Losing our way

Picture this if you will.

During the time when US citizens were prohibited from traveling to Cuba, a member of the House of Representatives decides to disobey US law and travel to Cuba to speak at the annual observances there of the January 1, 1959 overthrow of the Batista government and the rise to power of Fidel Castro and his Communist buddies.

At the celebratory event, the US Representative, present in Cuba illegally, rises to speak and says the following:  “I can tell you that the United States is in the midst of passing a series of anti-democratic laws and will soon even pass a ‘Death to Cubans’ law.  You should know that US Secretary of State Kissinger is a fascist and should go back to the country of his birth as he has no place in my homeland.”

What do you think would have happened to that legislator?  Most likely when he returned to the US Congress he would have been censured and probably removed from his position based on his flagrant violation of US law and his slander of government officials.

Well, yesterday, at a memorial service in Ramallah marking the seventh anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, Ahmad Tibi, an elected member of the Knesset went to Ramallah to speak at the service.  According to a report in today’s Jerusalem Post echoed by all of the other news outlets as well, here is what was recorded:

Israeli-Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi at a memorial for Yasser Arafat in Ramallah suggested that the Israeli government will soon “propose a ‘death to Arabs’ law.”  Tibi, speaking Wednesday before a massive crowd marking the seventh anniversary of the Palestinian leader’s death, was referring to several bills offered by right-wing lawmakers targeting the left that critics have labeled as “anti-democratic.” He also slammed Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, calling him “the fascist settler that recently came to my homeland,” Ynet reported.  A former adviser to Arafat, Tibi referred to the late PLO chief as “the father of our homeland.”

Note that Ramallah is in Area A, which, according to the Oslo accords, is under full military and civil control of the Palestinian Authority.  Israeli citizens, according to Israeli law, are forbidden to enter Area A and, of course, Tibi, as a member of the Knesset is, indeed, an Israeli citizen.  So his being there at all was in violation of the law he is sworn to uphold.

Secondly, what is it called when a member of a country’s legislature enters an area forbidden to him by law and then speaks publicly in negative terms about the Foreign Minister of the country in whose parliament he serves?  Is it treason?  Does that meet the definition of betraying one’s country?  Is it sedition?  Is it conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of the state?  Or is it just plain stupidity along with a desire to show that he is simply not bound by the laws of the parliament in which he serves?

One would think that at a minimum he would lose his seat in the Knesset and be stripped of his parliamentary immunity.  But, of course, this is Israel.  And just as another Arab member of the Knesset, Haneen Zoabi, who travelled on the Mavi Marmara in May 2010 to break the blockade of Gaza was not penalized for actively demonstrating against the policies of the government and was not chastened, neither will Tibi.  He will come back to Jerusalem, retake his seat in the Knesset and although many people there will be angry with him, there will be no price to pay for such insolence.  And once again the Zionist enterprise will be shown to be lacking in the courage to defend its own laws.

O tempora, o mores, shame on the times and its customs, as uttered by Cicero in the Senate of Rome in his second oration against Verres.  The founders of the country must be turning over in their graves.

Sherwin Pomerantz is a 28 year resident of Israel, President of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm, Chairman of HADAR-Council for Civic Action and former National President of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel.

Caught on tape: Kissinger

As far as the Nixon-Kissinger relationship goes, the March 1, 1973 tape is par for the course of their complicated relationship: hard-nosed considerations of policy leavened with Kissinger’s adoring appraisals of his boss’s genius, punctuated by Nixon’s hearty encouragement of such obsequiousness.

The conversation relates to Israel’s security, and includes a discussion of the Israeli and Egyptian bottom lines in the attempts by Kissinger, then the secretary of state, to head off the war that would explode six months later.

That glides into a discussion of a meeting with Golda Meir, then the Israeli prime minister, and her plea for pressure on the Soviet Union to allow Jews to emigrate and go to Israel.

That was not on the agenda, as far as Nixon and Kissinger were concerned: Their philosophy was détente first, and human rights would follow later – but they weren’t about to reveal the strategy to Meir.

“You didn’t give them any specific commitment,” Kissinger says, unaware of the tape Nixon had recording all his meetings with aides. “You prepare your meetings very carefully.”

“And also saying we weren’t planning anything, knowing damn well we will,” Nixon chimes in, apparently referring to his overtures to the Soviets.

Kissinger understands the butter-me-up-Buttercup cue, and lays it on thick, with the requisite dismissal of John F. Kennedy, Nixon’s bugbear even a decade after his assassination.

“Yesterday she was like a tiger,” Kissinger says of Meir. “But in your careful preparation and the subtlety with which you conducted the conversation, never a note in front of you, you take that for granted. You take Kennedy—he was supposedly an expert on foreign policy, but not only—he understood nothing. But Johnson in addition didn’t care. Johnson was bored by it.”

“Was he?” Nixon says.

“Oh yes,” Kissinger indulges.

There follows a Johnson anecdote, and then Nixon returns to policy.

“It’s important to get across to them, Henry, and I hope you’ve gotten to [Senator Jacob] Javitz [Republican of New York) and [Senator] Henry Jackson [Democrat of Washington] and the rest of them, by God, if the Jewish community in this country makes Israel exit permits the ambition of the Russian initiative … it will not work,” he says.

That’s when the conversation takes a dark turn unusual even for tapes notorious for detours by Nixon and his aides into expectorations of paranoid abuse.

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Kissinger says. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responds. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

There’s more: Nixon calls Jewish lobbying on the issue “unconscionable,” says getting the Soviets most-favored-nation status is critical, and Kissinger returns to flattery, referring to the back and forth with Soviet boss Leonid Brezhnev:

“You have outmaneuvered Brezhnev in a way that is almost pathetic.”

Nixon murmurs his assent.

Kissinger: Take remark on gas chambers in context

It should have been ancient, if unsavory, news: A cavalier reference to gassing Jews, an aside in a conversation nearly 40 years old.

But the aside was pronounced by Henry Kissinger, a German-born Jew who fled Nazi horrors as a child and who has been honored by multiple Jewish organizations as one of Israel’s saviors during its darkest days, when he was secretary of state to President Nixon.

“If they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern,” Kissinger is heard saying on the latest batch of Nixon-era Oval Office tapes released by the Nixon Library.

Following its publication Saturday—buried deep in a New York Times story that focused more on Nixon’s well-known bigotries—a shock shuddered through the Jewish community and led to calls to shun Kissinger, and then to calls to forgive him.

Kissinger in an e-mail to JTA would brook no request for an apology and did not even directly address his gas chambers remark. Instead he appeared to insist on context: His frustration at the time with the insistence of the Jewish community and U.S. senators such as Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) and Henry “Scoop”Jackson (D-Wash.) on attaching human rights riders to dealings with the Soviets.

“The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” Kissinger wrote to JTA.

He and Nixon pursued the issue of Soviet Jewish emigration as a humanitarian matter separate from foreign policy issues in order to avoid questions of sovereignty and because normal diplomatic channels were closed, Kissinger wrote.

“By this method and the persistent private representation at the highest level we managed to raise emigration from 700 per year to close to 40,000 in 1972,” Kissinger wrote. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the Amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

In fact, the historical consensus is that while it was true that what became known as the Jackson-Vanik Amendment—named for Jackson and Rep. Charlie Vanik (D-Ohio)—at first inhibited emigration, it formed the basis for the late-20th century politics of making human rights a sine qua non of statecraft. That resulted not only in the mass emigration of Soviet Jews 15 years later, but also in contemporary efforts to end internal massacres in countries such as Sudan.

Kissinger, however, was dedicated to realpolitik—the art of securing the grand deal, even at the expense of the moral and ethical considerations of the moment—and his disdain for human rights activists knew few bounds.

Gal Beckerman, a historian of the Soviet Jewry movement, told Tablet on Tuesday that this even led Kissinger to suppress a letter from the Soviet leadership offering to release 60,000 Jews under the Jackson-Vanik stipulations.

Similar considerations led Kissinger to press Nixon during the 1973 Yom Kippur War to delay delivering arms to Israel by a few weeks. Their conversations at the time show Kissinger arguing that Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s president, needed an unadulterated victory to make peace concessions. Nixon argued—correctly, as it turned out—that Sadat was already able to claim a victory, and that it was more important to stanch an ally’s casualties in a war that would claim 3,000 Israeli lives.

In a 2009 review of the period in The Jewish Press, top Nixon aides Alexander Haig, the chief of staff; Leonard Haig, the White House counsel; and Vernon Walters, the deputy CIA chief, all recall the same dynamic: The time for hanging Israel out to dry had ended.

“Both Kissinger and Nixon wanted to do [the airlift],” the Press quoted Walters as saying. “But Nixon gave it the greater sense of urgency. He said, ‘You get the stuff to Israel. Now. Now.’ “

The image of Kissinger as a cold-blooded sociopath has long been a staple of his most virulent critics, and the newly revealed quote was like manna to their theories.

“In the past, Kissinger has defended his role as enabler to Nixon’s psychopathic bigotry, saying that he acted as a restraining influence on his boss by playing along and making soothing remarks,” said Christopher Hitchens, who has said Kissinger should be tried as a war criminal for his role in ordering the bombing of Cambodia and for enabling Latin American autocrats. “This can now go straight into the lavatory pan, along with his other hysterical lies.

“Obsessed as he was with the Jews, Nixon never came close to saying that he’d be indifferent to a replay of Auschwitz. For this, Kissinger deserves sole recognition.”

Menachem Rosensaft, vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, reached a similar conclusion after reading accounts of the newly released Nixon tapes.

“Now that Kissinger’s true nature has been exposed, the Jewish community and Jewish institutions must draw the appropriate consequences,” he wrote in an Op-Ed in The New York Jewish Week.

“We now come to the realization that as far as he was concerned, human rights in general were an irrelevancy,” Rosensaft said in an interview with JTA. “He needs to know that when he is in the company of Jews, we will know precisely who he is and we hold him in contempt.”

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that approach goes too far.

The ADL issued a statement saying that Kissinger’s comments show a “disturbing and even callous insensitivity toward the fate of Soviet Jews” and are a reminder that “even great individuals are flawed.” But, it noted, “Dr. Kissinger’s contributions to the safety and security of the U.S. and Israel have solidly established his legacy as a champion of democracy and as a committed advocate for preserving the well-being of the Jewish state of Israel.”

Foxman elaborated in an interview with JTA.

“He worked in an atmosphere that was intimidatingly anti-Semitic toward Jews,” the ADL leader said of Kissinger. “We need to understand the intimidation under which it occurred.”

Beckerman has written that Kissinger’s upbringing—the horrific transition, at age 10, from a world of safety to one of chaos—helps explain an ideology that places order above all as the salvation of humanity. Kissinger, he wrote in the Forward in 2007, “was guided by the sense that the world needs a strong America—led by versatile statesmen—that will stand as a bulwark against the disorder and disequilibrium that he experienced as a child.”

How did Kissinger’s Jewish identity play out in the White House? It was a complex matter and not always consistent.

In September 1972, when Kissinger was still the national security adviser, he and his arch-rival, Secretary of State William Rogers, had a bitter exchange at a Cabinet meeting over whether the government should lower flags to half mast for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympics. Nixon took Kissinger’s advice and lowered the flags.

Nixon regarded Kissinger as his truest aide, although he also noted, in another tape released recently, the “latent insecurity” of Kissinger and his other Jewish advisers.

On the eve of Nixon’s Aug. 8, 1974 resignation, the result of scandals besieging his administration, Kissinger could not help himself and burst into sobs, according to Robert Dallek’s account, “Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power.”

Nixon, too, joined him in weeping. In what has become an icon of how the isolation of power brings strong men to their knees, both men kneeled in the White House living room and prayed.

Kissinger: Gassing Jews would not be a U.S. problem

Henry Kissinger is heard saying on newly released Nixon tapes that the genocide of Soviet Jews would not be an American concern.

The tapes chronicle President Richard Nixon’s obsession with disparaging Jews and other minorities.

Kissinger’s remarks come after a meeting he and Nixon had with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir on March 1, 1973 in which Meir pleads for the United States to put pressure on the Soviet Union to release its Jews. Nixon and Kissinger, then the secretary of state, dismiss the plea after Meir leaves.

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” The New York Times on Saturday quotes Kissinger, as saying on the tapes. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

Nixon replies, “I know. We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

Six months later, during the Yom Kippur War, Nixon rejected Kissinger’s advice to delay an arms airlift to Israel as a means of setting the stage for an Egypt confident enough to pursue peace. Nixon, among other reasons, cited Israel’s urgent need.

The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants in a statement called for an apology from Kissinger, who is still consulted by Democratic and Republican administrations and by Congress on matters of state.

“Henry Kissinger’s comments are morally grotesque and represent a disgraceful perversion of American values,” said the statement. “He owes an apology to all victims of the Nazi Holocaust.”

Nixon secretly recorded his White House conversations. After this was revealed during congressional investigations, the tapes became government property and have been released over the years in intervals.

Elsewhere on the batch of tapes recently released by the Nixon Library, the late president repeats many of the ethnic and racial slurs that had appeared on earlier such releases: Irish are “mean” drunks, he says; Italians “don’t have their heads screwed on tight”; Jews are “aggressive, abrasive and obnoxious”; and it would take blacks “500 years” to catch up with whites.

Your Letters

The Sadat Legacy

The Jewish Journal must be praised for publishing that very eloquent article by Yuval Rotem, the consul general of the State of Israel (“The Sadat Legacy: 25 Years Later,” Dec. 13).

But I must take issue with Rotem on one point. In the paragraph where he states that peace with the Palestinians will only come about when an enlightened leader emerges from the warring factions that lead them, and that Israel will surrender the occupied territories to them if they accept Israel and Jews in general.

I strongly disagree.

As long as Palestinian-inspired instability continues to exist in the Middle East, Israel must never surrender its sovereignty to anyone for whatever reason.

Dario Witer, Reseda

A ‘Final’ Decision

This entire feud has been instrumental in desecrating God’s name. Does Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin really need another building? (“A ‘Final’ Decision Courts Trouble,” Dec. 13.) Our rabbis are supposed to model kindness, piety and righteousness. I see none of this being emulated by Cunin if the motivating drive behind this feud is money and property. Cunin’s mixed seating telethons bring in millions. The Torah, as I learned it, does not allow one to diverge from the law for money in this manner. From where I sit, I only see one more man using God to practice capitalism, not religion.

Edward Andrews, Los Angeles

Up a Tree Looking for a Home

South Bay goes beyond Palos Verdes, like Lomita, where you may find trees, affordable houses and a Jewish Orthodox Oasis: Chabad of South Bay — with daily minyanim, Torah classes, a Jewish school, a library, a mikvah and much more for an intensive religious life (“Up a Tree Looking for a Home” Dec. 13).

Dr. Jorge Weil, Los Angeles


The L.A. Jewish community has lost a rare spiritual leader of exceptional insight in Metivta’s financial crisis, (“Severe Financial Crisis Hits Metivta,” Dec. 13). Rabbi Rami Shapiro is a master teacher whose insights nourish the spirit and promote critical thinking in the best Jewish tradition. His poems and prayers are included in the liturgy of siddurim all across the country. It is unaccountable, and sad, that Los Angeles is unable to support this most authentically contemplative center of Jewish spiritual practice.

As a Metivta supporter with an ongoing daily contemplative practice, the absence of Shapiro and Judy Gordon leaves a huge hole in our community resources.

Catherine Klatzker, North Hollywood Shoah Foundation

I was fortunate enough to cover the Shoah Foundation annual banquet on Dec. 5 (“Tackling the Future,” Dec. 6). As a 16-year-old professional journalist I was not emotionally prepared for the evening. When I arrived I was escorted to an area where I was allowed to access, by way of computers, testimonies of Holocaust survivors. I was given the opportunity to personally interview some survivors who attended the event. They told me about their experiences and showed me their personal photographs that were taken at the camps. As a product of Jewish day schools, I learned about the Holocaust, but listening to survivors’ testimonies really made a durable impression. For me, the evening ended with an interview with Steven Spielberg who explained to me that the Shoah Foundation started out as a project, but it is now becoming an institution. I truly believe that by providing access to these personal accounts of the Holocaust, we are building a more tolerant and more humane generation.

Fred Medill, Beverly Hills

Henry Kissinger

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, Southern California District, has addressed a letter to Dr. Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism (UJ), questioning the propriety of inviting Henry Kissinger to speak on Jan. 13 under UJ auspices (“Hit Lecture Series Tries New Format,” Dec. 6).

Normally, we would not challenge another Jewish institution about whom it invites as a speaker. But Kissinger is globally regarded as a war criminal and mass murderer. He is wanted for questioning in several countries: Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, East Timor. Here is a man known for a career of destabilizing and overthrowing legitimate governments, secret bombings, foreign invasions — secretly, because American sponsorship would have been too embarrassing to publicly acknowledge.

Kissinger has the blood of millions of people on his hands. What positive purpose is served now, in our multicultural city, by the UJ presenting this man as someone with the integrity and vision worthy of our Jewish traditions and institutions?

We are embarrassed, as Jews, and as United States and global citizens, that anyone would care to celebrate his career. Mass murder is not entertainment.

Eric A. Gordon, Director Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring