Rice, Powell and Albright: Friends in ‘Retirement’

Revolutions spreading through the Middle East added timeliness and weight to the convening of three former secretaries of state by American Jewish University (AJU) on Monday evening, Feb. 28, at the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk. Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, all active authors and advocates on the international scene, joined AJU President Robert Wexler onstage to agree on just about everything, and bicker over only a few matters.

The agreement came largely over responses to the current wave of populist uprisings in the Arab world. “This is not an American story,” Albright said of the game-changing, riotous public protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Iran and Jordan. It is also going to unfold over a long period of time, she said: “There is much I admire about our media, but they are covering this like a short sports event. This is a long story.”

Powell admitted some surprise—and then again none at all—at the fall of Mubarak and the newly minted instability elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East. “People have been talking about freedom for years,” he said. “It’s not as if we didn’t press them. But who could have anticipated that a young man who immolated himself would have started that?” He was referring to Mohammed Bouazizi, the university-educated, unemployed Tunisian fruit-peddler who set himself on fire in public in an act of desperation, igniting equally desperate cries for freedom through the Arab world.

“We knew that these autocratic regimes were isolated from their people,” Rice agreed, “that they weren’t delivering for their people.” But, she said, you can’t see in advance what spark might start a revolution. “What we tried to do was to say to these regimes, ‘Start reforming now.’ ” And, indeed, there was the feeling, for example, that with the elections in Egypt in 2005 some progress toward democracy was being made, but then in 2006 Mubarak took back all that he had given up.

When Wexler asked the three what kind of regime might be expected to govern a new Egypt, Albright expressed optimism: “This is a very intelligent population,” she said, predicting that a moderate Islamist government, along the lines of Turkey, would arise. “That’s where we can be helpful, she said, by providing the ‘nuts and bolts’ of governance.” This is not a time to fear the fanatics, she said, “This could be al-Qaeda’s worst nightmare. … But democracies have to deliver, to help with foreign aid, with jobs. “It is in America’s national security to help the economy in Egypt,” Albright said.

Powell pointed to the deep interests that Egypt’s military has in maintaining stability, but also control: “I think you’re going to be seeing the military governing for quite a while,” he said.

Wexler asked Rice about her 2008 trip to Tripoli to meet with Muammar el-Qaddafi, which led to the reinstatement of the dictator in international good graces. Rice expressed no regrets, even in retrospect knowing what she knows now, and said the trip was made on the condition that Qaddafi give up his weapons and offer a settlement for the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. “It is better that he is not sitting there now with his weapons,” Rice said.

On Israel, there was not much disagreement, either. “If I were Israel’s defense minister or Bibi Netanyahu,” Powell said, “I would try to determine how porous the border with Israel is.” Added Albright: “I think Israel has every reason to feel anxious now,” but she added, “in the long run, I truly believe Israel’s security is much better off with democracy than with corrupt dictatorships.”

For her part, Rice said she hopes that the Israelis will reach out to continue the peace process: “I would like to think it’s possible to push for a deal,” she said. But there is also, “a longtime problem on the Palestinian side,” because of WikiLeaks, which hurt the leading Palestinian negotiators, as well as other factors. “Israel should be doing everything that they can to support the current leadership in the West Bank,” she said. “This is not a time for inactivity.” Albright called the current situation in the West Bank a public-private partnership,” and called Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad “remarkable.”

The disagreements among former U.S. dignitaries came over Iran, as well as the foreign diplomacy of President Barack Obama.

When Albright suggested that Iran is gaining influence in the region, Rice retorted, “I think Iranians have a lot of trouble.” She said their nuclear program has isolated them, their economy is not strong, there have been splits among the clerics and, she said, “I think we shouldn’t underestimate that 70 percent of Iranians are under the age of 30.”

To Albright’s concerns over Iranian ties to Hezbollah and Hamas as well as Powell’s concern over what he sees as growing Iranian influence with respect to Iraq, Rice said, “The posture of the U.S. about what we think of Iran matters. I think it’s time to stop painting the Iranians as 10 feet tall, and talk about them as what they are.”

But it was when Wexler brought up Donald Rumsfeld’s new memoir that the disagreement over the face Obama is showing the world came into dispute between Albright and Rice. Albright said that Obama is seeing the nation as a partner among nations, which seemed to anger Rice. Repeatedly calling the U.S. an “exceptional nation,” she said Obama should see the U.S. as a leader and not just one of the pack. Albright retorted that as an immigrant herself, no one could be more proud of this country, to which Rice pointed out that as a black woman raised in Birmingham, Ala., where she was not allowed to go where whites went, she knew what America could offer. “America has to lead,” she said, “because we surely have something special to say.”

Powell interjected that the United States would be wise to seek out partnerships, and Albright said “I am now concerned that we are turning inward.”

With so much wisdom coming from the stage, Wexler’s final question sparked both introspection and humor. He asked the panel what they might do over, if they got one opportunity to do so.

Rice said she would have focused more on a comprehensive immigration bill: “I don’t know when immigrants became our enemies,” she said, sounding profoundly moderate.

Powell referred to the moment when he told the United Nations that the war in Iraq was necessary, based on what he now knows was faulty CIA intelligence. “I would ask the president to have Condi give the speech at the U.N.,” he said to laughter. “But after that, immigration.”

And Albright ended the night with her regret over work she did as ambassador to the United Nations. “I regret,” she said, “that I didn’t push harder on what was going on in Rwanda,” she said of the massive genocide that occurred there in 1994. “I can explain it,” based on what else was happening at the time, she said, “But I regret it.”

Everyone’s Jewish — until proven otherwise

Strange doings in Virginia. George Allen, former governor, one-term senator, son of a famous football coach and in the midst of a heated battle for reelection, has just been outed as
a Jew.
An odd turn of events, given that his having Jewish origins has nothing to do with anything in the campaign, and that Allen himself was oblivious to the fact until his 83-year-old mother revealed to him last month the secret she had kept concealed for 60 years.
Apart from its political irrelevance, it seems improbable in the extreme that the cowboy-boots-wearing football scion of Southern manner and speech should turn out to be, at least by origins, a son of Israel.
For Allen, as he quipped to me, it’s the explanation for a lifelong affinity for Hebrew National hot dogs. For me, it is the ultimate confirmation of something I have been regaling friends with for 20 years and now, for the advancement of social science, feel compelled to publish.
Krauthammer’s Law: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise.
I’ve had a fairly good run with this one. First, it turns out that John Kerry — windsurfing, French-speaking, Beacon Hill aristocrat — had two Jewish grandparents. Then Hillary Clinton — methodical Methodist — unearths a Jewish stepgrandfather in time for her run as New York senator.
A less jaunty case was that of Madeleine Albright, three of whose Czech grandparents had perished in the Holocaust and who most improbably contended that she had no idea they were Jewish. To which we can add the leading French presidential contender (Nicolas Sarkozy), a former supreme allied commander of NATO (Wesley Clark) and Russia’s leading anti-Semite (Vladimir Zhirinovsky). One must have a sense of humor about these things. Even Fidel Castro claims he is from a family of Marranos.
For all its tongue-in-cheek irony, Krauthammer’s Law works because when I say “everyone,” I don’t mean everyone you know personally. Depending on the history and ethnicity of your neighborhood and social circles, there may be no one you know who is Jewish. But if “everyone” means anyone that you’ve heard of in public life, the law works for two reasons. Ever since the Jews were allowed out of the ghetto and into European society at the dawning of the Enlightenment, they have peopled the arts and sciences, politics and history in astonishing disproportion to their numbers.
There are 13 million Jews in the world, one-fifth of 1 percent of the world’s population. Yet 20 percent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, a staggering hundredfold surplus of renown and genius. This is similarly true for myriad other “everyones” — the household names in music, literature, mathematics, physics, finance, industry, design, comedy, film and, as the doors opened, even politics.
But it is not just Jewish excellence at work here. There is a dark side to these past centuries of Jewish emancipation and achievement — an unrelenting history of persecution. The result is the other, more somber and poignant reason for the Jewishness of public figures being discovered late and with surprise: concealment.
Look at the Albright case. Her distinguished father was Jewish, if tenuously so, until the Nazi invasion. He fled Czechoslovakia and, shortly thereafter, converted. Over the centuries, suffering — most especially, the Holocaust — has proved too much for many Jews. Many survivors simply resigned their commission.
For some, the break was defiant and theological: A God who could permit the Holocaust — ineffable be His reasons — had so breached the covenant that it was now forfeit. They were bound no longer to Him or His faith.
For others, the considerations were far more secular and practical. Why subject one’s children to the fear and suffering, the stigmatization and marginalization, the prospect of being hunted until death that being Jewish had brought to an entire civilization in Europe?
In fact, that was precisely the reason Etty Lumbroso, Allen’s mother, concealed her identity.
Brought up as a Jew in French Tunisia during World War II, she saw her father, Felix, imprisoned in a concentration camp. Coming to America was her one great chance to leave that forever behind, for her and for her future children. She married George Allen Sr., apparently never telling her husband’s family, her own children or anyone else of her Jewishness.
Such was Etty’s choice. Multiply the story in its thousand variations and you have Kerry and Clinton, Albright and Allen, a world of people with a whispered past. Allen’s mother tried desperately to bury it forever.
In response to published rumors, she finally confessed the truth to him, adding heartbreakingly, “Now you don’t love me anymore” — and then swore him to secrecy.

Charles Krauthammer is a Washington Post columnist. This article is reprinted with permission from the author. You can reach the author at letters@charleskrauthammer.com

The ‘Disappearance’of Ya’acov Schwartz

On Sept. 10, the day Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived in Israel, the country became preoccupied with another event: the disappearance of Ya’acov Schwartz. Police said that they suspected the 63-year-old Schwartz, whose car was found abandoned near the Gaza Strip, had been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. Suspicions like these often turn out to be true, and with security forces on high alert for terror attacks, it was widely assumed that Schwartz had been snatched by Hamas. It became a major political incident. Albright, at Netanyahu’s urging, asked Yasser Arafat to do everything in his power to track down the kidnappers. Arafat, at Yossi Beilin’s urging, called Schwartz’s family to reassure them that he was on the case. Some 1,000 Shin Bet agents, soldiers, policemen and volunteers, aided by bloodhounds and helicopters, searched for Schwartz.

Two days later, he was found alive in an abandoned building in Ashkelon. He said that Arabs had kidnapped him, handcuffed him, tried to strangle him, stab him and set him on fire, but that his prayers had saved him. It was a “miracle,” he said.

At the beginning of this week, Schwartz admitted to investigators what most Israelis following the leaks in the case had come to believe: that he had staged the kidnapping himself. “I did it to unify the Israeli people,” he told police. It turned out that Schwartz was not just any ordinary citizen. Owner of a metals factory in Tel Aviv and a resident of the mainly Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, Schwartz was a radical right-wing activist who had a police file over a threatening letter he had once sent to left-wing Knesset Member Yossi Sarid.

According to acquaintances, Schwartz was sympathetic to Yigal Amir and believed that Amir had been framed by left-wing conspirators for the assassination of Rabin — a popular theory among Israel’s extremist right.

He was also a Holocaust survivor. About a month ago, he told a Chabad newspaper in the United States how he had hid in a shed of a Nazi concentration camp at the end of the war while members of his family were shot to death. The Holocaust has been the prism through which Schwartz has viewed Israel’s relations with the Arabs. About a year ago, he suffered a stroke and took to visiting the graves of Jewish sages. Schwartz had always been religious, but now he became more extreme, and this, together with the residual effects of the stroke, his traumatic memories from the Holocaust, and his ultra-nationalistic politics, took him over the edge. In his confession, Schwartz told police, “After the recent terror attacks, I had a vision that I had to shock and unify the people of Israel.” He would achieve this unity, he explained, by getting the people of Israel to search for him and worry over his fate. The vision came to him that afternoon, on Sept. 10, while visiting family graves in an Ashkelon cemetery.

After leaving the cemetery, Schwartz abandoned his car on a dirt road near Gaza, rifling the insides of the car to make it look like a kidnapping had taken place. Within hours, Schwartz’s wife notified police, and, since Albright was in town, an international incident was born. He hid out for the next two days in his Tel Aviv factory, then went back to Ashkelon, parked himself in an abandoned building, where a policewoman soon discovered him.

Immediately, gaping holes in Schwartz’s story appeared: Doctors found that he was in perfect condition — no dehydration, no bruises, no signs of strain, which was mighty unusual for a 63-year-old man who had been fighting off terrorists trying to kill him for two days. Also, Schwartz said that the kidnappers had tried to stab him in the heart and that a prayer book in his shirt pocket had stopped the blade. Yet police found no cut in the shirt pocket or in the prayer book. The burns to his clothing, police determined, had been caused by Schwartz himself. In addition, three people told police that they’d seen Schwartz after the time he’d “disappeared.”

After he confessed, Israeli authorities were understandably incensed. “This man took up days of our time, kept all the security forces busy on his behalf , and almost ruined Albright’s visit,” Netanyahu’s people said. Arafat’s people were gloating: “From the first day, we knew this was a provocation by the extreme Israeli right, aimed at sabotaging Albright’s visit.”

Schwartz denied that Albright’s arrival determined the timing of the stunt. Police were investigating whether any of Schwartz’s political cronies or family members were in on the ruse with him. Schwartz claims that he acted alone.

Justice officials were deciding whether to indict him, and whether to hold him liable for the estimated $300,000 cost of the search.

Schwartz’s attorney, Ya’acov Hatzroni, described him as “a man who loves Israel, who loves the Land of Israel, and who acted out of distress in an attempt to awaken the people of Israel, which found itself helpless against terror.” Schwartz’s act was “a completely passive gesture which harmed no one,” the lawyer argued.

Schwartz apologized for the embarrassment and worry he had caused his family and to those who had gone searching for him. But overall, he insisted, the operation had been a success: “I think I unified the people and achieved my goal.”

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