book “In the Lion’s Shadow,” author Fariborz Mokhtari paints a picture of a bachelor and bon viveur who suddenly found himself head of Iran’s legation house, or diplomatic mission, at the start of World War II.

Although officially neutral, Iran was keen to maintain its strong trading relationship with Germany. This arrangement suited Hitler. The Nazi propaganda machine declared Iranians an Aryan nation and racially akin to the Germans.

Iranian Jews in Paris still faced harassment and persecution and were often identified to the authorities by informers.

In some cases, the Gestapo was alerted when newborn Jewish boys were circumcised at the hospital. Their terrified mothers were ordered to report to the Office of Jewish Affairs to be issued with the yellow patches Jews were forced to wear on their clothes and to have their documents stamped with their racial identity.

But Sardari used his influence and German contacts to gain exemptions from Nazi race laws for more than 2,000 Iranian Jews, and possibly others, arguing that they did not have blood ties to European Jewry.

He was also able to help many Iranians, including members of Jewish community, return to Tehran by issuing them with the new-style Iranian passports they needed to travel across Europe.

A change of regime in Iran, in 1925, had led to the introduction of a new passport and identity card. Many Iranians living in Europe did not have this document, while others, who had married non-Iranians, had not bothered to get Iranian passports for their spouses or children.

When Britain and Russia invaded Iran in September 1941, Sardari’s humanitarian task become more perilous.

Iran signed a treaty with the Allies and Sardari was ordered by Tehran to return home as soon as possible.


But despite being stripped of his diplomatic immunity and status, Sardari resolved to remain in France and carry on helping the Iranian Jews, at considerable risk to his own safety, using money from his inheritance to keep his office going.

The story he spun to the Nazis, in a series of letters and reports, was that the Persian Emperor Cyrus had freed

However, he told the Nazis, at some later point a small number of Iranians began to find the teachings of the Prophet Moses attractive – and these Mousaique, or Iranian Followers of Moses, which he dubbed “Djuguten,” were not part of the Jewish race.

Using all of his lawyer’s skill, he exploited the internal contradictions and idiocies of the Nazis’ ideology to gain special treatment for the “Djuguten”, as the archive material published in Mr Mokhtari’s new book shows.

High-level investigations were launched in Berlin, with “experts” on racial purity drafted in to give an opinion on whether this Iranian sect - which the book suggests may well have been Sardari’s own invention – were Jewish or not.

The experts were non-committal and suggested that more funding was needed for research.


By December 1942, Sardari’s pleas had reached Adolf Eichmann, the senior Nazi in charge of Jewish affairs, who dismissed them, in a letter published in Mr Mokhtari’s book, as “the usual Jewish tricks and attempts at camouflage”.

But Sardari somehow managed to carry on helping families escape from Paris, at a time when an estimated 100,000 Jews were deported from France to death camps.

The number of blank passports in Sardari’s safe is estimated to have been between 500 and 1,000. In his book, Mr Mokhtari suggests that if each was issued for an average of two to three people “this could have saved over 2,000 individuals”.

Sardari never sought recognition for his work during his lifetime, insisting he had only been doing his duty. He died a lonely death in a bedsit in Croydon, south London, in 1981, after losing his ambassador’s pension and Tehran properties in the Iranian revolution.

He was posthumously recognised for his humanitarian work in 2004 at a ceremony at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles.

Mr Mokhtari hopes that by telling his story, through the testimony of survivors, including Mrs Cohanim, he will bring it to a wider audience but also shatter “popular misconceptions” about Iran and the Iranians.

“Here you have a Muslim Iranian who goes out of his way, risks his life, certainly risks his career and property and everything else, to save fellow Iranians,” he says.

“There is no distinction ‘I am Muslim, he is Jew’ or whatever.”

He believes the story illustrates the “general cultural propensity of Iranians to be tolerant” which is often overlooked in the current political climate.



Abdol-Hossein Sardari 1895 - 1981

• 1925: Qajar Royal Family, of which Sardari is a member, loses control of Iran

• 1936: Sardari gains law degree from Geneva university

• 1940: Takes over Iran’s diplomatic mission in Paris from brother-in-law following Nazi invasion

• 1941: Saves thousands of Iranian Jews and others from persecution and death by gaining exemptions from Nazi race laws and helping them escape France

• 1948: Seeks permission to marry long-term lover Tchin-Tchin, a Chinese opera singer, but she disappears in her country’s revolution

• 1952: Recalled to Tehran to face charges of misconduct and embezzlement relating to wartime issuing of passports

• 1955: Clears name and resumes diplomatic career, eventually retiring to London

• 1978: Loses pension and property in Iranian revolution

• 1981: Dies unrecognised in South London but is posthumously honoured by Jewish organisations



The Iranian Schindler: How thousands of Iranian Jews in America owe their lives to Paris diplomat
(London) Daily Mail
December 24, 2011

Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who employed over a thousand Jews during the Holocaust in an effort to save them from concentration camps, was memorialized in a famous book and Academy Award winning movie.

His Iranian equivalent, Abdol-Hossein Sardari, is now getting some of his due press.

In a book that troves through archival material, the story of how Mr Sardari used his diplomatic position in Paris at the time of the Nazi occupation to get passports for Iranian Jews and wove tall tales of faux-scientific stories to help evade the German authorities.

Mr Sardari, who was Muslim, was posted to Paris in 1941 and served as the highest member of the small Iranian consulate at the time of the Nazi invasion.

Because the Germans and Iranians had sizeable, and financially significant, trade contracts, the German considered the Iranians to be an Arayan race, and therefore an ally in their effort to rid Europe of what they viewed as lesser ethnicities.

Mr Sardari wrote numerous letters to Nazi officials telling elaborate stories about how Iranian Jews – who had been spared from Babylonian slavery by ancient Persian ruler Cyrus the Great – should be given the same status under Nazi rule as all other Iranians.

Another rationale that he used at one point was that Iranian Jews were not the same as the Jews that the Nazis so overtly despised since they were not blood-related to European Jewry.

Though some were initially hesitant to buy this version of events, the Nazis eventually relented and gave them the same status as the rest of their fellow Iranians. Before doing so, Nazi officials commissioned racial purity experts investigated the claim but it is thought that a lack of physical and financial resources forced them to cut it short and simply agree.

Another move that Mr Sardari used was to issue Paris-based Iranian Jews new passports: many of the Iranians in Paris at the time of the war had not renewed their passports after their home country went through a regime change, and so by falsifying those documents, Mr Sardari found a bureaucratic way to able to help Jews evade capture.

Exact numbers are not known, but the estimated headcount of people that Mr Sardari helped saved is in the thousands, many of whom ended up fleeing home to Iran or eventually ending up in America.

He was thought to have had 1,000 passports in his consulate safe at the beginning of the war- each of which could be used for more than one person- so experts put the number of lives saved between 2,000 and 3,000.

Though he himself was not harmed during the war, the end of World War II did not end his troubles as he faced embezzlement charges in 1952 which related to his doling out of passports during the war.

The new book, In The Lions Shadow by Fariborz Mokhtari, is astonishing in the amount of detail it is able to shed on the situation because Mr Sardari was famously quiet about his actions after the war ended.

Honored several times by Jewish-American groups, his only known public remark before his 1981 death came as a humble comment to the Israeli National Holocaust Memorial.

“As you may know, I had the pleasure of being the Iranian Consul in Paris during the German occupation of France, and as such it was my duty to save all Iranians, including Iranian Jews,” Mr Sardari said.

The Z-Word

January 22, 2012

* Talk of Zionism sometimes provides a useful cover to those who harbor an old, enduring hatred.


[Note by Tom Gross]

This is the third of three dispatches this weekend, each carrying a single article.

This one has an article by the leading cultural critic and columnist, Jay Nordlinger, a senior editor of The National Review. (He is also a longstanding subscriber to this list, as are others mentioned in the article, including Bernard Lewis, Amir Taheri, Matthew Gould and Gil Troy.)

The other two dispatches can be read here:

* The Iron Lady
* The two faces of Al Jazeera

(You can comment on these dispatches here: Please first press “Like” on that page.)

The Z-Word
By Jay Nordlinger
January 11, 2012
The National Review

A few weeks ago, a Labour MP in Britain, Paul Flynn, expressed displeasure with his country’s ambassador to Israel. “I do not normally fall for conspiracy theories,” he said, “but the ambassador has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist.” What Britain needs in Israel, according to Flynn, is “someone with roots in the U.K.” who “can’t be accused of having Jewish loyalty.”

Britain’s ambassador to Israel, as you may have surmised, is a Jew, the first to serve in that capacity. He previously served in Pakistan and Iran (not Jewish states). As for Matthew Gould’s “roots in the U.K.,” they may not be as deep as Flynn’s, but they are semi-respectable: On one side, his great-grandparents were immigrants, and on the other, his grandparents. Speaking of respectability, Gould is a graduate of St. Paul’s School and Peterhouse, Cambridge. Not bad for a Semitic upstart.

In his widely publicized remarks, Flynn worried about “neocons and warmongers,” now itching to invade Iran. “Warmongers” is a word we can easily understand. But what about two other words Flynn used, “neocons” and “Zionist”? These are very slippery terms. If you want to paralyze someone who denounces neocons, say, “What’s a neocon?” If you want to paralyze someone who denounces Zionists, or even refers to them, say, “What’s a Zionist?” People use these words cavalierly and ignorantly. And none too nicely, either.

We will concentrate on the older of the words, “Zionist.” Though it may be older than “neocon,” it is much, much newer than “Zion.” We first encounter “Zion” in II Samuel, Chapter 5: “David took the strong hold of Zion: the same is the city of David.” I am quoting King James’s translators. In Psalm 48, we have one of the loveliest lines in the entire Bible: “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion.” Centuries later came a hymn that begins, “Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God!” Those words were written by the author of “Amazing Grace,” John Newton.

“Zion” may refer to a hill in Jerusalem, or a section of Jerusalem, or Jerusalem itself, or all Israel. Or to the kingdom of God, period. It also may refer to the Jewish people or to all mankind. People in Illinois may know Zion as a city on the Wisconsin border.

“Zionism” arose in the late 19th century, and its believers and supporters were “Zionists.” This was the movement to establish a Jewish state in ancient Israel – to “reestablish” that state, if you like. European Jews such as Theodor Herzl thought, or feared, that assimilation was a lost cause. The host countries would never allow it. The best answer was a return to Zion, to Israel. Other Jews held this return to be desirable in itself, regardless of whether assimilation in the broader world was possible.

Herzl wrote his pamphlet The Jewish State in 1896. The next year, he organized the first Zionist Congress, in Basel. Many Jews were Zionists, many were not. Those who were not, were free to stay where they were (as were those Jews who supported Zionism but did not wish to emigrate themselves). The ancient language, Hebrew, was revived. The movement gathered pace. After the Holocaust, and a war of independence, the Jews had their state. Zionism, i.e., Jewish nationalism, was fulfilled.

But the term hung on, particularly in the mouths of Israel’s enemies. Indeed, many Arabs would not, and will not, say “Israel.” They say “Zionist entity” or “Zionist presence.” To say “Israel,” apparently, would acknowledge statehood, which is unacknowledgeable, to some. The late Yasser Arafat was a frequent user of “Zionist aggressor,” “Zionist conquest,” and similar phrases.

One goal of Israel’s enemies was to stigmatize “Zionism,” and they had their greatest success in November 1975, when the United Nations passed its infamous Resolution 3379: Zionism equals racism. “Racism” was the severest term of the age, and it may well be that today, too. Vanessa Redgrave, a great supporter of Arafat and his PLO, said, “Zionism is a brutal, racist ideology.” Other peoples could have their national expression, but not the Jews. Resolution 3379 was revoked in 1991, thanks chiefly to the work of the Bush 41 administration, and in particular to the work of one State Department official: John Bolton.

Over the years, people have denounced Zionism while proclaiming their great love of Jews. They’re not anti-Jewish, you see, but merely anti-Zionist. They could just as well say “anti-Israel,” but “Zionist” is somehow the word of choice.

Accepting an Academy Award in 1978, Redgrave congratulated her colleagues on standing up to “Zionist hoodlums,” such as those picketing outside. Later in her remarks, she said, “I pledge to you that I will continue to fight against anti-Semitism and fascism.” In 1980, Jesse Jackson called Zionism “a kind of poisonous weed that is choking Judaism.” He was following the pattern of “Judaism good, Zionism bad.” In 1992, he seemed to have a change of heart, hailing Zionism as a “liberation movement.”

But old habits die hard, and Jackson is still liable to use “Zionism” or “Zionist” as a term of abuse. In October 2008, Amir Taheri, an exile journalist from Iran, recorded what Jackson said at a conference in France. An Obama administration was coming, he said, and this administration would diminish the “Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades.” Whom did he mean, exactly? What do people ever mean when they say “Zionists”?

Louis Farrakhan talks about Zionists almost as much as Arafat did. An Associated Press report in 1984 said, “Farrakhan, who has been quoted as calling Judaism a ‘gutter religion,’ denied that he was against Jews. He has said that remark referred to Zionism, not Judaism.” Here is an AP report from 1998: “Farrakhan suggested a Zionist plot was behind President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.” Earlier this year, Farrakhan said that “Zionists dominate the government of the United States of America and her banking system.” He added, “Some of you think that I’m just somebody who’s got something out for the Jewish people. You’re stupid. Do you think I would waste my time if I did not think it was important for you to know Satan? My job is to pull the cover off of Satan so that he will never deceive you and the people of the world again.”

In Israel itself, the word “Zionist” is in bad odor, certainly on the left. Few academics, artists, and cool teens would want to be known as Zionists. This started “just after the 1967 war,” says Zev Chafets, the veteran American-Israeli writer. “Zionist” came to mean superpatriot, flag-waver, jingo. The worldwide Left associates Zionism with colonialism, imperialism, and, of course, racism, and the Israeli Left does the same.

More than a few Israelis refer to themselves as “post-Zionists,” which may mean any number of things. For instance, it may mean that they reject the old Zionist vision and instead welcome a “binational state,” including the West Bank and Gaza and everyone in them. Jewish particularism is anathema to them. When they think “Zionist,” they are apt to think “settler,” and a settler, in their minds, is no good. Of course, not so long ago, just about every Israeli was a settler, and a Zionist, to boot.

There are still people who embrace the Z-word, no matter the opprobrium that comes with it. Paul Flynn, the British MP, said that Ambassador Gould “has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist.” That is true. Gould has also said, “I thought long and hard about applying for the position” of ambassador to Israel. “I thought it might just be all too difficult. But then I thought to myself, ‘Why should Jews rule themselves out of important positions?’” Gould has emphasized he is “the British ambassador to Israel, not the Jewish one.”

Ten years ago, Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University, wrote a book with a totally unabashed title: “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today.” There are also many millions of Americans who support Israel and are known as “Christian Zionists.” Their critics utter this term with disdain or fear or both. I suspect that these Christians themselves have no problem with it.

To me, a Zionist has always been a person who supports the idea of a Jewish homeland, or state, in the Middle East. In ancient Israel. Therefore, being a Zionist is essentially the same as supporting the right of Israel to exist. When Farrakhan says that the U.S. government, the banks, and the media are “dominated by Zionists,” I’m apt to say, “Sure: Most Americans support Israel, both as idea and as reality.” But I am being too clever, no doubt – because when people say “Zionist,” they really mean . . .

Well, what do they mean? One clue comes from John J. Mearsheimer, the University of Chicago professor who, with Stephen M. Walt, wrote The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, a notorious book published in 2007. Mearsheimer has just written a blurb for a book by Gilad Atzmon, an ex-Israeli who hates Israel and hates himself, for that matter. He has described himself as a “proud self-hating Jew.” In his blurb, Mearsheimer writes, “Panicked Jewish leaders, [Atzmon] argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim.”

So, there we have a definition of Zionism, from a professor of political science at one of our most distinguished universities: “blind loyalty to Israel.” There is an old joke, told by Jews, that goes, “What’s the definition of an anti-Semite? One who hates Jews more than is absolutely necessary.” Is that what a Zionist is – someone who supports Israel more than is absolutely necessary? Someone who is too enthusiastic or unyielding in his support?

In my observation, people say “Zionist” when they don’t want to say “Jew” or “Israeli.” As Gil Troy wrote last year, “intellectuals have camouflaged modern anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism.” There are certainly people who are anti-Zionist or anti-Israel – is there a difference? – without being anti-Jewish. Some of them are Jews. But, as Paul Johnson, the historian, once said to me in an interview, “Scratch the fellow who is anti-Israel, and you won’t have to dig very far before you find the anti-Semite within.” Another historian, Bernard Lewis, says that talk of Zionism “sometimes provides a useful cover”: a cover to those who harbor the old, enduring hatred.

As you go about life, you may encounter someone who says “Zionism” or “Zionist,” with an edge in his voice. Ask him what he means. The answer, or non-answer, you get is likely to be revealing.

The two faces of Al Jazeera

* Oren Kessler: While the Obama administration continues to court Al Jazeera as part of its signature foreign policy goal of improving ties with the Arab and Muslim worlds, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauds the channel as “real news,” a vast gulf still separates the channel’s English iteration from the original Arabic, which fifteen years after its birth continues to promote anti-Americanism, Sunni sectarianism, Islamism, and occasional anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

* While Al Jazeera English continues to put on a more moderate face for show to Westerners, the real Al Jazeera, the Arabic version, is a different story.

* For example, it threw an on-air party for Samir Kuntar, who had savagely murdered two Israelis in 1979, including a 4-year old girl: “Brother Samir, we wish to celebrate with you,” crowed the station’s Beirut bureau chief, hailing Kuntar as a “hero.” The channel also praised Hitler.

* In spite of this, Dana Shell Smith – the first deputy assistant U.S. secretary of state for international media engagement and an Arabic speaker – described Al Jazeera Arabic as a “really important media entity” with which the administration has a “really great relationship.”

* Over 50 percent of Palestinians use Al Jazeera Arabic as their primary news source. The way the pro-Hamas channel covers any prospective Israeli-Palestinian agreement signed by Fatah will fundamentally shape how such a deal is viewed – and whether it is accepted – by the Palestinian public.


This is one of three dispatches this weekend, each carrying a single article. The other two can be read here:

* The Iron Lady
* The Z-Word

(You can comment on these dispatches here: Please first press “Like” on that page.)



1. A tale of two networks
2. Akin to a U.S. network giving extensive unchallenged airtime to the Ku Klux Klan
3. “Is Zionism Worse than Nazism?” -- 85 percent said yes
4. Siding with the rejectionists of Hamas, against the “moderates” of Fatah
5. An international Jewish TV channel
6. “The Two Faces of Al Jazeera” (By Oren Kessler, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2012)


[Note below by Tom Gross]

I have mentioned several times in these dispatches over the years how Al Jazeera English puts on a completely different face (partly in an effort to hoodwink naive Westerners) than does Al Jazeera Arabic. Both are political tools of the oppressive regime that controls Qatar. (Qatar’s is also the “worst in the region” in tracking terrorist financing, according to the U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.)

Now, in an impressive article in the Middle East Quarterly, Oren Kessler, the Arab affairs editor of The Jerusalem Post, outlines this distinction in some detail.

As Kessler (who is a subscriber to this email list) points out, Abderrahim Foukara, Al Jazeera Arabic’s Washington bureau chief, told the Council on Foreign Relations that: “The way the truth may be defined in the Arab world, and associate it with Al Jazeera, is not the way Americans, for example, would define the truth and associate it with, say, CNN or MSNBC or Fox.”


On Al Jazeera Arabic, anti-Israel sentiment tends to blend indistinguishably into anti-Semitism, notes Kessler. Erik Nisbet, a professor of Arabic media at Ohio State University, said the channel’s treatment of extremists would be roughly akin to a U.S. network giving airtime to the Ku Klux Klan. American channels, he said, “would report on them, but they are not going to do in-depth interviews or invite them to be on mainstream talk shows, and let them say anything they want, but Al Jazeera does.” According to Nisbet, there is “no doubt” that anti-Semitism is woven into the very fabric of Al Jazeera Arabic’s reporting.


The article below also points out that after the 9/11 attacks, Al Jazeera Arabic presenters repeated, unchallenged, a report that Jews had been tipped off not to report to work at the World Trade Center that morning. Contributors blamed Jews for the attacks and urged the United States to “get rid” of its own Jews. The summer before, an episode of “The Opposite Direction” was dedicated to the question, “Is Zionism Worse than Nazism?” Of the 12,000 viewers who called in, 85 percent said yes, 11 percent saw both as equally bad, and only 2.7 percent said that they believed Nazism was worse.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi, host of Al Jazeera’s most popular program, Shari’a and Life, regularly attacks the “insidious character” of Shiites, Americans, and especially Jews. “Oh Allah, take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one,” he said on air in 2009, as I noted on this dispatch list at the time. Elsewhere, Qaradawi praised Hitler’s treatment of the Jews (“even though they exaggerated the issue”) but stressed the fuhrer’s regret at not “finishing the job”.


Al Jazeera Arabic is not only anti-American, anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic, it is also anti-Fatah, siding heavily with Fatah’s Hamas rivals. Polls show 53 percent of Palestinians use Al Jazeera as their primary news source while the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya comes a distant second at 13 percent. The way Al Jazeera Arabic covers any prospective Israeli-Palestinian agreement will fundamentally shape how such a deal is viewed – and whether it is accepted – by the Palestinian public.

As for Al Jazeera English, an observer from the station notes that walking through the U.S. State Department in Washington, he sees it “playing on virtually every computer and television screen.”


Incidentally, JN1, the first international Jewish news channel, is now available live on the Internet ( This independent channel was launched four months ago in Brussels. It is also available on some satellite networks in Europe, America, the Middle East and Russia.

JN1 is also broadcasting in Russian and will soon be available in French. JN1 still has a long way to go before it has the extensive media or satellite reach, or the level of journalistic expertise, of Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera English now reaches a quarter of a billion people in 130 countries.

-- Tom Gross


The Two Faces of Al Jazeera
By Oren Kessler
Middle East Quarterly
Winter 2012 issue

One of the principal beneficiaries of the Arab uprisings has been Al Jazeera television. Viewers are praising the English and Arabic channels’ comprehensive coverage of the revolts while the Obama administration continues to court the network as part of its signature foreign policy goal of improving ties with the Arab and Muslim worlds.

On August 1, 2011, Al Jazeera English (AJE) began broadcasting to two million cable subscribers in New York – the third major U.S. city to carry the station after Houston and Washington, D.C.[1] AJE’s gutsy, driven reporting – one commentator aptly commended its “hustle”[2] – has won it friends in high places: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauded the channel as “real news,”[3] and Sen. John McCain (Republican, Ariz.) said he was “very proud” of its handling of the so-called Arab Spring.[4]

Lost in the exuberance is the fact that a vast gulf still separates the channel’s English iteration from the original Arabic, which fifteen years after its birth continues to inflame Arab resentments in its promotion of anti-Americanism, Sunni sectarianism and, in recent years, Islamism.

As AJE debuts in New York, many viewers who do not speak Arabic will presume the station to be a direct or approximate translation of its parent network in Qatar.[5] But to appreciate what Al Jazeera English is, it is critical to remember just what it is not – even a remote likeness of its Arabic-speaking progenitor.


In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Fouad Ajami traveled to Qatar to write a profile on Al Jazeera Arabic (AJA) for The New York Times Magazine. In the cover story “What the Muslim World Is Watching,” he wrote, “Jazeera’s reporters see themselves as ‘anti-imperialists.’ Convinced that the rulers of the Arab world have given in to American might, these are broadcasters who play to an Arab gallery whose political bitterness they share – and feed.”[6]

Virtually all of the channel’s journalists, he found, were either leftist, pan-Arab nationalists, or Islamists. “Although Al Jazeera has sometimes been hailed in the West for being an autonomous, Arabic news outlet, it would be a mistake to call it a fair or responsible one,” he wrote. “Day in and day out, Al Jazeera deliberately fans the flames of Muslim outrage.”[7]

It was in the days after the 2001 attacks that most Americans first encountered Al Jazeera Arabic (the English offshoot was still five years away) when the channel broadcast its first Osama bin Laden tape, an admission of responsibility for the slaughter. The clip was the first of about ten audio and video statements AJA would broadcast of the al-Qaeda leader over the same number of years.[8]

In the wake of those attacks, Ajami discovered, bin Laden was Al Jazeera’s unchallenged star: “The channel’s graphics assign him a lead role: There is bin Laden seated on a mat, his submachine gun on his lap; there is bin Laden on horseback in Afghanistan, the brave knight of the Arab world. A huge, glamorous poster of bin Laden’s silhouette hangs in the background of the main studio set.”[9]

In Afghanistan, Al Jazeera’s narrative was roughly analogous to the Taliban’s: ill-equipped, heroic Muslims overcoming the foreign invader through sheer courage and faith. Taliban-embedded reporters ended their broadcasts with the sign-off “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” – the Islamist government’s official name for the country – while the U.S. war on terror was denied the same treatment, identified instead as a campaign against “what it calls terror.”[10]

Coverage in Iraq has been similar. Words like “terror” and “insurgency” are rarely mentioned with a straight face, usually replaced with “resistance” or “struggle.” Suicide bombings against U.S. troops are “commando attacks” or sometimes even “paradise operations” while “War in Iraq” is replaced by “War on Iraq.”[11] Similarly, Israel’s 2008-09 Gaza offensive was branded “War on Gaza” in both Arabic and English.[12]

In his 2004 state of the union address, President George W. Bush singled out Al Jazeera as a source of “hateful propaganda” in the Arab world, and then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld blasted its war coverage as “propaganda,” [13] “inexcusably biased,”[14] and “vicious.”[15]


Al Jazeera’s sympathetic coverage, in both Arabic and English, of the past year’s Arab upheavals signaled to many that Americans may finally let the network in from the cold.[16] It was a view the Obama administration – eager to drain the bad blood of the Bush era – readily encouraged.

“Al Jazeera has been the leader in that they are literally changing people’s minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective,” Secretary of State Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March. AJE, she said, is “must watch, real journalism.”[17] Dana Shell Smith – the first deputy assistant secretary of state for international media engagement and an Arabic speaker – described Al Jazeera Arabic as a “really important media entity” with which the administration has a “really great relationship.”[18]

The thaw has been bipartisan with Republicans as wary as Democrats of slighting a network riding a worldwide wave of popularity – AJE now reaches a quarter of a billion people in 130 countries[19] – and perceived as siding with freedom and democracy against dictatorship.[20]

“It’s like Rip Van Winkle – you wake up and, my God, it’s a different world,” said Tony Burman, at the time AJE’s chief strategic adviser for the Americas. “Hosni Mubarak did in eighteen days what I thought it would take two years to do.” Walking through the State Department, Burman said, he sees his station playing on virtually every computer and television screen.[21]

Judea Pearl is a celebrated University of California computer scientist and cofounder of the Daniel Pearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding, created to honor his son, the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and beheaded in 2002 by al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan.[22] Since 2007, Pearl has been a lonely voice on the left warning against Al Jazeera’s legitimization. “Their unconditional support of Hamas’s terror in Gaza, the Hezbollah takeover in Lebanon, and the Syrian and Iranian regimes betrays any illusion that democracy and human rights are on Al Jazeera’s agenda” – he wrote this year – “weakening the West is their first priority.”[23]

March Lynch, a commentator on Arabic media, accurately noted, “There has been a switch on the perception of Al Jazeera Arabic, simply because right now, the U.S. and Al Jazeera Arabic are more aligned in backing the democracy movements ... It’s not like Al Jazeera or the U.S. have changed that much. The issues have changed.”[24]


In 2006, months before going on air, Al Jazeera English hired Dave Marash, a former anchor for NBC Nightline. But just as Marash’s arrival lent the yet-unborn channel an aura of credibility, his departure two years later cast doubt on whether AJE would be willing and able to distance itself from its predecessor’s worst practices.

“[T]he channel that’s on now – while excellent, and I plan to be a lifetime viewer – is not the channel that I signed up to do,”[25] Marash said. He recalled that after he was moved from anchor to reporter, the channel’s roster included not a single presenter with an American accent – a choice Marash viewed as deliberate: “I took it particularly amiss ... that their standard for journalism on Al Jazeera in the United States didn’t seem consistently to be as good as their standards elsewhere.”[26]

Marash cited a series called Poverty in America to illustrate what he described as AJE’s underlying anti-Americanism. “The specifics of the plan were so stereotypical and shallow that the planning desk in Washington said that we think this is a very bad idea and recommend against it and won’t do it. And so the planning desk in Doha literally sneaked a production team into the United States,” he said. “This series reported nothing beyond the stereotype and the mere fact that there were homeless people living on the street in Baltimore ... It was enough for them to show poor people living in wretched conditions in a prosperous American city and decry it.”[27]

Likewise, Marash said, an item on indigenous Mexicans in Chiapas State blamed their impoverishment solely on the North American Free Trade Agreement, papering over the knottier issues of race, class, and relations between state and federal governments in Mexico. “So again, it was really shoddy reporting,” he said.[28]

“When you speak to presenters on CNN and BBC, you’re usually speaking to very serious people who know the issues,” an Israeli spokesperson with extensive experience with the channel told me. “When they ask you a tough question, you can presume it’s a tough question that’s been thought about. On Al Jazeera English, they can ask some tough questions, but it often has the level of a campus debate.”[29]


Its failings notwithstanding, Al Jazeera English is leagues ahead of its Arabic analog in producing news that meets the basic criteria of the journalistic craft. AJE representatives’ failure to convincingly explain that discrepancy – their clumsy attempts to simultaneously tout the two channels’ independence and their “shared vision” – is cause for concern.

“At the end of the day, we don’t share the same editorial policies,” Ayman Mohyeldin, then AJE’s Cairo correspondent, said in February. “What we do share is the editorial code of ethics and the same editorial vision as the network.”[30]

“Anyone who works at Al Jazeera English is convinced that if you watch Al Jazeera English, and if you watch and understand Al Jazeera Arabic, you will be convinced that the journalism is professional, that the quality of work is very high,” said Mohyeldin, who left the network this summer for NBC News. “The only problem is that very few people in the United States understand Al Jazeera Arabic. They buy into a lot of the innuendos. Once they have that sense of fear, they use that brush to paint Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English with it.”[31]

Abderrahim Foukara, the Arabic channel’s Washington bureau chief, told the Council on Foreign Relations,

“The way the truth may be defined in the Arab world, and associate it with Al Jazeera, is not the way Americans, for example, would define the truth and associate it with, say, CNN or MSNBC or Fox. … Al Jazeera Arabic, because it is so connected to a turbulent part of the world, the tone is different … it’s much feistier … The broad majority of Arabs identify with the channel, not only in terms of political coverage, but the nuances, the reading between the lines.”[32]

In truth, the bulk of AJA’s content has all the nuance of a right hook to the jaw. The non-Arabic speaker is immediately struck by the station’s frenetic tone and imagery, and a viewer with even a moderate command of the language is likely to be all the more taken aback.


At its birth, Al Jazeera Arabic had an immediate and profound effect on Middle Eastern media, ushering in a new form of antiestablishment broadcasting in a region long dominated by state propaganda. But while AJA was unusual in reporting stories some regimes did not like, it also reported them in a way that reinforced rather than undermined the region’s existing system of ideas.[33]

The language of resistance and martyrdom remains Al Jazeera’s mother tongue. In 2001, while the “second intifada” raged, Fouad Ajami wrote, “The channel’s policy was firm: Palestinians who fell to Israeli gunfire were martyrs; Israelis killed by Palestinians were Israelis killed by Palestinians.”[34] A decade on, little seems to have changed – civilians are generally classified as “martyrs” if killed in Iraq, Gaza, Afghanistan, or any other Arab or Muslim locale. Elsewhere, people killed are people killed.[35]

Where Al Jazeera differs from state-run media is in its allowance for free speech. AJA markets itself as a forum for the very freest of expression, “inviting anybody to come on the air and say anything, often allowing perspectives that lacked factual basis to go unchallenged,” according to a recent profile in the American Journalism Review.[36]

Yet even at Al Jazeera, free speech has its red lines. In 1996, it was the first Arabic station to let Israelis appear as on-air guests, often speaking in Hebrew. Many viewers were stunned, having never before heard an Israeli speak – much less in his or her native language.[37] Still, the scope given to Israeli guests to express themselves was, and is, extraordinarily limited. An Israeli spokesman who appears regularly on the channel said that a typical appearance more closely resembles an interrogation than an interview. “We’re never invited to long interview shows but always short interviews of three and a half minutes,” he said. “They’re unwilling to engage in a real dialogue, and instead use Israelis as fig leaves.”[38]

American contributors often receive similar treatment. A 2007 episode of the flagship talk show The Opposite Direction featured as guests Adam Ereli, State Department spokesman, and Mishan al-Jibouri, who was identified as “head of the Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc” in the Iraqi parliament. When host Faisal al-Qassem asked whether the United States had invaded Iraq to free its people or its oil, Jibouri responded unchallenged, “It’s not just Iraqi oil; it’s all Arab oil. They want to kill off indigenous people and control their wealth.” When Ereli begged to differ, the host cut him off: “The U.S. is the biggest supporter of dictatorships. Aren’t you ashamed to repeat these lies? Are you against dictatorships? The U.S. created them with the CIA and all these other people, lying to the world.”[39]

Qassem neglected to mention that Jibouri was a cofounder of al-Zawraa, a now-defunct satellite station that specialized in gory segments of insurgent attacks on U.S.-led forces, accompanied by melodramatic musical scores and running commentary by camouflage-clad anchors vowing resistance until death.[40]


Al Jazeera’s detractors have long dismissed the network as a vehicle for Doha’s foreign policy, one driven by Sunni sectarianism and an overriding antagonism toward Iran.[41] Voices critical of Qatar’s government – the “worst in the region” in tracking terrorist financing, according to U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks[42] – are nonexistent in English or Arabic.[43] In 2011, both channels provided only scant coverage of the uprising in neighboring Bahrain – where a downtrodden Shiite majority demanded greater rights in the Sunni-led kingdom[44] – and were slow to cede airtime to the rebellion in Syria – a leader of the “resistance bloc” against the United States and Israel even if it is allied with the Shiite hegemon in Tehran.[45]

Over the past decade, however, Al Jazeera’s sectarian impulse has been moving ever closer to garden-variety Sunni Islamism, a shift dramatic enough to catch the attention even of the liberal bulwark The Nation. In 2007, the weekly’s Kristen Gillespie wrote that 9/11 “brought a new anti-imperialist and, many argue, a pro-Sunni Islamist bent to the network ... The field reports are overwhelmingly negative with violent footage played over and over, highlighting Arab defeat and humiliation. And there’s a clear underlying message: that the way out of this spiral is political Islam.”

“[I]t doesn’t take much viewing of the channel to discern a dual message,” Gillespie wrote. “Sunni religious figures are almost always treated deferentially as voices of authority on almost any issue, and Arab governments as useless stooges of the United States and Israel.”

In the words of Alberto Fernandez, then-director for press and public diplomacy in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, “We see the unconditional support of Islamic movements, no matter where they are: Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan. … How things are covered, the prominence of things, what words are used – sometimes you do see that very clear Islamist subtext.”[46]

In 2002, Al Jazeera Arabic promoted Wadah Khanfar – a reporter from the West Bank town of Jenin widely believed to have close Muslim Brotherhood ties[47] – from Iraq bureau chief to managing director. Three years later Khanfar was promoted to director general of the overall Al Jazeera network, overseeing both language channels. On both occasions, he replaced relatively secular-minded journalists.

Gillespie spoke with nine active and former employees who described Khanfar as an Islamist. “Everyone is complaining about the new trend now – that the liberals, the secular types, the Arab nationalists are getting downsized, and the Islamic position is dominating the newsroom,” said a former Baghdad correspondent. “From the first day of the Wadah Khanfar era, there was a dramatic change, especially because of him selecting assistants who are hard-line Islamists,” added AJA’s former Washington bureau chief Hafez al-Mirazi, who resigned a year after Khanfar’s arrival to protest the station’s “Islamist drift.”[48]

For his part, Khanfar has dismissed the idea that his perspective was in any way at odds with those of the channel’s viewers. “Islam is more of a factor now in the influential political and social spheres of the Arab world, and the network’s coverage reflects that,” he said. “Maybe you have more Islamic voices [on AJA] because of the political reality on the ground.”[49] Judea Pearl put the channel’s agenda more plainly: “I have no doubt that, today, Al Jazeera is the most powerful voice of the Muslim Brotherhood.”[50]

The Obama State Department overturned the Bush administration’s refusal to grant Khanfar a visa, and in 2009, he met with State, Pentagon, and White House officials before embarking on a speaking tour that included the New America Foundation, Council on Foreign Relations, and Middle East Institute.[51]

Khanfar resigned as director general in September of this year,[52] following the release of WikiLeaks cables showing he had met with U.S. officials and agreed to tone down Iraq war coverage Washington deemed inflammatory.[53] The choice of Khanfar’s replacement – an oil executive who belongs to the ruling al-Thani dynasty – is yet another sign that despite U.S. pressure to privatize,[54] Qatar intends to keep Al Jazeera a wholly-owned family business.


Given its Islamist sympathies, it is unsurprising that the network sides heavily with Hamas in its rivalry with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA). “In Arabic, it’s unmistakable – Al Jazeera is not just pro-Palestinian, but pro-Hamas,” the Israeli spokesman said.[55] The New York Times – which has pushed for AJE’s inclusion on U.S. cable[56] – has conceded that there is “little doubt” the Arabic channel portrays Hamas more favorably than its rivals.[57]

Polls show a remarkable 53 percent of Palestinians use Al Jazeera as their primary news source with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya a distant second at 13 percent. The way AJA covers any prospective Israeli-Palestinian agreement will fundamentally shape how such a deal is viewed – and whether it is accepted – by the Palestinian public.[58]

When in 2009 Mahmoud Abbas agreed to defer a U.N. Human Rights Council discussion of the notorious Goldstone report on that year’s Gaza offensive, Al Jazeera censured the PA president for his “capitulation” to Israeli and Western demands. The resulting public outcry nearly resulted in Abbas’s resignation.[59]

Early this year, the network published the “Palestine Papers” – a leak of 1,700 files encompassing a decade’s worth of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – prompting commentators across the Arab world to denounce the PA leadership for supposedly agreeing to wide-ranging concessions toward Israel. “The fact is that Al Jazeera has never done the same against Hamas, and that Hamas has never complained about Al Jazeera’s coverage,” the Israeli spokesman said. “It’s always the Palestinian Authority that complains.”[60]


On Al Jazeera Arabic, anti-Israel sentiment tends to bleed indistinguishably into anti-Semitism. Erik Nisbet, a scholar of Arabic media at Ohio State University, said the channel’s treatment of extremists would be roughly akin to a U.S. network giving airtime to the Ku Klux Klan. American channels, he said, “would report on them, but they are not going to do in-depth interviews or invite them to be on mainstream talk shows, and let them say anything they want, but Al Jazeera does.” According to Nisbet, there is “no doubt” that anti-Semitism is woven into the very fabric of AJA’s reporting.[61]

After 9/11, AJA presenters repeated, unchallenged, a report that Jews had been tipped off not to report to work at the World Trade Center that morning. Contributors running the clerical, jihadist, and guerrilla gamut blamed Jews for the attacks and urged the United States to “get rid” of its own.[62] The summer before, an episode of The Opposite Direction was dedicated to the question, “Is Zionism Worse than Nazism?” Of the 12,000 viewers who called in, 85 percent answered in the affirmative, 11 percent saw both as equally bad, and 2.7 percent ventured that Nazism was worse.[63]

Yusuf al-Qaradawi, host of Al Jazeera’s most popular program, Shari’a and Life, regularly froths about the insidious character of Shiites, Americans, and especially Jews.[64] “Oh Allah, take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one,” he said on air in 2009.[65] Elsewhere, Qaradawi praised Hitler’s treatment of the Jews (“even though they exaggerated the issue”) but stressed the führer’s regret at not finishing the job.[66]


If there was a single incident that exemplified the worst of Al Jazeera, it was the Samir Kuntar affair – an appalling low for the network in both languages.

In April 1979, a 16-year-old Kuntar left his native Lebanon with three Palestine Liberation Front comrades for a kidnap attempt in Nahariya, northern Israel. Arriving by boat, they killed a policeman before breaking into a randomly chosen home. Kuntar took 31-year-old Danny Haran and his 4-year-old daughter Einat hostage, then brought them to the seashore to take them to Lebanon. As a firefight erupted with Israeli troops and police, Kuntar shot Haran dead before his daughter’s eyes (drowning him in the sea for good measure) before ending the girl’s life by bashing her head against beach rocks, then smashing it with his rifle butt. An Israeli court also found Kuntar guilty of indirectly causing the death of Einat’s 2-year-old sister Yael, who suffocated during the kidnap attempt as her mother, hiding in a bedroom crawlspace, desperately covered her mouth.[67]

Sentenced to four life sentences, Kuntar never expressed remorse for his deeds, insisting for decades that he had urged Danny Haran to leave Einat at home, and that once at the beach, the girl died by Israeli fire (the first claim defies credulity; the second was refuted by photographs that later emerged and unanimous eyewitness testimony).[68]

When in July 2008, four days before his forty-sixth birthday, Kuntar was released in an Israel-Hezbollah deal, Al Jazeera Arabic threw him a party. “Brother Samir, we wish to celebrate your birthday with you,” said Ghassan Ben Jeddo, the station’s Beirut bureau chief, playing master of ceremonies. “You deserve even more than this,” he said, hailing Kuntar – pudgy and bemused in a mock military uniform – as a “pan-Arab hero.”[69]

While a live band tooted a martial medley, food servers rolled out a cake adorned with images of terrorist leaders including Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah. Handing Kuntar a scimitar to cut a piece, Ben Jeddo gushed, “This is the sword of the Arabs, Samir.”[70]

Israel threatened to boycott the channel unless it apologized, and AJA’s director general penned a letter admitting “elements of the program violated Al Jazeera’s code of ethics” and saying he had ordered steps be taken to ensure a similar incident was not repeated. AJA’s deputy editor later clarified that the channel had not actually apologized.[71]

“The gentleman involved was fully reprimanded, and he no longer works for us,” Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said this summer. “Clearly, that was taken very seriously. That is not the channel I run. I would not have run that … Action was taken immediately after the show was aired.”[72]

It is unclear which “gentleman” received the reprimand. Ben Jeddo stayed on as Beirut bureau chief until this year when he resigned to protest the network’s hard-hitting if belated coverage of the Syrian crackdown. “The channel ended a dream of objectivity and professionalism after Al Jazeera stopped being a media source and became an operations room for incitement and mobilization,” he wrote in his resignation letter with apparent seriousness.[73]

In English, Al Jazeera’s coverage of the event was only marginally better. In the lead-up to Kuntar’s release, AJE aired a segment from his home village of Abieh in which reporter Zeina Khodr described Nahariya, a city within Israel’s sovereign borders, as a “settlement.” After introducing Kuntar by his full name, she named him seven times by his first name and not once by his last. Nowhere did she mention the brutality with which Kuntar’s victims were murdered.[74]

On Kuntar’s release, Lebanon-based reporter Rula Amin effused that “in his hometown, Samir Kuntar is received as a freedom fighter, and he was received with a festive ceremony. A hero, even to those who were not even born when he went to prison.” Amin apparently found it more remarkable that Kuntar’s admirers included young people than that an entire village, country, and region should lionize a child murderer.

“A display of unity in Abieh,” she concluded, “may be the start of reconciliation between Hezbollah and Walid Jumblatt,” the Lebanese Druze leader. As Amin would have it, the crux of the story is not the inverted morals of Kuntar’s reception but the prospect of that reception serving as a catalyst for Lebanese reconciliation.[75] Only one AJE segment – by Sky News veteran David Chater – included an explicit account of Kuntar’s actions.[76]

“Al Jazeera English has hired some very good people, but they’ve also got people who I don’t think would be hired by other serious media outlets,” said one Israeli spokesperson. “Some really try to be professional in a journalistic sense and tell the story fairly. Others are ultimately driven by an agenda, which is, of course, quite hostile to Israel.”[77]

Perhaps as a result of the Kuntar episode, or as part of its push into America, AJE appears lately to be showing more caution in its coverage of Israel. In July, its Inside Story series devoted a full half-hour episode to the country’s cost-of-living protests[78] then did the same a week later with guests including government officials and a Ha’aretz columnist.[79] In August, its Playlist series rebroadcast an April segment on Middle Eastern heavy metal bands featuring acts from Iran, Dubai, Lebanon – and two from Israel.[80]

Hours of watching AJA in July and August for this article produced not a single similar human-interest story on Israel in Arabic. Instead, during the months that the Arab revolutions raged, the AJA website featured a map of the Middle East and North Africa with every country marked except Israel. The Green Line demarcating Israel and the West Bank appeared, but beside it was the single word “Palestine.”[81]


Four years ago, Judea Pearl expressed hope that Al Jazeera might “learn to harness its popularity in the service of humanity, progress, and moderation.”[82] At that time many analysts believed the network represented democracy in its infancy, and “you don’t slap an infant on the wrist before it learns to stand on its feet.”[83]

“In 2007, I was still hoping that Al Jazeera will become a force for good,” he recalled earlier this year. “Unfortunately, the opposite has happened. Al Jazeera’s popularity and general acceptance in the West has emboldened its management to take an even harder anti-Western stance.”[84]

“Today, we have much deeper concerns with Al Jazeera – it is no longer a clash with journalistic standards but a clash with the norms of civilized society,” Pearl wrote. “Our charming infant is smashing windows now and poisoning pets in the neighborhood – a slap on the wrist is perhaps way overdue.”[85]

As Al Jazeera English expands into the United States, it will need to choose one of three options. The first is to continue its present gambit of declaring a common “vision” with its parent channel while hoping the latter’s indiscretions somehow do not reflect poorly on itself. The second is to pressure that same out-of-control kin to pull its act together, lest it once again cast doubt on the character of both. Failing that, Al Jazeera English will have but one alternative: to categorically and unequivocally cut its own cord.


(For full footnote links, please see here: )

[1] The New York Times, Aug. 1, 2011.
[2] Robert D. Kaplan, “Why I Love Al Jazeera,” The Atlantic, Oct. 2009.
[3] The Huffington Post, Mar. 18, 2011.
[4] Politico (Arlington, Va.), May 17, 2011.
[5] Judea Pearl, “A statement of observation concerning Al Jazeera,” USA America’s Survival News (Owings, Md.), Feb. 23, 2011.
[6] Fouad Ajami, “What the Muslim World Is Watching,” The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 18, 2001.
[7] Ibid.
[8] “Timeline: Messages from bin Laden,”, May 2, 2011.
[9] Ajami, “What the Muslim World Is Watching.”
[10] Ibid.
[11] Judea Pearl, “Another perspective, or jihad TV?” The International Herald Tribune, Jan. 17, 2007.
[12] “War on Gaza,”, accessed Aug. 30, 2011.
[13] “Al Jazeera’s Global Gamble,” Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, Washington, D.C., Aug. 22, 2006.
[14] Associated Press, Feb. 6, 2004.
[15] The Sunday Times (London), Nov. 27, 2005.
[16] Los Angeles Times, Feb. 7, 2011.
[17] The Huffington Post, Mar. 18, 2011.
[18] Politico, Apr. 17, 2011.
[19], Aug. 1, 2011.
[20] Politico, Apr. 17, 2011.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Daniel Pearl Foundation, accessed Sept. 22, 2011.
[23] Pearl, “A statement of observation concerning Al Jazeera.”
[24] Politico, Apr. 17, 2011.
[25] The New York Times, Mar. 28, 2009.
[26] Brent Cunningham, “Dave Marash: Why I Quit,” Columbia Journalism Review, Apr. 4, 2008.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Author telephone interview, Sept. 7, 2011.
[30] Nitasha Tiku, “Q&A with Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera English’s Correspondent in Cairo,” New York Magazine, Feb. 11, 2011.
[31] Ibid.
[32] “Al-Jazeera: The World through Arab Eyes,” Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C., Feb. 17, 2011.
[33] Barry Rubin, The Tragedy of the Middle East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 213.
[34] Ajami, “What the Muslim World Is Watching.”
[35] See, for example, “Behind the Scenes with Al-Jazeera,” Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, New York, Apr. 15, 2002.
[36] Sherry Ricchiardi, “The Al Jazeera Effect,” American Journalism Review, Mar./Apr. 2011.
[37] Hugh Miles, Al-Jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel That Is Challenging the West (New York: Grove Press, 2005), p. 37.
[38] Author telephone interview, Sept. 4, 2011.
[39] Kristen Gillespie, “The New Face of Al Jazeera,” The Nation, Nov. 26, 2007.
[40] The Guardian (London), Jan. 15, 2007.
[41] Ricchiardi, “The Al Jazeera Effect”; The New York Times, Jan. 30, 2005.
[42] Financial Times (London), Dec. 5, 2010.
[43] The New York Times, Jan. 30, 2005.
[44] Time, May 24, 2011.
[45] Michael Young, “The shameful Arab silence

The Iron Lady

January 21, 2012

* “When asked about her most meaningful accomplishment, Margaret Thatcher, now embodied by Meryl Streep in the biopic ‘The Iron Lady,’ did not typically mention serving in the British government, defeating the Argentine invasion of the Falklands, taming runaway inflation, or toppling the Soviet Union. The woman who reshaped British politics and served as prime minister from 1979 to 1990 often said that her greatest accomplishment was helping save a 17-year-old Austrian Jewish girl from the Nazis.”

* Alan Clark, a senior Tory politician, wrote in his diaries that some of the old guard, himself included, thought Nigel Lawson could not, “as a Jew,” be offered the position of foreign secretary. Lawson’s “Jewish parentage was disqualification enough,” The Sunday Telegraph wrote in 1988, without a hint of shame.

* Thatcher had no patience for anti-Semitism. “I simply did not understand it,” Thatcher wrote in her memoirs. Indeed, she found “some of [her] closest political friends and associates among Jews.” “In the thirty-three years that I represented Finchley [a constituency in London], I never had a Jew come in poverty and desperation to one of my town meetings… I often wished that Christians would take closer note of the Jewish emphasis on self-help and acceptance of personal responsibility.”

* Aghast that a golf club in her district consistently barred Jews from becoming members, she publicly attacked her own party members for supporting the policy. The Jews of Finchley were “her people,” Thatcher remarked – certainly much more so than the wealthy land barons that dominated her party.

* In her desire to change and modernize Britain, Thatcher surrounded herself with bright Jewish advisors: Keith Joseph, Alfred Sherman, David Young, Nigel Lawson, Leon Brittan, Victor Rothschild, Malcolm Rifkind, David Wolfson, David Hart, and others.


This is one of three dispatches this weekend, each carrying a single article. The other two can be read here:

* The two faces of Al Jazeera

* The Z-Word

(You can comment on these dispatches here: Please first press “Like” on that page.)


[Note below by Tom Gross]

Margaret Thatcher, the greatest Prime Minister of Britain since Churchill, and one of the great stateswomen of modern times, has been in the news again recently following the success of the film “The Iron Lady” which has already won several awards. Meryl Streep, who plays Thatcher, is expected to be nominated for a best actress Oscar when the shortlist is announced on Tuesday, and could well win the Oscar next month.

One aspect of Mrs. Thatcher’s worldview which is often under-explored (though of course it would not be appropriate in the film) is her philo-Semitism. Unlike many other European politicians, Thatcher was always sympathetic to and admiring of Jews and the state of Israel.

Below is a recent article by Charles C. Johnson (author of the forthcoming “Coolidge: Then and Now”) from the online magazine Tablet exploring this phenomenon.


Other papers have also been commenting on this recently. Charles Moore, whose officially-authorized biography of Thatcher will be released after her death, told The Jewish Chronicle last week that Thatcher considered Jewish values and Conservatism “a natural fit”. Moore (who is a subscriber to this email list, along with several former advisors of Margaret Thatcher) says she was frequently irritated by Anglican leaders “lecturing her on state-ist socialist type solutions to everything. She found people like British Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits more congenial in their way of thinking.”

Lord (David) Young of Graffham, who served as Employment minister and then Trade and Industry minister under Mrs. Thatcher (and is also a subscriber to this list) said “Margaret’s affinity for Jews had nothing to do with religion, rather more to do with empathy for the usual first or second-generation immigrants’ drive to better themselves. She liked self-starters, people who would do more than they were asked and particularly those who were in any way entrepreneurial.

“The Cabinet I joined, back in the mid-’80s, was different from any before or since. Of the 21 of us, no less than 11 had started their own business. Secondly, at one time or another, there were five Jews in cabinet, although not all were practicing.

“I remember years later, when we were reminiscing with her and her husband Denis, I asked her which was her most memorable overseas visit. ‘Israel,’ she replied instantly, ‘it was, Denis, wasn’t it?’”


This is all somewhat different from the atmosphere in Britain today, where there has been a resurgence of anti-Semitism in some quarters. One Conservative MP was recently caught on film attending a Nazi-themed stag party where guests dressed up in SS uniforms and others toasted senior Nazis including Hitler. The Mail on Sunday newspaper reports that the MP in question, Aidan Burley, had ordered the uniforms himself. (Burley has now been disciplined by his own party.)

And last November four Oxford University students were forced to resign from the university’s Conservative association after accusing other members of anti-Semitic behavior. Those who were forced out had exposed other members after they sang a song about “dashing through the Reich” and “killing lots of kike”.

Playing cards at the party were laid down to form a swastika symbol

Last week, students at another of Britain’s most prestigious universities, the London School of Economics (LSE), faced censure after playing a “Nazi drinking game” and breaking the nose of a Jewish student who objected. The 20-year-old Jewish student (whose identity is being kept anonymous after he received further threats) had refused to join in with “sieg heil salutes to the Führer”. The LSE said they will take disciplinary action against the students.

-- Tom Gross


Thatcher and the Jews
By Charles C. Johnson
Tablet Magazine
December 28, 2011

When asked about her most meaningful accomplishment, Margaret Thatcher, now embodied by Meryl Streep in the biopic Iron Lady, did not typically mention serving in the British government, defeating the Argentine invasion of the Falklands, taming runaway inflation, or toppling the Soviet Union. The woman who reshaped British politics and served as prime minister from 1979 to 1990 often said that her greatest accomplishment was helping save a young Austrian girl from the Nazis.

In 1938, Edith Muhlbauer, a 17-year-old Jewish girl, wrote to Muriel Roberts, Edith’s pen pal and the future prime minister’s older sister, asking if the Roberts family might help her escape Hitler’s Austria. The Nazis had begun rounding up the first of Vienna’s Jews after the Anschluss, and Edith and her family worried she might be next. Alfred Roberts, Margaret and Muriel’s father, was a small-town grocer; the family had neither the time nor the money to take Edith in. So Margaret, then 12, and Muriel, 17, set about raising funds and persuading the local Rotary club to help.

Edith stayed with more than a dozen Rotary families, including the Robertses, for the next two years, until she could move to join relatives in South America. Edith bunked in Margaret’s room, and she left an impression. “She was 17, tall, beautiful, evidently from a well-to-do family,” Thatcher later wrote in her memoir. But most important, “[s]he told us what it was like to live as a Jew under an anti-Semitic regime. One thing Edith reported particularly stuck in my mind: The Jews, she said, were being made to scrub the streets.” For Thatcher, who believed in meaningful work, this was as much a waste as it was an outrage. Had the Roberts family not intervened, Edith recalled years later, “I would have stayed in Vienna and they would have killed me.” Thatcher never forgot the lesson: “Never hesitate to do whatever you can, for you may save a life,” she told audiences in 1995 after Edith had been located, alive and well, in Brazil.

Other British politicians and their families housed Jews during the war, but none seems to have been profoundly affected by it as Thatcher was. Harold Macmillan, a Thatcher foe and England’s prime minister from 1957 to 1963, provided a home for Jewish refugees on his estate, but his relations with Jews were always frosty, the mark of a genuflecting anti-Semitism common among the Tory grandees.

During the controversial Versailles peace talks that ended World War I, Macmillan wrote to a friend that the government of Prime Minister Lloyd George was not “really popular, except with the International Jew,” the mythic entity thought to be behind all of Europe’s troubles and made famous by Henry Ford’s eponymously titled book. Macmillan often made snide jokes about Jews and Jewish politicians, derisively calling Leslie Hore-Belisha, a Liberal member of Parliament and a critic of appeasement in the years before World War II, “Horeb Elisha,” a jabbing reference to Mount Horeb, where the Ten Commandments were handed down to Moses.

Viscount Cranborne, a Tory member of Parliament and a Foreign Office official in the 1930s, undermined attempts to ease the entry of Jews into Britain or Palestine, shutting out those other would-be Ediths from finding safety under the British Union Jack. And together, Cranborne and Macmillan were among the Tory parliamentarians who forced Hore-Belish out of the government in the early 1940s for allegedly conspiring to force Britain into a war on behalf of the Jews on the mainland.

Thatcher, by contrast, had no patience for anti-Semitism or for those who countenanced it. “I simply did not understand anti-Semitism myself,” Thatcher confessed in her memoirs. Indeed, she found “some of [her] closest political friends and associates among Jews.” Unique among British politicians, she was unusually free of even “the faintest trace of anti-Semitism in her make-up,” wrote Nigel Lawson, her chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1992. Lawson knew of what he spoke. Alan Clark, a senior Tory politician, wrote in his diaries that some of the old guard, himself included, thought Lawson could not, “as a Jew,” be offered the position of foreign secretary. Lawson’s “Jewish parentage was disqualification enough,” the Sunday Telegraph wrote in 1988, without a hint of shame. Rumors and speculation persisted well into the 1990s about why this or that Jewish member of Parliament couldn’t be made leader of the Conservative Party.

Early on in her career – even before she entered politics – Thatcher had worked alongside Jews as a chemist at J. Lyons and Co., a Jewish-owned company. (She had graduated from Oxford in 1947 with a degree in chemistry.) After quitting chemistry, she became a barrister and grew increasingly involved in politics. She ran for office in some of the more conservative districts and lost each time. Thatcher finally won when she ran in Finchley, a safe Tory seat in a north London borough. Finally she had found her constituents: middle-class, entrepreneurial, Jewish suburbanites. She particularly loved the way her new constituents took care of one another, rather than looking to the state: “In the thirty-three years that I represented [Finchley],” she later wrote, “I never had a Jew come in poverty and desperation to one of my [town meetings],” and she often wished that Christians “would take closer note of the Jewish emphasis on self-help and acceptance of personal responsibility.” She was a founding member of the Anglo-Israel Friendship League of Finchley and a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel. Aghast that a golf club in her district consistently barred Jews from becoming members, she publicly protested against it. She even joined in the singing of the Israeli national anthem in 1975 at Finchley.

The Jews of Finchley were “her people,” Thatcher used to say – certainly much more so than the wealthy land barons that dominated her party.


When Thatcher became leader of the opposition in 1975, it was suggested that her closeness with British Jews might imperil the country’s foreign policy. Official correspondence released in 2005 shows the unease with which bureaucrats at the Foreign Office treated Thatcher’s affiliations in the run-up to her election as prime minister in 1979. Michael Tait, an official at the British embassy in Jordan, worried that Thatcher might be too readily seen as a “prisoner of the Zionists” unless she severed her official ties with pro-Jewish groups. Tait even suggested that Thatcher give up her beloved Finchley constituency for Westminster, a less Jewish district, and distance herself from the “pro-Israel MPs” that might make Middle East peace impossible. In the end, Thatcher reluctantly agreed to quit the Jewish groups she belonged to, but she kept her district and her relationships with pro-Israel parliamentarians.

Once she became prime minister, Thatcher appointed a government of outsiders. “The thing about Margaret’s Cabinet,” Macmillan would later say, “is that it includes more Old Estonians than it does Old Etonians.” (Eton, the famous public school, required that its students’ fathers be British by birth, so as to keep out the Jews.) British politics had always been a club for genteel gentiles; Thatcher wanted to make it a meritocracy.

Thatcher appointed whomever she liked to positions in her government, whatever their religious or family background. Chaim Bermant, the Anglo-Jewish writer, probably went too far when he said Thatcher has “an almost mystical faith in Jewish abilities,” but he wasn’t completely off the mark. In addition to Nigel Lawson, she appointed Victor Rothschild as her security adviser, Malcolm Rifkind to be secretary of state for Scotland, David Young as minister without portfolio, and Leon Brittan to be trade and industry secretary. David Wolfson, nephew of Sir Isaac Wolfson, president of Great Universal Stores, Europe’s biggest mail-order company, served as Thatcher’s chief of staff. Her policies were powered by two men – Keith Joseph, a member of Parliament many thought would one day be the first prime minister who was a practicing Jew, and Alfred Sherman, a former communist turned free-market thinker.

With Thatcher, Joseph and Sherman formed the Centre for Policy Studies in 1974 to inject classical liberal ideas into Britain’s Conservative Party. Joseph, son of one of the wealthiest families in Britain, wanted to “fundamentally affect a political generation’s way of thinking.” It wasn’t enough to win elections, he believed; there had to be a change in how people thought of politics. He took his cue from his ideological nemesis, the Fabian Socialists, a group of British intellectuals who wanted to make Britain a socialist country through gradual change. Joseph would copy the Fabians’ style by writing policy papers, giving speeches, and writing to famous Brits to try to change public opinion. One of those forays became a co-written book, Equality, published in 1979, which argued that equality of opportunity “requires that no external barrier shall prevent an individual from exploiting his talents. No laws shall permit some men to do what is forbidden by others.” It was Thatcherite to the core.


Thatcher’s philo-Semitism went beyond the people she appointed to her government; it had clear political implications as well. She made Jewish causes her own, including by easing the restrictions on prosecuting Nazi war criminals living in Britain and pleading the cause of the Soviet Union’s refuseniks. She boasted that she once made Soviet officials “nervous” by repeatedly bringing up the refuseniks’ plight during a single nine-hour meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, “The Soviets had to know that every time we met their treatment of the refuseniks would be thrown back at them,” she explained in her book The Downing Street Years. Thatcher also worked to end the British government’s support for the Arab boycott of Israel. During the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Thatcher criticized Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath’s refusal to supply Israel with military parts or even allow American planes to supply Israel from British airfields. In 1986, Thatcher became the first British prime minister to visit Israel, having previously visited twice as a member of parliament.

Yet despite her support for Israel, and though she rejected the stridently pro-PLO stance of some members of her government, she believed Israel needed to trade land for peace, wishing in her memoirs that the “Israeli emphasis on the human rights of the Russian refuseniks was matched by proper appreciation of the plight of the landless and stateless Palestinians.” She also condemned Israel’s bombing of Osirak, Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor, in 1981. “[The Osirak attack] represents a grave breach of international law,” she said in an interview with London’s Jewish Chronicle in 1981. Israel’s bombing of another country could lead to “international anarchy.”

In fairness, Thatcher wasn’t alone in this position. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to United Nations at the time, compared Israel’s bombing of the nuclear reactor to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the raid. “Just because a country is trying to manufacture energy from nuclear sources, it must not be believe that she is doing something totally wrong,” Thatcher said in the House of Commons. Iraq’s facility, she noted, had just been inspected and so it was particularly unhelpful for Israel to have attacked. Reagan agreed – at least, officially. “Technically,” Reagan wrote years later, “Israel had violated an agreement not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge … but I sympathized with [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

That Thatcher did not give Israel the benefit of the doubt is disconcerting, though she made good by later calling for the liberation of Kuwait and eventually the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But in this Thatcher ought not to have let the mandarins in the Foreign Office get the better of her judgment: She should have trusted her philo-Semitic instincts.


Tom Gross adds: For those interested, this is Thatcher’s last appearance as Prime Minister in the House of Commons, on November 22, 1990.

Tel Aviv voted world’s best gay city (& Israel prepares to accept Syrian refugees)

January 12, 2012

* Tunisia’s Islamist party condemns “death to Jews” chants by crowd greeting Hamas leader at Tunis airport
* Dubai gym sacks creative director for Auschwitz advert
* While Hamas and legal experts admit Gaza is not Israeli-occupied, the UN (and some European governments) still insist it is
* Video below: the women of Beit Shemesh respond musically to attempts at gender segregation


Above: Tel Aviv international gay pride parade 2011

(You can comment on this dispatch here: You first have to press “Like” on that page.)



1. Tel Aviv voted best gay city in prominent international survey
2. Dubai withdraws advert exploiting the Holocaust
3. While Hamas admits Gaza is not Israeli-occupied, the bigots at the UN say it is
4. Iran announces new rules designed to restrict use of the Internet
5. A musical response from the women of Beit Shemesh
6. Israel prepares to accept Syrian refugees on the Golan Heights
7. Tunisia’s Islamist party condemns anti-Semitic chants
8. Israel’s deteriorating relations with Germany
9. Haiti, two years on

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


Tel Aviv has been voted “Best gay city of 2011” in a prominent world-wide survey of homosexuals sponsored by American Airlines. It easily beat New York, London, Sao Paulo and Madrid in the vote, the results of which are here:

(The New York Times op-ed page editors, in their campaign to vilify Israel, recently questioned the country’s record on gay rights. It will be interesting to see whether they report on this new survey.)

(And those at the State Department in Washington who subscribe to this Middle East dispatch list may also want to bring it to the attention of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who – in possibly the most foolish thing she has ever said – recently compared Israel’s record on women and gays with that of Iran. Iran continues to publicly hang teenagers it suspects of being gay.)

In response to the GayCities/American Airlines survey, the Tel Aviv mayor’s office pointed out that it invests considerable resources in the gay community, including the Gay Center (, which receives approximately NIS 500,000 per annum from the city, Gay Pride Week and support for various not-for-profit gay and lesbian groups.



Following criticism, a Dubai fitness center has stopped using an advert that featured the infamous black and white photo of the train tracks to the Auschwitz death camp, with the slogan “Kiss your calories goodbye.”

Gulf News reported that Phil Parkinson, manager of the Circuit Factory in Dubai, admitted he was “not surprised people have reacted so strongly regarding the poster. We have dismissed our creative director for getting it so badly wrong.”

Dimitri Metaxas, regional executive director of digital operations at Omnicom Media Group, said, “I have never heard of an advert in such poor taste”.

The ad was uploaded onto the company’s Facebook page, setting off protests.

Abe Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League in New York, and himself a Holocaust survivor, said, “We are increasingly troubled by both the ignorance and mindset of a generation that appears to be so distant from a basic understanding of the Holocaust that it seems acceptable to use this horrific tragedy as a gimmick to bring attention to promoting losing weight.

“What do we have to do to educate and impart to current and future generations the perils of bigotry, racism, discrimination and anti-Semitism? If we do not convey the importance of eliminating these ills, society is doomed to relive the horrors of the Holocaust,” added Foxman (who is a longtime subscriber to this email list).



Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar confirmed last week that there is no longer any Israeli occupation of Gaza, according to the leading Palestinian news agency, Ma’an.

Zahar was asked whether Hamas was planning to organize anti-Israel marches in Gaza to coincide with similar protests that the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority is due to hold in the West Bank.

“Against whom could we demonstrate in the Gaza Strip? When Gaza was occupied, that model was applicable,” Zahar said.

Zahar was confirming the obvious: that Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005. (Please see the photo essay “Exodus for Gaza”.)

Hamas runs its own police, courts, jails, schools, media and social services. It regulates business activities, banks and land registries. It levies taxes, controls its own borders and even imposes a dress code. Indeed it rules the territory with an iron fist.

If anyone occupies Gaza today, it is the Hamas regime. Yesterday, according to the Associated Press, a Hamas military court in Gaza sentenced another Palestinian to death.

Yet as commentator Hillel Neuer, an international lawyer who runs the Geneva-based group UN Watch, points out, the UN refuses to stop defining Gaza as “Israeli-occupied” despite a slew of international legal opinions to the contrary from leading experts such as Prof. Avi Bell.

For example, a report last September in the name of the UN secretary-general speaks of a UN mission’s visit to the “occupied Palestinian territory, specifically the Gaza Strip.”

Repeatedly last year, Richard Falk, the UN Human Rights Council’s permanent investigator on alleged Israeli violations, referred to the “occupied Gaza Strip.”

“There is a certain paradox in all of this,” notes Neuer. “Even as a key UN agency, UNESCO, recently recognized ‘Palestine’ – which includes Gaza – as a full and independent member of its organization, the UN continues to use the ‘occupied’ terminology.”

“And if the UN really wants to advance Palestinian self-rule and help Palestinians achieve sustainable independence,” adds Neuer (who is a subscriber to this email list), “it must help, rather than hinder, the Palestinians develop a healthy culture of self-rule. The world body must stop patronizing them with a legal fiction designed to sustain a permanent state of grievance and absolve them of any responsibility.”


Tom Gross adds: The international community also continues to give Palestinian Authority President and Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas a free pass for his encouragement of terrorism. Among recent examples, Abbas went out of his way to meet and embrace a convicted Palestinian terrorist in Turkey.

The female terrorist, Amna Muna, using a false persona, had chatted up a teenage Israeli boy over the internet and then lured him to a remote location where he was brutally butchered by her accomplices. Muna, a convicted murderer, was released from an Israeli prison in October as part of the deal to free Gilad Shalit and now lives in Turkey.



Iran’s cyber-police have issued new guidelines for Internet cafes in a further attempt to suppress free speech and ban news websites.

Under the new rules, the personal information of citizens visiting cybercafés, including their name, their parents’ names, national ID number, and telephone number, will be registered. Cafe owners will be required to keep the personal and contact information of their customers and a record of the websites and pages visited for a period of six months.

The new regulations also require cybercafé owners to install closed-circuit TV cameras and keep the video recordings of internet use. The cafes have 15 days to implement the new restrictions, or they will be closed down.

The guidelines have been put in place ahead of the March parliamentary elections.

The authorities are trying to prevent people reading external pro-democracy websites such as Radio Farda (which has regularly linked to these Middle East dispatches, and interviewed me on several occasions, such as this one.)


Another Iranian nuclear scientist was killed yesterday when an attacker riding a motorcycle magnetically attached a bomb to the side of his car. Interestingly, the BBC called the incident an act of “terror”, even though it almost never uses this phrase to describe women and children blown up by suicide bombers.


A Tehran court has sentenced to death a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 28, as a “corrupter on Earth” and for “waging war on God.” Hekmati says he was in the country to visit his elderly grandmother. The U.S. responded on Monday night to the news by urging the Iranian government to give Hekmati access to a lawyer and to release him in the meantime.



A very small minority splinter group within Israel’s ultra-orthodox community has recently been in the news for intimating women and exploiting the Holocaust to make their political points. They have been widely condemned not just by secular and orthodox Israelis but by other ultra-orthodox communities. In spite of this, papers hostile to Israel in the West have made great play of the issue to exaggerate it out of all proportion.

This “song and dance” is an imaginative response from secular and orthodox Jewish women in Beit Shemesh, the town where the controversial attempt at enforced gender segregation occurred.



The head of the Israeli army Benny Gantz said on Tuesday that he expects Syrian President Bashar Assad to lose power and that Israel is planning to absorb a large influx of refugees, including many Alawite Muslims, in the Golan Heights.

The population of the Golan Heights is over 50 percent Jewish with a large Druze minority. Neither group would like to be overwhelmed by a permanent presence of tens or hundreds of thousands of Alawites.

Assad and many of his supporters are Alawite.

“The day the Assad regime falls, this is expected to hurt the Alawite sect. We are getting ready to take in Alawite refugees in the Golan Heights,” Lt. Gen. Gantz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee.

The Assad regime has murdered at least 6,000 civilians in recent months. Earlier this week, Cyprus intercepted another military cargo from Iran bound for Syria. Iran (as well as Russia) has continued to provide weapons and training to help Assad crush pro-democracy protests.



… but says nothing about the “death to Israel” chants. (Many Arabs use the words “Israelis” and “Jews” to mean the same thing.)

Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of Tunisia’s Ennahda Islamic party condemned anti-Semitic slogans chanted on Monday by Islamists in Tunisia who had come to greet the visiting Hamas Prime Minister from Gaza.

Videos circulated online showed the crowd greeting Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh at the airport in Tunis last Thursday with chants of “Kill the Jews, slit their throats”.

Tunisia has one of the Arab world’s largest surviving Jewish minorities, numbering about 1,500 in an overall population of more than 10 million. Fifty years ago, over 100,000 Jews lived in Tunisia. Most have since fled to Israel, France and Canada.

According to the head of the Jewish community of Tunisia, Ghannouchi’s condemnation was only half-hearted and Tunisia’s remaining Jews remain very nervous.



Writing a staff editorial on Tuesday in Israel’s largest paper, Yediot Ahronot, Eldad Beck analyzes the state of German-Israel relations and claims that, “Under the influence of elements in the establishment that are hostile to Israel, a wide-ranging pro-Arab lobby and extreme left-wing Israelis, which have taken over the delicate network of bilateral relations, and due to diplomatic and economic constraints, Germany has allowed itself to neglect its ‘historic commitment to Israel’s existence and security’ and to crudely interfere in the conduct of its internal affairs.”

Beck adds that, “At a time when Israel needs, more than ever, a show of support for its right to exist, Germany is turning its back on it… Germany is stubbornly and determinedly working to disengage from Israel; after all, the Holocaust was 70 years ago.”

He notes that the appointment of a new Israeli ambassador to Berlin is due to be decided upon later this week and urges the appointment of “an ambassador who understands the mentality of denial and will speak frankly with the Germans.”



Today is the second anniversary of the devastating earthquake that killed so many in Haiti. 500,000 Haitians are still living in tents as a result of the earthquake. UN peacekeepers have also recently inadvertently introduced a cholera epidemic into the country. Israel is one of the only countries still offering follow-up aid and assistance.

Among previous dispatches on this, please see:

* And his name will be ‘Israel’: Mother of Haitian baby honors IDF rescuers (Jan. 18, 2010)

* Iran: “Israeli doctors stealing Haitian organs” (Jan. 24 2010)

[All notes above by Tom Gross]

John Gross on the silver screen

January 10, 2012

John Gross on BBC TV in 1964, aged in his late 20s

A friend of mine at the BBC kindly found and gave me three of my father's TV appearances, dating back to 1964, when he was still in his late 20s. I have posted them below. I found them interesting viewing in general, not only because they featured my father. (They have also been discussed by the editor of The New Criterion here.) In some of these, he languidly smokes on air, which was not unusual in those days.

A number of articles marking the first anniversary of John Gross’s death have also appeared in the media in recent days. You can read ones from The Spectator and Jewish Chronicle below, beneath the videos.


Featuring John Betjeman, John Gross, and others.

(Unfortunately the above video cuts off 20 minutes into this 36 minute program; and the left and right edges of the screen have been cut off – but it still makes interesting viewing.)



Featuring Anthony Burgess, John Gross, and others.



Featuring Antonia Fraser, John Gross, Salman Rushdie, John Mortimer and others.


The truest man of letters
By Geoffrey Wheatcroft
The Spectator
January 7, 2012

In 1969 an author in his early thirties published his first book. The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters won the Duff Cooper prize, delighted the reading public, introduced them to the name of John Gross, and marked the beginning of what would be an illustrious and fascinating literary career. It ended with his death on 10 January 2011, a great sorrow for the many people who loved and admired John.

A year ago, copious tributes were paid to this remarkable man, as writer, editor, critic, friend, which I wished I had joined in. He was the best-read man in the country, said Victoria Glendinning, or for Craig Brown, ‘the man who read everything’. His capacity for reading was indeed almost inhuman, and his memory frightening. One friend recalled casually asking him if they were any literary examples of a ‘disputed succession’ apart from Hamlet, to which John immediately suggested Wilkie Collins’s The Dead Secret, Ibsen’s The Pretenders and Trollope’s Is He Popenjoy?

No doubt I read at the time, but had forgotten until coming across it again, since I quite lack his total recall, something he wrote here in 1983, an entertaining review of a biography of Sir George Lewis, the famous and immensely influential Victorian solicitor whose clients included the Prince of Wales. In an aside, Gross gently wondered why the biographer hadn’t mentioned that Lewis ‘appears by name in Conan Doyle’s “The Illustrious Client” — a pretty broad clue to the client’s identity’. Yes, he had read everything, high and low.

Since his death, I’ve thought often about John, and reread him. The breadth of his reading and his memory made him the perfect anthologist, and he edited half a dozen Oxford Books of ..., from Aphorisms to Parodies. He also wrote three books of his own, and I wish he had written more. Shylock is a learned and highly original study of that singularly problematic character and his play, while A Double Thread is a beautiful short memoir of Gross’s London childhood, ‘double’ because both English and Jewish. But I now see that the defining point came with his brilliant first book.

Although he and Kingsley Amis were disparate personalities, to say the least, Gross would have shared Amis’s contempt for anything which ‘makes a statement’, and his disdain for the idea of ‘importance’. But I believe that The Rise and Fall is a truly important book. It wasn’t just an item on Gross’s list of publications, it was part of his own story, and it made a statement of its own: a repudiation of the attempted monopoly of literary criticism by ‘the university’ and the larger academic appropriation of our common culture.

Taking as his starting point the great age of the Edinburgh Review and its rivals two centuries ago, and ‘The Rise of the Reviewer’, it runs from the days when Carlyle could call the man of letters the true modern hero, through the flowering of weeklies (like this one) throughout the 19th century, until the later 20th century. Some writers — most academics — would have made a dull catalogue or phenomenology out of this, but every page of Gross’s book is enjoyable, and many are very amusing.

Some of his characters are still remembered, or just about, Frederic Harrison, John Morley, Frank Harris (though not for his distinguished editorship of the Saturday Review), some are forgotten. If anyone has now heard of William Magin it’s as the model for Captain Shandon in Pendennis, rather than the sorry scribbler who ended with a ‘reckless plunge downhill into gin-sodden obscurity’.

With his eye for detail, Gross notices that the first editors of a number of famous London periodicals, including The Spectator, were Scotsmen (plus ça change…). He brings to life faraway literary gangs, the Fraserians, ‘the Henley regatta’, the Squierachy. His humour is delightful, not least when he writes about ‘that most forlorn of creatures, an English Humorist’. A passage about James Payn mentions a line in his reminiscences saying that ‘there is less jealousy among literary men than in any other profession’, to which Gross adds in a footnote that this view ‘has not yet been confirmed by subsequent research’.

He scolds with light sarcasm — if Andrew Lang ‘had one consistent policy as a reviewer, it was to ridicule or disparage practically every truly important novel which came his way’ — and although he doesn’t glorify the past, there is a touch of awe when he observes that ‘all the Conservative prime ministers of the Victorian and Edwardian period were men of some literary or scholarly attainment’ (that has changed). The last Liberal cabinets, before the Great War, were even more impressive in terms of literary ability, although Gross pounces with glee on Augustine Birrell, writer as well as politician, insisting that ‘every author, be he grave or gay, should try to make his book as ingratiating as possible’.

That was the age of the Home Rule Bill and the suffragists, but also of something else: the coming of ‘Eng. Lit’. As Gross says, 200 years ago, and for much of the 19th century, ‘the idea of a university offering to teach “English” would have seemed ludicrous’. Anyone who suspects that it still is will find ammunition in Gross’s book. In the early days of the last century the first professors of English were ‘men of letters’ to a fault, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, George Saintsbury. But then comes the academic professionalisation and specialisation, with the dominant English department at Cambridge to the fore.

This leads to Gross’s brilliant dissection of F. R. Leavis, the heresiach of Cambridge English for nearly half a century from the 1920s. Few people under 30 will now even recognise the name — Martin Amis has written derisively that ‘When Leavis died, in 1978, his clerisy collapsed in a Jonestown of odium theologicum. It left nothing behind it’ — and you need to be well over 50 to remember the extraordinary thrall he once exerted. Far beyond his own university, ‘Leavisism’ spread its tentacles through other colleges and schools, and many of us can remember being taught in the sixth form by disciples and epigoni who tried to drum into their unfortunate charges all the dogmata, and the ‘canon’, from the anathematisation of Paradise Lost to the beatification of D.H. Lawrence.

Although Gross tries to recognise certain merits in Leavis, his account is devastating. He recoils from Leavis’s hectoring tone, with its ‘distortion, omission and strident overstatement’, and he picks up an immensely revealing phrase, where Leavis contemptuously dismisses newspapers and films and most of contemporary society as ‘the whole world outside the classroom’. As Gross said, ‘the whole world?’ So it seems, and a classroom where only one subject is taught, ‘and there is only one real teacher’. He drily demurs from any idea that he is ‘trying to bracket Leavis’s followers with the Christadelphians or the Elim Four-square Gospel Church’,at which point I find that I have pencilled in the margin long ago, ‘Why not?’

In 1991, Gross wrote a new Afterword for a Penguin edition. He sighs over the coming of ‘literary theory’, the reduction to absurdity of ‘English studies’, as well as ‘the shift in criticism from “literature” to “university”’. And he returns to Leavis, reminding younger readers how powerful his influence had once been, and explaining why sharp strictures had been needed against a man who had attempted, as no one had before him, ‘to pronounce a death sentence on the entire man-of-letters tradition’, and attempted also ‘to police literary studies and impose one man’s will on them’.

And then I realised that not only this book but John Gross’s life had been a practical repudiation of ‘the classroom’, and a defence of the real world. A brilliantly precocious schoolboy and Oxford undergraduate, Gross spent a couple of years in publishing before becoming an Eng. Lit. don, in London and then as a Fellow of King’s. But he left Cambridge in 1965 after only three years, to write, and to earn his living in journalism. Without quite saying so, he seems to have tired early of teaching, or at least teaching English, or maybe recognised the limitations of this supposed discipline. After all, you can teach people to think but you can’t teach them to feel; or as Gross says: ‘How do you organise the wholesale teaching of imaginative literature without putting the bird in the cage? How do you construct a syllabus out of the heart’s affections, or award marks for wit and sensitivity?’

His own example showed that there was life after Cambridge: not Leavis’s ‘felt life’ but real life. In the course of that eventful career, Gross was briefly (and unhappily) literary editor of the New Statesman, then a very successful editor of the TLS for seven years, and then literary editor of The Spectator, though that time so briefly, a matter of days in 1983, that he is said to have commissioned just one review before he left for the New York Times. Returning to London, he was for years an excellent theatre critic of the Sunday Telegraph.

At his death, friends recalled not only John’s erudition but his charm and wit. Like much about him they were elusive, but he could be very funny. Some years ago, he was bidden to a colloquy at an Italian villa in the company of supposedly like-minded writers and savants, by a hostess who hoped that they would discuss the Future of Culture or whatnot. John told me later that this event might have been called ‘I’m a literary intellectual — get me out of here’.

He was, I suppose, a literary intellectual, but what he really was — what else can you call him? — was a man of letters: if not the last, then one of the best. I miss him.



Farewell to 2011, a year of farewells
By Gerald Jacobs
The Jewish Chronicle
December 29, 2011

It’s that time again, the candle-maker’s moment, when rival faiths strike festive lights to ward off winter. When an assemblage of “old” dates in the diary gives way to a fresh “new year”. A secular, inverted Yom Kippur, a stocktaking accompanied by feasting instead of fasting, replenishing rather than repentance.

On this occasion, though, for me it carries some weight. Two holes were blown into my life at opposite ends of 2011 when two men - one a decade senior to me, the other a generation older - handed in their life membership.

I hadn’t known John Gross, who died in January, for more than a few years, though I had of course known of him - who could not, in my business? He was one of the great judges of literature and culture of our age, an exemplar of an endangered species: the “man of letters”. And the fact that we became close friends in a relatively short time is principally a reflection of John’s character. For just about any friend of his would feel a closeness, emanating from the sheer good humour of a man whose astonishing erudition was of a rare, inclusive kind.

John Gross wore his learning lighter than anybody I have met. You could come away from an engaging dinner with him knowing much more than you ever did about some author or actress, poet, politician, editor, or even waiter. And John would make you feel that you had somehow contributed equally to the conversation.

Unfailingly entertaining, witty and full of gossip, he was completely without malice. Nor did I ever see a trace of resentment when lesser lights than he bathed in brighter beams of limelight.

Attendant to - and attended by - art and knowledge to the end, he told his doctors a little of the history of their own hospital where he lay dying and where almost the last words he heard were those of his daughter Susanna reading a Shakespeare sonnet to him. Perceptive, kind and wise, John Gross has left a sadly empty place at the restaurant tables where we once dined.

A still more significant loss occurred last month, with the death of my father, Harry Jacobs. By contrast with John Gross, who seemed to have read almost every published book of worth (and the odd worthless one), the extent of my father’s lifetime book-reading could be calculated on one hand with a couple of fingers to spare. His interests lay in pictures rather than words, interests that he successfully put to professional use but not before he’d exhausted a procession of other occupations after leaving school at 14. Then, in the early 1960s, he tried his hand at photography, beginning by knocking on doors in south London.

A good camera was then a luxury. My father would offer young mothers low-cost portraits of their children but, having returned with the developed photos, he’d typically receive a thanks-but-no-thanks response. However, his sales technique owed much to King Solomon. He would face the mum’s rebuff with a shrug, hold up her darling’s photo and go to tear it in half. This almost invariably prompted a quick change of heart. On such emotive foundations did he build a business that saw him become the unofficial photographer to the growing West Indian community of Brixton. His legendary studio felt at times as if bathed in Caribbean sunshine.

Eventually, Harry Jacobs became a snapper to be reckoned with. A solo exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery in Covent Garden was followed by a rash of media attention, a place in various archives and events such as Black History Month and, most notably, the inclusion of his work in the Tate Gallery’s major How We Are show in 2007, with a couple of his images gracing the brochure. He spent his last few months in residential care, often cantankerous and confused but, memorably, pleasant and content in our final family visits to him.

Neither John Gross nor Harry Jacobs had much time for rabbis or synagogues but both fitted firmly on the spectrum of Jewishness. Both grew up in London’s East End, one a doctor’s son, the other the child of a cobbler. One embodied the spirit of learning, the other that of imaginative graft. And now the year that saw their departure is itself departing.

Sometimes these turning points are useful. Happy new year.


Other tributes can be found here:

* A wonderful father (Jan. 12, 2011)
* “The Gentleman of Letters” (Jan. 16, 2011)
* “The Pleasure of His Company” (Jan. 23, 2011)
* “The plays of Shakespeare, the novels of Tolstoy and the teeming streets of Dickens” (Jan. 28, 2011)
* “Remembering John Gross: friendship flooded the RIBA” (March 25, 2011)
* John Gross’s friends remember him in London and New York (Jan. 10, 2012)

Videos: John Gross’s friends remember him in London and New York

Today is the first anniversary of the death of my father, John Gross (above in 2009). Several of his American friends (who couldn’t make it to London for his memorial meeting) have asked to see clips of it. And a number of my father’s British friends have asked to see a recording of the smaller gathering held for him in New York.

In some of these clips (below) the sound quality is rather poor, and the camera a little shaky. The recordings were made in a discreet way because we didn’t want to interfere with the service. I recommend turning up the volume to listen to them more easily.



Actor Barry Humphries is bemused by Stevie Smith’s On The Death of a German Philosopher. Following Humphries’ remarks, the next part of John Gross’s memorial service (contained in this video clip) was the singing by Ira Pilgrim in Yiddish of Der Rebbe Elimelech.



Novelist Martin Amis pays a warm tribute to his friend and former editor. “Everything I write,” says Amis, “I send by John’s desk. I still do, and I always will.”



Publisher George Weidenfeld speaks of his affection for John Gross. (You can read a transcript of Lord Weidenfeld’s remarks if you scroll down to item 4 here.)



Following David Pryce-Jones’s remarks, the next part of the memorial service (contained in this video) was the singing of The Keel Row by Kathleen Ferrier. (You can read a transcript of Pryce-Jones’s remarks if you scroll down to item 6 here.)



Robert Lloyd introduces a recording of himself singing Fruehlingstraum from Die Winterreise by Franz Schubert, with Julius Drake on piano.



BBC Television producer and documentary filmmaker Eddie Mirzoeff reads Tears, Idle Tears by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. (Mirzoeff was standing in for the actor Jonathan Cecil, who was unwell.)



Sir Christopher Ricks, the British literary critic and Professor of the Humanities at Boston University, reads Provide, Provide by Robert Frost.



Following the reading of the poem, the next part of the service (contained in this clip) was the singing by John McCormack of Oft In the Stilly Night.





After Claire Tomalin’s reading, a recording of What Is This Thing Called Love written by Cole Porter and sung by Ella Fitzgerald, is played.



John Gross’s daughter Susanna reads Wants.



Prior to the reading, Shenandoah, sung by Paul Robeson, is played. Victoria Glendinning’s reading of Algernon Charles Swinburne’s The Garden of Prosperine comprised four of the last five stanzas. The rendition of the poem starts at 3 minutes into this video.


A memorial plaque for John Gross, and a memorial boulder under which he is buried



Forty of John Gross’s fellow writers and friends in New York, who couldn’t make it to the London memorial meeting, gather in the Manhattan apartment of Jean Crocker to remember him. This video includes a tribute from John Gross’s former editor at The New York Times, Jack Schwartz. John’s son Tom re-reads his remarks from the funeral in London the month before.



Among those paying tribute are writer and critic Jay Nordlinger: “There was something medicinal about being with John. He made you feel better. There was a consoling quality. He made the world lighter. The time with him just flew by. You left him with a spring in your step.”

Writer Norman Podhoretz says “John was one of the most marvelous men I have ever had the privilege to know. We shall not see his like again and are all diminished considerably by his loss.”

John’s closest American friend Judith Goldman, Rachel Klein who first knew John Gross as a teenager, and various other friends also speak, followed by a toast in his memory by John’s American-based first cousin, Anne Lowy.


Other tributes can be found here:

* A wonderful father (Jan. 12, 2011)
* “The Gentleman of Letters” (Jan. 16, 2011)
* “The Pleasure of His Company” (Jan. 23, 2011)
* “The plays of Shakespeare, the novels of Tolstoy and the teeming streets of Dickens” (Jan. 28, 2011)
* “Remembering John Gross: friendship flooded the RIBA” (March 25, 2011)
* John Gross on the silver screen (Jan. 10, 2012)

“If you want a good laugh, read the holiday card sent out by the Saudi Ambassador”

January 03, 2012

* Ilan Grapel: “Consider what it’s like to spend nearly 150 days (3,600 hours) alone in a 10-by-10 room with a bed and chair, a small barred window and no idea what would come next. As my detention and recent events and repressions in Egypt make clear, the revolution brought only superficial change. The junta’s focus on external actors represents a desperate attempt to avoid culpability and abdication of power. To those who wrongly held me, I say simply, I forgive you.”

* David Keyes: “Christmas greetings from a Saudi ambassador whose government prohibits Christians from worshiping publicly, building churches, wearing crosses or importing Bibles. Invoking the names of Mary and Jesus while representing a government that this year beheaded Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar and Abdul Hamid Al Fakki for ‘witchcraft.’ Had Jesus been born in Saudi Arabia today, he’d likely be imprisoned, flogged or beheaded.”

* Jonathan Tobin: “The notion that the Arab League was going to stand up for human rights in Syria was always somewhat farcical. This is, after all, a group that has numbered among its members some of the worst tyrants in the world and which has supported terrorist groups so long as their targets were Jews and not Arab oligarchs.”

Ilan Grapel with his mother, who flew into Israel to meet him upon his release from an Egyptian jail

(You can comment on this dispatch here: You first have to press “Like” on that page.)



1. Israel angered after Abbas appoints freed terrorist to advisory role
2. “In Egypt, jailed but not broken” (By Ilan Grapel, Washington Post, Jan. 2, 2012)
3. “Merry Christmas from Saudi Arabia” (By David Keyes, Wall St. Journal, Dec. 28, 2011)
4. “AP sources: U.S. to sell F-15s to Saudi Arabia” (Associated Press, Jan. 2, 2012)
5. “Not a Parody: Head of Arab League monitors in Syria led Darfur genocide” (By Jonathan Tobin, Commentary, Dec. 28, 2011)
6. “How does Israeli TV translate to U.S. audiences? Very well” (Los Angeles Times, Jan. 2, 2012)

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach five articles on a variety of topics.

The first piece, from yesterday’s Washington Post, is by Ilan Grapel, the young U.S.-Israeli citizen and law student at Emory University who was falsely accused of being a spy, handcuffed, blindfolded and held in an Egyptian jail from June to late October last year, before Israel paid a ransom to secure his release. In the piece, Grapel reveals himself to be an idealistic, some would say naive, young man.

In the second article, David Keyes (a subscriber to this list) reports on the hypocrisy of the Saudi embassy in Washington invoking Jesus and Mary in their holiday greeting cards

In the third article, the Associated Press reveals that the Obama administration is poised to announce the sale of nearly $30 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia. Officials say the deal will send 84 new fighter jets to Saudi Arabia and upgrades for 70 more jets. In addition Obama will sell the Saudis a broad array of missiles, bombs and delivery systems, as well as radar warning systems.

All this seems highly risky to me given the fact that the so-called Arab Spring could reach Saudi Arabia at any time and these weapons may then fall into the hands of a radical revolutionary government.

In the fourth piece, Jonathan Tobin highlights the fact that the international community has expressed faith in an Arab League delegation to Syria which is led by one of the principal perpetrators of the genocide in Darfur.

The final (and lighter) article takes a look at how Israeli TV dramas and quizzes are being adapted into American versions and becoming hit shows in the U.S.

“Nearly half a dozen shows in development at U.S. networks are based on hit Israeli series, their themes and language tweaked for American audiences,” reports The Los Angeles Times.

-- Tom Gross


Incidentally, regarding my previous dispatch (Britain’s biggest bookseller promotes Mein Kampf for Christmas), Alan Dershowitz (who is a subscriber to this list) writes to remind me that another British bookstore, Blackwell’s in Oxford, refused to stock his book “The Case for Israel” when it was published, claiming that “There is no case for Israel”.



Israelis, including many on the left, have reacted with dismay after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (routinely and wrongly described as a “moderate” in the Western media) appointed a convicted terrorist released in the prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit, to an advisory role in his government.

Mahmoud Damara, who was found guilty of murder for his involvement in attacks which killed Israeli and American citizens, was designated as a special advisor by Abbas.



In Egypt, jailed but not broken
By Ilan Grapel
Washington Post (op-ed page)
Jan. 2, 2012

Five months in an Egyptian jail gives a person a lot of time to think. When you are not pacing or trying to catch an hour of afternoon sun through the barred window, there are thoughts of home, family, the freedoms Westerners take for granted, what exactly got you into the mess and even why you came to the country that locked you up. Two months after my release, as I watch news of the Egyptian military’s violent suppression of protests and raids on nongovernmental organizations, I still think of my first hours of arrest, when I was handcuffed and blindfolded.

When I went to Egypt to spend the summer working at a nongovernmental organization that provides legal assistance to asylum seekers from Sudan and Iraq, I was no stranger to the Middle East. I had studied Arabic in Cairo and spent more than two years in the Israel Defense Forces. I hoped that my summer would prove that my Zionist ideals could coexist with support for the right of human migration and sanctuary. I also hoped to convince the Arabs I met that my Zionism did not have to be antithetical to their interests and that we could work together for peace.

But in post-revolutionary Egypt, my attempts to educate and interact with the local population led to my arrest, to solitary confinement and eventually to the threat of five simultaneous life imprisonments for “espionage” and “incitement.”

On previous visits, the friendships I developed overpowered the omnipresent anti-Israel propaganda of the Arab world. Some former adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood actually wished me luck when I left to do reserve duty in Israel. Most Egyptians I met and chatted with over coffee ended our conversations by admitting to holding misconceptions about Israelis. This reinforced my hopes for common ground.

So during the summer I emphasized my Israeli background, even when I entered Egypt as an American. I identified as a Zionist Israeli to all of my Egyptian friends, taught them Hebrew and showed them Israeli movies. In return, I received lessons in Arabic, Islam and Egyptian culture.

Some who do not know me considered my actions peculiar or harmful. But that condemnation only underscores a particular abyss into which the Middle East conflict has descended since once-influential Zionists and Egyptians considered cooperation to be beneficial, as did the early Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann and Dawood Barakat, the former editor of the Egyptian daily al-Ahram.

On June 12, two dozen state security officials barged into my hostel room, handcuffed and blindfolded me, and transported me to their general prosecutor.

People ask, “Were you scared?” I was terrified and confused. Over time I also became angry and lonely. The initial 14 days were the “best” part of my imprisonment because there was at least human interaction. The prosecutor and I bantered about politics, religion and the Middle East conflict. The conversations were jovial, mostly innocuous, save for some random accusations: “Security reports inform us that you were smuggling weapons from Libyan revolutionaries into Egypt,” or my favorite – but perhaps irrelevant – charge: “Ilan, you used your seductive powers to recruit Egyptian women and that is a crime.”

After these first two weeks, the interrogations ended, but my detention continued. Thus began my solitary confinement, which became the true ordeal – near-complete isolation, interrupted just twice a month by consular visits that lasted only 40 minutes. But thanks to the work of so many U.S. and Israeli government officials, I was not lost in the system. My parents and U.S. officials got me books, which I read slowly because I did not know whether I would get more or how long I would be jailed.

People ask, “Were you tortured?” I was not beaten – but consider what it’s like to spend nearly 150 days (3,600 hours) alone in a 10-by-10 room with a bed and chair, a small barred window and no idea what would come next.

People ask, “So what do you think of Egypt and your mission now?” My answer is constantly evolving. As my detention and recent events and repressions in Egypt make clear, the revolution brought only superficial change. The junta’s focus on external actors represents a desperate attempt to avoid culpability and abdication of power.

Hosni Mubarak’s notorious state security forces still arbitrarily arrest Egyptians without real charges or trials (as they did me), denying anything resembling due process. Prosecutors and judges go through the motions of court proceedings, but the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces really calls the shots.

Was my trip reckless or “wrong”? No. Despite the peril, the U.S. government sends Peace Corps volunteers to volatile regions because of the benefit of grass-roots diplomacy. Hasbara, the Hebrew term that refers to efforts to explain the Israeli viewpoint, has much to gain from such a strategy, given the pernicious myths about Israel and Jews prevalent in much of the Arab world.

My hasbara provided a viewpoint that changed the mentalities of former Muslim Brotherhood members, the prosecutor and my guards, whose last words were “Shalom, we hope you forgive us.” Israelis and Arabs can continue to maintain the status quo of mutual avoidance or they can dare to coexist. To those who wrongly held me, I say simply, I forgive you.



Merry Christmas From Saudi Arabia
Holiday greetings from a regime that prohibits Christians from worshipping publicly or wearing crosses.
By David Keyes
The Wall Street Journal
December 28, 2011

If you want a good laugh, read the holiday card sent out by Saudi Ambassador to the United States and public relations genius Adel al-Jubeir. Citing a Quranic verse, he writes “Behold, the angels said: ‘O Mary, God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to God.’“

Christmas greetings from an ambassador whose government prohibits Christians from worshiping publicly, building churches, wearing crosses or importing Bibles. Invoking the names of Mary and Jesus while representing a government that this year beheaded Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar and Abdul Hamid Al Fakki for “witchcraft.”

Saudi Arabia has perfected the art of cognitive dissonance – or, in plain English, hypocrisy. For example, Saudi Education Minister Faisal bin Abdullah bin Mohammed recently spoke at the Saudi-U.S. Business Opportunities Forum in Atlanta. The Saudi Embassy reported that “Prince Faisal characterized the educational system in the Kingdom as a model for the Middle East and North Africa.”

God help us if that’s true. An eighth-grade textbook currently published by the Saudi Education Ministry declares “The Apes are the people of the Sabbath, the Jews; and the Swine are the infidels of the communion of Jesus, the Christians.” A ninth-grade textbook echoes “The Jews and the Christians are enemies of the believers, and they cannot approve of Muslims.” Six million schoolchildren are indoctrinated with this every year in Saudi Arabia.

Had Jesus been born in Saudi Arabia today, he’d likely be imprisoned, flogged or beheaded.



AP sources: US to sell F-15s to Saudi Arabia
By Lolita Baldor and Matthew Lee
Associated Press
January 2, 2012

WASHINGTON – U.S. officials say the Obama administration is poised to announce the sale of nearly $30 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia.

Officials say the deal will send 84 new fighter jets and upgrades for 70 more, for a total of $29.4 billion.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the sale has not been made public.

About a year ago, the administration got the go-ahead from Congress for a 10-year, $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia that included F-15s, helicopters and a broad array of missiles, bombs and delivery systems, as well as radar warning systems and night-vision goggles.

The plan raised concerns particularly from pro-Israeli lawmakers, but U.S. officials reassured Congress that Israel’s military edge would not be undercut by the sale.



Not a Parody: Head of Arab League Monitors in Syria Led Darfur Genocide
By Jonathan Tobin
Commentary magazine website
December 28, 2011

The notion that the Arab League was going to stand up for human rights in Syria was always somewhat farcical. This is, after all, a group that has numbered among its members some of the worst tyrants in the world and which has supported terrorist groups so long as their targets were Jews and not Arab oligarchs. Nevertheless the world applauded when the League turned on Bashar Assad’s murderous Syrian regime and viewed its offer of placing monitors to ensure that the violence there ended. But in case anyone in the West is actually paying attention to the slaughter in Syria, the identity of the head of that peace mission ought to pour cold water on the idea that it will do much to help alleviate human rights abuses.

As David Kenner reports in Foreign Policy, the head of the mission is none other than Sudanese General Mohammad Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi. Al-Dabi just happens to be the man who created the murderous janjaweed militias that were the principal perpetrators in the Darfur genocide. So we should take his claims that the Assad government has so far been “very cooperative” and that all is going well in the country where thousands of have been slaughtered by the regime with a shovelful of South Sudanese salt.

His boss, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, for which al-Dabi also bears no small responsibility. He founded the janjaweed during his service as the regime’s head of military operations from 1996-1999. Since then he has served al-Bashir loyally in a number of different job, including some diplomatic postings.

The irony of sending a war criminal to try and stop the commission of war crimes is lost on the Arab League. It is also lost on Syria’s dissidents who continue to be killed and harassed by the government with the so-called monitors doing nothing.

President Obama has done his best to ignore the ongoing massacre of protesters in Syria and, like many others in the West, seems content to let the Arabs sort out the mess there without much fuss from the United States. But al-Dabi’s role in this farce should serve as a reminder that Assad is counting on a quiescent Arab world and its Iranian ally to survive. If he does, along with the new Egypt, Syria will be more proof that the Arab Spring’s promise of democracy has turned out to be a sad delusion.



How does Israeli TV translate to U.S. audiences? Very well
By Steven Zeitchik
Los Angeles Times
January 2, 2012

When the season finale of the Showtime thriller “Homeland” ran last month, it didn’t just cap Claire Danes’ triumphant return to series television – it marked the latest milestone for a small country that lately has become an improbable player in Hollywood.

“Homeland,” which broke Showtime’s ratings record for a first-year series finale, is adapted from the Israeli show “Hatufim” (Prisoners of War). It’s one of a host of U.S. programs that began life as a Hebrew-language series in this Mediterranean nation of only 8 million people. “Who’s Still Standing?,” the new NBC quiz program in which contestants answering incorrectly are dropped through a hole in the floor, is also an Israeli import. So is the former HBO scripted series “In Treatment,” which starred Gabriel Byrne and ran for three seasons.

And that’s just the beginning: Nearly half a dozen shows in development at U.S. networks – including the divorce sitcom “Life Isn’t Everything” (CBS), a time-travel musical dubbed “Danny Hollywood (the CW) and the border-town murder-mystery “Pillars of Smoke” (NBC) – are based on hit Israeli series, their themes and language tweaked for American audiences.

Unbeknown to most viewers, a small group of creators and industry types has built a pipeline between Israel and the Los Angeles entertainment world 9,000 miles away. Although many American Jews have a political relationship with Israel, the entertainment pipeline is a new development born of the maturation of the Israeli television industry – and has turned a nation known for politics into Hollywood’s hottest spawning ground.

“I know it can sound strange, but when you think about it, the two countries have a lot in common, whether it’s in social values or storytelling,” Gideon Raff, the creator of “Hatufim” and an executive producer on “Homeland,” said in a Tel Aviv cafe a few days before the “Homeland” finale aired in the U.S. “And Israelis as a people don’t really care that much about traditional rules, which fits a little with what’s going on in cable television in the U.S. right now.”

Israel isn’t the first place one might look for entertainment imports – in fact, in some ways it seems as if it would be one of the last places to look. There’s the political factor, with the country carrying a stigma as a hotbed of unrest. The Israeli television industry is also very different from Hollywood’s; it’s an informal place where everyone knows everyone else, budgets are microscopic (“if I ask for three helicopters, I might get a horse,” said Noah Stollman, the Israeli co-creator of “Pillars of Smoke”) and institutional memory is short. The industry was born only in 1993, after deregulation; before then, the lone state-run television station might broadcast reruns of “The A-Team” and “Three’s Company,” play the national anthem and simply go off the air at midnight.

But a seemingly unremarkable trip by Noa Tishby, an Israeli-American actress and producer, opened the floodgates. About seven years ago, Tishby, who makes her home in Los Angeles, traveled to Israel to visit family. When she arrived, she heard everyone buzzing about “Be’Tipul,” a series set in a therapist’s office. Tishby felt the series would tap into the U.S. market’s appetite for high-end drama and called Hagai Levy, the show’s creator.

So alien was the idea of a Hollywood sale that Levy at first thought Tishby was calling to angle for a role in “Be’Tipul.” “He couldn’t believe that it was something we thought we could sell,” she said.

After knocking on a lot of doors, Tishby and her partners sold the show to HBO, which put an American version on the air. Soon, creators and a small group of business people, aided by a coterie of Hollywood agents, was selling concepts from Israeli television series – known in the industry as “formats” – to U.S. networks and studios, following a path taken by far larger countries such as the Britain.

A key link in this chain was Avi Armoza. A longtime producer of Israeli television, Armoza about six years ago began packaging Israeli shows for the global market, first for Europe and Asia and, more recently, for the U.S. In his cramped but well-kept office above a health club in downtown Tel Aviv sit shelves of DVDs offering an unlikely window into English-language airwaves.

There’s “The Bubble,” a show about contestants cut off from the news that aired on the BBC; “The Frame,” a reality show about a couple confined to a small space scheduled to air stateside on the CW; and “The Naked Truth,” a “Rashomon”-style procedural in development at HBO. The current crown jewel, “Who’s Still Standing?,” which has pulled in respectable ratings on NBC since premiering in December, is featured on several posters lining the walls.

“I think what happened in Israel is that we were producing so much but realized this market is so small. So we started to look elsewhere,” Armoza said.

Israelis have long been obsessed with American television, which in recent years has led to some unexpected consequences. “We all grew up watching American television,” said “Pillars of Smoke’s” Stollman, whose show has been compared to “Twin Peaks.” “And I think what a lot of us did was reflect that back, maybe through a slightly off-kilter lens.”

It’s one of several theories cited to explain the surging popularity of Israeli shows in Hollywood. Some others: Israeli television’s gallows humor fits with post-9/11 American anxiety; Israelis are preoccupied by some of the same subjects as American network executives (“the country has more psychologists per capita than anywhere else in the world, and that leads to psychologically complex stories,” said David Nevins, Showtime’s president of entertainment); a U.S. business that has grown restless with traditional sources; Israeli shows are relatively cheap; and Israeli TV’s small budgets birth creative storytelling.

“When you don’t have a lot of money, you find more interesting and clever ways to write a script,” said Daniel Lappin, the creator of “Life Isn’t Everything,” a sitcom about a divorced couple that can’t get out of each other’s lives that ran for nine seasons in Israel. Lappin – who like Raff and Stollman, also spent some of his formative years in the U.S. – is working with “Friends” writer Mike Sikowitz on the CBS version of “Life.”

American executives, who for years looked to more established territories for imports, say they’ve felt a certain kinship with Middle East creators.

“God bless those Israelis,” said NBC entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt, whose network has “Still Standing” and “Pillars of Smoke.” “They’ve somehow done a great job of finding things that translate well.”

Those who work on the Israeli shows say politics is not an issue, despite the country finding itself in the headlines frequently over any number of charged issues. “I went to Turkey recently to work on a local adaptation of an Israeli show,” said Armoza. “And when we’re in there, it’s not about politics or prejudice. It’s just 200 people in a studio trying to make good entertainment.”

Cultural differences between the Middle East and Hollywood, though, are another matter.

When 20th Century Fox Television was developing “Traffic Light,” based on the Israeli slacker comedy “Ramzor,” they insisted on changing a key element, according to Keren Shachar, an executive with the Israeli broadcaster Keshet, which developed and sold the show.

“In the Israeli version, the main character was a real loser, but [the Hollywood executives] said we can’t have a loser as a main character in prime time,” she said. The show was pulled after barely a dozen episodes in the U.S., prompting Shachar to add, “Would the show have been a hit if we kept the character a loser? I think it would have.’“

As with any bubble, though, rapid growth can be dangerous. Already, the creative atmosphere in Israel may be threatened by visions of American money. “I hear executives talk about development in a different way now,” said Raff. “I even hear writers saying it. People will say, ‘Yes, it’s good. But can it sell to the States?’”