‘Anonymous Soldiers’ looks at terrorism from another troubling angle

“Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947” by Bruce Hoffman (Knopf) offers an uncomfortable but crucial message: Terrorism works. And the book is all the more disturbing because the examples Hoffman considers are the Irgun and Lehi (perhaps better known as the “Stern Gang”), which he bluntly describes as “Jewish terrorist organizations.”

“(E)ven if terrorism’s power to dramatically change the course of history along the lines of the September 11, 2001, attacks has been mercifully infrequent,” Hoffman writes, “terrorism’s ability to act as a catalyst for wider conflagration or systemic political change appears historically undeniable.” 

To be sure, Hoffman concedes that the Zionist enterprise depended on far more than physical violence. “The struggle for Jewish statehood employed almost every means possible: diplomacy, negotiation, lobbying, civil disobedience, propaganda, information operations, armed resistance …” But he ends the sentence with the object of his current inquiry: “… and terrorist violence.”  

Working largely in the newly declassified archives of MI5, the British secret service and the Palestine Police Force, Hoffman has been able to view through British eyes such momentous acts of terrorism as the assassination of Lord Moyne in 1944, the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, and the kidnapping and hanging of two British sergeants in 1957.  

Britain created the problem in Palestine for itself, or so Hoffman argues, in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which favored “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” but also noted that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” Despite the “benevolent prose and altruistic intent” of the diplomatic letter, history shows that Britain now faced the task of “navigating between two peoples’ historical, cultural, religious, and political claims to the same land.” By 1929, Arab violence against Jews was one of the “facts on the ground” that confronted the Zionist movement in Palestine.

Hoffman usefully points out that Arab violence was not purely spontaneous. A radical imam called al-Qassam — now the name of a rocket used by Hamas — preached a holy war to the Arabs of Palestine: “You must know that nothing will save us but our arms.” In 1936, a gang of his followers stopped and robbed a bus and murdered two of its Jewish passengers. A Jewish reprisal took the lives of two Arabs. As violence erupted yet again around Palestine, the British authorities declared a state of emergency. “The Arab Rebellion,” Hoffman writes, “had now begun.”

The question in the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine, was whether Jews ought to answer Arab terrorism with terrorism of their own, an issue that divided the left-wing Labor Zionists from the right-wing Revisionists and resulted in two parallel Jewish defense forces, one called the Haganah and the other called the Haganah-Bet. The Labor Zionists embraced the doctrines of havlaga (self-restraint) and tohar ha-neshek (purity of arms), but the Revisionists insisted that the escalation of Arab violence called for new and more brutal tactics: “By blood and fire Judea fell,” was the slogan of the Irgun, “and by blood and fire Judea shall arise.”

Significantly, the Irgun commenced its operations with the bombing of an Arab cafe as an act of revenge for the killing of five Jewish farmers a couple of days earlier. “The shame of restraint has been removed,” declared David Raziel, the first commander of the Irgun. Indeed, Irgun violence grew steadily bolder and bloodier as the “Irgun launched a succession of shootings, bombings, road minings and various acts of sabotage and vandalism against British and Arab targets alike.” Against self-restraint and purity of arms, a new principle was announced: “A hitting fist must be answered by two hitting fists — a bomb explosion has to be replied with two bomb explosions.” 

As Hoffman shows in gripping detail, the emergence of the Irgun meant that the fighting front had divided into several lines of conflict. The Jewish Agency conducted a counterterrorism campaign of its own against the Irgun (and, later, the spin-off known as Lehi), and a Jewish civil war threatened to break out more than once. The British authorities sought to suppress both the Irgun and Lehi, as well as the Arab guerillas that operated in Palestine, and the Arabs set themselves against both the British and the Jews. “By the fall of 1938, Palestine was coming apart at the seams,” Hoffman writes.

“Anonymous Soldiers” can be seen as a corrective to the understatements and misstatements about the role of the Revisionist movement in the history of Zionism and, especially, the creation and defense of the Jewish state. Hoffman, a scholar who specializes in security studies at Georgetown University, succeeds in giving us an even-handed work of history that is, at the same time, a morally illuminating and challenging work about the role of violence in politics. But he also confronts us with the unsettling truth that sometimes, and especially when the adversary is a democracy that has lost its will to fight, terrorism will succeed.

“That Jewish terrorism played a salient role in helping to create and foster the sense of hopelessness and despair that … influenced the Labour government’s decision to leave Palestine is clear,” Hoffman concludes, although he insists that it was only one of many factors at work in the fateful decision.  

That’s not the end of the debate about terrorism, but “Anonymous Soldiers” is a good starting place, especially when we consider the price of not fighting terrorism. 

Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s pick for Chief of Staff, is tough, direct and wedded to his roots

President-elect Barack Obama’s pick of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) will put a tough, proven political operator at the center of a new Administration.

It also raises the profile of a Chicago Jewish family firmly rooted in the worlds of Hollywood, medicine, politics…and Judaism.

Emanuel (Hebrew: רם עמנואל) was born in Chicago, Illinois. His father, the Jerusalem-born Benjamin M. Emanuel, is a pediatrician and former member of the Irgun, the Zionist pre-State military group in Palestine. His mother, Martha Smulevitz, worked as an X-ray technician and was the daughter of a local union organizer. She became a civil rights activist. 

Emanuel’s older brother, Ezekiel, is a noted oncologist and bioethicist, and his brother, Ari, is a talent agent in Los Angeles and inspired Jeremy Piven’s character Ari Gold on the HBO series Entourage.  

Emanuel himself is also the inspiration for the character Josh Lyman on The West Wing. He also has a younger sister named Shoshanna, 14 years his junior.

When his family lived in Chicago, he attended Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, a Jewish day school. After his family moved to Wilmette, he attended public school: Romona School, Wilmette Junior High School, and New Trier High School.

Emanuel was encouraged by his mother to take ballet lessons as a boy and is a graduate of the Evanston School of Ballet. He won a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet but turned it down to attend Sarah Lawrence College, a liberal arts school with a strong dance program.

He graduated from college in 1981, and went on to receive a master’s degree in Speech and Communication from Northwestern University in 1985.

While still a student at Sarah Lawrence, he joined the congressional campaign of David Robinson of Chicago.

His father, a pediatrician still practicing near Chicago, immigrated to the United States from Israel and spoke Hebrew with his son, when Emanuel was a boy. Emanuel volunteered as a civilian volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces during the 1991 Gulf War, serving in one of Israel’s northern bases, rust-proofing brakes.

Emanuel’s wife Amy Rule, a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania converted to Judaism shortly before her wedding. They are members of Anshe Shalom, a modern Orthodox congregation in Chicago. They have three children, son Zacharias and daughters Ilana and Leah. The children attend Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, Emanuel’s own alma mater, where his wife, Amy, frequently volunteers. Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, is quoted as saying: “It’s a very involved Jewish family”; “Amy was one of the teachers for a class for children during the High Holidays two years ago.” Emanuel has said of his Judaism: “I am proud of my heritage and treasure the values it has taught me.” Emanuel’s family lives on the North Side of Chicago, in the North Center neighborhood.

Emanuel trains for and participates in triathlons.

From work earlier in his career, Emanuel considers Mayor Richard M. Daley, Senator Paul Simon and President Bill Clinton to be his professional mentors. He considers his personal mentors to be his father and mother.

Bradley Whitford’s character Josh Lyman on NBC television series The West Wing is said to be based on Emanuel, who made a cameo appearance at the same restaurant as Josh Lyman in the 7th season episode “The Wedding.”

The Jewish Journal profiled the then-freshman congressman in 2003:

The subject of Monday afternoon’s Democratic caucus meeting was crucial: On the eve of President Bush’s release of his economic stimulus package, how could House Democrats make the public case that their package was better?

By the end of the two-hour meeting, the more than 175 Democratic members gathered in the stuffy, but regal meeting room of the Canon Office Building were getting restless. Members stirred and chatted, while colleagues took turns making comments. But when freshman Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) approached the microphone, members quieted down and listened.

Emanuel, a longtime aide to former President Bill Clinton, formulated the argument with the clarity of a Washington pro: “The Republican program is all about the stock market, and the Democratic program is all about the job market.”

“A few minutes later at the press conference, that phrase came up several times,” fellow Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky said.

The next day, several news stories on the Democrat’s plan featured Emanuel’s line. Emanuel hadn’t even been sworn in yet, and he already was making an impact.

“There’s an acknowledgment since the last election that the Democrats need to draw a distinction between themselves and the Republicans, and Rahm is really experienced at doing just that,” Schakowsky said.

With 20 years of experience in national politics, Emanuel, 43, who took the oath of office Tuesday, along with his 434 colleagues in the 108th Congress, is far from your ordinary freshman.

For many Democrats, with their party in the minority in both houses of Congress, the arrival of this Jewish rising star on Capitol Hill comes not a moment too soon. After winning the congressional seat left open when Rod Blagojevich stepped down to run a successful campaign for governor, Emanuel steps into the Washington spotlight as the only new Jewish member of the House of Representatives.

His father, a pediatrician still practicing near Chicago, immigrated to the United States from Israel and spoke Hebrew with his son, when Emanuel was a boy. Emanuel, whose first name, Rahm, means “high” or “lofty” in Hebrew, and his wife, Amy, are active members of a modern Orthodox congregation, Anshe Shalom B’nai Israel, in Chicago.

Members of Chicago’s Jewish community say Emanuel’s wife, who converted to Judaism around the same time as her wedding, is heavily involved with the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Lakeview, Ill.

The couple send their 6-year-old son, Zacharias, and 3-year-old daughter, Ilana, to the Conservative Jewish day school that Emanuel attended as a child. The family also includes 2-year-old Leah.

“Amy was one of the teachers for a class for children during the High Holidays two years ago,” said Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Anshe Shalom. “It’s a very involved Jewish family.”

Emanuel said of his Judaism: “I am proud of my heritage and treasure the values it has taught me.” Like a true politician, he added: “Throughout my life, I have also had the privilege of knowing, working with and now representing people of all backgrounds and have learned a great deal from them and their various heritages as well. Hopefully, I will bring all of these experiences to this job.”

Emanuel traces his political start from his days at Sarah Lawrence College, when he joined the congressional campaign of David Robinson of Chicago. Swiftly moving up the ranks of the Democratic Party in the Midwest, he went on to fundraise and direct a number of successful Illinois campaigns, before assuming a larger national role with the Democratic Party’s fundraising apparatus.

In 1991, he was drafted to join the nascent Clinton campaign in Little Rock. Toughness and good political instincts earned him Clinton’s respect at the beginning of his relationship with the president.

As a top aide on the 1992 presidential campaign at age 32, Emanuel sparred with then-Gov. Clinton over the campaign schedule, urging the candidate to focus heavily on fundraising, rather than campaigning in New Hampshire, former Clinton colleagues said. Clinton acquiesced, eschewing the New Hampshire trail for much of late 1991 in favor of feverish fundraisers. Emanuel’s gambit paid off, with the money providing a crucial cushion as the negative attacks hit Clinton hard later on.

“It was that million dollars that really allowed the campaign to withstand the storm we had to ride out in New Hampshire” over Clinton’s alleged relationship with Gennifer Flowers and the controversy over his draft during the Vietnam War, said Richard Mintz, a Washington public relations consultant, who worked with Emanuel on the campaign.

Emanuel’s knowledge of the top donors in the country, his rapport with the heavily Jewish donor community and his sheer chutzpah made the difference, as Clinton amassed a then-unheard-of $72 million, said those involved with the campaign.

“He schmoozed many, many millions all over the country, including money from traditional Democratic Party givers, who are disproportionately Jewish, and new Democratic givers,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a political and public relations consultant in Washington, who worked with the White House throughout the Clinton administration.

Later, as a top White House aide, Emanuel’s take-no-prisoners attitude — he earned the nickname “Rahm-bo” — won him respect and enemies among co-workers, as well as political foes. In a story that has become part of Washington lore, Emanuel mailed a rotting fish to a former co-worker after the two parted ways. But longtime friends of Emanuel insisted the once-hard-charging staffer has mellowed.

“He kids me about it. He says, ‘You like the old me better,’ and I kind of do,” said Bettylu Saltzman, who worked with Emanuel on the staff of former Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.).

“He is very self-effacing, and that’s what makes him tolerable,” Mintz joked.

“Maybe it is a Chicago sport, where politics is a contact sport, but people have fun doing it,” said former colleague John Podesta, who was Clinton’s chief of staff.

Running for the House last year, Emanuel got his first glimpse of politics as a candidate, and faced an immediate test. A nasty primary battle included a rare public case of anti-Semitism, when the president of the Polish American Congress, Ed Moskal, who was supporting candidate Nancy Kaszak, claimed that Emanuel was an Israeli citizen and served in the Israeli army. Moskal also called Emanuel a “millionaire carpetbagger who knows nothing” about “our heritage.”

Emanuel had served a noncombat stint as a volunteer in the Israeli army during the Gulf War, but he never held Israeli citizenship. Emanuel responded coolly, supporters said, bringing a coalition of Chicago clergy together to denounce the incident.

“One of the proudest moments of my life was seeing people of my district from all backgrounds demonstrate our common values by coming together in response to this obvious attempt to divide them,” Emanuel said.

As a member of Congress, Emanuel is expected to push for centrist Democratic positions on economics, trade and the war on terror. During the congressional campaign, he indicated his support of President Bush’s position on Iraq but said he believed the president needed to better articulate his position to the American people.

On domestic issues, such as health care, on which Rahm focused much of his campaign, he will be a vocal member of the Democratic opposition. Saying his interest in health care was inspired by his father, a pediatrician, Rahm said he is “determined to help make health care affordable and available for all Americans.”

A defining moment for Emanuel during his White House stint was an event that touched his political sensibilities and his personal ties to Israel: the 1993 Rose Garden signing ceremony after the Oslo accord between Israel and the Palestinians. Rahm directed the details of the ceremony, down to the choreography of the famous handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

“It was an emotional moment for him,” Mintz said. “He’d like nothing more than to participate in another peace agreement signing.”

These days, however, Emanuel is not optimistic about the chance of a Palestinian state arising from the current ruin.

“If you were to say up front, ‘We’re creating a state and then we’re negotiating the details,'” he told CNBC last summer, “not only would you be rewarding terrorism, you would be rewarding all the corruption that goes with it.”