Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

Into the light (but only for a few)

April 19, 2012

Israel comes to a standstill this morning.
Sirens blare as people bow their heads in memory of six million Holocaust victims, marking two minutes silence

 


From the film, In Darkness: Poldek Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz)
leads Jews through the caverns of the stinking sewers to find them a safe haven

 

INTO THE LIGHT (BUT ONLY FOR A FEW)

By Tom Gross

Today is Yom HaShoah – Israel’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. I am not sending a full dispatch with articles on the subject, as I have done in some previous years, because of time restrictions. (Iran marked Holocaust Remembrance Day today by publishing a new set of cartoons mocking Jews and denying the Holocaust took place.)

But I did want to draw attention to a new Polish film, “In Darkness”. Although it was nominated for an Oscar this year (for best foreign film) and has won a number of awards in various European countries and in North America, I feel “In Darkness” still hasn’t received the kind of publicity and recommendations it deserves.

This is perhaps because of its complexity – the characters in the film speak in six different languages (Polish, German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Ukrainian and Russian) and one local Polish dialect (Balak).

Or, as one film reviewer put it, how could any film drama about the Holocaust add anything to what we saw in Schindler’s List and The Pianist?

Yet although Schindler’s List and The Pianist are masterpieces, in my opinion “In Darkness” is in several ways even better.

It is all the more powerful because Polish director Agnieszka Holland doesn’t show the terrified Jews or their savior as particularly attractive characters. (Who would be at their best living in a sewer awaiting death at any moment?)

It also has none of the feel-good elements that Steven Spielberg introduced into Schindler’s List to make it a more palatable film for a mass audience.

“IN THE SEWERS OF LVOV”

“In Darkness” is based on a book – Robert Marshall’s “In the sewers of Lvov”. (I mentioned the book last year in an article for The Guardian, which can be read here.)

It is a harrowing, true-life account of the only group of Jews to stay alive for any length of time in the sewers of Nazi-occupied Europe. Ten Jews, including two children and a pregnant woman, managed to survive for 14 months by living among the feces, rats and darkness of the city’s sewers. (The Nazis used dogs and grenades to flush out the other 500 Jews who tried to hide there, killing them all. The pregnant woman’s baby, born in the sewer, was killed by her mother to stop the newborn’s cries revealing the hiding place of the group.)

This group survived with help from Leopold Socha, a former Polish criminal who, on release from prison, became a sewer worker and, using his extensive knowledge of the underground network of sewers in Lvov – and despite the fact he was, as the film shows, an anti-Semite – risked his life and that of his family, to save a few Jews by bringing them food and fending off the local Ukrainian militia hunting Jews on behalf of the Nazis. Socha was shunned after the war by his fellow Poles for having saved these Jews.

(Lvov, also known as Lwow or Lemberg, was a city in Poland – it had the third largest Jewish population in Poland – which following the postwar expulsion of the Poles is now in Ukraine and called Lviv. In 1941 about 200,000 Jews resided there but four years later, only 300 were still alive. Another 220,000 Jews from the area around Lvov were also murdered. Krystyna Chiger, one of the two children among Socha’s ten Jews who survived, has also written a memoir about the experience called “The Girl in the Green Sweater”.)

UNDERSTATED

Of course no film can possibly begin to show the full horrors of the Holocaust – for example, the horrific torture dressed up as medical “experimentation” on prisoners (including children) without anesthesia, in Ravensbrück, Dachau, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, Natzweiler, Baranowicze and elsewhere ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_human_experimentation ).

Yet “In Darkness” is nonetheless a remarkable film. Don’t be put off by the somewhat slow first half hour. The director is skillfully drawing viewers in, in an understated way that makes the rest of the film all the more powerful. And for those that dislike onscreen violence, we are not actually shown much. It is a film that is harrowing but watchable – and deserves to be seen by the widest audience, even by those who feel they have read or seen enough about the Holocaust.

It is still showing in a number of movie theaters in the U.S, and elsewhere, and is better seen on the big screen. This is the current theater schedule in the U.S.: www.sonyclassics.com/indarkness/dates.html

But if you have missed it, I strongly recommend buying or renting the DVD or downloading it. (In Poland more than one million cinema viewers watched “In Darkness” within a month of its release, more than any other film in Polish history.) Sony in the U.S. has announced that they will be releasing “In Darkness” on Blu-ray on June 12. I don’t know about other countries and other formats.

-- Tom Gross

 

You can comment on the above dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please first press “Like” on that page.

Among previous dispatches on the Holocaust, please watch this film.

 

A screenshot from “In Darkness”


The myth of Jeningrad, ten years on

April 17, 2012

* Jenin: “The misrepresentations and outright fabrications have never been properly addressed in the ten ensuing years, as though the editors at leading European news outlets believe nothing more than some hasty reporting and bad sourcing happened.”

Passover 2002: 31 Israelis dead (including Auschwitz survivors), 140 injured. After dozens of suicide bombs, many from Jenin, Israel finally launched an operation a few days later to arrest the bombmakers


“ISRAELI SOLDIERS STRIPPED HIM TO HIS UNDERWEAR, PUSHED HIM AGAINST A WALL AND SHOT HIM”

[Note by Tom Gross]

Ten years ago, in April 2002, Israel was subjected to the most incredible wave of media misreporting and nastiness I have ever witnessed on any subject. This followed a supposed massacre of hundreds (or thousands, according to some initial CNN reports) of Palestinian civilians in Jenin. In fact at most 14 Palestinian civilians died (together with 23 Israeli soldiers). This was far fewer than the hundreds of Israeli civilians killed in Israeli towns by suicide bombers dispatched from Jenin, a wave of attacks that Israel was trying to prevent from continuing.

I attach two articles below. The first concentrates on The Guardian’s coverage and is by a British university student who (fearing for his reputation with other students and professors) uses the pseudonym “Myrrh”.

The second article is my own analysis of the Jenin massacre myth, originally published ten years ago, which I titled “Jeningrad” after British journalists took seriously Yasser Arafat’s claim that the “massacre” of Palestinians in Jenin could only be compared to the World War Two Nazi sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad. (800,000 Russians died during the 900-day siege of Leningrad; 1.3 million died in Stalingrad.)

As I noted in my piece, the British media was particularly emotive in its reporting. In April 2002, they devoted page upon page, day after day, to tales of mass murders, common graves, summary executions, and war crimes. Israel was invariably compared to the Nazis, to al Qaeda, and to the Taliban. One report even compared the thousands of supposedly missing Palestinians to the “disappeared” of Argentina. (No Palestinians were in fact missing.) A leading columnist for the Evening Standard, London’s main evening newspaper, compared Israel’s actions to “genocide.”

“THE KILLING FIELDS”

By contrast on the very same days, American reporters in Jenin – unlike their British counterparts – reported accurately. Molly Moore of The Washington Post wrote there was “no evidence to support allegations by aid organizations of large-scale massacres or executions.” Newsday’s reporter in Jenin, Edward Gargan, wrote: “There is little evidence to suggest that Israeli troops conducted a massacre of the dimensions alleged by Palestinian officials.”

The Boston Globe correspondent reported that after extensive interviews with “civilians and fighters” in Jenin “none reported seeing large numbers of civilians killed.” On the other hand, referring to the deaths of Israeli soldiers in Jenin, Abdel Rahman Sa’adi, an “Islamic Jihad grenade-thrower,” told The Boston Globe “This was a massacre of the Jews, not of us.”

By contrast the Jerusalem correspondent for the (London) Independent, Phil Reeves, began his report from Jenin: “A monstrous war crime that Israel has tried to cover up for a fortnight has finally been exposed.” He continued: “The sweet and ghastly reek of rotting human bodies is everywhere, evidence that it is a human tomb. The people say there are hundreds of corpses, entombed beneath the dust.”

Reeves spoke of “killing fields,” an image more usually associated with Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

Even the right-wing Daily Telegraph ran headlines such as “Hundreds of victims ‘were buried by bulldozer in mass grave’” and utterly fabricated accounts such as “Israeli soldiers had stripped him [the Palestinian] to his underwear, pushed him against a wall and shot him.”

Only one British paper, the Rupert Murdoch-owned daily tabloid The Sun, castigated the rest of the British media for their lies.

(My full article about the British media coverage of Jenin is below. Before that is the article from Harry’s Place that deals specifically with The Guardian’s coverage of Jenin.)

-- Tom Gross

 

* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please first press “Like” on that page.

* Update, April 20, 2012: Thank you to all the people who have recommended this dispatch, for example, Marcus Sheff in his column in today’s Jerusalem Post, or here in Jewish Ideas Daily.


TEN YEARS ON, NOTHING LEARNED

Ten Years Since Something That Never Happened: A Learning Moment for the Guardian
By “Myrrh”
Harry’s Place
April 14, 2012

[Myrrh writes: I submitted this to the Guardian as a commentary piece on April 4. On April 12 they confirmed that they will not be running it. Both Brian Whitaker, former Middle East Editor current “[Guardian website] Comment is Free” editor, and Harriet Sherwood, currently the Jerusalem correspondent, have informed me that there are no plans to revisit the Jenin issue or the Guardian’s coverage of it ten years ago. The readers’ editor also wrote me that he has no plan on revisiting the issue.]

For two full weeks in April of 2002, the Guardian ran wild with lurid tales of an Israeli massacre in the Palestinian city of Jenin on the West Bank – a massacre that never happened. The misrepresentations and outright fabrications have never been properly addressed in the ten ensuing years, as though the Guardian’s editors believe nothing more than some hasty reporting and bad sourcing happened. But the reportorial failings were far too systematic to be so dismissed, and until the Guardian conducts a thorough investigation of its own errors and publishes a detailed account to its readers, its integrity on Israel-Palestine will continue to be called into question.

First the facts: On the heels of a thirty-day Palestinian suicide bombing campaign in Israeli cities which included thirteen deadly attacks (imagine thirteen 7/7’s [or 9/11’s] in one month), Israel embarked on a military offensive in the West Bank. The fiercest fighting in this offensive occurred in the refugee camp just outside the West Bank town of Jenin, the launching point for 30 Palestinian suicide bombers in the year and half previous (seven were caught before they could blow themselves up; the other 23 succeeded in carrying out their attacks). In this battle, which lasted less than a week, 23 Israeli soldiers were killed as well as 52 Palestinians, of whom at most 14 were civilians (there is some marginal dispute about that last figure).

There was nothing extraordinary in this battle or in these numbers. Looking back, what is extraordinary is that Ariel Sharon’s Israel sat through 18 months of Palestinian suicide terror before embarking on even this military offensive. [Then Guardian comment editor] Seamus Milne assured readers on April 10 of the ‘futility’ of this military response, though with the benefit of hindsight we can clearly see this battle as the turning point in the struggle to end suicide terror on Israel’s streets. Milne referred to ‘hundreds’ killed, ‘evidence of atrocities,’ and ‘state terror.’ Not to be outdone, [Guardian Jerusalem correspondent at the time] Suzanne Goldenberg reported from Jenin’s ‘lunar landscape’ of ‘a silent wasteland, permeated with the stench of rotting corpses and cordite.’ She found ‘convincing accounts’ of summary executions, though let’s be honest and concede that it’s not generally difficult to convince Goldenberg of Israeli villainy. In the next day’s report from Jenin, a frustrated Goldenberg reported that the morgue in Jenin had ‘just 16 bodies’ after ‘only two bodies [were] plucked from the wreckage.’ This didn’t cause her to doubt for a moment that there were hundreds more buried beneath or to hesitate in reporting from a Palestinian source that bodies may have been transported ‘to a special zone in Israel.’ [Senior Guardian correspondents] Brian Whitaker and Chris McGreal weighed in with their own equally tendentious and equally flawed reporting the following week.

Only on the tenth consecutive day of breathless Jenin Massacre reporting did Peter Beaumont report on detailed Israeli accounts refuting the massacre accusations, though predictably this was presented as part of an Israeli PR campaign rather than as conclusive proof. Two days later, Beaumont conceded that there hadn’t after all technically really actually been a massacre but then proceeded to repeat a handful of falsities as fact all over again. Without a doubt, though, the most memorable article the Guardian published on Jenin was its April 17 leader ‘The Battle for the Truth.’ The high dudgeon prose included the following sentences: ‘Jenin camp looks like the scene of a crime’; ‘Jenin smells like a crime’; ‘Jenin feels like a crime’; ‘Jenin already has that aura of infamy that attaches to a crime of especial notoriety’; and, unforgettably, the assertion that Israel’s actions in Jenin were ‘every bit as repellent’ as the 9/11 attacks in New York only seven months earlier.

No correction or retraction has ever been printed for this infamous editorial. On the contrary, though mounting evidence emerged that the whole massacre calumny was a fabrication (never adequately reported by the Guardian), twice over the following year this leader article was obliquely cited – once in condemning another Israeli action by comparing it to the ‘repellent demolition of lives and homes in Jenin’ and most outrageously under the headline ‘Israel still wanted for questioning.’ The latter headline ran on top of the only leader that mentioned the UN report clearing Israel of the massacre charge. Rather than humbly acknowledging their own role in the libelous crescendo of that spring, the editors reminded readers, ‘As we said last April, the destruction wrought in Jenin looked and smelled like a crime’ and assured them that this was still the case. Someone who gets all their information about the world from the Guardian, a sizable phylum in the common rooms of my present university, would have no idea just how much of a lie the Jenin massacre was.

In fact, as aerial shots later showed, the pictures of ostensibly widespread destruction in Jenin and its adjacent refugee camp were all of the same tiny area within the camp which had been the scene of a tactically brilliant ambush – on the part of the Palestinians. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed when a series of booby-trapped buildings collapsed on them. It was the IDF’s deadliest engagement of the month-long offensive, and the impetus for Suzanne Goldenberg’s appraisal (in a news article, not an opinion piece) that the battle of Jenin was ‘a fiasco for Israel, an immensely costly victory for the Palestinians’ on April 10, before the circular feeding frenzy about the phoney massacre began.

It was this incident that made many Israelis question the wisdom of endangering so many ground forces rather than just relying on air power. This would hardly be unprecedented. And we don’t need to look to the behaviour of countries that Israel would never want to be compared to. NATO fought two wars from the air – over Serbia in 1999 and Libya last year – with lopsided results. Very lopsided. Zero combat losses for NATO, roughly one thousand enemy combatants killed and slightly more than a thousand civilians as well. Both wars were hotly debated in this paper, but neither of them ‘smelled like a crime.’

FALLUJAH

But let’s not be unfair to the Guardian and compare its coverage of Jenin to those popular NATO wars against violent dictators. Let’s not even compare it to much bloodier conflicts in the past decade that gathered a lot less attention. And naturally, let’s not compare the way the Guardian covered the non-massacre in Jenin to the suicide attacks on Israeli civilians which prompted the military operation. No, I suggest making things as easy for the Guardian as possible, by comparing its coverage of Jenin to a remarkably similar pair of battles in the Iraqi city of Fallujah two years later in 2004. These battles were led by occupying western armies (US and UK) in a war that for the Guardian at least had none of the ambiguity of Kosovo or Libya. On the contrary, opposing the Iraq War was, second only to hating Israel, the great moral stand of the paper and its readership in the first decade of the 21st century.

In the two Fallujah battles, US-UK forces lost 126 men and killed nearly 1400 armed militants and about 900 civilians; in Jenin, recall, the respective numbers were 23 IDF killed, 38 Palestinian militants, and 14 civilians. Though both Fallujah battles were covered extensively and critically, and though the second one involved troops from the UK, and though it was in a war that this paper viewed dimly, the number of times the words ‘massacre’ or ‘war crime’ appeared in its coverage was exactly zero (of if you prefer numbers: 0). The only commonality in the Guardian’s coverage of the battle of Fallujah is that, as with Jenin two years earlier, no mention was made of Fallujah’s militants’ involvement in murderous attacks against British and American civilians at home. This is less an editorial decision though, and more likely because there were no such attacks.

Maybe Fallujah isn’t where we should be looking for a comparison. We could just go a few miles west of Jenin to Netanya, site of the Passover eve suicide bombing that sparked the Israeli military operation. How did the Guardian cover that massacre? Naturally, with detailed coverage of the victims and their families, and some understandably high-strung language on the frightening, almost ritualistic aspect of a mass murder of Jews as they sit to mark a festival of deliverance from bondage. Guardian reporters hit the pavement probing the feelings of Israelis and Jews worldwide in the face of this enormity and commentators made much of polling data showing that suicide attacks on Israeli civilians commanded large majorities of support in Arab and Muslim countries.

Of course I’m just kidding. None of that actually happened. There was not a single opinion piece about the Passover Massacre, no leader condemning it, and in fact, not even one news article by a Guardian writer dedicated to the story. The morning after the attack, the Guardian did lead with a story by correspondents Suzanne Goldenberg and Graham Usher about the bombing which understated its death toll by nearly half (16 as opposed to 30) and named and profiled none of the victims; most of the story dealt not with Netanya but with the Arab summit underway in Beirut. Nearly a third of the dead in Netanya were Holocaust survivors, but it would clearly be beneath the level of a serious news article to mention such an emotive an irrelevant topic. Well, until the very end of the article at least, which closes with an unremarked upon quote by Syrian President Bashar Assad that ‘It’s time to save the Palestinian people from the new holocaust they are living in.’ I am not making this up. Duly reported as well was that ‘Palestinian security sources said Yasser Arafat had ordered the arrest of four key militants in the West Bank.’ I hope it wasn’t too much work following those sources down!

The following day, Goldenberg (still in Beirut, but clearly clued in to all the right sources) dutifully passed on the information that the attack was just a ‘perfect pretext’ for Israel’s military offensive and described the Israeli prime minister as ‘practically gloating’ at the tolerance he could now expect to any Israeli military action. Meanwhile Usher wrote that Israel would bury its dead, ‘22 civilians and 6 settlers,’ though there is no precedent or legal basis for losing one’s non-combatant status because one is a settler. Two of Usher’s ‘settlers,’ incidentally, did not live in settlements at all. They were both 80-year-old men visiting relations in a settlement over the holiday who were stabbed to death on their walk to synagogue. A third ‘settler’ was a child not old enough to have settled anywhere, who was murdered along with his parents when a Palestinian gunperson entered their home and shot everyone. For Graham Usher, apparently, to be a Jew where Jews are unwanted is to forfeit the protections of civilians.

This was journalistic malpractice, and it’s time to come clean.

It’s not as though the Guardian’s editors don’t think the Jenin battle is a fitting hook to hang a media critique on. In one of the more comical moments of its histrionic coverage in April 2002, the Guardian ran a piece by no less than Julian Borger (currently the diplomatic editor) under the headline ‘Muted criticism in American newspapers: Scepticism at reports of Jenin bloodbath.’ It was clearly not meant as a gentle expression of doubt about the lather whipped up by the European media. It was, rather, for the clever readers to tsk-tsk into their tea and fill in for themselves that we all know why the American press is too scared to report an Israeli massacre. (The less clever ones don’t need to scroll down very far into any “[Guardian website] Comment is Free” forum to have it spelled out for them explicitly.)

Once the record is cleared, the Guardian owes itself a thorough reckoning of how it got the story so wrong. Something better than the weasely correction it buried days after running an article under the headline ‘Israel admits harvesting Palestinian organs’ back in 2009. (Yes, two thousand and nine. This was published in a respectable European paper in 2009.)

A possible model is New York Times’ thorough accounting in 2004 of its reporting failures in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War, specifically in reproducing unsubstantiated claims of WMDs in Iraq. That happened only one year after the war; ten years on from Jenin the Guardian has done nothing, though its journalistic failings were – and you’ll have to pardon me here – every bit as repellent.

(Links in the above article can be found here)

 

JENINGRAD: WHAT THE BRITISH MEDIA SAID

Jeningrad: What the British media said
By Tom Gross
National Review
May 13, 2002

(With pictures here: www.tomgrossmedia.com/Jeningrad.html)

* Israel’s actions in Jenin were “every bit as repellent” as Osama bin Laden’s attack on New York on September 11, wrote Britain’s Guardian in its lead editorial of April 17.

* “We are talking here of massacre, and a cover-up, of genocide,” said a leading columnist for the Evening Standard, London’s main evening newspaper, on April 15.

* “Rarely in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life,” reported Janine di Giovanni, the London Times’s correspondent in Jenin, on April 16.

Now that even the Palestinian Authority has admitted that there was no massacre in Jenin last month – and some Palestinian accounts speak instead of a “great victory against the Jews” in door-to-door fighting that left 23 Israelis dead – it is worth taking another look at how the international media covered the fighting there. The death count is still not completely agreed. The Palestinian Authority now claims that 56 Palestinians died in Jenin, the majority of whom were combatants according to the head of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization in the town. Palestinian hospital sources in Jenin put the total number of dead at 52. Last week’s Human Rights Watch report also said 52 Palestinians died. Israel says 46 Palestinians died, all but three of whom were combatants. Palestinian medical sources have confirmed that at least one of these civilians died after Israel withdrew from Jenin on April 12, as a result of a booby-trapped bomb that Palestinian fighters had planted accidentally going off.

Yet one month ago, the media’s favorite Palestinian spokespersons, such as Saeb Erekat – a practiced liar if ever there was one – spoke first of 3,000 Palestinian dead, then of 500. Without bothering to check, the international media just lapped his figures up.

The British media was particularly emotive in its reporting. They devoted page upon page, day after day, to tales of mass murders, common graves, summary executions, and war crimes. Israel was invariably compared to the Nazis, to al Qaeda, and to the Taliban. One report even compared the thousands of supposedly missing Palestinians to the “disappeared” of Argentina. The possibility that Yasser Arafat’s claim that the Palestinians had suffered “Jeningrad” might be – to put it mildly – somewhat exaggerated seems not to have been considered. (800,000 Russians died during the 900-day siege of Leningrad; 1.3 million died in Stalingrad.)

Collectively, this misreporting was an assault on the truth on a par with the New York Times’s Walter Duranty’s infamous cover-up of the man-made famine inflicted by Stalin on millions of Ukrainians, Kazakhs and others in the 1930s.

There were malicious and slanderous reports against Israel in the American media too – with Arafat’s propagandists given hundreds of hours on television to air their incredible tales of Israeli atrocities – but at least some American journalists attempted to be fair. On April 16, Newsday’s reporter in Jenin, Edward Gargan, wrote: “There is little evidence to suggest that Israeli troops conducted a massacre of the dimensions alleged by Palestinian officials.” Molly Moore of the Washington Post reported: “No evidence has yet surfaced to support allegations by Palestinian groups and aid organizations of large-scale massacres or executions.”

Compare this with some of the things which appeared in the British media on the very same day, April 16: Under the headline “Amid the ruins, the grisly evidence of a war crime,” the Jerusalem correspondent for the London Independent, Phil Reeves, began his dispatch from Jenin: “A monstrous war crime that Israel has tried to cover up for a fortnight has finally been exposed.” He continued: “The sweet and ghastly reek of rotting human bodies is everywhere, evidence that it is a human tomb. The people say there are hundreds of corpses, entombed beneath the dust.”

Reeves spoke of “killing fields,” an image more usually associated with Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Forgetting to tell his readers that Arafat’s representatives, like those of the other totalitarian regimes that surround Israel, have a habit of lying a lot, he quoted Palestinians who spoke of “mass murder” and “executions.” Reeves didn’t bother to quote any Israeli source whatsoever in his story. In another report Reeves didn’t even feel the need to quote Palestinian sources at all when he wrote about Israeli “atrocities committed in the Jenin refugee camp, where its army has killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians.”

LEFT AND RIGHT UNITE AGAINST ISRAEL

But it wasn’t only journalists of the left who indulged in Israel baiting. The right-wing Daily Telegraph – which some in the U.K. have dubbed the “Daily Tel-Aviv-ograph” because its editorials are frequently sympathetic to Israel – was hardly any less misleading in its news coverage, running headlines such as “Hundreds of victims ‘were buried by bulldozer in mass grave.’”

In a story on April 15 entitled “Horror stories from the siege of Jenin,” the paper’s correspondent, David Blair, took at face value what he called “detailed accounts” by Palestinians that “Israeli troops had executed nine men.” Blair quotes one woman telling him that Palestinians were “stripped to their underwear, they were searched, bound hand and foot, placed against a wall and killed with single shots to the head.”

On the next day, April 16, Blair quoted a “family friend” of one supposedly executed man: “Israeli soldiers had stripped him to his underwear, pushed him against a wall and shot him.” He also informed Telegraph readers that “two thirds of the camp had been destroyed.” (In fact, as the satellite photos show, the destruction took place in one small area of the camp.)

The “quality” British press spoke with almost wall-to-wall unanimity. The Evening Standard’s Sam Kiley conjured up witnesses to speak of Israel’s “staggering brutality and callous murder.” The Times’s Janine di Giovanni, suggested that Israel’s mission to destroy suicide bomb-making factories in Jenin (a town from which at the Palestinians own admission 28 suicide bombers had already set out) was an excuse by Ariel Sharon to attack children with chickenpox. The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg wrote, “The scale [of destruction] is almost beyond imagination.”

In case British readers didn’t get the message from their “news reporters,” the editorial writers spelled it out loud and clear. On April 17, the Guardian’s lead editorial compared the Israeli incursion in Jenin with the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11. “Jenin,” wrote the Guardian was “every bit as repellent in its particulars, no less distressing, and every bit as man-made.”

“Jenin camp looks like the scene of a crime… Jenin already has that aura of infamy that attaches to a crime of especial notoriety,” continued this once liberal paper, which used to pride itself on its honesty – and one of whose former editors coined the phrase “comment is free, facts are sacred.”

“THE POISONING OF WATER SUPPLIES”

Whereas the Guardian’s editorial writers compared the Jewish state to al Qaeda, Evening Standard commentators merely compared the Israeli government to the Taliban. Writing on April 15, A. N. Wilson, one of the Evening Standard’s leading columnists accused Israel of “the poisoning of water supplies” (a libel dangerously reminiscent of ancient anti-Semitic myths) and wrote “we are talking here of massacre, and a cover-up, of genocide.”

He also attempted to pit Christians against Jews by accusing Israel of “the willful burning of several church buildings,” and making the perhaps even more incredible assertion that “Many young Muslims in Palestine are the children of Anglican Christians, educated at St George’s Jerusalem, who felt that their parents’ mild faith was not enough to fight the oppressor.”

Then, before casually switching to write about how much money Catherine Zeta-Jones is paying her nanny, Wilson wrote: “Last week, we saw the Israeli troops destroy monuments in Nablus of ancient importance: the scene where Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman at the well. It is the equivalent of the Taliban destroying Buddhist sculpture.” (Perhaps Wilson had forgotten that the only monument destroyed in Nablus since Arafat launched his war against Israel in September 2000, was the ancient Jewish site of Joseph’s tomb, torn down by a Palestinian mob while Arafat’s security forces looked on.)

Other commentators threw in the Holocaust, turning it against Israel. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a leading columnist for the Independent wrote (April 15): “I would suggest that Ariel Sharon should be tried for crimes against humanity … and be damned for so debasing the profoundly important legacy of the Holocaust, which was meant to stop forever nations turning themselves into ethnic killing machines.”

Many of the hostile comments were leveled at the U.S. “Why, for God’s sake, can’t Mr Powell do the decent thing and demand an explanation for the extraordinary, sinister events that have taken place in Jenin? Does he really have to debase himself in this way? Does he think that meeting Arafat, or refusing to do so, takes precedence over the enormous slaughter that has overwhelmed the Palestinians?” wrote Robert Fisk in the Independent.

“STAINING THE STAR OF DAVID WITH BLOOD”

In the wake of the media attacks, came the politicians. Speaking in the House of Commons on April 16, Gerald Kaufman, a veteran Labor member of parliament and a former shadow foreign secretary, announced that Ariel Sharon was a “war criminal” who led a “repulsive government.” To nods of approval from his fellow parliamentarians, Kaufman, who is Jewish, said the “methods of barbarism against the Palestinians” supposedly employed by the Israeli army were “staining the Star of David with blood.”

Speaking on behalf of the opposition Conservative party, John Gummer, a former cabinet minister, also lashed out at Israel. He said he was basing his admonition on “the evidence before us.” Was Gummer perhaps referring to the twisted news reports he may have watched from the BBC’s correspondent Orla Guerin? Or maybe his evidence stemmed from the account given by Ann Clwyd, a Labour MP, who on return from a fleeting fact-finding mission to Jenin, told parliament she had a “croaky voice” and this was all the fault of dust caused by Israeli tanks.

Clwyd had joined a succession of VIP visitors parading through Jenin – members of the European parliament, U.S. church leaders, Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan, Bianca Jagger, ex-wife of pop-music legend Mick Jagger. Clwyd’s voice wasn’t sufficiently croaky, though, to prevent her from calling on all European states to withdraw their ambassadors from Israel.

Not to be outdone by politicians, Britain’s esteemed academics went further. Tom Paulin, who lectures in 19th- and 20th-century literature at Oxford University, opined that the U.S.-born Jews who live on the west bank of the river Jordan should be “shot dead.”

“They are Nazis, racists,” he said, adding (though one might have thought this was unnecessary after his previous comment) “I feel nothing but hatred for them.” (Paulin is also one of BBC television’s regular commentators on the arts. The BBC says they will continue to invite him even after these remarks; Oxford University has taken no action against him.)

ONLY ONE WITNESS?

On closer examination, the “facts” on which many of the media reports were based – “facts” that no doubt played a role in inspiring such hateful remarks as Paulin’s – reveal an even greater scandal. The British media appear to have based much of its evidence of “genocide” on a single individual: “Kamal Anis, a labourer” (The Times), “Kamal Anis, 28” (The Daily Telegraph), “A quiet, sad-looking young man called Kamal Anis” (The Independent), and referred to the same supposed victim – “the burned remains of a man, Bashar” (The Evening Standard), “Bashir died in agony” (The Times), “A man named only as Bashar once lived there” (The Daily Telegraph).

The Independent: “Kamal Anis saw the Israeli soldiers pile 30 bodies beneath a half-wrecked house. When the pile was complete, they bulldozed the building, bringing its ruins down on the corpses. Then they flattened the area with a tank.”

The Times: “Kamal Anis says the Israelis levelled the place; he saw them pile bodies into a mass grave, dump earth on top, then ran over it to flatten it.”

Evidently, as can be seen from the following reports, British journalists hadn’t been speaking to the same Palestinian witnesses as American journalists.

The Los Angeles Times: Palestinians in Jenin “painted a picture of a vicious house-to-house battle in which Israeli soldiers faced Palestinian gunmen intermixed with the camp’s civilian population.”

The Boston Globe: Following extensive interviews with “civilians and fighters” in Jenin “none reported seeing large numbers of civilians killed.” On the other hand, referring to the deaths of Israeli soldiers in Jenin, Abdel Rahman Sa’adi, an “Islamic Jihad grenade-thrower,” told the Globe “This was a massacre of the Jews, not of us.”

Some in the American press also mentioned the video filmed by the Israeli army (and shown on Israeli television) of Palestinians moving corpses of people who had previously died of natural causes, rather than in the course of the Jenin fighting, into graveyards around the camp to fabricate “evidence” in advance of the now-cancelled U.N. fact-finding mission.

But if Europeans readers don’t trust American journalists, perhaps they are ready to believe the testimony given in the Arab press. Take, for example, the extensive interview with a Palestinian bomb-maker, Omar, in the leading Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram.

“We had more than 50 houses booby-trapped around the [Jenin] camp,” Omar said. “We chose old and empty buildings and the houses of men who were wanted by Israel because we knew the soldiers would search for them… We cut off lengths of mains water pipes and packed them with explosives and nails. Then we placed them about four meters apart throughout the houses – in cupboards, under sinks, in sofas... the women went out to tell the soldiers that we had run out of bullets and were leaving. The women alerted the fighters as the soldiers reached the booby-trapped area.”

Perhaps what is most shocking, though, is that the British press had closed their ears to the Israelis themselves – a society with one of the most vigorous and self-critical democracies in the world. In the words of Kenneth Preiss, a professor at Ben Gurion University: “Please inform the reporters trying to figure out if the Israeli army is trying to ‘hide a massacre’ of Palestinians, that Israel’s citizen army includes journalists, members of parliament, professors, doctors, human rights activists, members of every political party, and every other kind of person, all within sight and cell phone distance of home and editorial offices. Were the slightest infringements to have taken place, there would be demonstrations outside the prime minister’s office in no time.”

ONLY AN INTELLECTUAL COULD BE SO STUPID

George Orwell once remarked to a Communist fellow-traveler with whom he was having a dispute: “You must be an intellectual. Only an intellectual could say something so stupid.” This observation has relevance in regard to the Middle East, too.

So far only the nonintellectual tabloids have grasped the essential difference between right and wrong, the difference between a deliberate intent to kill civilians, such as that ordered by Chairman Arafat over the past four decades, and the unintentional deaths of civilians in the course of legitimate battle.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the mass-market papers have corrected the lies of their supposedly superior broadsheets. On April 17, the New York Post carried an editorial entitled “The massacre that wasn’t.” In London, the most popular British daily paper, the Sun, published a lengthy editorial (April 15) pointing out that: “Israelis are scared to death. They have never truly trusted Britain – and with some of the people we employ in the Foreign Office why the hell should they?” Countries throughout Europe are still “in denial about murdering their entire Jewish population,” the Sun added, and it was time to dispel the conspiracy theory that Jews “run the world.”

The headline of the Sun’s editorial was “The Jewish faith is not an evil religion.” One might think such a headline was unnecessary in twenty-first century Britain, but apparently it is not.

One would hope that some honest reflection about their reporting by those European and American journalists who are genuinely motivated by a desire to help Palestinians (as opposed to those whose primary motive is demonizing Jews), will enable them to realize that propagating the falsehoods of Arafat’s propagandists does nothing to further the legitimate aspirations of ordinary Palestinians, any more than parroting the lies of Stalin helped ordinary Russians.

“His Jewish advisors made him do it”


* Former senior State Department official Aaron David Miller: “Before we lose our collective minds (again), it might be useful to review some of the myths and misconceptions about domestic U.S. politics and America’s Middle East policies that still circulate all too widely in Europe and the Arab world – and sadly in the United States too. I list a half-dozen of the worst ones.”

* Miller: “The idea that American Jews in collusion with the Israeli government (and evangelical Christians) hold U.S. foreign policy hostage is not only wrong and misleading but a dangerous, dark trope. It coexists with other hateful – and, yes, anti-Semitic – canards about how Jews control the media and the banks, and the world as well. It’s reality distortion in the extreme, with little basis in fact.”

* Since 1950, only 22 countries have maintained their democratic character continuously – and Israel’s one of them.

* Miller: “There’s no question that Obama understands and appreciates the special relationship between Israel and the United States. But Obama isn’t Bill Clinton or George W. Bush when it comes to Israel – not even close. These guys were frustrated by Israeli prime ministers too, but they also were moved and enamored by them (Clinton by Yitzhak Rabin, Bush by Ariel Sharon). They had instinctive, heartfelt empathy for the idea of Israel’s story, and as a consequence they could make allowances at times for Israel’s behavior even when it clashed with their own policy goals. Obama is more like George H.W. Bush when it comes to Israel, but without a strategy.”

***

* New York Times Book review, Jonathan Rosen: “[In his book, Peter] Beinart is especially good at invoking facts as a way of dismissing them… While there is a chapter called “The Crisis in Israel” and a chapter called “The Crisis in America,” there is no chapter called “The Crisis in Palestinian Society” or “The Crisis in Islam,” though Islam has played an enormous role in Palestinian nationalism. Beinart may of course believe there is no crisis in these quarters, but he is essentially silent on the matter, just as he pays scant attention to the larger Arab world, finding it easier to recast a Mideast struggle as an American-Israeli drama.’

* “Sometimes [Israel behaves] well and sometimes badly, but the struggle itself is the hallmark of a civilization far beyond Peter Beinart’s Manichaean simplicities.”


PETER BEINART’S MANICHAEAN SIMPLICITIES

I attach two articles that are as important for where they were published as for their content.

The first is by author and editor Jonathan Rosen who denounces Peter Beinart’s new book “The Crisis of Zionism” in The New York Times. Beinart is one of the new heroes of the anti-Israeli Left and is himself a regular recent contributor to the comment pages of The New York Times, where he has called for boycotts of Israelis, so many have expressed surprise that The New York Times agreed to run a review panning his book. (Beinart’s book has also been severely criticized in other newspapers.)

The second article below is by a longtime Jewish critic of Israeli policies, former senior Clinton advisor Aaron David Miller. It was published in Foreign Policy magazine, which has run anti-Israel pieces by the likes of Professor Stephen Walt which verge on conspiracy theories of the kind Miller is refuting.

(Both Jonathan Rosen and Aaron David Miller are subscribers to this list.)

-- Tom Gross

 

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A MISSIONARY IMPULSE

A Missionary Impulse
Book reviewed: ‘The Crisis of Zionism,’ by Peter Beinart
By Jonathan Rosen
The New York Times
April 13, 2012

www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/books/review/the-crisis-of-zionism-by-peter-beinart.html

“The Jews are like rats,” Peter Beinart’s grandmother told him when he was a boy. “We leave the sinking ship.” This grandmother – who was born in Egypt and lived in South Africa but dreamed of joining her brother in Israel – believed that Israel was the last refuge of a hounded people, and she made Beinart, who was born in the United States, believe it, too.

But Beinart, a former editor of The New Republic who now runs a blog called Open Zion, has a problem: he finds Israel, morally, a sinking ship. Instead of simply swimming away, he has written “The Crisis of Zionism,” in which he sets out to save the country by labeling many of its leaders racist, denouncing many of its American supporters as Holocaust-obsessed enablers and advocating a boycott of people and products from beyond Israel’s 1967 eastern border. While saving Israel, Beinart hopes with evangelical zeal to save America from a handful of Jewish organizations that in his view have not only hijacked American liberalism but also stolen the spine of the president of the United States, who, despite having received 78 percent of the Jewish vote, is powerless to pursue his own agenda.

Like a majority of Israelis, Beinart believes that it is depleting, degrading and dangerous for Israel to oversee the lives of millions of stateless Palestinians, and also like a majority of Israelis, he thinks the solution is the creation of a Palestinian state. But because he minimizes the cataclysmic impact of the second Intifada; describes Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza not as a gut-wrenching act of desperation but as a cynical ploy to continue the occupation by other means; belittles those who harp on a Hamas charter that calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews the world over; and plays down the magnitude of the Palestinian demand for a right of return – not to a future Palestine but to Israel itself, which would destroy the Jewish state – he liberates his book from the practicalities of politics.

How you condense a thorny complexity into a short book says a great deal about your relationship to history – and to language. Beinart is especially good at invoking facts as a way of dismissing them. Thus Israel’s offer to withdraw from conquered land in 1967, and the Arab States’ declaration – “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it” – becomes literally a parenthetical aside in which the Arabs’ “apparent refusal” made Israeli settlement “easier.”

Jews, Beinart insists, are failing what he calls “the test of Jewish power.” He does not mean by this that after millenniums of statelessness, Jews are slow to acknowledge the exigencies of force but something quite the opposite, which allows him to employ several formulations favored by anti-Semites, from the notion of a White House-crushing Israel lobby, and the observation that “privately, American Jews revel in Jewish power,” to the grotesque idea that “in the 1970s, American Jewish organizations began hoarding the Holocaust.” His statement that occupation “requires racism” indicts Israel as racist (even as Beinart notes elsewhere the libelous United Nations resolution in 1975 declaring that “Zionism is a form of racism”).

In Beinart’s world, anti-Semitism seems little more than a form of Jewish self-deception. The Anti-Defamation League fights “alleged” anti-Semitism against Israel, he tells us. To worry about existential threats to a country the size of New Jersey, with fewer than eight million people living in a suicide-bombing nuclear age, is to surrender to “Jewish victimhood.” Surely it is possible for a country to be both powerful and precarious? Surely “vulnerability” would be a better word than “victimhood”? But Beinart’s feints toward nuance repeatedly give way to stark dualisms: “Liberalism was out, tribalism was in.”

Though allowing that “there is some truth” to the argument that Palestinians have turned their back on past offers of a two-state solution, Beinart’s formula – “were Israel to permit the creation of a Palestinian state” – waves that away, establishing, through purely rhetorical means, that peace is Israel’s to bestow, and incidentally robbing Palestinians of any role in their own destiny. But then Beinart has little to say about Palestinians in any case. While there is a chapter called “The Crisis in Israel” and a chapter called “The Crisis in America,” there is no chapter called “The Crisis in Palestinian Society” or “The Crisis in Islam,” though Islam has played an enormous role in Palestinian nationalism. Beinart may of course believe there is no crisis in these quarters, but he is essentially silent on the matter, just as he pays scant attention to the larger Arab world, finding it easier to recast a Mideast struggle as an American-Israeli drama.

Like the Widow Douglas trying to civilize Huck Finn before he lights out for the occupied territory, Beinart has a missionary impulse toward Israel. His faith resides in “liberal ideals,” which he often makes synonymous with Judaism itself, or what Judaism ought to be. Thus we are told that Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t trust Barack Obama because “Obama reminds Netanyahu of what Netanyahu doesn’t like about Jews,” by which he means a sense of moral obligation. In a neat trick of replacement theology, Obama, referred to as “the Jewish president,” becomes the real Jew on whom election has fallen figuratively as well as literally.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, languishes in an old and brutal dispensation, indulging in “the glorification of the ferocious Jews of antiquity.” This Old Testament fury causes Obama to retreat from mentioning the division of Jerusalem: “The response from Netanyahu, the Republicans and the American Jewish organizations would be too ferocious to bear.” What this unbearable ferocity would consist of Beinart does not say. But it must be awful if it can cow the most powerful man in the free world.

This is of a piece with the sins of American Jews, who “rarely talk about what Joseph did to the Egyptians when Pharaoh put him in charge of the nation’s grain.” Turning away from such ugliness, Beinart declares that we need “a new American Jewish story.”

The wish for a new testament is old in Judaism, though some would say that Beinart’s attempt to separate Judaism’s sinful body from its liberal soul – the better to save it – is an antiquated act. Others might say that Israel is itself a new testament, or to borrow Theodor Herzl’s phrase, an old-new testament. Herzl, a hero of Beinart’s, didn’t think Israel would need an army. In 1902, this fantasy was still possible.

Beinart cites approvingly Israel’s declaration of statehood, read aloud by David Ben-Gurion in 1948. It promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” Yet Ben-Gurion also decided to eliminate from that document any reference to Israel’s borders, because the Arabs were preparing to attack and he wasn’t fighting to defend rejected borders but to save his state. The written as well as the unwritten words form a kind of text and commentary that Israel still struggles to balance amid all the brute realities of an unforgiving region. Sometimes it does this well and sometimes badly, but the struggle itself is the hallmark of a civilization far beyond Peter Beinart’s Manichaean simplicities.

 

SIX BIG LIES ABOUT HOW JERUSALEM RUNS WASHINGTON

Six Big Lies About How Jerusalem Runs Washington
From the Jewish cabal to the Capitol Hill Knesset, the worst leaps of logic when it comes to Israel, U.S. politics, and the Middle East.
By Aaron David Miller
Foreign Policy magazine
March 21, 2012

Several years after leaving government, I wrote a piece in the Washington Post titled “Israel’s Lawyer.” The article was an honest effort to explain how several senior officials in U.S. President Bill Clinton’s administration (myself included) had a strong inclination to see the Arab-Israeli negotiations through a pro-Israel lens. That filter played a role – though hardly the primary one – in the failure of endgame diplomacy, particularly at the ill-fated Camp David summit in July 2000.

Unsurprisingly, the piece was hijacked in the service of any number of agendas, especially by critics of Israel only too eager to use my narrow point about the Clinton years to make their broader one: America had long compromised its own values and interests in the Middle East by its blind and sordid obeisance to the Jewish state and its pro-Israeli supporters in the United States.

Here we go again. Election years seem to bring out the worst – not only in politicians, but in advocates, analysts, and intellectuals too. Nowhere are the leaps and lapses of logic and rationality greater than in the discussion of Israel, the Jews, domestic U.S. politics, and the Middle East. Once again, we’re hearing that a U.S. president is being dragged to war with Iran by a trigger-happy Israeli prime minister and his loyal acolytes in America.

Before we lose our collective minds (again), it might be useful to review some of the myths and misconceptions about domestic U.S. politics and America’s Middle East policies that still circulate all too widely in Europe and the Arab world – and sadly in the United States too. Here are a half-dozen of the worst ones.

1. The White House is Israeli-occupied territory.

The idea that American Jews in collusion with the Israeli government (and, for some time now, evangelical Christians) hold U.S. foreign policy hostage is not only wrong and misleading but a dangerous, dark trope. It coexists with other hateful – and, yes, anti-Semitic – canards about how Jews control the media and the banks, and the world as well. It’s reality distortion in the extreme, with little basis in fact. The historical record just doesn’t support it. Strong, willful presidents who have real opportunities (and smart strategies to exploit them) to promote U.S. interests almost always win out and trump domestic lobbies.

Indeed, when it counts and national interests demand it, presidents who know what they’re doing move forward in the face of domestic pressures and usually prevail. Whether it’s arms sales to the Arabs (advanced fighter jets to Egyptians or AWACS to Saudis) or taking tough positions on Arab-Israeli negotiating issues in the service of agreements (see: Henry Kissinger and the 1973-1975 disengagement agreements with Israel, Egypt, and Syria; President Jimmy Carter, Camp David, and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1978 and 1979; and Secretary of State James Baker and the 1991 Madrid peace conference), administrations have their way. The fights can be messy and politically costly, but that doesn’t preclude policymakers from having them.

No U.S. president would pick a fight with a close ally, particularly one that had strong domestic support, without good reason and a clear purpose. To wit, President George H.W. Bush and Baker’s decision to deny the Israelis billions of dollars in housing-loan guarantees because of settlement construction on the eve of the Madrid conference made sense. It sent a powerful signal to the Israelis and Arabs at a critical moment that America meant business. President Barack Obama’s war with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over a settlement freeze didn’t: One was a productive fight with a purpose, and the other was an unproductive one with no strategy. At the end of the day, Obama got the worst of all outcomes: He pissed off the Israelis and the Palestinians, and he got no negotiations and no freeze. That Obama was seen to have backed down in the end only made matters worse, making it appear that he lost his nerve with Netanyahu. Even so, none of this means the Israelis run the White House. Obama’s failure was much a result of a self-inflicted wound.

2. The U.S.-Israel relationship rests on shared values alone.

Israel’s critics believe that without domestic politics, there would be little to the U.S.-Israel special relationship. Israel’s supporters, meanwhile, like to believe that politics has little to do with it. Neither is right. The U.S.-Israel relationship is a curious marriage of shared values, national interests, and domestic politics.

Sure, common values are at the top of the list. There’s no way the bond between Washington and Jerusalem would be as strong and as durable these many years without broad public belief that it was in America’s national interest to support a fellow democracy. These shared values more than anything else – not Israel’s importance as an strategic ally – is the foundation of the bond.

Since 1950, only 22 countries have maintained their democratic character continuously – and Israel’s one of them. That the Jewish people have a very dark history of persecution and genocide and that millions of Americans have powerful religious connections to Israel and the Holy Land has only made the sell easier and the bond stronger.

But let’s not kid ourselves – and activists at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other Jewish organizations don’t. Without the strong vocal support of a unified American Jewish community that brings pressure to bear in Congress, assistance levels to Israel would not be nearly as high as they have been for so long. AIPAC not only assiduously guards the pre-existing pro-Israeli tilt among the American public, but it also defines for much of the Jewish and political establishment what it means to be pro-Israel in America today. Its clout on Capitol Hill sends a powerful message to elected officials, many of whom already share general sympathy with Israel and who have no desire to cross swords with a powerful lobby that might jeopardize what they’ve come to Washington to do: advance their constituents’ interests.

3. Lobbies are evil.

The United States’ Founding Fathers were very worried about factions with special interests. But lobbies and special interests advocating causes – from guns to tobacco to senior citizens – aren’t some kind of dark cabal plotting in a cloakroom. They are a natural part of America’s democratic political system and, yes, part of a culture that has many excesses that bend the system and often reflect the seamier aspects of U.S. politics. But good luck trying to eliminate the practice of citizens and groups organizing to press their elected representatives to support an issue. The U.S. system – whatever the Founders intended – was a natural for lobbing and special pleading.

I’m not sure that has ever been clearly understood in the Middle East or in Europe, where lobbies are viewed as some nefarious force operating in the shadows with the aim of holding U.S. foreign policy hostage. When a former Arab diplomat I know once referred to the U.S. Congress as the Little Knesset, he was not only mocking a system – he was jealous too. Arab Americans only wish they could marshal AIPAC’s power.

America’s foreign policy – like its unruly politics– is forged in a competitive arena of many voices, influences, and interests. But let me be clear: I don’t want the American Jewish community controlling Washington’s Middle East policy; nor do I want it run by Congress or regional specialists in the State Department for that matter.

Here’s where a willful, smart president with a sound strategy is critically important – both in exercising constitutional powers and in responding to the practical reality that the executive branch is the only actor in the U.S. system that can guide and lead the country abroad. Indeed, the power of the pro-Israel community recedes the farther away you get from Capitol Hill. The pro-Israel community has a powerful voice, but it doesn’t have a veto.

4. His Jewish advisors made him do it.

This charge – which has been leveled at senior officials in both Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s administrations – that presidents are controlled by a tiny group of American Jewish advisers is as absurd as it is pernicious. I speak from personal experience. I admit it freely: Several Clinton administration officials, including me – with the best of intentions – adopted an approach to the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in 1999 and 2000, both on substance and on process, that reflected Israeli needs far more than those of the Palestinians. These views, however, gained currency not because the president’s advisors, who happened to be American Jews, were pushing them, but because they made sense to a non-Jewish president with great sensitivity for the Israelis – and a great deal for the Palestinians too.

Some of these same advisors worked for Bush 41 and Baker too, yet policy turned out quite differently, much more balanced and tougher on Israel (take, for example, the denial of loan guarantees). The fact is that policy advisors – to paraphrase The Eagles in one of the band’s better love songs – don’t take policymakers anywhere they don’t already want to go. Here is where adult supervision is essential. Indeed, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the president to sort through these views and determine which ones make sense and which ones don’t – and then to make the best decision possible. The key is to have a variety of views. To blame senior official X as the primary reason a president supports Israel or favors this approach or that is absurd.

Obama is no lawyer for Israel. If he chooses not to push his confrontation with Netanyahu, it’s not because an advisor with a pro-Israel agenda is whispering in his ear; it’s because the president has his own political agenda, has other priorities, or realizes the fight won’t produce the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations he seeks. In the Obama administration, you’d better believe that it’s the president who runs things.

5. Election-year politics are driving Obama to war with Iran.

You’ve heard the rap many times. Election-year politics erode a president’s room to maneuver, chain him to collecting votes, and increase the odds substantially that political interests will trump the country’s. This year’s presidential election has been dominated by the economy, but when foreign policy has intruded into the campaign, it has been on one issue: Iran. It’s erroneous, however, to conclude that because it’s an election year, Obama is being pushed to war – either by Republicans or by the pro-Israel community. Sure, he has toughened his rhetoric, but whether that’s smart politics or smart policy (to keep the Iranians under pressure) isn’t clear. It’s probably both.

The fact is, this president doesn’t do anything quickly or recklessly – or under pressure. He’s the deliberator-in-chief. And as he ponders, one thing is clear: The last thing he needs leading up to an election he has a very good chance of winning is a war in the Middle East. And an Israeli strike or an American one that would bring on $200 a barrel oil, thus raising prices at the pump and deflating the fragile U.S. economic recovery, is not something Obama wants. Whatever the Israeli prime minister got from the president in their meeting this month at the White House, it wasn’t a green – or even a yellow – light to strike Iran’s nuclear sites.

6. Barack Obama is just as pro-Israel as Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.

There’s no question that Obama understands and appreciates the special relationship between Israel and the United States. But Obama isn’t Bill Clinton or George W. Bush when it comes to Israel – not even close. These guys were frustrated by Israeli prime ministers too, but they also were moved and enamored by them (Clinton by Yitzhak Rabin, Bush by Ariel Sharon). They had instinctive, heartfelt empathy for the idea of Israel’s story, and as a consequence they could make allowances at times for Israel’s behavior even when it clashed with their own policy goals. Obama is more like George H.W. Bush when it comes to Israel, but without a strategy.

If Obama is emotional when it comes to Israel, he’s hiding it. Netanyahu obviously thinks he’s bloodless. But then again, the U.S. president can be pretty reserved on a number of issues. Obama doesn’t feel the need to be loved by the Israelis, and perhaps American Jews either. Combine that with a guy who’s much more comfortable in gray than in black and white, and you have a president who sees Israel’s world in much more nuanced terms, which is clearly hard for many Israelis and American Jews to accept. In Obama’s mind, Israel has legitimate security needs, but it’s also the strongest regional power. As a result, he believes that the Israelis should compromise on the peace process, give nonmilitary pressures against Iran time to work, and recognize that despite the uncertainties of the Arab Spring, now is the time to make peace with the Palestinians.

If Obama had a chance to reset the U.S.-Israel relationship and make it a little less special, he probably would. But I guess that’s the point: He probably won’t have the chance. If he gets a second term, he’ll more than likely be faced with the same mix of Middle East headaches, conflicting priorities, narrow maneuvering room, and the swirl of domestic politics that bedevils him today. If the U.S. president fails to get an Israeli-Palestinian peace, it will be primarily because the Israelis, the Palestinians, and Barack Obama wouldn’t pay the price, not because the pro-Israel community in America got in his way.


Netanyahu & Romney: a “decades-long friendship” (& Portuguese, Irish writers change their minds on Israel)

April 09, 2012


* “The two young men had woefully little in common: one was a wealthy Mormon from Michigan, the other a middle-class Jew from Israel. But in 1976, the lives of Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu intersected, briefly but indelibly, in the 16th-floor offices of the Boston Consulting Group, where both had been recruited as corporate advisers. At the most formative time of their careers, they sized each other up during the firm’s weekly brainstorming sessions, absorbing the same profoundly analytical view of the world. That shared experience decades ago led to a warm friendship, little known to outsiders.”

* History has shown that when an Israeli Prime Minister and an American President are on the same page, this is good for America, good for Israel, and good for the peace process with the Palestinians.

***

* Portuguese blogger Romeu Monteiro: “Finally after visiting, I realized Israel is a democratic, tolerant, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, rapidly developing nation. A place I could live in free and more accepted than in my home country, and the only place I could safely set foot at in the Middle East. I found myself in love with Israel, something I never thought I would do and never really want to be.”

* Irish artist Nicky Larkin: “I used to hate Israel. Not anymore. The Palestinian mantra was one of ‘non-violent resistance’. It was their motto, repeated over and over like responses at a Catholic mass. Yet when I interviewed Hind Khoury, a former Palestinian government member, in the West Bank she sat forward angrily in her chair as she refused to condemn suicide bombers. She was all aggression. This aggression continued in Hebron, where I witnessed swastikas on a wall.”

* Larkin: “I have more important questions for my fellow Irish artists. What happened to the notion of the artist as a free thinking individual? Why have Irish artists surrendered to group-think on Israel? Could it be due to something as crude as career-advancement?”

***

You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please first press “Like” on that page.


CONTENTS

1. “Why I no longer hate Israel” (By Romeu Monteiro, Yedioth Ahronot, April 7, 2012)
2. “Israel is a refuge, but a refuge under siege” (By Nicky Larkin, Irish Independent, March 11, 2012)
3. “A friendship dating to 1976 resonates in 2012” (By Michael Barbaro, NY Times, April 8, 2012)

 

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach three articles of interest below.

The other three dispatches today can be read here:

* “The frozen chosen”: How the Jews helped build Alaska
* How China is quietly building links with Israel (& Bolstering Israel-South Korean ties)
* How free markets, even more than “Arab Spring elections,” can transform the Middle East


PORTUGUESE BLOGGER: WHY I NO LONGER HATE ISRAEL

Why I no longer hate Israel
By Romeu Monteiro
Yedioth Ahronot
April 7, 2012

I’m a 22-year-old Portuguese gay activist and PhD student. I’m not Jewish, Israeli or even religious, but I am a Zionist and strong supporter of Israel, and I want to explain why.

My story begins at the age of nine, when I went to the school library to get the Diary of Anne Frank. I had no prior idea about the Holocaust and I could not comprehend such persecution. I had never met a Jew, but I was raised to see other people as similar to myself.

The book’s story haunted me: This girl, slightly older than me, hiding for years, confined, isolated, being persecuted for who she was, constantly fearful of being discovered... How horrible; how could this have happened?

A few months later, I discovered I was gay. I was 10 and in Anne’s attic: Confined, isolated, hiding who I was, fearing what would happen if I was discovered... I felt strongly identified with Anne and the Jewish people, and this feeling never abandoned me.

Shortly after, the second Intifada started. I began seeing Israel, a country which I knew almost nothing about, on the news constantly, for the worst reasons. I learned that the Jews had invaded Palestine after the Holocaust to get a country and were occupying and controlling the native Palestinians who lived in the remaining land.

The TV showed us these people blowing themselves up inside buses and cafes and I, like most people around me, thought: “How desperate must someone be to kill themselves like this? How could the Jews go from being oppressed to oppressors? Have they not learned the lessons of History?” I grew up loving the Jewish people but hating Israel.

In 2008, when I was 18 and in college, I found myself criticizing Israel and the Gaza Strip blockade in a YouTube video about the death of Rachel Corrie. I got an answer from an Israeli commenter about my age, who wrote that there was no blockade, as several trucks were crossing into the Strip daily.

This greatly confused me and I asked him to present me with his arguments in defense of Israel. I said I would change my mind if they were convincing. He wrote me a long message, telling me about the massacres of Jews in Palestine before Israel existed, the wars of extermination, and the indoctrination for hate of Jews and Israel in the Middle East, among other things, which he compared to several examples of the humanist character of Israel and its society.

I read it all and, after verifying the information, I was convinced.

ANGRY AND BETRAYED

My world shook. I became aware that I was making unfair judgments and spreading hate and false propaganda about Israel. I was sad with myself and I felt angry and betrayed that I had trusted so much in organizations I thought were fighting for peace, equality and against prejudice, like I saw them doing for gay rights.

I realized I was being fed ignorance and hate by people who were, at best, as ignorant and prejudiced as those they were “fighting” against while believing themselves to be enlightened individuals and making me believe it too.

I read more and more about Israel, and I became fascinated with the amazing story of a people who, against all odds, had managed to survive and remain united through centuries of persecution, fight for their homeland, rebuild their country and revive their language – just like a phoenix rising from the ashes, striving for freedom and peace.

I realized Israel is a democratic, tolerant, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, rapidly developing nation. A place I could live in free and more accepted than in my home country, and the only place I could safely set foot at in the Middle East.

I found myself in love with Israel, something I never thought I would do and never really want to be.

In 2010, there was the flotilla incident. Suddenly, all media were reporting about Israel. The news reports were grossly distorted and I knew I had to do something. I found myself arguing about it with professors at the university and I started sharing videos of the IDF through my Facebook account.

I thought I would be risking much socially, but I knew it was a matter of justice, as someone had to tell the truth and not allow Israel to be demonized with no right to defense once again. After the flotilla I kept posting pro-Israel stuff, and had serious and even ugly discussions about this issue with several people.

Each discussion revealed more ignorance and double-standards and made me a stronger Zionist and supporter of Israel and its people. I thought I was the only one defending Israel but I gradually discovered other people doing it.

Once, a friend whispered in my ear: “I am also more on the side of Israel... but, please, don’t tell anyone!” She was scared to voice her opinion, and this reinforced my conviction that I had to be vocal about my defense of Israel; I was speaking for many people who were afraid to do it.

At the end it’s a matter of justice. If there’s a people that fights for its right to self-determination and to live in peace, I will be on their side. If there’s a group that is demonized by prejudice and ignorance, I will fight prejudice and ignorance with them. If there’s a culture whose main values include tolerance for different sexual orientations, races and religions - clashing with another one that educates for intolerance and hate – I know which side I’ll support.

I am a Zionist and I support the right of the Jewish people to self-rule and to life in peace, like I believe every thinking human being should.

* Romeu Monteiro is an electric engineering Phd student. You can see his blog here.

 

IRISH FILMMAKER: “I USED TO HATE ISRAEL. NOT ANY MORE”

Israel is a refuge, but a refuge under siege
By Nicky Larkin
The Irish Independent
March 11, 2012

www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/nicky-larkin-israel-is-a-refuge-but-a-refuge-under-siege-3046227.html

I used to hate Israel. I used to think the Left was always right. Not any more. Now I loathe Palestinian terrorists. Now I see why Israel has to be hard. Now I see the Left can be Right – as in right-wing. So why did I change my mind so completely?

Strangely, it began with my anger at Israel’s incursion into Gaza in December 2008 which left over 1,200 Palestinians dead [in fact it is agreed by Hamas and Israel that 1100 Palestinians died, the vast majority of whom were armed male fighters -- TG], compared to only 13 Israelis. I was so angered by this massacre I posed in the striped scarf of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation for an art show catalogue.

Shortly after posing in that PLO scarf, I applied for funding from the Irish Arts Council to make a film in Israel and Palestine. I wanted to talk to these soldiers, to challenge their actions – and challenge the Israeli citizens who supported them.

I spent seven weeks in the area, dividing my time evenly between Israel and the West Bank. I started in Israel. The locals were suspicious. We were Irish – from a country which is one of Israel’s chief critics – and we were filmmakers. We were the enemy.

Then I crossed over into the West Bank. Suddenly, being Irish wasn’t a problem. Provo graffiti adorned The Wall. Bethlehem was Las Vegas for Jesus-freaks – neon crucifixes punctuated by posters of martyrs.

These martyrs followed us throughout the West Bank. They watched from lamp-posts and walls wherever we went. Like Jesus in the old Sacred Heart pictures.

But the more I felt the martyrs watching me, the more confused I became. After all, the Palestinian mantra was one of “non-violent resistance”. It was their motto, repeated over and over like responses at a Catholic mass.

Yet when I interviewed Hind Khoury, a former Palestinian government member, she sat forward angrily in her chair as she refused to condemn the actions of the suicide bombers. She was all aggression.

This aggression continued in Hebron, where I witnessed swastikas on a wall. As I set up my camera, an Israeli soldier shouted down from his rooftop position. A few months previously I might have ignored him as my political enemy. But now I stopped to talk. He only talked about Taybeh, the local Palestinian beer.

Back in Tel Aviv in the summer of 2011, I began to listen more closely to the Israeli side. I remember one conversation in Shenkin Street – Tel Aviv’s most fashionable quarter, a street where everybody looks as if they went to art college. I was outside a cafe interviewing a former soldier.

He talked slowly about his time in Gaza. He spoke about 20 Arab teenagers filled with ecstasy tablets and sent running towards the base he’d patrolled. Each strapped with a bomb and carrying a hand-held detonator.

The pills in their bloodstream meant they felt no pain. Only a headshot would take them down.

Conversations like this are normal in Tel Aviv. I began to experience the sense of isolation Israelis feel. An isolation that began in the ghettos of Europe and ended in Auschwitz.

Israel is a refuge – but a refuge under siege, a refuge where rockets rain death from the skies. And as I made the effort to empathise, to look at the world through their eyes. I began a new intellectual journey. One that would not be welcome back home.

The problem began when I resolved to come back with a film that showed both sides of the coin. Actually there are many more than two. Which is why my film is called Forty Shades of Grey. But only one side was wanted back in Dublin. My peers expected me to come back with an attack on Israel. No grey areas were acceptable.

An Irish artist is supposed to sign boycotts, wear a PLO scarf, and remonstrate loudly about The Occupation. But it’s not just artists who are supposed to hate Israel. Being anti-Israel is supposed to be part of our Irish identity, the same way we are supposed to resent the English.

But hating Israel is not part of my personal national identity. Neither is hating the English. I hold an Irish passport, but nowhere upon this document does it say I am a republican, or a Palestinian.

My Irish passport says I was born in 1983 in Offaly. The Northern Troubles were something Anne Doyle talked to my parents about on the nine o’clock News. I just wanted to watch Father Ted.

So I was frustrated to see Provo graffiti on the wall in the West Bank. I felt the same frustration emerge when I noticed the missing ‘E’ in a “Free Palestin” graffiti on a wall in Cork. I am also frustrated by the anti-Israel activists’ attitude to freedom of speech.

Free speech must work both ways. But back in Dublin, whenever I speak up for Israel, the Fiachras and Fionas look at me aghast, as if I’d pissed on their paninis.

This one-way freedom of speech spurs false information. The Boycott Israel brigade is a prime example. They pressurised Irish supermarkets to remove all Israeli produce from their shelves – a move that directly affected the Palestinian farmers who produce most of their fruit and vegetables under the Israeli brand.

But worst of all, this boycott mentality is affecting artists. In August 2010, the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign got 216 Irish artists to sign a pledge undertaking to boycott the Israeli state. As an artist I have friends on this list – or at least I had.

I would like to challenge my friends about their support for this boycott. What do these armchair sermonisers know about Israel? Could they name three Israeli cities, or the main Israeli industries?

But I have more important questions for Irish artists. What happened to the notion of the artist as a free thinking individual? Why have Irish artists surrendered to group-think on Israel? Could it be due to something as crude as career-advancement?

Artistic leadership comes from the top. Aosdana, Ireland’s State-sponsored affiliation of creative artists, has also signed the boycott. Aosdana is a big player. Its members populate Arts Council funding panels.

Some artists could assume that if their name is on the same boycott sheet as the people assessing their applications, it can hardly hurt their chances. No doubt Aosdana would dispute this assumption. But the perception of a preconceived position on Israel is hard to avoid.

Looking back now over all I have learnt, I wonder if the problem is a lot simpler.

Perhaps our problem is not with Israel, but with our own over-stretched sense of importance – a sense of moral superiority disproportional to the importance of our little country?

Any artist worth his or her salt should be ready to change their mind on receipt of fresh information. So I would urge every one of those 216 Irish artists who pledged to boycott the Israeli state to spend some time in Israel and Palestine. Maybe when you come home you will bin your scarf. I did.

* Nicky Larkin’s ‘Forty Shades of Grey’ will premiere in Dublin in May. www.nickylarkin.com

 

A FRIENDSHIP DATING BACK TO 1976

A Friendship Dating to 1976 Resonates in 2012
By Michael Barbaro
The New York Times
April 8, 2012

The two young men had woefully little in common: one was a wealthy Mormon from Michigan, the other a middle-class Jew from Israel.

But in 1976, the lives of Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu intersected, briefly but indelibly, in the 16th-floor offices of the Boston Consulting Group, where both had been recruited as corporate advisers. At the most formative time of their careers, they sized each other up during the firm’s weekly brainstorming sessions, absorbing the same profoundly analytical view of the world.

That shared experience decades ago led to a warm friendship, little known to outsiders, that is now rich with political intrigue. Mr. Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, is making the case for military action against Iran as Mr. Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, is attacking the Obama administration for not supporting Mr. Netanyahu more robustly.

The relationship between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Romney – nurtured over meals in Boston, New York and Jerusalem, strengthened by a network of mutual friends and heightened by their conservative ideologies – has resulted in an unusually frank exchange of advice and insights on topics like politics, economics and the Middle East.

When Mr. Romney was the governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Netanyahu offered him firsthand pointers on how to shrink the size of government. When Mr. Netanyahu wanted to encourage pension funds to divest from businesses tied to Iran, Mr. Romney counseled him on which American officials to meet with. And when Mr. Romney first ran for president, Mr. Netanyahu presciently asked him whether he thought Newt Gingrich would ever jump into the race.

Only a few weeks ago, on Super Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu delivered a personal briefing by telephone to Mr. Romney about the situation in Iran.

“We can almost speak in shorthand,” Mr. Romney said in an interview. “We share common experiences and have a perspective and underpinning which is similar.”

Mr. Netanyahu attributed their “easy communication” to what he called “B.C.G.’s intellectually rigorous boot camp.”

“So despite our very different backgrounds,” he said through an aide, “my sense is that we employ similar methods in analyzing problems and coming up with solutions for them.”

The ties between Mr. Romney and Mr. Netanyahu stand out because there is little precedent for two politicians of their stature to have such a history together that predates their entry into government. And that history could well influence decision-making at a time when the United States may face crucial questions about whether to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities or support Israel in such an action.

Mr. Romney has suggested that he would not make any significant policy decisions about Israel without consulting Mr. Netanyahu – a level of deference that could raise eyebrows given Mr. Netanyahu’s polarizing reputation, even as it appeals to the neoconservatives and evangelical Christians who are fiercely protective of Israel.

In a telling exchange during a debate in December, Mr. Romney criticized Mr. Gingrich for making a disparaging remark about Palestinians, declaring: “Before I made a statement of that nature, I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: ‘Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?’ “

Martin S. Indyk, a United States ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration, said that whether intentional or not, Mr. Romney’s statement implied that he would “subcontract Middle East policy to Israel.”

“That, of course, would be inappropriate,” he added.

Mr. Netanyahu insists that he is neutral in the presidential election, but he has at best a fraught relationship with President Obama. For years, the prime minister has skillfully mobilized many Jewish groups and Congressional Republicans to pressure the Obama administration into taking a more confrontational approach against Iran.

“To the extent that their personal relationship would give Netanyahu entree to the Romney White House in a way that he doesn’t now have to the Obama White House,” Mr. Indyk said, “the prime minister would certainly consider that to be a significant advantage.”

It was a quirk of history that the two men met at all. In the 1970s, both chose to attend business school in Boston – Harvard for Mr. Romney, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for Mr. Netanyahu. After graduating near the top of their classes, they had their pick of jobs at the nation’s biggest and most prestigious consulting firms.

The Boston Consulting Group did not yet qualify as either. Its founder, Bruce D. Henderson, was considered brilliant but idiosyncratic; his unorthodox theories – about measuring a company’s success by its market share, and dividing businesses into categories like “cash cows” and “dogs” – were then regarded as outside the mainstream of corporate consulting.

As Mr. Romney recalled, the faculty and students at Harvard Business School routinely mocked the firm’s recruitment posters. “Boston Consulting was at the time a firm that seemed somewhat under siege,” he said.

But the company’s status as a pioneering upstart, nipping on the heels of bigger blue-chip firms like McKinsey and Booz Allen, fostered a deep camaraderie among its young employees, who traveled around the country advising clients like General Foods and the Mead Corporation.

Even in a firm of 100 M.B.A.’s, Mr. Romney and Mr. Netanyahu managed to stand apart, as much for their biography as for their brainpower. Mr. Romney’s father, a former governor of Michigan, had sought the Republican presidential nomination a few years earlier. Mr. Netanyahu had his own exotic résumé: he had just completed a tour of duty in an elite special forces unit of the Israeli military.

“Both clearly had an aura around them,” said Alan Weyl, who worked at the firm from 1975 to 1989.

Although they never worked closely on a project together, Mr. Romney and Mr. Netanyahu, competitive by nature, left deep impressions on each other, which appear to have only grown.

Mr. Romney, never known for his lack of self-confidence, still recalls the sense of envy he felt watching Mr. Netanyahu effortlessly hold court during the firm’s Monday morning meetings, when consultants presented their work and fielded questions from their colleagues. The sessions were renowned for their sometimes grueling interrogations.

“He was a strong personality with a distinct point of view,” Mr. Romney said. “I aspired to the same kind of perspective.”

Over dinner years later, aides said, Mr. Netanyahu would reveal the depth of his own scorekeeping, when he quipped, with mostly playful chagrin, that Mr. Romney had been “Henderson’s favorite.”

“His star,” the prime minister said of Mr. Romney’s time at Boston Consulting, “had already risen.”

Mr. Romney worked at the company from 1975 to 1977; Mr. Netanyahu was involved from 1976 to 1978. But a month after Mr. Netanyahu arrived, he returned to Israel to start an antiterrorism foundation in memory of his brother, an officer killed while leading the hostage rescue force at Entebbe, Uganda. An aide said he sporadically returned to the company over the rest of that two-year period.

Mr. Romney later decamped to Bain & Company, a rival of Boston Consulting. They did, however, maintain a significant link: at Bain, Mr. Romney worked closely with Fleur Cates, Mr. Netanyahu’s second wife. (Ms. Cates and Mr. Netanyahu divorced in the mid-1980s, but she remains in touch with Mr. Romney.)

The men reconnected shortly after 2003 when Mr. Romney became the governor of Massachusetts. Mr. Netanyahu paid him a visit, eager to swap tales of government life.

Mr. Netanyahu, who had recently stepped down as Israel’s finance minister, regaled Mr. Romney with stories of how, in the tradition of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, he had challenged unionized workers over control of their pensions, reduced taxes and privatized formerly government-run industries, reducing the role of government in private enterprise.

He encouraged Mr. Romney to look for ways to do the same. As Mr. Romney recalled, Mr. Netanyahu told him of a favorite memory from basic training about a soldier trying to race his comrades with a fat man atop his shoulders. Naturally, he loses.

“Government,” Mr. Romney recalled him saying, “is the guy on your shoulders.”

As governor, Mr. Romney said, he frequently repeated the story to the heads of various agencies, reminding them that their job as regulators was to “catch the bad guys, but also to encourage the good guys and to make business more successful in our state.”

A few years later, Mr. Romney had dinner with Mr. Netanyahu at a private home in the Jewish quarter of the Old City, in central Jerusalem, where the two spent hours discussing the American and Israeli economies. When Mr. Netanyahu informed Mr. Romney of a personal campaign to persuade American pension funds to divest from businesses tied to Iran, Mr. Romney offered up his Rolodex.

Before he left Israel, Mr. Romney set up several meetings with government officials in the United States for his old colleague. “I immediately saw the wisdom of his thinking,” Mr. Romney said.

Back in Massachusetts, Mr. Romney sent out letters to legislators requesting that the public pension funds they controlled sell off investments from corporations doing business with Iran.

Even as Mr. Netanyahu, a keen and eager student of American politics, has tried to avoid any hint of favoritism in the presidential election, friends say he has paid especially close attention to Mr. Romney’s political fortunes in this campaign season.

And the prime minister keeps open lines of communication to the candidate. When it was Mr. Gingrich’s turn to leap to the top of the polls, Mr. Netanyahu was startled in January by an article exploring why Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino executive and outspoken supporter of Israel, was devoting millions of dollars to back Mr. Gingrich. It described Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Adelson as close friends.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office quickly relayed a message to a senior Romney adviser, Dan Senor: the prime minister had played no role in Mr. Adelson’s decision to bankroll a Romney rival.


How free markets, even more than hasty elections, can transform the Middle East

Egypt, the unemployed masses


* Daniel Doron: “As the high hopes for a brave new Middle East fade rapidly, Western policymakers must recognize that promoting market economics and its inevitable cultural changes are far more critical to the region’s well-being than encouraging free elections or resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

* “In addition to producing material prosperity, diffusing power, and curbing tyranny, economic freedom promotes social, cultural, and religious changes conducive to democracy and tolerance. It enhances personal responsibility and social involvement and instills good work habits and accountability. It builds a civil society with a stake in peace. If there is to be any hope of lasting peace and stability in the Middle East, nothing less will do.”

* Sustained economic growth and prosperity is the only proven method of bringing about true reconciliation between hated enemies -- just look at Europe in the latter half of the twentieth century.

* According to the U.N.’s 2009 Arab Human Development Report, Arab countries are less industrialized today than they were in 1970. Vast income from oil and plentiful foreign aid gave Arab states little incentive to support the growth of vibrant private sectors, whatever the cost to their constituents. Economic reform very often served to tilt the playing field, not level it.


* Chronically under- or unemployed 20 to 30-somethings are fueling social and political upheaval across the Middle East. According to the International Labor Organization, the youth unemployment rate is 24 percent in the Middle East and 30 percent in the Arab states of North Africa, against a world average of 13 percent. This is an outgrowth of deep structural problems, not a temporary spike due to economic downturns. Despite the fact that many Arab countries experienced an economic boom from 2003 to 2008, this barely put a dent in the unemployment rate.

* “The combination of social alienation, sexual frustration, and idleness makes Arab youth extraordinarily susceptible to political mobilization, especially by Islamists (who can at least offer sexual gratification in the afterlife) but also by various private armies and terrorist groups. Waging war can be an attractive outlet for frustrations of all kinds.”

* “The democratization of Indonesia, the world’s most populous majority Muslim country, suggests that Islam is not necessarily an insurmountable barrier to gradual political freedom. Indonesian democracy evolved in the wake of growing economic prosperity, generated mostly by a large Chinese, Buddhist minority. This mollified the country’s conflict ridden politics and helped produce a peace-oriented civil society. Islam may not entirely rule out democratic evolution, but it certainly makes economic growth and prosperity all the more essential.”


Why aren’t more women employed in Egypt?


“THE ONLY PROVEN METHOD OF BRINGING ABOUT TRUE RECONCILIATION BETWEEN HATED ENEMIES”

Note by Tom Gross

Because it is a holiday weekend in many places in the world, this seems to be an opportune moment to send some longer articles which I didn’t have time to send earlier.

Below is a piece (which I recommend reading in full if you have time) on free markets and the Middle East written by Daniel Doron, the founder of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress, an independent, pro-market think tank. He was also a key advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu when, as finance minister, he transformed the Israeli economy in 2004-5. He is a longtime subscriber to this email list.

(Incidentally if you would like to “like” my page on Facebook, you can do so here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia.)


The other three dispatches today can be read here:

* “The frozen chosen”: How the Jews helped build Alaska
* How China is quietly building links with Israel (& Bolstering Israel-South Korean ties)
* Netanyahu & Romney: a decades-long friendship (& Portuguese, Irish writers change their minds on Israel)


HOW FREE MARKETS CAN TRANSFORM THE MIDDLE EAST

Free Markets Can Transform the Middle East
By Daniel Doron
Middle East Quarterly
Spring 2012 edition

BACKGROUND

Traditional Muslim monarchs and revolutionary military officers differed in the particulars of governance, but all established nearly total (if often indirect) government domination of the economy. Economic opportunities were seen as privileges to be dispensed by the ruler, not by the invisible hand of the market. In more “modern” Arab states, such as Egypt, bloated public sectors and inefficient welfare policies created quiescent constituencies. Bureaucratic red tape and selectively enforced regulations stymied entrepreneurship, but they added value politically for the ruler by ensuring that administrative connections were necessary to accumulate wealth and power. No dictator wanted properly functioning credit markets, a dynamic educational system, or foreign investment if it meant that his control over his subjects would be weakened. Although the human rights abuses of Arab regimes are legendary, co-optation was no less important than coercion in dissuading citizens from attempting regime changes, peacefully or by force.

Historically, future “Third World” leaders became enamored with radical Fabian socialism in the post-World War II era as were many Western elites. Upon coming to power in their home countries, these leaders nationalized the means of production, creating government-dominated, politicized economies with huge concentrations of political and economic power in the hands of the rulers, the bureaucracy, and a few well-connected oligarchs. This killed competition and efficiency and increased nepotism, waste, and corruption. It also led to intensified political strife with an ever increasing struggle over government handouts.

In Egypt, for example, when the young officers led by Gamal Abdel Nasser seized power in 1952 from King Farouk, they looked for a Third World model to emulate and chose socialism. Egypt’s economy quickly deteriorated, and the state became dysfunctional. Heavy taxation and overwhelming bureaucratic interference decimated the Egyptian middle class that had been in the forefront of commerce and entrepreneurship, of moderation and tolerance. This reached critical dimensions after Egyptian Jews and most foreigners, English, French, and Italians, who had been the backbone of Egyptian entrepreneurship, were expelled.

In many Arab states, huge amounts of foreign aid were channeled through the ruling classes who stole much of it. Competition for government handouts radicalized and fragmented politics, often making them violent and corrupt. The legal system became discriminatory and ineffectual, so that citizens lost respect for government and the law.

As the middle class declined, so did civil society. The ruling class could no longer rely on support from a more stable and usually less radical middle class and its mediating institutions. It had to face an increasingly restive “street,” composed of students and their hangers-on, the unemployables, who were full of grievances and frustration and tempted by the siren songs of various radical groups. The young were constantly incited to riot, and they often did so on Friday after their prayers at the mosques where they were riled up by radical imams, many of them members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The intellectual class and its organizations, such as the academic, media, writers’ and lawyers’ associations became captive to radicals, too. They became dominated by jingoists, communists, socialists, or Islamists, who were far more extreme than their Western counterparts because the Arab world lacked a classic, liberal tradition that could mitigate radicalism.

The wealth gap between the ruling classes, their cronies, and most of the population widened into a deep chasm. The dysfunctional state failed to adequately provide even the most elementary services. The blessings inherited from colonial rule – law and order, respect for property rights, functioning health and educational services, networks of commerce – also fell apart with time. The discontent and opposition, bred by dysfunctional governments, were suppressed by ever growing security services – witness the recent carnage in Syria, Bahrain, Libya, and Yemen.

Lack of economic growth and increased impoverishment also required growing reliance on welfare systems, which in turn became a constant drain on governments’ budgets. Governments resorted to more and more deficit spending, generating high inflation. Higher prices further impoverished the poor and provoked an intensifying cycle of frustrations and rage as the regimes could not afford the punishing costs and political divisions a welfare state exacts. Socialism turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for the Arabs.

According to the U.N.’s 2009 Arab Human Development Report, Arab countries are less industrialized today than they were in 1970 [Footnote 1]. This combination of oversized governments and underperforming economies was sustainable only through the infusion of vast oil revenues and foreign aid from great powers attracted to the region’s enormous strategic value. Vast income from oil and plentiful foreign aid gave Arab states little incentive to support the growth of vibrant private sectors, whatever the cost to their constituents. Economic reform very often served to tilt the playing field, not level it. Beneath a veneer of propriety, the economic liberalization launched by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was a mechanism to enrich his clan and cronies and for ensuring the succession of his son, Gamal. Privatized assets were sold to cronies by way of rubber stamp loans from state-controlled financial markets and banks.

Likewise, Arab dictatorships exploited the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to legitimize their severe curtailment of civil liberties and justify their massive military budgets, which devoured resources that could have been better used to promote economic growth. Incessant anti-Zionist indoctrination and ugly anti-Semitic calumnies also served to deflect public anger away from their repressive governments and provide an outlet for citizens to safely blow off steam, yet ultimately failed to blind the Arabs to their own economic and social misery.

Some impediments to representative government in the Arab world, however, are no less cultural than political. Islamic strictures concerning divine sovereignty, women’s rights, and other religions are inimical to democracy as are traditional, patriarchal social norms prevalent in Arab society. However, the democratization of Indonesia, the world’s most populous majority Muslim country, suggests that Islam is not necessarily an insurmountable barrier to gradual political freedom. Indonesian democracy evolved in the wake of growing economic prosperity, generated mostly by a large Chinese, Buddhist minority. This mollified the country’s conflict ridden politics and helped produce a peace-oriented civil society. Islam may not entirely rule out democratic evolution, but it certainly makes economic growth and prosperity all the more essential.

THE YOUTH BULGE

While the precise causes of the 2011 uprisings are a matter of some debate, demography played a major role. Two to three decades ago, a rapid reduction in child-mortality rates outpaced the decline in birth rates, creating a demographic bubble that makes today’s young adults the Arab equivalent of American baby boomers. About 60 percent of the population in the Arab world is below the age of thirty [2], nearly double the figure for the Group of Seven developed industrial countries. [3]

A youth bulge can promote growth and prosperity. According to the World Bank, large youth populations create “a demographic window of opportunity in which economies can benefit from a majority of individuals entering their productive peak, while the share of the population that is very young and elderly still remains fairly small.” [4]

However, as Americans came to realize in the 1960s, a disproportionately large population of young adults can cause civil unrest since even a growing economy cannot easily accommodate too large a cohort of youngsters. Diminishing opportunities for satisfactory employment often cause growing disaffection among the young. Researchers have found a strong correlation between large youth populations and civil conflict. According to one study, countries where youths aged fifteen to twenty-nine made up at least 40 percent of the adult population were more than twice as likely to experience a major domestic conflict as other countries [5]. If the economy is unable to provide a minimal threshold of employment for them, some form of unrest is nearly inevitable.

UNEMPLOYMENT

The Arab uprisings erupted amid record high levels of unemployment in the region, particularly for young adults. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the youth unemployment rate is 24 percent in the Middle East and 30 percent in the Arab states of North Africa, against a world average of 13 percent [6]. This is an outgrowth of deep structural problems, not a temporary spike due to economic downturns. Despite the fact that many Arab countries experienced an economic boom from 2003 to 2008, this barely put a dent in the unemployment rate.

Consequently, many Arab men are unemployed or underemployed well into their mid-thirties. This forces them to put off marriage as they cannot afford housing and the obligatory dowry traditionally paid to the bride [7]. The financial burden on young men is compounded by their traditional duty to support their parents and siblings in extended families, by hyper-urbanization, soaring real estate prices, and the fact that so few women enter the work force. According to the ILO, the Middle East and North Africa have the world’s lowest female employment-to-population rate, at 19 percent and 21 percent, against an international average of 49 percent [8].

Growing unemployment is preventing a generation of youth from maturing with dignity. Most are too educated to consider working in manual labor, so they remain dependent on their parents. “Youth are marginalized from an opportunity to graduate into adulthood and to become independent, self-respecting human beings who are just able to do the normal things in life, like getting married and having a home,” explained Soraya Salti, regional director of the Amman-based nongovernmental organization Injaz al-Arab, in a 2009 interview. [9]

Because marriage is the only legitimate outlet for sexual gratification in Arab Muslim societies (with few exceptions, the sexes are strictly separated), the humiliation of joblessness is compounded by intense sexual frustration. “In the Muslim world, casual sex, Western-style, doesn’t exist,” notes historian Bernard Lewis. “If a young man wants sex, there are only two possibilities – marriage and the brothel. You have these vast numbers of young men growing up without the money either for the brothel or the bride-price, with raging sexual desire.” [10]

The inferior status and mistreatment of women, their lack of education and limited contact with the outside world, the practice of polygamy, which allows men to easily divorce their wives and have four wives and additional concubines, cannot make for happy relationships between married couples. So even when an Arab man finally gets married, this does not secure contentment or happiness. This situation has grave consequences for society and the body politics.

The combination of social alienation, sexual frustration, and idleness makes Arab youth extraordinarily susceptible to political mobilization, especially by Islamists (who can at least offer sexual gratification in the afterlife) but also by various private armies and terrorist groups. Waging war can be an attractive outlet for frustrations of all kinds.

COMMUNICATIONS

Popular demonstrations and labor strikes erupted occasionally in the past in the Arab states, especially Egypt. Though Mubarak was intent on preserving his family’s grip on power, he tolerated such displays of discontent because the relatively secular and educated activists had little support from, or even contact with, the more traditional masses. Cracking down with force from time to time when the opposition – especially Islamist groups – breached certain red lines and adding palliative concessions as needed were usually sufficient to thwart serious political challenges. In 2011, however, the demonstrators exhibited an unusual fearlessness in the face of government reprisals, first in Tunisia, then across the Arab world.

Technology played a major role in the Arab uprisings. Al-Jazeera’s television coverage of the Tunisian uprising that followed the “martyrdom” of Muhammad Bouazizi, the street vendor who set himself on fire sparking the upheavals, had a riveting effect on Arab youth. Atypically, various groups from cosmopolitan feminists to radical Islamists and doctrinaire socialists began organizing around a united set of demands, often employing the same slogans. The rapid spread of cell phones in recent years enabled protestors everywhere to film and publicize abuses. While news of the late Syrian president Hafez Assad’s brutal 1982 mass murder in Hama took weeks to reach regional and international media outlets, video footage of the same regime shooting protestors in 2011 spread across the globe within hours. With fellow Arabs and the outside world transfixed by televised images of unspeakable brutality, activists quickly came to understand that their rulers could no longer retaliate with impunity.

ISLAMISTS

The fact that these agitated youngsters confined themselves initially to nonviolent methods raised many hopes in the West that the collapse of Arab dictatorships would trigger peaceful transitions to democracy. However, the liberal activists who played the lead role in organizing the uprisings have since been marginalized. Though their bravery inspired the masses to rise up, the masses were soon embracing more traditional saviors.

All of the major Arab uprisings have bolstered the position of Islamists. In Tunisia, Islamists won roughly 40 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections following the overthrow of Ben Ali. In Morocco, where the monarchy defused unrest by introducing political reforms, the Islamist Justice and Development Party won a plurality of parliamentary seats and captured the post of prime minister. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and more radical Salafi Islamists won over two-thirds of the seats in parliament. Abdelhakim Belhadj, chairman of the Tripoli Military Council, is head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. The Syrian National Council opposed to President Bashar al-Assad is dominated by Islamists. All of them have been welcomed by Western officials despite the Islamists’ long-standing bitter animosity to the West and its values and their open declarations that they would like to rid their countries of any Western influence.

EGYPT AS BELLWETHER

Egypt, the most populous and culturally influential Arab country, is both a harbinger and catalyst of regional political trends. One of the few Arab states with a cohesive national identity and a civil society of sorts, the overthrow of Mubarak should have been an ideal setting for the Arab world’s first successful transition to democracy. Instead, it may well prove to be a cautionary tale about the obstacles to democratization likely to surface if and when other Arab regimes fall.

As in Tunisia and Libya, the breakdown of Egypt’s regime was facilitated by a split in the ruling elite. Though nominally a democratic republic, real power in Egypt was shared by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the National Democratic Party of President Mubarak and his cronies.

Mubarak’s so-called economic liberalization initiatives greatly strained his relations with the military, which opposed a hereditary presidential succession. Moreover, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and most other senior Egyptian military leaders were trained in Soviet military academies during the reign of President Gamal Abdel Nasser when Egypt was a loyal client of the USSR. They have a fundamentally statist view of government and little affinity for free markets and the private sector. The military controls a sprawling conglomerate of commercial enterprises estimated to comprise at least 10 percent of the economy, dominating industry and tourism in particular. These quasi-governmental companies paid no taxes under Mubarak, and their operations were not subject to parliamentary oversight, enabling senior military officers to amass enormous personal fortunes and build loyal patronage networks. The generals would have opposed any liberalization, but Mubarak’s reforms were particularly intolerable as they were empowering a rival, civilian elite beholden to the president’s family.

This is partly why SCAF ultimately abandoned Mubarak – first by refusing to suppress the demonstrations that erupted in January 2011, then by conspiring to remove him and green-lighting his trial for murder. The revolution in Tahrir Square simply reestablished the military as the sole authority in Egypt, albeit ostensibly for a transitional period.

SCAF has been primarily concerned with preserving the institutional autonomy of the armed forces and the vast personal holdings of current and retired senior officers. Toward this end, it quickly came to an understanding with the political force on track to win the most seats in transitional elections – the Muslim Brotherhood. Ominously, it consented to a transitional election timetable that benefited well-organized Islamists, who had been slow to embrace the uprising against Mubarak, over the embryonic political parties of secular, liberal activists who spearheaded the demonstrations. The latter reflected the basic weakness and fragmentation of Egypt’s putative civil society.

Thousands who objected to SCAF’s counterrevolution were arrested or beaten. “The army did not stand by the people’s side, not even once during this revolution… it was protecting its own interests,” wrote Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad in March 2011 [11]. For his pains, the army threw him in jail with a 3-year sentence. [Tom Gross adds: Maikel Nabil Sanad, who is a friend of mine, and a subscriber to this list, has now been released, as I noted here: www.tomgrossmedia.com/mideastdispatches/archives/001264.html ] The Egyptian public has grown less responsive to protests by liberal opponents of the regime. “They still take to city squares, but the race for power has moved beyond them,” the Los Angles Times observed [12].

For all of its apparent might and widespread respect in Egypt, the military will not prove to be a reliable bulwark against Islamization. Indeed, insofar as its stewardship of Egypt is allaying Western fears of an Islamist takeover, it may prove to be an enabler.

The military is far from being the cohesive, stable institution that many Westerners imagine. Senior officers are split by inter-branch rivalries and bureaucratic infighting. Many in the mid-level officer corps deeply resent the corruption and incompetence of senior military leaders [13]. Because of universal conscription, the rank and file of the army is comparable in socioeconomic status and outlook to the masses of Egyptians who voted for the Brotherhood. Lower ranks tend to sympathize with the Islamists, which was evident when they assassinated Sadat for making peace with Israel and attempted several times to assassinate Mubarak.

However, the relationship between SCAF and the Brotherhood plays out, the new government is sure to exacerbate the malfunction of the country’s economy. In June 2011, Egypt’s military rulers rejected a $3 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the grounds that the conditions – mostly pro-market reforms – violated Egyptian sovereignty. On this, they have found strong support from the Brotherhood. “There is no objection to borrowing, but it must be without conditions… [and] in accordance with national priorities,” declared Ashraf Badr al-Din, head of the Brotherhood’s economic policy committee, ahead of resumed talks with the IMF in January 2012 [14]. Instead, the transitional government has increased public wages, extended subsidies on food and energy, and taken myriad other populist measures that reflect statist thinking.

The government will encounter little public opposition to its domination of economic affairs as the corruption and duplicity of Mubarak and his cronies produced an enduring public backlash against economic liberalization. “Every party, from the Muslim Brotherhood to self-described liberals, puts the need for ‘social justice’ atop its list of economic priorities. Privatization and liberalization are dirty words,” observed Matthew Kaminski of The Wall Street Journal. “A series of strikes… demanded not just better pay, but the nationalization of industry,” [15] which is bound to cause economic decline. Many protestors want handouts from the state, not economic freedom. This was evident at a protest outside the Ministry of Petroleum led by unemployed engineering graduate students. “We have a ministry that’s supposed to employ them and they [sic] don’t,” one activist explained to MSNBC [16]. Indeed, in the past, many university graduates were assured a government job, making the notorious Egyptian bureaucracy even more intractable and wasteful. The government will exploit such sentiments to solidify its control over the economy, under the guise of fighting corruption and social injustice.

The new regime may prove unable to alleviate the immediate economic conditions fueling civil unrest. Growing lawlessness, intercommunal strife such as increasing attacks on the Christian Copts, and labor unrest have devastated the tourism industry – a chief source of employment and income in Egypt – and scared away foreign investment. The Egyptian economy grew at just 1.2 percent in 2011, down from 5.1 percent in 2010 [17]. Egypt has seen its currency depreciate to its lowest value in seven years, despite spending billions of dollars from its foreign reserves to prop it up.

Even if the government manages to stabilize the country, the socioeconomic malaise that brought down one of the Arab world’s most stable regimes will likely remain or get worse, ensuring future cycles of civil unrest. The most likely scenario, then, is that whichever political coalition captures power in the transitional elections will be inclined to defend that power in much the same way as previous regimes. With the strong showing of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and Salafis in the 2011 parliamentary elections, few doubt that Islamists will take a “by all means necessary” approach to fending off challengers. They have all the time in the world to ease the military back into the barracks.

If the Brotherhood has its way, social and cultural values inimical to democracy will become more entrenched in Egypt. Even such “moderates” as former mufti of Egypt Nasr Farid and lawyer Montasser al-Zayat have called for the establishment of a Saudi-style “Committee for Promotion of Virtue,” or morality police, charged with punishing violations of Shari’a (Islamic law). [18]

As is the modern tradition in Arab politics, Egypt’s new regime will likely resort to distraction through foreign adventurism. Though conscious of the need to maintain the flow of U.S. military and economic aid as long as possible, the Brotherhood is eager to raise the anti-Zionist banner whenever practical. On his first appearance in Tahrir Square after returning from exile, the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yousef Qaradawi, called for the “liberation” of Jerusalem, a code phrase for the destruction of Israel. The post-rebellion Egyptian government has already begun a closer rapprochement with Hamas, sparking fears that Egypt may one day rejoin the battle against Israel. This harkens back to Nasser but also to Mubarak, who benefitted from billions in foreign, mostly U.S., aid while fomenting a culture of anti-Semitism, using Hamas as a weapon to gradually bleed Israel, and winking at massive smuggling of weapons from Iran through the Egyptian-controlled Sinai into the Gaza strip.

CONCLUSION

Western policymakers must refocus their attention on combating the root causes of Arab authoritarianism: Holding free elections in the region is less important than the advent of market economies. Free enterprise not only empowers citizens vis-à-vis the government but also facilitates crucial cultural, social, religious, and psychological changes conducive to democracy. Moreover, sustained economic growth and prosperity is the only proven method of bringing about true reconciliation between hated enemies (just look at Europe in the latter half of the twentieth century).

The collapse of autocratic regimes in the Arab world will not necessarily promote economic freedom. “There will be many pressures to maintain corrupt, anti-market practices, and those who hold monopolies and other economic advantages will seek to keep them,” warns Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security advisor under the Bush administration [19]. Abrams and others have argued that the provision of foreign aid and free trade agreements to Arab regimes must be conditioned on the dismantling of state control over economic affairs, but it remains to be seen whether this will lead these governments to renounce destructive state control of economic activity.

Though the oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchies may temporarily weather the storm, albeit at great cost to their future evolution (one can anticipate a very difficult succession period in Saudi Arabia), it appears unlikely that Egypt and other resource-poor Arab countries will be able to absorb enough of their unemployed youth to ward off even worse social unrest in the years ahead. In countries that are fragmented by ethno-sectarian divisions, such as Yemen and Syria, violent conflict appears inevitable.

The 2011 Arab uprisings may thus turn out to be the opening salvo in a long period of political turmoil and violence. “From the Prophet Muhammad to the Ottomans, the story of Islam has been the story of the rise and fall of an often-astonishing imperial aggressiveness and, no less important, of never quiescent imperial dreams and repeated fantasies of revenge and restoration,” wrote historian Efraim Karsh. “These fantasies gained rapid momentum during the last phases of the Ottoman Empire, culminating in its disastrous decision to enter World War I on the losing side, as well as in the creation of an imperialist dream that would survive the Ottoman era to haunt Islamic and Middle Eastern politics into the 21st century.” [20]

One can expect such issues as the vainglorious dream of the restoration of a worldwide caliphate, the still tribal underpinnings of Arab society, its autocratic family structure, the miserable status of women and children, and more generally the attitude toward “the other” (or dhimmis) in Muslim societies, to create great upheavals and even violent eruptions. They will most likely resemble the prolonged wars of religion that Europe experienced for centuries.

Free markets can mitigate much of these conflicts.


FOOTNOTES

[1] Arab Human Development Report 2009 (New York: United Nations Development Program, 2009). p. 103.
[2] The New York Times, Mar. 18, 2011.
[3] Ibid., Feb. 3, 2011.
[4] Youth – An Undervalued Asset: Towards a New Agenda in the Middle East and North Africa (Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, Sept. 2007), p. i.
[5] Richard P. Cincotta, Robert Engelman and Daniele Anastasion, The Security Demographic: Population and Civil Conflict after the Cold War (Washington, D.C.: Population Action International, 2003).
[6] Global Employment Trends 2011 (Geneva: International Labor Office, 2011), p. 62.
[7] Hoda Rashad, Magued Osman, and Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi, “Marriage in the Arab World,” The Population Reference Bureau, Washington, D.C., 2005.
[8] Global Employment Trends 2011, pp. 63-4, 66.
[9] “Extended Interview: Soraya Salti,” Frontline, Public Broadcasting Service, June 23, 2009.
[10] David Horovitz, interview with Bernard Lewis, “A Mass Expression of Outrage against Injustice,” The Jerusalem Post, Feb. 25, 2011.
[11] Maikel Nabil Sanad, “The army and the people wasn’t [sic] ever one hand,” Sanad blog, Mar. 7, 2011.
[12] Los Angeles Times, Dec. 30, 2011.
[13] “Academics See the Military in Decline, but Retaining Strong Influence,” U.S. Embassy, Cairo, diplomatic cable, Sept. 23, 2008, inThe Guardian (London), Feb. 3, 2011.
[14] Reuters, Jan. 13, 2012.
[15] Matthew Kaminski, “Searching for Hayek in Cairo,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 22, 2011.
[16] MSNBC, Mar. 1, 2011.
[17] The Washington Post, Dec. 14, 2011.
[18] Egypt.com, Jan. 7, 2012; Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo), Jan. 13, 2012.
[19] Elliott Abrams, “FTAs for Tunisia and Egypt,” Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C., Oct. 17, 2011.
[20] Efraim Karsh, “Islam’s Imperial Dreams,” Commentary, Apr. 2006, pp. 37-41.


How China is quietly building links with Israel (& Bolstering Israel-South Korean ties)

The old days


* “In the minds of the Chinese, Jews retain a highly respected status as a people who have survived over the millennia against all odds and have attained achievements that belie their miniscule numbers. The Chinese take great pride in Shanghai’s status as one of the only cities in the world that accepted Jewish refugees during World War II.”

* “Interactions between China and Israel had risen significantly over the years but had remained largely ‘off the record,’ due to the Arab nations’ strong influence on China’s leadership. In 2011 this began to change. Five formally acknowledged Israel Studies programs were established across China, and in September, China’s Communist Party expressed a formal interest in Israel’s political echelons in a public fashion by participating in the first-ever China-Israel Strategy and Security Symposium.”

* “Despite its close ties with the Arab world, China was caught completely off guard by the Arab Spring. They were devastated by the $20 billion in losses they suffered with the fall of Gaddafi, hammering home their lack of understanding of the Middle East. In their search for accurate and reliable information, leading academics began to seek out Israel, an island of stability whose geographic proximity to the Arab Spring offers unique access.”

***

* Israel and South Korea: In 1948, two small, proud and fiercely independent nations on opposite sides of the globe regained their political sovereignty. As heirs to ancient and venerable civilizations, both of which had suffered under the yoke of foreign occupation, these two states seemed poised for close friendship and cooperation.

* Both faced gargantuan tasks of development and modernization, with precious few national resources other than the vast talents and human capital of their respective peoples. Israel and South Korea, each in their own ways, have produced economic miracles despite the odds. South Koreans, like Israelis, know all too well what it is like to grapple with a hostile and bellicose neighbor.

* For all the similarities, however, the relationship between the two countries has often been rocky. Now bilateral relations have begun to take off. In the past two years, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman each visited Seoul, and a delegation of 11 prominent South Korean parliamentarians came to Israel. Trade between the two countries was well over $1.5 billion last year, and reports indicating that the Talmud was being taught in South Korean schools as part of the curriculum generated a media stir.


ISRAEL, CHINA AND SOUTH KOREA

Note by Tom Gross

Because it is a holiday weekend in many places in the world, this seems to be an opportune moment to send some articles which I didn’t have time to send earlier. Before the longer analytical article about China and Israel by Carice Witte below, I attach a shorter opinion piece from last week’s Jerusalem Post about Israel and South Korean ties, by Michael Freund, a longtime subscriber to this list.

The other three dispatches today can be read here:

* “The frozen chosen”: How the Jews helped build Alaska
* How free markets, even more than “Arab Spring elections,” can transform the Middle East
* Netanyahu & Romney: a decades-long friendship (& Portuguese, Irish writers change their minds on Israel)


WORKING TO IMPROVE ISRAEL-SOUTH KOREAN TIES

Bolster Israel-South Korean ties
By Michael Freund
The Jerusalem Post
April 5, 2012

In 1948, two small, proud and fiercely independent nations on opposite sides of the globe regained their political sovereignty.

As heirs to ancient and venerable civilizations, both of which had suffered under the yoke of foreign occupation, these two states seemed poised for close friendship and cooperation. Both faced gargantuan tasks of development and modernization, with precious few national resources other than the vast talents and human capital of their respective peoples.

And yet, it was not until April 1962 – 50 years ago this month – that Israel and South Korea finally established formal diplomatic relations.

While the rapport between the two countries has certainly had its ups and downs in the intervening decades, the time has never been more ripe to improve ties. In a world of mounting strategic instability, it behooves both Jerusalem and Seoul to take steps to forge a stronger alliance.

Take a quick look at a map and you will see how policy-makers in Israel and South Korea face challenges that are as daunting as they are similar. Indeed, both are strongholds of freedom in regions dominated primarily by much larger and decidedly less democratic states.

And South Koreans, like Israelis, know all too well what it is like to grapple with a hostile and bellicose neighbor.

Residents of Seoul live within artillery and rocket range of the thuggish North Korean dictatorship which lies just across the 38th parallel of the Korean peninsula.

With its heated rhetoric, propensity for violence, and nuclear arsenal, the Communist North poses an ongoing existential and security threat to the South Koreans.

Not surprisingly, all young male South Koreans are required to do a stint of military service, with defense consuming a healthy share of the national budget.

Sound familiar? But the comparisons don’t end there.

Israel and South Korea, each in their own ways, have produced economic miracles despite the odds. The Jewish state has famously made the desert bloom, while Koreans took a country that lay devastated by war in the past century and transformed it into a commercial and manufacturing powerhouse.

For all the similarities, however, the relationship between the two countries has often been rocky.

After the oil shock of 1973, South Korean policy tilted strongly in favor of the Arabs and the PLO, and leading South Korean companies adhered to the Arab League boycott against the Jewish state.

This prompted Israel to close its embassy in 1978, which only reopened in 1992 after the end of the Cold War. Since then, bilateral relations have slowly and inexorably begun to take off.

In the past two years, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman each visited Seoul, and a delegation of 11 prominent South Korean parliamentarians came to Israel. Recent news reports indicate that defense ties between the two countries are growing stronger, and last September, South Korea purchased Israeli-made Spike rockets to defend against a possible attack from the north.

Trade between the two countries was well over $1.5 billion last year, and reports indicating that the Talmud was being taught in South Korean schools as part of the curriculum generated a media stir. But much more can and should be done. A good place to be start would be to sign a free trade agreement, one that would enable the already burgeoning commercial relationship to flourish still further.

South Korea is now the fourth largest economy in Asia and the 16th largest in the world. It is a powerhouse in fields ranging from shipbuilding to petrochemicals. The country is well-positioned to serve as a regional center for finance, offering Israel an additional gateway to the East. No less important is the fact that there is great potential for developing widespread grassroots pro-Israel sentiment in South Korea, particularly in light of the phenomenal growth of evangelical Christianity in the country.

On a visit to Seoul earlier this week, I had the honor to meet Rev. Young Hoon Lee, Senior Pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, as well as Pastor Il Doo Kwon of the church’s international division. Located in the middle of the Han river, in the heart of downtown Seoul, the church was founded by the Rev. Dr. David Yonggi Cho. It rapidly grew into the largest Christian congregation in the world, with more than 1 million members and a main sanctuary that seats 26,000 people at a time.

After greeting me warmly in Hebrew, Rev. Young told me that Israel is very dear to the hearts of many South Korean Christians.

“We pray for Israel every month,” he said, “and we ask God to bless the land with peace.” “We love Israel. Many of our members have visited the country and are active in a global initiative to pray for Jerusalem,” he noted.

Sitting in his office, 8,000 kilometers from Jerusalem, I could not help but admire the fact that our Holy City is in the thoughts and prayers of Rev. Young and his flock, who regularly beseech God on behalf of Israel.

With so much in common, it is time for the two countries to join forces and fashion a closer relationship.

South Korea presents Israel with an opportunity to cultivate a strategic partnership in an increasingly important part of the world. By every measure, this is a bond we would do well to strengthen.

 

CHINA’S BEGINS TO BUILD LINKS WITH ISRAEL

A Quiet Transformation in China’s Approach to Israel
By Carice Witte
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
April 2, 2012

Historically China was inward looking, for over 1200 years seeking no role in the international theater. The world’s most populous nation was preoccupied with its own culture, history, and survival.

Driven by the pressing goal to feed and provide basic resources to their people, the Chinese leadership ventured outside their territory beginning in the early 1980s. While this trend grew, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) kept its head down and focused on building its economy and pulling itself out of the turmoil and desolation created by the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

Within 25 years, this Asian nation transformed itself into an economic power and China has bestowed new responsibilities on the nation’s government. In recent years, the world has witnessed China’s growing involvement in the international arena – whether through its veto in the UN Security Council [Footnote 1], the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden [2] and contributing to peacekeeping missions in Africa and the Middle East, buying U.S. and EU debt [3], or its declaration that the South China Sea is an integral part of China. [4]

ISRAEL-CHINA RELATIONS

Though the Israeli government extended recognition to China on January 9, 1950, it took until January 1992 for the two nations to establish formal diplomatic relations. [5] Subsequent to an August 1950 resolution by the Arab League forbidding any Arab country from acknowledging China, the 1955 Bandung Conference was held which excluded Israel and forged a bond between China and the Arab world. [6] Nevertheless, as China came to recognize Israel’s potential to contribute to its economic and military modernization goals, clandestine military exchanges between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the PLA slowly developed. They began with an initial contact made at the Paris Air Show in 1975. By the early 1980s, Israeli technology in the fields of agriculture, solar energy, information and communications technology, and construction made their way to Asia’s largest nation. [7]

Sino-Israel relations took a turn for the worse, however, when Israel adhered to a U.S. mandate to renege on a major sale in 1999 of the Phalcon, a sophisticated reconnaissance aircraft that would allow the Chinese to gather intelligence at a distance [8], and again in 2004, when Israel began repairs and upgrades on the Harpy drones, laser-guided unmanned aircraft Israel had sold to China in 1994. Israel eventually succumbed to U.S. pressure, backing out of its earlier agreements with the PRC. [9]

ECONOMIC SYNERGIES FORM COMMON GROUND

While political relations deteriorated significantly, Israel continued to contribute to agricultural and water technology advancement in China [10]. Over time and with great effort by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, business interaction was soon revived and growth was nurtured. The value of total bilateral imports and exports reached $7.65 billion in 2010, nearly 150 times their 1992 value. [11] In the minds of the Chinese, Jews retain a highly respected status as a people who have survived over the millennia against all odds and have attained achievements that belie their miniscule numbers. China is a nation with no indigenous anti-Semitism. The Chinese continue to see Jews and themselves as two ancient civilizations, with shared values in, among others, family, education, and hard work. The Chinese continue to take great pride in Shanghai’s status as one of the only cities in the world that accepted Jewish refugees during World War II. [12]

Beyond cultural affinities, key occurrences in the past few years have engendered a noticeable warming in China-Israel relations. In the economic arena, the 2008 subprime debacle drew the economies of the West into recession, causing Israeli businesses to look east in a more comprehensive and serious fashion. In 2010, Foxconn [13], the leading manufacturer of such products as the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360, with 13 factories across China, suffered suicides by a number of its employees said to be protesting oppressive pressure in the workplace. China’s leadership responded by making innovation a priority in the country’s 12th Five-Year Plan, published in 2011. The ruling Communist Party announced a national intention to raise the country from being the world’s factory to becoming a leading innovator. This new focus led the Chinese to seek the potential contribution of Israel – the “Start-Up Nation.” [14]

WITH WEALTH COMES RESPONSIBILITY

Economic factors influenced political ones. During 2010, China was internationally recognized as having the second largest economy in the world, following the U.S.A. This led to growing self-confidence by China’s leadership and the nation as a whole. One manifestation of its new self-image was the political echelon’s public acknowledgment of a growing interest in relations with Israel. Interactions between the two countries had risen significantly over the previous years but had remained largely “off the record.” For example, prior to this transformation in attitude, China’s provincial leaders and other officials and diplomats could visit Israel to advance business, finance, technology, and science exchanges. However, few could formally meet with Israel’s political sector or deal with Israel regarding geopolitics. This stemmed in part from the Arab nations’ strong influence on the PRC leadership’s public approach to Israel.

Signs of change were subtle but convincing. SIGNAL (Sino-Israel Global Network & Academic Leadership) experienced the transformation firsthand through our research in mid-2010 investigating China’s interest in high-level academic interchanges with Israel. We learned that there were 10 Jewish Studies centers across China, all established over the past 20 years. However, there was not a single Israel Studies program. This was a symptom of China’s official attitude towards Israel – the study of Judaism and Jewish history is non-political and non-offensive to the Arab world. Studying Israel, however, would indicate an official sanctioning of the Jewish nation as an academic focus.

When SIGNAL proposed the idea of establishing Israel Studies Programs at Chinese universities in mid-2010, a university in Southwest China responded with great interest. The director of their Jewish Studies Institute wanted to re-name the center “Israel Studies.” However, she was advised by more experienced and politically connected scholars that just making such a request could shut down the center. If there was interest in Israel Studies, it should be done quietly, without any formal acknowledgment. In 2011, SIGNAL established five formally acknowledged Israel Studies programs across China. Less than one year into the program, the same university that was advised to avoid the word “Israel” submitted a request to China’s Ministry of Education to form an Israel Studies center. It was now possible to obtain official government funding for a program bearing the name “Israel.”

ACADEMIA BRIDGING THE GAP

Another example of change in China’s official approach to Israel was the staging of the first-ever China-Israel Strategic Studies conference. Never before had scholars from China and Israel come together to address geopolitical issues of mutual concern. SIGNAL’s due diligence in mid-2010 indicated that high-level and influential Chinese academics and experts would not come to Israel for such an event, nor would they host one in China. The alternative was to hold the event at a leading university in the U.S.A. – capitalizing on China’s strong interest in improving U.S.-China relations. However, in late 2010 there was a glimmer of change in China’s public recognition of Israel. China’s Communist Party invited the Likud “foreign minister” to visit.

Since Israel’s political parties do not have foreign ministers, the ruling Likud Party sent MK Yuli Edelstein. Perhaps more significant was the Communist Party’s invitation to Edelstein to participate in a “think tank conference” joining the Likud Party think tank with the Communist Party think tank. While China’s Communist Party did not realize that Israel’s political parties do not have affiliated think tanks, the salient point was that the party publicly invited Israel’s ruling party to take part in an Israel-China academic event focusing on issues of political interest. The significance of this development lay in China’s most powerful political body expressing formal interest in Israel’s political echelons in a public fashion. Due to this transformation in attitude, in September 2011, SIGNAL held the first-ever China-Israel Strategy and Security Symposium at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, co-hosted by the Center for Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) and in conjunction with the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the Lauder School of Government.

2011 proved to be a banner year for warming China-Israel relations. Official visits between the two governments grew in both number and rank, capped with visits by General Chen Bingde and Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. But for all the governmental and academic exchanges taking place, on close examination it becomes clear that China’s leadership continues to lack a basic understanding of Israel and the region. The minimal information they and their academic advisors do have is primarily sourced via their 50-year-old network of affiliations throughout the Arab world and Iran. Israel and China share no such network of trusted associations built over years of studying in each other’s universities, touring each other’s countrysides, or interacting extensively within shared diplomatic frameworks.

“ARAB SPRING” STIRS MID-EAST POLICY

Despite their close ties with the Arab world, China’s government and ruling party were caught completely off guard by the Arab Spring. They were in virtual shock to discover that 65,000 of their citizens were working in Libya when the evacuation of foreigners from that country began, and were devastated by the $20 billion in losses they suffered with the fall of Gaddafi [15], hammering home their lack of understanding of the Middle East. In response, China’s leaders directed their academic advisors to find new avenues for investigation. In their search for accurate and reliable information as well as analysis and interpretation, leading academics from Beijing and Shanghai began to seek out Israel. They learned that Israel is an island of stability, while its geographic proximity to the Arab Spring offers unique access without being drawn into the fray.

Perhaps due in part to the Arab Spring, the ambassadors of the 22 Arab nations have been putting increasing pressure on China to take action in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As is often the case in China, policy advice on such matters is sourced to the nation’s leading academic community. The Middle East Research Center at Shanghai Jiaotong University (SJTU) developed a new model for diplomatic involvement in the Middle East and North Africa. In response to the Arab community’s complaint that China sits on its proverbial hands, showing indifference to the region, the Center coined the new program, “Constructive Participation.” “Constructive Participation,” which aims to be the new paradigm for Chinese public diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa, infers China’s gradual shift away from its traditional “non-interference” policy towards a strategy in which government, businesses, and NGOs seek to contribute to the development of the region.

The Middle East Center’s pilot trip brought a 30-person delegation of business leaders and scholars to Israel and the PA on February 26-29, 2012. The CEOs, presidents, and general managers comprised the largest group of high-level business people ever to come to Israel and the PA for the sole purpose of investment. The scholars accompanying them aimed to promote economic stability while collecting empirical information on the region in order to carry out “Constructive Participation.”

China’s economic achievements have created a new reality for the world’s most populous nation. Demands and expectations internally and externally will continue to grow and to some extent, China will be seeking out Israel, its scholars, and experts as a trusted source of information and greater understanding in order to meet the responsibilities brought by its economic success.

* * *

FOOTNOTES

1. www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/russia-china-veto-un-security-council-resolution-on-syria-1.411033
2. maritimeindia.org/article/military-operations-other-war-pla-navys-role-peaceful-development-china
3. www.iss.europa.eu/publications/detail/article/how-the-debt-crisis-can-advance-sino-european-relations/
4. peoplesreview.com.np/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7897:explosion-in-the-south-china-sea&catid=40:view-point&Itemid=59
5. E. Zev Suffot, “Israel’s China Policy 1950-1992,” Israel Affairs 7 (2000): 103; Zhang Shuguang, “Constructing ‘Peaceful Coexistence: China’s Diplomacy Toward the Geneva and Bandung Conferences, 1954-1955,” Cold War History 7.4 (2007): 514.
6. news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2011-09/07/c_131112714.htm
7. John Burns, “Israel and China Quietly Form Trade Bonds,” New York Times, July 22, 1985.
8. www.jcpa.org/jl/vp473.htm
9. www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2004/12/29/Israels-China-US-weapons-dilemma/UPI-26081104355028/
10. opinion.globaltimes.cn/foreign-view/2011-03/628938.html
11. www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-03/03/content_12106851.htm
12. www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5488614
13. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxconn%20-%20cite_note-wsj-5
14. Dan Senor and Saul Singer, Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle (2009).
15. chonzfashion.hubpages.com/hub/Chinas-investment-in-Libya-is-more-than-20-billion-and-the-amount-of-loss-is-difficult-to-estimate

“The frozen chosen”: How the Jews helped build Alaska

A synagogue in Alaska


* Roosevelt’s plan to allow some German Jews fleeing Hitler to settle in Alaska came to nothing, as locals doubted that the newcomers could adapt. But unbeknownst to them, Jews had been among Alaska’s pioneers. They were among the earliest settlers of “the Last Frontier,” and had played a major role in putting it on the American map.

* The 1939 plan to make Alaska a haven for Jews fleeing the Holocaust died a quiet death, but in 2007, writer Michael Chabon re-envisioned history in his novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which imagines what Alaska would be like had the plan had passed. “I wondered what the world would be like if most of its Jews lived in a place where people just sort of forgot about them and left them alone,” Chabon said.


“THE FROZEN CHOSEN”

Note by Tom Gross

Because it is a holiday weekend in many places in the world, this seems to be an opportune moment to send some longer articles which I didn’t have time to send earlier. These articles may only appeal to some subscribers to this list. Below is a piece on the Jews of Alaska.

The other three dispatches today can be read here:

* How China is quietly building links with Israel (& Bolstering Israel-South Korean ties)
* How free markets, even more than “Arab Spring elections,” can transform the Middle East
* Netanyahu & Romney: a decades-long friendship (& Portuguese, Irish writers change their minds on Israel)


HOW THE JEWS HELPED BUILD ALASKA

The Jews of Alaska
By Yereth Rosen
Moment magazine
February 2012 edition

The 49th state (of the United States) was built by Jewish people, Jewish money and Jewish know-how. And although their numbers are small, Jews are still disproportionately prominent in commercial and public life.

***

In 1938, as the Nazis laid plans to annihilate European Jewry, a few desperate Jews dreamed of escaping to the other side of the world: Alaska. Joachim Hein, from Breslau, Germany, was one of many who wrote to the American Department of Interior for permission to immigrate to the vast northern territory with his wife, Anna, and daughter, Henny. “We shall in no way [be] a burden for the country,” he wrote in a letter now in the National Archives, “because we take our electric machines from here and furnish a manufacture in aprons and linen, like we have had here. But if this business is not agreeable to your Excellency, we are prepared to [do] every work.”

Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and a few others in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration liked the idea of resettling German Jews in Alaska. Despite the isolationist and anti-Jewish sentiments prevalent at the time, they proposed to establish “a haven for Jewish refugees from Germany and other areas in Europe where the Jews are subjected to oppressive restrictions.” According to Ickes’s diaries, President Roosevelt wanted to move 10,000 settlers to Alaska each year for five years, but only 10 percent would be Jewish “to avoid the undoubted criticism” the program would receive if it brought too many Jews into the country. With Ickes’s support, Interior Undersecretary Harold Slattery wrote a formal proposal titled “The Problem of Alaskan Development,” which became known as the Slattery Report. It emphasized economic-development benefits rather than humanitarian relief: The Jewish refugees, Ickes reasoned, would “open up opportunities in the industrial and professional fields now closed to the Jews in Germany.”

The proposal won few fans in the far north. Widow Emma de la Vergne in Fairbanks was one of those who thought it was a good idea. “Let the German-Jews come to Alaska if they want to. Alaska is a big country. Give them a chance,” she said when interviewed by the city’s Daily News-Miner. But most of her fellow Alaskans disagreed. “German Jews Unsuited for Alaska Settlers Is Prevailing View Here,” read the paper’s headline on November 21, 1938. A few days later, an editorial declared: “Alaska wants no misfits and none who are unprepared to make their way without becoming a burden upon the territory.” The mayor of Fairbanks compared the proposal to one that advocated turning Alaska into a penal colony.

The idea went nowhere. But fears that Jews would not be able to make it in Alaska were unfounded. Jews were among the earliest settlers of “the Last Frontier,” and had played a major role in putting it on the American map. “It’s because of the Jewish presence that Alaska was developed when it was,” says Alaska historian Patti Moss, who lives in Juneau, the state capital in southeastern Alaska. “The first banks: Jewish people. Railroads: Jewish financing. The first college: East Coast Jewish money. The entire infrastructure of Alaska was built by Jewish people, Jewish money and Jewish knowledge.”

***

Danish-born navigator Vitus Bering, exploring on behalf of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great, sighted Alaska on a 1741 trip to map the Siberian coast. Decades later came the promyshlenniki – Russian fur traders and businessmen lured by Alaska’s untapped natural wealth. Among these hardy souls, it is believed, were Jewish furriers and Jews who had been exiled to Siberia by the Tsar. Most worked for the state-sponsored trading concern called the Russian-American Company, which had a monopoly on exploiting Alaska’s vast resources. One of its managers was Nikolay Yakovlevich Rosenberg, who ran the company from 1850 to 1853.

New Archangel – renamed Sitka – a harbor town on an island off the southeast coast, was the center of Alaskan commercial life. The first Jewish family arrived in 1848, says Moss. Alexander Cohen, whose daughters would become the state’s first postmistresses, bought two or three hotels and a brewery. The Cohens were followed by other Ashkenazi Jews from Germany who opened up a variety of businesses, including brothels. “Jews transformed Sitka from a tent city into a city,” says Moss.

Jewish traders from San Francisco who purchased furs from the Russian-American Company were among the first to recognize Alaska’s potential. “While historians differed as to the real motives for the sale of Alaska, there was substantial agreement that the efforts of the San Francisco fur syndicates to buy out the Russian-American Company was a factor in bringing about the purchase,” wrote Bernard Postal, author of an authoritative article on Alaska’s Jews in the 1960 American Jewish Yearbook. Former California Senator Cornelius Cole, according to one Alaskan pioneer, recalled that “the original and most active mover of the plan to buy Alaska after the Civil War was an enterprising Jewish-American promoter and trader named Philip [sic] Goldstone of San Francisco.”

Cole got Goldstone’s first name wrong but the rest of his facts were accurate. In 1865, Louis Goldstone, a California fur trader, brought news that the Russians wanted to sell Alaska to an American company. Facing competition from the British-owned Hudson Bay Company, Goldstone’s associates decided to pressure the American government to preempt the British. They engaged Cole, then a Washington lobbyist, to press his boyhood friend, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward. And thus it was that on March 30, 1867 “Seward’s Folly” – the $7.2 million American purchase of Alaska – came to pass. At less than two cents an acre, it was a land that, unbeknownst to both seller and purchaser, harbored untold deposits of gold, silver, copper, zinc, coal and oil.

Shortly after the U.S. purchase, two wealthy Jewish furriers in San Francisco Lewis Gerstle and Louis Sloss, bought most of the concessions owned by the Russian-American Company – 23 trading posts strategically located on accessible islands and coastal plains, as well as its entire stock of goods, warehouses, wharves and ships – and folded them into their own firm, the Alaska Commercial Company. “A company agent was aboard the government transport carrying the American officials who took possession of Alaska on October 1, 1867,” wrote Postal. And so was soldier Benjamin Levy, who, according to his 1882 obituary in The American Israelite, was credited “with hauling down the Russian flag and hoisting up the Stars and Stripes when the formal transfer of sovereignty took place at Sitka.”

In control of the new territory’s infrastructure, the Alaska Commercial Company had the inside track “in the race for commercial supremacy in Alaska,” wrote Postal. Gerstle and Sloss were particularly interested in sealskins, and also financed some of Alaska’s first mining ventures. But neither man ever set foot in the territory; they were Bavarian émigrés known more for their formal manners than for their love of sub-zero temperatures.

At the time of the sale, according to congressional records, there were about 2,500 Russians and 8,000 indigenous people living under the direct governance of the Russian-American Company, and possibly 50,000 Alaskan natives living outside its jurisdiction. U.S. sovereignty in Alaska proved to be a magnet for more newcomers. Soon, the streets of Sitka were lined with shops with Jewish names, and the small Jewish community thrived. One traveler, Emil Teichmann, describes how Sitka’s Jewish men prayed together in a warehouse on Friday night. “I had never heard a sound there in the evenings, but on that night my curiosity was aroused by the murmur of several voices in the adjoining room,” he writes in his published diary, A Journey to Alaska in the Year 1868. “Looking through a crevice I saw quite an assembly of some twenty men all of the Jewish persuasion, who were holding their Sabbath services and reading their prayers under the leadership of the oldest man present. It was a memorable thing to see this religious gathering in so strange a setting and it said a great deal for the persistence with which the Jews everywhere, even in the most remote countries, practice their emotional exercises.”

The Gold Rush brought even more Jews to Alaska. In 1899, when gold was discovered on the beaches of Nome – about half way up the west coast – would-be-miners headed north on paddlewheel boats. Nineteen-year-old Max Hirschberg, a hotel clerk in Canada’s Yukon, decided to make his way overland. But an encounter with a rusty nail hospitalized Hirschberg with blood poisoning, delaying his journey until the spring thaw, when dogsledding was too hazardous. Instead, he mounted a bike.

“I knew the news of the gold strike at Nome would bring thousands of people from the States to Nome by boat, so I had to get there quickly,” he wrote in an account of his adventures that was published decades later in Alaska Magazine. “The day I left Dawson, March 2, 1900 was clear and crisp, 30 degrees below zero. I was dressed in a flannel shirt, heavy fleece-lined overalls, a heavy mackinaw coat, a drill parka, two pairs of heavy woolen socks and felt high-top shoes, a fur cap that I pulled down over my ears, a fur nosepiece, plus fur gauntlet gloves.” In ten weeks, he biked 1,100 miles over frozen Yukon River ice, pedaling in a two-inch-wide groove left by the dogsleds, and enduring snow blindness, exhaustion and exposure along the way. (Hirshberg’s feat is memorialized in Alaska outdoors lore and was one of the inspirations for an annual extreme sport challenge, in which competitors bike or ski 130 to 1,100 miles on the snow-packed Iditarod Trail.)

In Nome, Hirschberg joined what was, at the time, the world’s northernmost and westernmost Jewish community. A congregation was founded in 1900, followed by the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Nome a year later. Among the Jews of Nome was Josephine “Sadie” Marcus, who had left behind a staid, upper-class New York upbringing for life in the West. She was the wife of lawman-turned-outlaw Wyatt Earp, with whom she operated Dexter Saloon for two years during the height of the gold rush.

By 1910, Nome’s rush was over and most of the town’s Jews moved on to newer strikes. Others settled in Alaska’s growing number of towns. One was Fairbanks, founded in 1901 near the confluence of the Chena and Tanana Rivers, which would become the state’s second largest city and the largest in the interior. It was there, in 1906, that a prescient Jewish émigré from Russia named Abe Spring first proposed Alaska as a refuge for persecuted Jews. His suggestion that victims of Russian pogroms be settled in Alaska was rejected by the U.S. Congress.

In 1914, Congress passed a bill authorizing construction of the Alaska Railroad from the coast to Fairbanks, with a site on Cook Inlet as headquarters. That site was Ship Creek, which would later become the city of Anchorage. Among the Jews who settled at Ship Creek was lawyer Leopold David. David was elected the city’s first mayor upon incorporation in 1920 and served three terms. Another prominent Jew was Zachary Loussac. The son of a Moscow rabbi, Loussac opened the first drugstore in 1916. Voted Alaska’s Outstanding Citizen in 1946, he served as mayor from 1948 to 1951, and remains one of Anchorage’s best-known historical figures, revered for his devotion to philanthropy, education and the establishment of the city’s public library system. He staked many prospectors, explaining that “I always liked to help anyone who was going to dig a hole in Alaska, because I wanted to know what was inside.”

Another well-known name in Anchorage is Gottstein. The grocery that early pioneer Jacob Gottstein opened in a tent grew into the J.B. Gottstein Company, which later merged with Carr’s Grocery to form Carr-Gottstein, Inc., at one time the largest private employer in Alaska. Gottstein’s wife, Anna Jacobs, was a teacher who later helped found Alaska’s first Parent Teacher Association.

The Jewish story was similar throughout the territory. Whether they lived in the Panhandle in the southeast or the Seward Peninsula facing Siberia in the northwest, Jewish merchants, government employees, engineers, canners, fishermen and scientists were few in number but outsized in influence.

The territory’s Jews could not, however, convince their fellow Alaskans to welcome the latest group of European Jews in need of a new home. Alaskan Jews were deeply concerned about the Nazi threat to their brethren in Europe, writes Postal, giving “enthusiastic support to the plan proposed in 1938 by Secretary of the Interior Harold I. Ickes to settle Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe in Alaska.” But the plan was not supported by Ernest Gruening, Alaska’s longest-serving territorial governor and most influential Jew.

Gruening, sometimes called the father of Alaskan statehood, was born into a wealthy Jewish family in New York. A Harvard-trained doctor, he was drawn to journalism and became managing editor of The Nation. Journalism led him to politics, and Roosevelt appointed him Alaska’s territorial governor in 1939, the year the Slattery Report was under consideration and Germany invaded Poland.

“This provision would be universally resented in Alaska,” Gruening wrote to Ickes in October 1939. His opposition to the plan was largely political, according to Robert David Johnson, a Brooklyn College history professor who wrote a biography of Gruening; he thought it would be political suicide to get behind such a plan. Instead the new governor launched his campaign to make Alaska America’s 49th state.

In 1950, a statehood bill passed the House by a 40-vote margin but was stonewalled in Senate committee hearings. Gruening, along with other Alaskan politicians – including Victor Fischer, one of the authors of Alaska’s constitution – lobbied on, and in April 1958, both houses of Congress finally passed a resolution of statehood for Alaska, which President Eisenhower signed into law in July of 1958. Alaskans elected Gruening, a Democrat, to the U.S. Senate the same year, and Alaska was admitted into the United States on January 3, 1959.

Gruening is best known for his efforts on behalf of Alaska’s native peoples, who were subject to rampant discrimination. Not only was there a separate school system for native children, but some businesses displayed signs such as “No Natives Allowed,” or even “No Natives or Dogs Allowed.” A man who distanced himself from Judaism and publicly declared himself an atheist, Gruening had an aide submit complaints to publications that identified him as Jewish. But he was deeply sympathetic to minorities.

As territorial governor, he pushed for a bill banning discrimination against natives, which became Alaska law some two decades before Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Tlingit leader Roy Peratrovich, former superintendent for the Anchorage Bureau of Indian Affairs, recalled those times in a 1974 interview with the Anchorage Daily News: “I understand that bill is still the best in the United States. It was 20 years ahead of its time. Not only the Indian people but all minorities owe a great debt to Ernest Gruening.”

Gruening’s support for native rights, however, did not extend to their land claims, which led key native leaders to endorse his opponent Mike Gravel in the 1968 Democratic Senate primary. Gravel won. “He [Gruening] was willing to provide civil rights, but he wasn’t at all interested in people’s land rights,” says native leader Willie Iggiagruk Hensley, an Inupiat whose father was a Lithuanian Jew. Coincidentally, it was a Chicago Jew, Arthur J. Goldberg, a former justice of the Supreme Court, who would counsel the Alaska Federation of Natives on how to get the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act passed in 1971.

***

As soon as statehood passed, Ray Kula and his wife Bernice set off from Detroit in an old moving van plastered with signs reading “Alaska or Bust.” The couple was part of a group of Michigan “59ers,” as would-be Alaskan homesteaders drawn by the promise of free land were known. With the Kulas in the lead, the caravan of 17 cars, six house trailers and two cargo vans drove over packed snow and frozen rivers, accompanied by a reporter from The Detroit News. After assorted mishaps, the motley crew, which also included Ronald Jacobowitz, arrived in south central Alaska after a grueling 53 days. They were the first group of homesteaders to reach Alaska after statehood.

Other Jewish families also heeded the call of the new state, and throughout the next several decades the Jewish population grew, especially with the construction of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline in 1974, says Rabbi Joseph Greenberg of the Lubavitch Jewish Center of Alaska, who is also the president of the Alaska Jewish Historical Museum and Cultural Center.

The most comprehensive demographic picture of Alaska’s Jews came in 1995, when Brandeis University Professor Bernard Reisman – a specialist in far-flung Jewish communities – published a study called “Life on the Frontier: The Jews of Alaska.” Reisman had expected to find the state’s Jews to be predominantly male, less educated, more blue-collar, more politically conservative and more alienated from Judaism than their counterparts nationally, a pattern in other small-population western states such as Idaho and Wyoming.

He found the opposite. Alaskan Jews, according to his findings, were much more educated than their Lower 48 counterparts. Fifty-four percent had at least some graduate school, compared to 25 percent of Lower 48 Jews and nine percent of the U.S. population as a whole. “Clearly, the Jews who have chosen to come to Alaska represent an unusually highly educated segment of American Jews,” he said in his study.

Although Alaska’s 6,000 Jews account for less than one percent of its population of over 700,000, they figure prominently in business and public life. Dominant professions, Reisman found, are education, law and journalism. At the time he did his study, he noted that a fifth of Alaska’s judges were Jewish – including state Supreme Court Justice Jay Rabinowitz. A few years ago, six of the 60 Alaska state legislators were Jewish, leading the House Democratic leader at the time, Ethan Berkowitz, to dub the group the “Yarmul-caucus.” Their native colleagues sometimes rib Jewish lawmakers for being members of another Alaska tribe. “My native friends always remind me that it was ‘EskiMoses’ who led the frozen chosen,” Berkowitz has joked.

Although a 2009 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ranked Alaskans among the least likely to identify with a religion, Reisman found that Alaska’s Jews identified powerfully with their religion. Alaskans’ high rate of intermarriage did not seem to dilute Jewish identity, as children of mixed marriages tended to be raised as Jews.

Alaska’s Jews are proud of their Jewish life. The major urban areas, where most Jews live, have their own synagogues. Anchorage, the metropolis with about 40 percent of the state’s residents, has two – the reform Congregation Beth Sholom, the state’s largest synagogue and home to Nome’s historic Bayles Torah, and the Orthodox Lubavitch Jewish Center of Alaska led by Rabbi Greenberg. Fairbanks’ Reform Congregation Or HaTzafon [Light of the North] is touted as the world’s farthest-north synagogue, located just 125 miles south of the Arctic Circle. (Each February, the Fairbanks synagogue organizes an annual “Farthest North Jewish Film Festival.”) As of 2005, Congregation Sukkat Shalom of Juneau, a Reform congregation, has its own building after years of operating in borrowed space. Last fall, it reached another milestone – installation of a resident rabbi.

In more isolated Alaskan communities, Jews rely on rabbinical students or visiting rabbis, some of them military chaplains. And as fans of the 1990s television show Northern Exposure may remember, Dr. Joel Fleischman – who moved from New York to the small fictional town of Cicely, Alaska, in order to fulfill the terms of his student loan – was plagued by his inability to put together a minyan. How do real life Jews in small towns secure a minyan? It can be difficult, says Naomi King of Fairbanks’ Congregation Or HaTzafon, especially in the dead of winter when there are no tourists around. “We just ignore some of the rules,” she says. “We have to.”

Indeed, practicing Judaism in a northern latitude – be it in city or wilderness – poses a plethora of halachic problems. For example, when should Jews light Shabbat candles in the season of the midnight sun, or the “noon moon,” as the dark winter is dubbed? “It’s kind of like saying ‘how do you go to sleep when it’s light outside?’” says David Guttenberg, a Jewish state legislator from Fairbanks. “You just close your eyes and do it.”

Passover arrives around the spring equinox, a time when the sun lingers late in the western Alaska sky. The community seders held by the Lubavitch Jewish Center start at 8 p.m., says Rabbi Greenberg. But only after everyone has eaten and the sun starts slipping below the horizon, around 10 p.m., do celebrants break out the matzoh and crack open the Haggadah.

And how do Jews construct a proper sukkah, with an open ceiling to view the night sky, in a fall season susceptible to early snowfall? While some Alaskan stalwarts brave the cold, Anchorage’s Congregation Beth Sholom erects its sukkah indoors. The Lubavatich Jewish Center builds its outside, but seals it up tight and equips it with electricity and space heaters.

***

Les Gara, 48, came to Alaska in 1988 after graduating from Harvard Law School to clerk for Supreme Court Justice Rabinowitz. “I like to joke that I’m the Iraqi-Jew-who-lives-in-Alaska for the record book,” says Gara, who went on to become an assistant attorney general working on the state’s Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation, an attorney in private practice and an Anchorage business owner.

Today, the avid outdoorsman is a Democratic member of the Alaska State Legislature. Having grown up in foster care in New York City after his Iraqi-Jewish immigrant father was murdered in a robbery, he is a champion of Alaskan foster care children. In particular, he has sponsored legislation and organized programs to help young adults who age out of the system.

Alaska started out as a Democratic state, but for the last 30 years has been staunchly Republican. Nevertheless, most of the Jews who have gone into politics in Alaska are Democrats like Gara. Being Jewish, however, is a non-issue in a state so culturally diverse, he says. But another Jewish politician, Ethan Berkowitz, who served 10 years in the state House, was targeted by attacks that smacked of bigotry, according to a 2008 profile in The Forward. When he sought the Democratic nomination for governor, he was portrayed as a rich, effete Jew on a number of fake websites set up in his name.

The smear campaign didn’t stop Berkowitz from winning the nomination, although he lost the election. And he has not avoided mentioning his Judaism and its values in subsequent campaigns. “The heritage is important in terms of the quest for social justice and equal opportunity for all,” he said. “You watch in this country how native people have been oppressed and discriminated against. That’s a story that resonates with me.” But like Gara, Berkowitz dismisses suggestions that anti-Semitism plays a significant role in Alaskan politics. “I suspect that the people who don’t like me because I’m Jewish don’t like me more because I’m a Democrat.”

Republican Jay Ramras, a Fairbanks restaurant owner, agrees that “being Jewish isn’t a negative” in Alaska politics, but adds that “being a Christian is a positive in Republican primaries.” Ramras, who is known as “Jaybird” because of his chicken wing business, lost his 2010 bid to become the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.

When he served in the state legislature, Ramras clashed with Governor Sarah Palin over oil policy. Among the revelations in Palin’s gubernatorial records, released in June through Alaska’s state open-records law, was that she had denigrated him in emails, referring to him once as “Jaybird-Nose.” Palin’s remarks, he says, show a “meanness and a vindictiveness” that reminds him of the seventh grade. But he is irked more by the large Star of David she sometimes wears around her neck. “That’s just one of her many peculiarities,” he says. “Do you know anyone else who does that?”

***

The 1939 plan to make Alaska a haven for Jews fleeing the Holocaust died a quiet death, but in 2007, writer Michael Chabon re-envisioned history in his novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which imagines what Alaska would be like had the plan had passed. “I wondered what the world would be like if most of its Jews lived in a place where people just sort of forgot about them and left them alone,” Chabon has said.

Sitka, in the Alaska Chabon dreams up, has “swollen to two million.” It is an Orthodox Jewish paradise, with a sea of black felt hats and headscarves filling an avenue on a Friday afternoon, while “boys careen down the sidewalks on in-line roller skates in a slipstream of scarves and sidelocks.” The economy is booming.

But even in Chabon’s alternate reality, brushed onto the broad canvas of the great northern land, there’s a catch. History plays out differently in yet another way: Despite the lobbying of Jews in the Lower 48, the U.S. Congress refuses to grant the territory statehood. “NO JEWLASKA, LAWMAKERS PROMISE,” ran the headline in Sitka’s Daily Times, in Chabon’s book.


Nobel Prize winner (& former SS member): Israel a threat to world peace

April 05, 2012


* In a poem published yesterday in several prominent European newspapers, including Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung (on its front page) and Italy’s La Repubblica, leading German writer and Nobel Prize winner Guenter Grass (pictured above) said Israel is a threat to world peace, and compared Israel with Iran.

* Tom Gross: It seems old prejudices die hard: Grass, now aged 84, was a member of the Waffen-SS, the organization responsible for murdering so many Jews and others in Hitler’s Germany. Hitler too repeatedly ranted in the 1930s that the Jews were a threat to world peace.

* Tom Gross: It is rare for newspapers in different countries to simultaneously publish the same piece, let alone a poem. (Some may not be surprised that some of the countries in which it was published have a Fascist past.) However, other German newspapers from both Left and Right were swift to criticize the author. “How blind do you have to be to ignore the actual circumstances in the Middle East?” wrote Die Welt, while Der Spiegel said the poem was in “poor taste”.



* Two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson (pictured above) is among three dozen British actors, directors and writers calling for Israel’s most famous theater company, Habima, to be excluded from performing in Hebrew at the upcoming Shakespeare festival in London.

* But these British cultural luminaries have no objections to the National Theatre of China performing “Richard III” in Mandarin, or the Palestinian Ashtar Theatre company performing “Richard II” in Arabic at the festival. Nor do they seem to care about Britain’s own human rights record, including the killing of civilians in Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere.

* Nor do they care that the Globe Shakespeare festival will host Iranian, Russian and Turkish theater groups. They seem unconcerned by women getting stoned or being raped in Iranian jails, or by the Russian occupation of Chechnya, or the Turkish occupation of Cyprus and Kurdistan.

* BBC Asian service: A five-year-old girl becomes the UK’s youngest victim of forced marriage. She was one of 400 children to receive assistance from the government’s Forced Marriage Unit in the last year. Britain is considering criminalizing the practice.

* As thousands of Jews from Israel and around the world gather for the Passover holiday in the Israeli seaside resort of Eilat, a terrorist grad rocket launched from Egypt overnight lands in the town. It caused no injuries as it landed on a construction site.

* Update. A reader writes: “My brother, having just arrived in Israel for Passover, was sitting on the balcony. He heard a whooshing sound followed by an explosion, and saw the plumes of smoke in front of him. The explosion was just across the road from where he was. It landed in a construction site, but flats (with sleeping families) surrounding the area are completely inhabited.”

***

You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please first press “Like” on that page.

 

CONTENTS

1. “Nobel winner Grass: Israel a threat to world peace” (Associated Press, April 4, 2012)
2. “Emma Thompson calls for Israeli theater’s ban” (Times of Israel, April 1, 2012)
3. “Forced marriage: Girl aged five among 400 minors helped” (BBC, March 30, 2012)
4. “The Anti-American Nobel Peace Prize” (By Jay Nordlinger, Wall St Journal, April 1, 2012)


I attach four articles below.

-- Tom Gross

 

OLD HABITS DIE HARD

Nobel winner Grass: Israel a threat to world peace
By Juergen Baetz
Associated Press
April 4, 2012

BERLIN (AP) – German Nobel literature laureate Guenter Grass labeled Israel a threat to “already fragile world peace” in a poem published Wednesday that drew sharp rebukes at home and from Israel.

In the poem titled “What must be said,” published in German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Italy’s La Repubblica among others, Grass criticized what he described as Western hypocrisy over Israel’s own suspected nuclear program amid speculation that it might engage in military action against Iran to stop it building a suspected atomic bomb.

The 84-year-old Grass said he had been prompted to put pen to paper by Berlin’s recent decision to sell Israel a submarine able to “send all-destroying warheads where the existence of a single nuclear bomb is unproven.”

“The nuclear power Israel is endangering the already fragile world peace,” he wrote. His poem specifically criticized Israel’s “claim to the right of a first strike” against Iran.

Grass also called for “unhindered and permanent control of Israel’s nuclear capability and Iran’s atomic facilities through an international body.”

Israel views Iran as a threat to its existence, citing among other things some Iranian calls for its destruction and fears that Iran aims to produce nuclear weapons.

Grass didn’t mention those calls, which have been made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but obliquely referred to the Iranian people being “subjugated by a loudmouth.”

Israel is widely believed to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons but has never admitted it, pursuing instead an official policy of “ambiguity” to deter potential attackers.

Israel currently has three Dolphin submarines from Germany – one half-funded and two entirely funded by Berlin – two more are currently under construction, and the contract for a sixth submarine was signed last month.

Dolphin-class submarines can carry nuclear-tipped missiles, but there’s no evidence Israel has armed them with such weapons.

The West sees Iran’s nuclear program as designed to develop an atomic bomb, but Tehran denies the charge, saying an expansion of its enrichment program is meant only to provide nuclear fuel.

Grass said he long kept silent on Israel’s own nuclear program because his country committed “crimes that are without comparison,” but he has come to see that silence as a “burdensome lie and a coercion” whose disregard carries a punishment – “the verdict ‘anti-Semitism’ is commonly used.”

The left-leaning Grass established himself as a leading literary figure with “The Tin Drum,” published in 1959, and won the Nobel Prize in 1999. He urged fellow Germans to confront their painful Nazi history in the decades after World War II.

However, his image suffered a bruising when he admitted in his 2006 autobiography that he was drafted into the Waffen-SS, the combat arm of the Nazis’ paramilitary organization, in the final months of World War II.

Grass’ comments swiftly drew sharp criticism Wednesday.

“What must also be said is that Israel is the world’s only nation whose right to exist is publicly questioned,” the Israeli Embassy in Germany said in a statement. “We want to live in peace with our neighbors in the region.”

“Guenter Grass is turning the situation upside-down by defending a brutal regime that not only disregards but openly violates international agreements for many years,” said Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee in Berlin.

“Iran is the threat for world peace – and Israel the only democracy in the entire region, and at the same time the world’s only whose right to exist is openly questioned,” said Charlotte Knobloch, a former leader of Germany’s Jewish community.

Efraim Zuroff, who leads the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, called Grass’ poem “outrageous,” adding it appeared to be a sign of Israel “becoming the whipping boy for the frustrations of those who are sick of hearing about the Holocaust.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a staunch ally of Israel, and her spokesman reacted coolly to Grass’ remarks.

“There is artistic freedom in Germany, and there thankfully also is the freedom of the government not to have to comment on every artistic production,” Steffen Seibert said.

The head of the German Parliament’s foreign affairs committee – lawmaker Ruprecht Polenz, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats – told the daily Mitteldeutsche Zeitung that Grass is a great author “but he always has difficulties when he speak about politics and mostly gets it wrong.”

“The country that worries us is Iran,” he was quoted as saying, adding that “his poem distracts attention from that.”

Grass’ assistant Hilke Ohsoling told German news agency dapd Wednesday that the author won’t explain or defend his poem, nor does he plan to comment on the reactions in the near future because of health issues.

 

EMMA THOMPSON’S SELECTIVE MORALITY

Oscar winner Emma Thompson calls for Israeli theater’s ban
By Nathan Burstein
Times of Israel
April 1, 2012

Two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson is among three dozen actors, directors and writers protesting the inclusion of an Israeli theater company at an upcoming Shakespeare festival in England.

Recent Tony winner Mark Rylance and seven-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh are among the other artists who signed a letter expressing “dismay and regret” that Tel Aviv’s Habima theater will be participating in Globe to Globe, a six-week festival taking place at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.

“Habima [sic] has a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory,” says the letter, published March 29 in Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The document notes that unlike other members of Israel’s theater community, Habima did not participate in a boycott of a controversial cultural center that opened in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, in 2010. “By inviting Habima, Shakespeare’s Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law,” the letter says.

Signed by more than three dozen English artists, the letter declares that signatories have “no problem” with Globe to Globe’s desire to include Hebrew in the festival, which will showcase the Bard’s 37 plays in 37 languages. “But by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practised by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company,” the letter states. “We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so that the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land.”

Other companies participating in the festival include the National Theatre of China, which will perform “Richard III” in Mandarin, and the Ashtar Theatre, a Palestinian company that will perform “Richard II” in Arabic.

Habima is currently scheduled to perform “The Merchant of Venice” at the festival twice in late May.

 

FORCIBLY MARRIED, AGED 5

Forced marriage: Girl aged five among 400 minors helped
By Poonam Taneja
BBC Asian Network
March 30, 2012

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17534262

A five-year-old girl is thought to have become the UK’s youngest victim of forced marriage.

She was one of 400 children to receive assistance from the government’s Forced Marriage Unit in the last year.

The figures have emerged as the public consultation into criminalising forced marriage in England, Wales and Northern Ireland comes to an end.

Amy Cumming, joint head of the Forced Marriage Unit, said 29% of the cases it dealt with last year involved minors.

“The youngest of these was actually five years old, so there are children involved in the practice across the school age range,” she said.

To protect the child, the authorities have not disclosed details of the case or where the marriage took place.

But the case comes as no surprise to the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), which deals with more than 100 cases of forced marriage a year.

“We have had clients who are in their very early teens, 11-year-olds, 12-year-olds, the youngest case we had was nine years old,” said IKWRO campaigns officer Fionnuala Murphy.

Now the consultation on forced marriage has come to an end, IKWROs hope it will become a criminal offence.

“Our organisation is pro-criminalisation because we believe that it will empower victims to know that this is a crime, to stand up to their parents and to stand up for their own rights and it will enable them to come forward and seek help and say what’s happening to me is wrong.”

VIOLENT ABUSE

Author Sameem Ali is all too familiar with the trauma of being a child bride - she was only 13 years old when she was taken to Pakistan by her mother on a holiday.

As a teenager she was excited about the trip, but when she arrived at the family’s ancestral village, she discovered she was to be married to a man twice her age, whom she had never met.

“The whole family turned up with an imam and they forced me into this marriage. I didn’t really understand what was happening at the time.

“I was only a child. There was no way I could say no. There was no support there whatsoever.”

Eight months later she returned to the UK after suffering months of violent abuse.

“I was brought back to this country when I was 14 years old and pregnant,” she said.

She eventually fled the relationship and is now happily married with two children and helps other young people at risk.

However, Sameem is concerned that making forced marriage a criminal offence will deter victims from speaking out.

“I think it will be detrimental to the victim. The victims will stop coming forward, because nobody will want to point the finger at their parents,” she explained.

“The young person will not come forward if it’s a criminal offence. They will not stand up in court and testify against their parents.”

LAW CHANGE

In 2011 the Forced Marriage Unit helped deal with around 1,500 cases, but many more are thought to go unreported.

Forced Marriage Protection Orders were introduced in 2008 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007.

A potential victim, friend or police can apply for an order aimed at protecting an individual through the courts. Anyone found to have breached one can be jailed for up to two years for contempt of court, although this is classed as a civil offence.

The prime minister wants the law to go further and ordered a public consultation on making it a criminal offence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to force a person to marry against their will.

In Scotland the breach of a forced marriage protection order is also a criminal offence in Scotland punishable by prisons.

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said the government would now look at all the arguments.

“We will now consider all of those views and responses to the consultation before we make a decision on the best way to protect vulnerable people.

“We are determined, working closely with charities and other organisations doing a tremendous amount in this area, to make forced marriage a thing of the past.”

A decision is expected to be announced later this year.

 

SEVERAL “KICKS IN THE LEG”

The Anti-American Nobel Peace Prize
Norway’s judges don’t like the pro-freedom foreign policy of some U.S. presidents.
By Jay Nordlinger
The Wall Street Journal
April 1, 2012

In 1987, the Norwegian Nobel Committee gave its Nobel Peace Prize to Óscar Arias, the president of Costa Rica. Central America was beset by war, particularly in Nicaragua, and Mr. Arias had crafted a peace plan. In Washington, the Reagan administration was highly skeptical. The Nobel committee told Mr. Arias they were giving him the prize to use as a weapon against Reagan.

Robert Kagan writes about this in his 1996 book, “A Twilight Struggle.” Said Mr. Arias to Mr. Kagan, “Reagan was responsible for my prize.”

We could argue that Reagan was responsible for some other peace prizes out of Oslo, too. George W. Bush may have had some responsibility for five more.

In 2002, Nobel committee Chairman Gunnar Berge was blunt. After announcing the peace prize to Jimmy Carter for what the committee called his “decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development,” Mr. Berge said that the selection “should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken. It’s a kick in the leg to all who follow the same line as the United States.”

“Kick in the leg” is a Norwegian way of saying “slap in the face” or “poke in the eye.” And when Mr. Berge said “line,” he meant the approach that President Bush was taking in the War on Terror (as we used to know it). Mr. Carter was one of Mr. Bush’s most prominent critics.

The year before, the committee had given its prize to the United Nations and Kofi Annan, who was then its secretary-general. This was weeks after the 9/11 attacks. One of the things this prize did was send a message to Mr. Bush: Don’t dare respond outside the U.N.

In 2005, the committee honored the International Atomic Energy Agency and Mohamed ElBaradei, then its director general. Was this another “kick in the leg”? The chairman, Ole Danbolt Mjøs, denied it, explicitly; but many had trouble believing him. A New York Times reporter expressed the general reaction when he wrote, “The award was a vindication of a man and an agency long at odds with President Bush and his administration over how to confront Iraq and Iran.”

Two years later, it was Al Gore’s turn and that of another U.N. agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Once more, Chairman Mjøs denied that the committee was kicking anyone in the leg. Once more, many doubted him. President Bush was anathema to the environmental left, as to the left at large.

In a quasi-official history, “The Nobel Peace Prize,” three Norwegian historians write, “The Committee hoped the prestige that comes with the Peace Prize would give Gore an even greater standing in the media and strengthen the Democrats’ fight for a new, eco-friendly USA.”

There also was a personal element for Mr. Gore, who had lost the presidency to Mr. Bush in a spectacularly hard way. Just as people called the 2005 award a “vindication” for Mr. ElBaradei, they called the 2007 award a “vindication” for Mr. Gore.

Finally came the 2009 award, which went to the new American president, Barack Obama. If George W. Bush was the committee’s nightmare president – and he was – Mr. Obama was its dream president. With its 2009 award, it was blessing a new day.

The announcement said, “[President Obama’s] diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.” At the prize ceremony, Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland echoed these words, citing “earlier American presidents who, above all others, were seen as world leaders also outside the United States: Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.”

Reagan? The committee’s bête noire from the 1980s? Chairman Jagland went on to quote that president, who said that American ideals lived not only in America but “in the hearts and minds of millions of the world’s people in both free and oppressed societies who look to us for leadership.”

That is exactly the sort of thing that Mr. Bush said, ad nauseam, for eight years. There will come a time when another conservative sits in the Oval Office. Will the Nobel chairman then quote George W. Bush, with wistful fondness?

Jay Nordlinger is a senior editor of National Review and the author of “Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World” (Encounter Books, 2012). He is also a subscriber to this list.