The missing drama in ‘Oslo’


The first thought that popped into my mind after seeing “Oslo,” which just won a Tony award for Best Play, was: “That’s it?”

The play left me empty. The brilliant acting and stage directing couldn’t overcome my disappointment that “Oslo” added little to the conversation and only reinforced Western stereotypes about conflict resolution.

The play deftly dramatizes the behind-the-scenes efforts of a Norwegian diplomat-couple who bring Israelis and Palestinians together to sign the 1993 Oslo Accords. As you can imagine, to get these parties to agree to anything, there is endless coddling, nudging, arguing and agonizing. It’s in those twists and turns that the play finds most of its drama.

But there’s an elephant in the room, and it looms over everything. No matter how much drama you see on stage, you can’t help but feel the distracting drama of that elephant, which is this: The agreement which the play worships has turned out to be a dud, a failure of the highest order. The light at the end of the Oslo tunnel was really an oncoming train.

So, as much as I enjoyed the acting and the story, I felt its emptiness. Because the play makes such a powerful claim to historical truth, that truth comes back to haunt it. The play wants to have it both ways: It wants us to enjoy the history it shows, but ignore the history that annoys. In my case at least, it was too much to ask for.

The tragedy of Oslo makes the drama in “Oslo” almost trivial. The real drama of the Oslo story is not in its excruciating negotiations, but in its stunning failure. For all the difficulty that the play dramatizes, the agreement itself is very modest. It doesn’t tackle the most serious issues of contention. It kicks the can down the road in the hope that mutual trust will build between the parties. Of course, the opposite happened. The violence and mistrust have gotten significantly worse since Oslo.

In real life, that kind of tragic outcome can be demoralizing. It’s almost too much to bear. But that’s why we need great art—to make us confront ugly truths. Great art is not there to manufacture hope. That’s what preachers are for. Great art should have the courage to take us where we don’t want to go.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an existential conflict where core narratives are rejected, mistrust rules, resentments accumulate and hatred flourishes. Brilliant negotiators are useless in the face of such hardened conditions. A play that would have tried to capture that tragedy would have captivated me.

Would it have won a Tony? Probably not. Tragedy doesn’t sell. Hope sells. Hope is the elixir of the civilized mind. No matter what reality tells us, we must show some hope. The price we pay for this obsession is that we don’t learn our lessons. In the case of Oslo, the great lesson is that when a foundation is corroded, you can’t build anything.

From the standpoint of the Palestinians, that foundation means your society marinates you in Jew-hatred from birth, you are taught that the Zionist narrative is a fraud and Israel is a land thief, and you are promised that millions of refugees will eventually return to that hated Israel and take over. How does a piece of paper negotiated in a Norwegian ivory tower by people you don’t trust counter any of that? It doesn’t and it can’t, even if it’s signed on the front lawn of the White House.

I hope a playwright will tackle the Oslo story one day without fear of going to the depressing depths of the conflict. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, sometimes you have to hit your own bottom before you can see the way up. Maybe the playwright can write an alternate, imaginative story where the heroes are not clever dealmakers but hard-nosed changemakers who try to build something real from that ugly bottom.

“Oslo” never takes us to that bottom. It prefers the comfortable Western cliché that savvy and determined negotiators can accomplish anything. That may be true on Broadway, but it’s not in Ramallah or Jerusalem.

“Oslo” writer J.T. Rogers, second from right, at the 2017 Tony Awards in New York City on June 11. Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

‘Oslo,’ Bette Midler and Ben Platt take Tony Awards


Local talent Ben Platt was among the big winners this year at the 71st annual Tony Awards, taking home the prize for actor in a leading role in a musical for his performance in “Dear Evan Hansen,” about a boy who gets caught up in a lie after the death of a classmate.

The musical led the way on June 11 with six Tony winners, including Rachel Bay Jones for actress in a featured role in a musical. Benj Pasek, who is Jewish, and Justin Paul won for best original score. The show also took home trophies for best book of a musical and best orchestrations. Pasek and Paul won Academy Awards earlier this year for co-writing, with Justin Hurwitz, the song “City of Stars” from “La La Land.”

While there were plenty of other big-name winners of Jewish interest — including Bette Midler and a play about the 1993 Oslo Accord — for many in Los Angeles, the night belonged to Platt, the son of Oscar- and Tony Award-nominated producer Marc Platt and his wife, Julie Platt, chair of the board of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, a longtime friend of the Platts, said, “Ben is a loving, large-spirited and gifted young man from a loving, large-spirited and gifted family. When we announced [that he won the Tony] at the Sinai dinner dance, the room erupted in cheers. The entire Jewish world should celebrate.”

Ted Walch, a longtime drama director at Harvard-Westlake, the high school Platt attended, said in an email that he was ecstatic at the young man’s accomplishment, but not surprised.

“Given the skill of what Ben accomplished, it seemed inevitable that he would and should win,” he said. “The [acceptance] speech was vintage Ben, talking faster than most of us think, and centering it, as he should have, on two families: the family that made ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ happen, and his own family (parents, siblings, nephews). Ben is, I repeat, one of the nicest, sweetest, most talented kids I’ve ever taught.”

During his speech at the ceremony at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, Platt, 23, recalled the early days of his acting career.

“When I was 6 years old, I was the prince in ‘Cinderella,’ in a blue sequin vest, at the Adderley School in the Palisades in California, and I’ve spent every single day of my life since then just madly in love with musical theater,” he said. “It’s where I’ve found everything I’ve ever loved and where I belonged. … I’ve dreamed every day since of being on this stage and part of this community of artists.”

He also gave a shout out to his parents, ending with a message to his father, producer of such films as “Legally Blonde” and “La La Land.”

“Dad, you’re my hero. You taught me that you have to be a decent human being to be a decent artist, and I love you for it.

“And finally,” he said, “to all the young people watching at home: Don’t waste any time trying to be like anybody else but yourself, because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.”

In other categories, “Oslo,” by J.T. Rogers, about the Oslo Accord, won the Tony for best play after receiving rave reviews for turning a complicated piece of history into a fast-paced, entertaining three hours. Its Jewish lead actor, Michael Aronov, won for his portrayal of Uri Savir, an Israeli negotiator in the 1990s talks.

Midler, the veteran Jewish actress and singer, won for actress in a leading role in a musical for “Hello, Dolly!” which also won the award for revival of a musical.

And Rebecca Taichman won for her direction of “Indecent” by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel, which recounts the bumpy journey to Broadway of Sholem Asch’s controversial Yiddish play “God of Vengeance.”

Some of the talent behind “Dear Evan Hansen,” from left: Lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, writer Steven Levinson and lead actor Ben Platt at the NYU Skirball Center, on May 7. Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Lucille Lortel Awards

Tonys 2017: The 7 Jewish shows to watch


This Sunday is the biggest night of the year for theater lovers: It’s the Tony Awards.

Unfortunately, our crystal ball is at the shop for repairs — so we can’t say with certainty who the winners will be. But there’s one thing that’s for sure: The past year has been a standout one for Jewish actors, characters and writers who are plying their talents on the Great White Way.

From a play about Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to a Broadway legend playing a Jewish cosmetics doyenne, here are seven shows with Jewish connections and themes that we expect to win big at the 2017 Tony Awards, which air Sunday evening on CBS.

1. “Oslo”

Oslo

A scene from “Oslo.” (Screenshot from YouTube)

 

“Oslo,” J.T. Rogers’ play about the 1993 Oslo Accords, is widely considered the frontrunner for Best Play. It’s won nearly every theater award  — the Drama Desk, the Lucille Lortel Award, the Outer Critics Circle, the Drama League, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle and the Obie.

The play, in which Israelis and Palestinian negotiators  —  including Uri Savir, played by Michael Aronov, who is nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Play — struggle to hammer out a peace deal, received rave reviews for turning a complicated history into a fast, entertaining three hours. What’s particularly impressive is how riveting “Oslo” is — even though it’s common knowledge how the peace talks ended.

“Oslo” has five more nominations: Best Direction of a Play (Bartlett Sher), Best Lighting Design (Donald Holder), Best Scenic Design (Michael Yeargan), as well as Best Leading Actor and Actress for Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle, who play Mona Juul and Terje Rød-Larsen, the Norwegian couple overseeing the negotiations.

2. “Indecent”

Another Best Play nominee, Paula Vogel’s “Indecent,” may lack the momentum of “Oslo” — but also tells a very Jewish story. The play recounts the bumpy journey to Broadway of Shalom Asch’s controversial Yiddish play “God of Vengeance.” Seemingly ahead of its time, the 1906 play featured a love story between two women — one a prostitute and the other the teenage daughter of a religious man — and while it found success in Europe, the cast was arrested in New York for obscenity when the production moved uptown.

The play is also nominated for Best Direction of a Play (Rebecca Taichman) and Best Lighting Design (Christopher Akerlind).

Despite the nods, the play has been struggling to sell tickets: Vogel recently tweeted, “Please buy a ticket soon to ‘Indecent,’ asking your support. This show is the best I got in me. Want to share while we can.”

 

Watch Paula Vogel talk about her Jewish identity:

 

3. “Falsettos”

“Falsettos” may have closed in January, but this musical about neurotic Jews came away with five nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical.

The musical revolves around a selfish but likable man, Marvin, who tries to navigate relationships with his ex-wife, his boyfriend, his psychiatrist and his son, Jason. The second act takes place two years after the first, and centers around both AIDS and a bar mitzvah, which, in the play’s moving conclusion, Jason holds in a hospital room.

Brandon Uranowitz — the only “Falsettos” cast member who is Jewish  — is up for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, alongside one of his costars, Andrew Rannells, who may be best known as Elijah from Lena Dunham’s “Girls.” (The other nominees are Christian Borle for Best Lead Actor and Stephanie J. Block for Best Featured Actress.)

If we’re lucky, maybe they’ll open this year’s award ceremony — hosted by Kevin Spacey — with a rendition of the musical’s opening number, “Four Jews in a Room Bitching.” That’s a fitting description of Tony night at my house.

 

4. “Hello, Dolly!”

It’s so nice to have our favorite Jewish diva, Bette Midler, back on Broadway where she belongs — and almost everyone agrees.

As Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly,” Midler has received nearly unanimous raves and is receiving multiple standing ovations a night, both during and after the show, and now she’s nominated for Best Lead Actress in a Musical. And while competition in this category is heavy on theater royalty — see: Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone — it’s unlikely that anyone will beat the Divine Miss M, who plays a matchmaking meddler enlisted to find a wife for wealthy Horace Vandergelder (played David Hyde Pierce, also nominated), fully intending to marry him herself.

Bette Midler

Bette Midler at the New York Restoration Project’s spring picnic at Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York, June 1, 2016. (Monica Schipper/WireImage)

 

“Hello, Dolly” is nominated for 10 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. With only two competitors in that field —”Falsettos” and “Miss Saigon” — this widely-loved production is expected to win.

If you’re hoping to catch Midler singing a tune from the show, you’ll likely have to score a ticket — for which box-office prices top out at $748: Midler was deemed “unlikely” to sing at the Tonys this year.

5. “Dear Evan Hansen”

Ben Platt

Ben Platt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, May 1, 2017. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images For US Weekly)

 

Speaking of shoo-ins, Ben Platt, another Jewish actor, is probably the closest thing there is to one. I’m not a betting kind of woman, but I would put money on him taking home a Tony for Best Lead Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of anxiety-ridden outsider Evan Hansen, the title character in this dark musical about a boy who gets caught up in a lie after the death of a classmate.

Ben Platt grew up performing at a Jewish summer camp — watch him talk about his Jewish childhood on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” here, where he also sings a rendition of “Luck Be a Lady” in Hebrew.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is nominated for nine Tony Awards, including Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Mike Faist), Best Featured Actress (Rachel Bay Jones), Best Original Score, in which Benj Pasek, also Jewish, is nominated alongside Justin Paul. If the songwriters look familiar it’s because they already won an Oscar this year for “La La Land.”

6. “Come From Away”

Though “Dear Evan Hansen” is favored to win Tony’s final award of the evening — Best Musical — don’t rule out “Come From Away,” a touching, based-on-a-true-story musical about a small Newfoundland town. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the population of Gander temporarily doubled when 38 airplanes were rerouted there.

The musical is about how people come together and help each other through the darkest times. The Jewish connection? Aside from the show’s writers, married couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein (their previous show was called “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding”), one of the characters of “Come From Away” is a rabbi and, in a very moving scene, he sings “Oseh Shalom” as characters pray in many languages.

Sankoff and Hein are also nominated Best Book for a Musical and Best Original Score. Other nominees include Best Featured Actress (Jenn Colella) and Best Direction (Christopher Ashley).

7. “War Paint”

Patti LuPone may not be Jewish, but she’s played a rabbi on TV.

And now, she’s nominated for Best Lead Actress in a Musical in “War Paint,” which chronicles the rivalry between cosmetics magnates Helena Rubinstein (played by LuPone) and Elizabeth Arden (played by Christine Ebersole, also nominated in the same category). The musical, which is up for four Tony Awards, doesn’t shy away from the anti-Semitism that Rubinstein, a Polish immigrant, faced — she was denied an apartment at 625 Park Avenue, for example, but got her revenge when she bought the entire building.

“War Paint” isn’t nominated for Best Musical — but it was just announced there will be a performance from the cast during the awards ceremony.

To get a LuPone fix before then, check out this clip from her recent appearance on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”

What we learn from ‘Oslo’


If you want to see the Middle East that could have been — and, with any hope, could still be — you will have to wait for another production of  “Oslo.”

J.T. Rogers’ drama of diplomacy just closed its brief, sold-out and critically acclaimed run at the Lincoln Center Theater in New York, which is too bad — unless it is on its way to Los Angeles. 

The play focuses on the secretive 1993 talks that Norwegian officials conducted between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s cabinet and Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Those chaotic meetings, which led to the 1995 Oslo Accords, provide a portrait of deceit, frustration, recklessness and, ultimately, hope. 

Jefferson Mays leads the cast of talented performers. Playing the Norwegian academic Terje Roed-Larsen, he introduces the audience to his new diplomatic model, which promises to upend foreign policymaking forever. The old method, he says, involved two sides laying out their grievances through entrenched modes of protocol and careful bureaucracy. But the innovation stems from seeing governments as made up of people, not systems. This new theory demands radical transparency from both parties, that both sides present and negotiate their points in a loose and unstructured way, without mediation.

The clever irony is that transparency is nowhere to be found — at least for the public. The first act begins in fog. Director Bartlett Sher (who also directs this year’s Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof”) coats his stage with the stuff; actors enter even before the house lights go down. A cloak of secrecy swallows these players, and we, the audience, must focus to discover their motivations. For the Norwegians, the talks offer a chance to prove their merit on the world stage. For the Israelis, they are an opportunity to obtain security in an increasingly tense region. And for the Palestinians, they bring a chance to return to their homeland — or what’s left of it, as they point out on occasion. 

Married to Terje is Mona Juul, an official in Norway’s Foreign Ministry. She falls for the Middle East and its complexity, just as she falls for Terje’s diplomatic concepts. After wrangling her bosses in the ministry to their side, Mona proceeds to arrange these diplomatic talks to take place in a remote castle — far away from the prying eyes of the media and, God forbid, the Americans. Jennifer Ehle instills Mona with wit and verve, the only female lead in a cast of rowdy men with important things to say. Mona acts as a narrator, lifting her voice to the audience to detail global events that shaped the negotiations. Very often, she is accompanied by projections and superimposed text, allowing the audience to keep track of the complicated timeline. As she notes with weary gravitas, “Keep in mind: What you are about to see took place in only nine months.”

The Israeli side features Michael Aronov as Uri Savir, a swaggering official in the Foreign Ministry who reports to Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin (a cautious Adam Dannheisser), who himself reports to Shimon Peres (Daniel Oreskes). Uri can sense Terje has more than just his academic bona fides on the line — his ego is wrapped up in these talks, as well. But hesitations aside, Uri realizes he must argue with and cajole the enemy, face to face — the first time he has done so in his career. Two professors from Haifa University — Yair Hirschfeld (Oreskes again) and Ron Pundak (Daniel Jenkins) bring a touch of Borscht Belt humor to the proceedings. As the Palestinian envoy suggests, “These two are the Israeli Laurel and Hardy.”

From the Palestinians, Ahmed Qurie (Abu Ala to his friends) decides he can no longer stand idly by and watch his people suffer in refugee camps. As finance minister for the PLO, he risks his life by negotiating on Arafat’s behalf. Anthony Azizi injects the role with great dignity and courage; he recognizes the momentous changes these accords could bring for his people but maintains a distrust of the government that represents them. An undeveloped conflict within the second act suggests that Qurie may have kept Arafat in the dark through much of these talks.

Alongside Qurie is Hassan Asfour, a Russian-educated Palestinian with a weakness for Norwegian waffles and Marxism. Played by Dariush Kashani, Asfour retains a dry distance from the proceedings, only opening his mouth to share clear-eyed truth, or to eat more Norwegian waffles. Despite his revulsion toward Israel and all it represents, he can’t help saying to an Israeli negotiator, “You are my first Jew.”

To which the Israeli says, “I hope I’m not too stringy.”

What animates their dialogue —  indeed, the whole play — is the idea of seeing one’s opponent for the first time. This is the kind of revolution Terje sought to bring into foreign diplomacy talks. Time and again, animosity crumbles once these men talk of their daughters, their fathers, their dreams, their land. They joke with one another, too, and Rogers instills the drama with bright flashes of humor to humanize these officials. 

By the play’s end, although Terje and Mona debate the effectiveness of the accords and wonder aloud how long-lasting its effects will be, the historic roles that these inexperienced men and women played are plain to see. Whatever the future may hold, Rogers’ must-see play affirms the bravery of men who fought to see their enemies as partners. 

ADI ESHMAN is a playwright in Brooklyn.

France drops investigation into Arafat’s death


French investigating magistrates have decided to drop an inquiry into the death in France of former Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, whose widow alleged he was poisoned, the prosecutors office said on Wednesday.

A lawyer for his widow Suha Arafat, who has argued that his death in 2004 was a political assassination, told Reuters that they would challenge the decision in an appeals court.

Arafat, who signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accord with Israel but led an uprising after subsequent talks broke down in 2000, died aged 75 in a French hospital four weeks after falling ill.

The official cause of death was a massive stroke, but French doctors were unable at the time to determine the origin of the illness and no autopsy was carried out.

An investigation was opened in August 2012 at the request of Suha Arafat, and his remains were exhumed for tests that were examined separately by French, Russian and Swiss experts.

The Swiss reported their results were consistent with but not proof of poisoning by reactive polonium. The French concluded he did not die of poisoning and Russian experts were reported to have found no traces of polonium in his body.

Arab world disappointed with Netanyahu victory


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Any hopes that the Israeli election would lead to a new initiative for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been dashed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election for a fourth term. The disappointment is especially acute among Israel’s neighbors, Egypt and Jordan, which remain the only two countries which have a peace treaty with Israel.

“This is Mr. Netanyahu’s fourth term, and if he was serious about a peace settlement he would have done it a lot earlier than this,” Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister and currently with the Carnegie Center for Middle East Peace told The Media Line. “I still remember when (former Israeli Prime Minister) Yitzhak Rabin came into office. It was clear from Day One that he was actively pursuing a peace settlement. Mr. Netanyahu has been dragged into negotiations every time.”

Rabin and then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo peace accords in 1993 – which laid out a framework for a comprehensive peace agreement. Rabin was assassinated in 1994 by an extremist Jew.

More than two-thirds of Jordan’s population are Palestinians, and hardliners in Israel have said that the Palestinian state should be created in Jordan, instead of in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“Netanyahu’s statements against a two-state solution set off alarm bells in Jordan,” Muasher said. “Jordan has long been concerned that if there are not two states, a solution could come at its expense.”

He said that despite the government’s frustration with Netanyahu, Israel and Jordan shared a fear of radical Islam growing and taking root, and would cooperate to stop that.

Palestinian experts say they were hoping that the Zionist Union, led by Yitzhak Herzog would win the election.

“Herzog and (former Justice Minister Tzippi) Livni really want to see a two-state solution and Netanyahu doesn’t,” Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian government spokesman told The Media Line. “I think that is the fundamental difference between them.”

Netanyahu caused waves throughout the Arab world when he backed away from a previous acceptance of an independent Palestinian state in the days leading up to the Israeli election. That zig-zag sparked harsh American criticism of Netanyahu and a promise to “re-evaluate” the US position. There is concern in Israel that will mean a decision not to back Israeli in international organizations like the United Nations. There has been speculation that the US will not veto a Security Council resolution that calls for a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders with land swaps.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told the liberal lobby group J Street that Palestinians will turn to international organizations like the UN because Netanyahu has shown that he is not interested in helping create an independent state.

“Netanyahu is not a two-stater,” Erekat said. “That is why we thought to ourselves, “what do we do to save the two-state solution?” and so we went to the United Nations.”

Israel has long said that it prefers a bilateral solution through direct negotiations and not to go through the UN, which it sees as biased against Israel.

Tensions between the US and Israel deepened further over a Wall Street Journal report that Israel had spied on closed-door conversations between the US and the international community over the Iranian nuclear program, a report the Israeli Defense Minister vehemently denied.

In the Gulf, analysts said they share a concern with Israel that Iran will become a nuclear power. There had been speculation that Saudi Arabia, along with Bahrain, Kuwait, and the UAE would support an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program if Israel decided to do so. However, it seems that the opportunity for an Israeli military strike has passed, given that Iran is now in negotiations with the US on a deal to curtail its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions being lifted.

Egypt, too, does not want Iran to become a nuclear power, fearing it could spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Egyptian and Israeli ties remain close, with intense security cooperation. Yet journalist and analyst Hisham Kassem says that the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict means that the Egyptian army must remain on high alert, and cannot refocus to fight the growing extremist Islamist terrorist threat in the Sinai Peninsula. Dozens of Egyptian soldiers and police have been killed recently.

“The army really needs to turn into a counter-terrorism force and it can’t do that as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues,” Kassem told The Media Line. “With all of the cooperation between Israel and Egypt, a war could still break out.”

Kassem said he was surprised when President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he frequently speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. At the same time, he said, he does not believe that Sisi has called the Prime Minister since the Israeli election.

Norway’s Muslims form protective human shield around synagogue


More than 1,000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo's synagogue on Saturday, offering symbolic protection for the city's Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighboring Denmark last weekend.

Chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” Norway's Muslims formed what they called a ring of peace a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen last weekend.

“Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that,” Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the protest's organizers told a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo's only functioning synagogue.

“There are many more peace mongers than warmongers,” Abdullah said as organizers and Jewish community leaders stood side by side. “There’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”

Norway's Jewish community is one of Europe's smallest, numbering around 1000, and the Muslim population, which has been growing steadily through immigration, is 150,000 to 200,000. Norway has a population of about 5.2 million.

The debate over immigration in the country came to the forefront in 2011 when Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and accused the government and the then-ruling Labour party of facilitating Muslim immigration and adulterating pure Norwegian blood.

Support for immigration has been rising steadily since those attacks, however, and an opinion poll late last year found that 77 percent of people thought immigrants made an important contribution to Norwegian society.

Muslims offer to protect Oslo synagogue with ‘peace ring’


Hajrad Arshad, the event’s 17-year-old organizer, told Norway’s state broadcaster NRK that the group aimed to “extinguish the prejudices people have against Jews and against Muslims.”

“We think that after the terrorist attacks in Copenhagen, it is the perfect time for us Muslims to distance ourselves from the harassment of Jews that is happening,” she said.

Ervin Kohn, the leader of Oslo’s Jewish community welcomed the initiative.

Read more at The Local.

Judaism in Norway: The longest Shabbat


Every summer, Nikolaj Kahn faces a major Jewish problem.

“It never gets dark,” Kahn said during a walkthrough of the Jewish Museum in Trondheim, Norway, located about 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle. “We get desperate calls from the cruise ships asking when Shabbat starts. We just say 5:30.”

Such are the challenges of being a religious Jew in the land of the midnight sun, where it doesn’t seem to get really dark during a summer visit, even when the clock strikes midnight.

Trondheim, located on an inlet of the Norwegian Sea, is the nation’s third-largest city. It is home to Norway’s crown jewels, its national museum of popular music, as well as one of the country’s two synagogues. The other is in Norway’s capital, Oslo, and, combined, the communities of affiliated Jews only add up to somewhere around 1,000 out of a national population of 5 million.

For many Jews living here, being Jewish is about maintaining a meaningful connection to the faith, more so than adhering to halacha.

“I don’t think there’s a religious Jew in Trondheim,” Kahn said. “It’s more of a cultural identity. The religious part is fading away.”

The country’s chief rabbi, Michael Melchior, lives in Israel and only visits a few times a year; his son, also a rabbi, visits more often but is not a regular presence. Furthermore, kosher meat is hard to come by as it must be imported — ritual slaughter has been banned here since 1929, something the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center protested this past May. 

Because of the Holocaust and the presence of Nazi collaborators, even the Jews can be few and far between. In 1940, Norway was home to 2,100 Jews. By the end of the war, 1,100 had fled — mostly to neighboring Sweden — and more than 750 were deported to death camps. Of those, 34 survived.

Never forget

Perhaps that’s why the pervasive thinking today is as much “never forget” as “never again,” as this writer discovered while touring the country as a guest of Joseph Jacobs Advertising and Innovation Norway.

Just a short walk from where Kahn was speaking, a Trondheim park prominently features a statue of 13-year-old Cissi Klein, who was arrested in class and sent to her death in Auschwitz. Shown seated on a bench and clutching a small luggage piece inscribed with a Jewish star, Klein’s likeness is often adorned with flowers or wreaths by local residents.

In Oslo, a harbor city more than 300 miles south of Trondheim, there’s the Oslo Jewish Museum, a mud-red building that was once a synagogue in the city’s Hausmann quarter. Outside, bronze cobblestones are embedded in the sidewalk with the names of residents deported to Auschwitz. These stolpersteine (literally “stumbling blocks”), created by German artist Gunter Demnig, appear elsewhere in the city, as well as places where Jewish victims once lived.

Inside the museum are two main displays, one offering a general survey of Jewish holidays and customs and the other telling the very personal stories of Norwegian Jews during and leading up to World War II. The former is for educational purposes, as most of the museum’s guests are not Jewish.

“Here in Norway, they don’t know anything about the Jews,” one guide said. “It’s not like in the United States where you have Chanukah in all the department stores.”

The latter exhibition, titled “Remember Us Unto Life,” uses family histories, artifacts and black-and-white photographs of smiling men, women and children during happier times to tell the story of the nation’s Jews, who for so long wanted nothing more than to fit in with their countrymen. Among those featured is the family of Jo Benkow, the former president of parliament who died last year.

“There are no other people to hang these pictures, so we have to hang them on our wall,” said Sidsel Levin, the museum’s director. “In Norway, everyone lost someone, and some families just disappeared. There are no tracks left.”

Or, as Kahn put it a bit more bluntly: “If you stayed in Norway, you were dead.”

Surrounding this exhibition, which is provided in English, are the decorations of the old synagogue. Selections from scripture adorn the walls, as do Stars of David — all discovered in recent years under layers of paint.

A small fire in December forced the museum to close its exhibitions temporarily, but Levin said she expects most items to be back on display and open to the public by the end of March.

A park in Trondheim, Norway, features this memorial statue of 13-year-old Cissi Klein, who died in Auschwitz. Photo by Ryan E. Smith

Memory and irony

In a country that loves to fill museums with the accomplishments of its adventurous, almost legendary heroes — think the Vikings, Thor Heyerdahl (Kon-Tiki) and Roald Amundsen (first to reach the South Pole) — the Norwegian government has made a conscious effort to be part of the Jewish community’s outreach and rebuilding efforts.

In the 1990s, it made restitution payments totaling many millions of dollars to Holocaust victims or their surviving relatives, as well as the country’s two synagogues. That money also established the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Oslo, which every student in the city must visit.

The center opened in 2006 and is located — not coincidentally — in Villa Grande, the same monumental building that served as the home of Norwegian Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling during World War II. Today, there’s one major addition to the entrance: a three-story version of the form once used to determine if someone was Jewish, recreated in glass and lights.

An audio guide is available in English, but in many places it isn’t necessary, such as the room filled with drawings and cartoon propaganda depicting Jews as devils — a sharp contrast to the buildings’ romantic leaded windows and the bright greenery outside. (Even on gray, rainy days, there always seem to be 30 shades of green in Norway.)

The exhibition in the basement follows the story of the country’s victims and Holocaust perpetrators and displays a Torah found at Auschwitz. Look closely and you’ll note that it’s opened to Parsha Beshalach, where the Israelites sing to God after crossing the Red Sea. Such a reminder of the Jewish people’s survival is a welcome pick-me-up, especially when around the corner is a small, white room with the name of every Jewish Norwegian Holocaust victim inscribed on the wall.

Modern Judaism

This is not to say that everything about Norwegian Jewish life is about looking back. There are, after all, the country’s two surviving Orthodox congregations and a Chabad-Lubavitch presence that claims to be in touch with a few hundred more people as well.

In Oslo, the turreted, stucco temple from 1920, with its circular window circumscribing a Star of David, is located on a steep hill. The victim of a gunfire attack a number of years ago — pockmarks are still visible on the exterior — it is now noticeably protected by concrete barricades.

In the sanctuary, the words to “Ma Tovu” are painted in giant, arching letters over the bimah with beautifully carved woodwork throughout. The congregation may not be the most religious — “No one’s really interested. It’s more the cultural aspects,” one person there said — but members have assisted in community-wide education efforts by, for example, filming a piece about b’nai mitzvah.

Downstairs is a small kosher pantry that is open twice a week. Its offerings include challah, beef from Holland and chicken from England.

In Trondheim, the Jewish Museum and synagogue are located in a light-blue building, which was once the city’s first train station. Here, too, there is an exhibition dedicated to the Holocaust. Its basement, however, is full of artifacts that tell of the area’s first Jews, many of them peddlers from Eastern Europe who were prohibited by law from opening stores. (The constitution didn’t even allow Jews or Jesuits to enter the country until 1851.) Most exhibits are accompanied by English text.

The second-floor sanctuary has a soothing, disco-blue light emanating from the ceiling. Here, women sit with men, no one keeps kosher and there is no rabbi, Kahn said. Still, the mostly intermarried membership celebrates the holidays and organizes summer parties. 

They also take pride in their claim to be the northernmost shul in the world. There may be naysayers — that includes you, Fairbanks, Alaska! — but that doesn’t bother Kahn.

“We don’t believe them.”

Israel, others urged to join chemical arms treaty


Israel, Egypt and North Korea should renounce chemical weapons, especially after Syria joined the convention banning them and three other nations plan to do so, the chief of an international watchdog said on Tuesday.

Ahmet Uzumcu, head of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said Angola, Myanmar and South Sudan were preparing to join the pact.

“Now since Syria has become a member country, I think (Israel) can reconsider,” Uzumcu told Reuters in Oslo, where he accepted the 2013 Nobel award for the OPCW.

Israel, which has observer status at the OPCW, signed the convention in 1993, but has never ratified it.

As with its presumed nuclear arsenal, Israel has never publicly admitted having chemical weapons. Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said in September that Israel would be ready to discuss the issue when there was peace in the Middle East.

“I don't see any excuse for not joining the convention,” Uzumcu said. “Three (nations) are very close to membership and I hope the others will reconsider their positions.”

The OPCW's mission gained critical importance this year after a sarin gas attack outside Damascus in August killed hundreds of people, exacerbating a 2-1/2-year-old conflict in Syria in which more than 100,000 have died.

Syria then agreed under a deal arranged by the United States and Russia to destroy all of its 1,300 metric tons of sarin, mustard gas and other lethal agents, averting U.S. missile strikes.

“The only consolation is that those attacks led to renewed efforts by the international community to eliminate them,” Uzumcu said, referring to chemical weapons around the world.

CHALLENGES

Work is Syria is hampered by security challenges and needs more money but the Syrian government is doing its best to cooperate and OPCW expects soon to secure a port where the deadliest chemicals can be neutralized offshore, he said.

“There are some contacts which are under way and we may be informed within a week to 10 days,” Uzumcu said, without identifying the port. “The Syrian government has been quite cooperative, constructive and transparent so far.”

The United States is donating a naval ship and equipment to destroy Syria's most dangerous chemical weapons but securing a port has proven especially difficult and the OPCW is at risk of missing its December 31 deadline to remove these weapons from Syria.

Getting rid of the less dangerous weapons is also a challenge, unless more funds are forthcoming, Uzumcu said.

“The financial contributions have been encouraging but we expect more because we have built a trust fund for the second category of chemical substances, which will have to be destroyed at commercial plants,” he said.

“The United States will cover all the costs for the priority-one chemical weapons. For the second category of weapons, we estimate 35 to 40 million euros,” Uzumcu said.

The OPCW hopes to remove all chemical weapons from Syria by February 5 and to destroy them by June 30. The most dangerous of the chemicals, about 500 metric tons, will be processed by the United States and stored at an undetermined location.

The U.S. ship cannot sail into a Syrian port so current plans call for Danish and Norwegian merchant ships to get the chemicals out, some to be transferred to the U.S. vessel and the less lethal ones to commercial chemical plants for incineration.

Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Israel’s Better Place


As we witness the latest attempts to restart the comatose peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, we heard last week about the shutting down of Better Place, the much-ballyhooed Israeli venture that aimed to revolutionize the world of electric cars.

It’s hard not to see a poetic link between these two failed ventures — one dreamed of being free of war, the other of being free of oil.

The closer you look at them, the more similarities you see.

First, they both suffered from the poison of too much hype. It’s not true that all publicity is good publicity — certainly not when you raise expectations so high that you set yourself up for failure.

Has any diplomatic subject ever received more hype than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How many careers have been built on its poor back? How many times have we heard leaders, diplomats and activists prattle on about “the importance of the two-state solution” — as if the mere act of conveying importance were a magic potion that would get us to that solution?

Similarly, Better Place was Israel’s most-hyped private venture. Everywhere you went, you heard about Shai Agassi’s revolutionary “battery solution.” This was the infrastructure solution to electric cars that would change the world: Drivers would pull up to a station and a fully charged battery would be installed to replace the old one — in minutes!  

The two-state solution and the battery solution: Two dreams that were pitched as crucial and inevitable, two dreams that attracted enormous investments, and two dreams that crashed on the shores of reality.

In both cases, Israelis were initially caught up in the hype but then sobered up when they looked at reality. With Better Place, they saw that this sexy new system of “recharging” batteries wouldn’t save them that much money after all. Then they looked at the paltry number of battery stations that Better Place had set up throughout the country: 38.

You do the math: 38 battery stations versus 1,500 gas stations. Which one feels like less of a hassle?

With the peace process, after getting caught up in the dreams of Oslo, Israelis again looked at reality: 126 suicide bombings in the Second Intifada that left more than  1,000 Israelis dead following an offer of a Palestinian state in 95 percent of disputed land.

They also saw reality not getting any better: nearly 10,000 terrorist rockets raining on Israel after the country withdrew from Gaza, and 1 million Israelis terrorized by those bombs.

This reality also included figurative bombs from their “peace partners”— such as the glorifying of terrorists, the teaching of Jew-hatred and the denial of any Jewish connection to Jerusalem — along with the rejection of Israeli peace offers, the refusal to negotiate even after a settlement freeze and the longstanding refusal to recognize a Jewish state under any borders. 

So, when Israelis today hear the tedious mantra about the “importance of the two-state solution,” you can’t blame them for yawning.

For too many Israelis, “land for peace” has come to mean land for terror.

Peace dreamers might still holler that the status quo is “unsustainable,” but Israelis today see another status quo that is markedly less sustainable: the West Bank turning into Gaza. 

Yes, Israelis still dream of peace. But the story of their country has always been a battle between dreams and reality. They need dreams to shape their reality, but they also need reality to shape their dreams.

In the brutal Middle East, it seems as if reality always wins.

The failures of the two-state solution and the electric car battery solution remind us that while having great dreams is important, it’s not as important as the ability to turn these dreams into reality.

Israelis are reality people. They hear their glorious president Shimon Peres wax poetic about how peace with Jew-haters is right around the corner, and they roll their eyes. They see the hundreds of diplomatic photo-ops over the past five years just to get peace talks going, and they think only of the hundreds of Hamas bombs waiting to be launched at Tel Aviv. 

“Debating the peace process to most Israelis is the equivalent of debating the color of the shirt you will wear when landing on Mars,” an Israeli told a New York Times reporter last week.

Israelis have learned the hard way that evidence is more important than hope. Show them an electric car that really makes life easier, and they’ll buy it. Show them peace partners who really want peace, and they’ll buy that, too.

Ultimately, no matter how much hype you pile on, whether you’re pitching a peace process, baby diapers or an electric car, things need to work.

In Israel today, that reality is the better place.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Settlements are not illegal


If you think the West Bank settlements have been an albatross around Israel’s neck up until now, brace yourself. With the new governing coalition announced this week, and the settlers enjoying even more power, all bets are off.

As Barak Ravid writes in Haaretz about Israel’s new government, “it seems that most of the key positions will be filled by settlers and their supporters.”

Since “Jewish settlements” are two of the most hated words in international diplomacy, we can expect that, peace process or no peace process, the pressure on Israel to stop its settlement activity will only get worse.

This pressure will be fueled by the global campaign to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state, commonly known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

What should Israel do in response to this pressure?

If it were up to me, I’d call a good lawyer.

That’s right, not a PR genius or a brilliant policy analyst, but a lawyer.

[Related: Are critics of Israeli occupation getting nervous?]

The most severe charge against Israel is a legal one. Let’s face it: The whole movement to delegitimize the Jewish state is based on this one accusation that the occupation of the West Bank is an illegal enterprise.

Much of the world has bought into the Palestinian narrative that Israel stole their land and needs to give it back.

It’s fine for Israel to keep repeating “we want peace” and “we’re ready to negotiate,” but if people think you’re a thief living on stolen land, it doesn’t have quite the same impact.

That’s why, even though one can argue that the Palestinians deserve most of the blame for the failure of the peace process, it is Israel that gets the blame.

Outlaws rarely get the benefit of the doubt.

A good lawyer would look at this mess and tell Israel: Until you can make a compelling case that you’re not an “illegal occupier,” nothing good will happen. Even friendly acts like freezing settlement construction will only reinforce the perception of your guilt.

As it turns out, and to the shock of many, a commission led last year by the respected former Israeli Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy did, in fact, conclude that “Israeli settlements are legal under international law.” (You can Google it. It’s pretty convincing.).

“The oft-used term ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ has no basis whatsoever in law or fact,” Alan Baker, director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a member of Levy’s commission, wrote recently in USA Today.

“The territories are neither occupied nor are they Palestinian. No legal determination has ever been made as to their sovereignty, and by agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, they are no more than ‘disputed’ pending a negotiated solution, with both sides claiming rights to the territory.”

Baker adds that Israel has “solid legal rights” to the territory, including “the rights granted to the Jewish people by the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the 1923 San Remo Declaration, the League of Nations Mandate instrument and the United Nations Charter,” and that the Oslo agreements “contain no prohibition whatsoever on building settlements in those parts of the territory agreed upon as remaining under Israel's control.”

The reason this point of view is so shocking to many is that it’s hard to separate one’s emotion from the law. In other words, you can love or hate the settlements on moral or strategic grounds, but that doesn’t make them illegal. “Disputed” is light years away from “illegal.”

What’s truly illegal and immoral, if you ask me, is how Israel’s enemies have exploited the dispute to try to delegitimize Israel as a criminal state worthy of the most extreme boycotts and condemnations.

So, given all this, why did the Israeli government not take advantage of the Levy report to push back and defend its honor? My guess is that they felt it would be too controversial and would only complicate things.

After all, since Israel has already shown a willingness to offer up land for peace, why make a big fuss over having a legal right to that land?

Well, for one thing, because you can’t make a deal if you’re seen as a thief who has stolen property. The other side has no reason to negotiate– all they want is for you to return their stolen property. Your concessions have no value.

But if you assert your legal right to the land, you give your concessions real value and give the other side an incentive to negotiate.

Beyond the dynamics of the peace process, Israel’s failure to champion its legal rights has allowed dangerous movements like BDS to continue to wreak havoc. BDS is an anti-Israel runaway train. It sponsors hundreds of Israel Apartheid Week events around the globe. Its mission is not to seek peace but to isolate Israel as a criminal state, and its major piece of evidence is the “illegal occupation.”

No amount of clever PR can rebut that evidence.

Israel’s best hope is to fight back by making a compelling legal case in international courts, while unleashing a global diplomatic offensive around this clear and simple message:

“According to international law, Israel has a legal right to settle in the West Bank. After 45 years, Israeli settlements account for less than 2% of the territories. Our willingness to dismantle settlements and give up precious land for a hope of peace– which we’ve demonstrated in the past– is not an endorsement of the spurious accusation that settlements are illegal. It’s a statement of how much we value peace.”

“What is illegal, immoral and unacceptable is the attempt to use this dispute to delegitimize the Jewish state.”

This message is sure to trigger a few heart attacks at the United Nations, but the fact that it goes against the conventional wisdom is precisely why the legal case must be made. Silence in the face of accusation only conveys guilt and nourishes the forces that are out to delegitimize the Jewish state.

For far too long, while being hypnotized by the peace process, Israel has let its enemies portray its presence on the West Bank as a criminal act. This unchallenged narrative has not only undermined the peace process, it has damaged Israel’s standing beyond all proportion.

If Israel doesn’t respond directly and soon, its global isolation will only worsen.

You can hate and criticize the settlements all you want and still push back against unfair accusations that they are illegal. One doesn’t preclude the other. Any good lawyer understands that.

Maybe instead of looking towards Madison Avenue to defend itself, Israel’s new government should look towards Century City.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Israelis voted for reality


Regardless of what kind of coalition a bruised and humbled Prime Minister Netanyahu shapes in the new government, the prospects for peace will depend less on his government’s actions and more on the sentiments of Israel’s neighborhood.

To get a sense of those sentiments, consider the words of newly elected President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, a country that is technically “at peace” with Israel and is critical to its security.

As reported in The New York Times, three years ago Morsi was caught on video at a rally urging his followers to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews,” whom later that year he described as “bloodsuckers,” “warmongers” and “descendants of apes and pigs.”

Morsi is far from the exception in his Jew-hatred. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a fellow at the Belfer Center’s Future of Diplomacy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School, wrote in The Times:

“All over the Middle East, hatred for Jews and Zionists can be found in textbooks for children as young as three, complete with illustrations of Jews with monster-like qualities. Mainstream educational television programs are consistently anti-Semitic. In songs, books, newspaper articles and blogs, Jews are variously compared to pigs, donkeys, rats and cockroaches, and also to vampires and a host of other imaginary creatures.”

The vile depiction of Jews and Zionists is especially prevalent in Palestinian society, something that has been exposed in detail by the group Palestinian Media Watch.

It is this vicious Jew-hatred, above all, that has killed every hope for peace.

As Ali writes: “So many explanations have been offered for the failure of successive U.S. administrations to achieve that peace, but the answer is in Morsi’s words. Why would one make peace with bloodsuckers and descendants of apes and monkeys?”

Israelis are not stupid. They read all this stuff. They haven’t given up on peace, but they’ve given up on peace illusions. 

The conventional wisdom before Election Day was that Israel is “moving right.” As I see it, it is reality that has moved right, and Israel has had no choice but to adapt.

Ever since the heady days of Oslo 20 years ago, Israelis have gotten burned whenever they stuck their collective necks out for peace.

They saw how all the years and hopes they invested in Yasser Arafat were wasted on a duplicitous conniver who launched a terror war that murdered a thousand Israelis; they saw how terror rockets were launched on Israeli civilians after they evacuated Lebanon and Gaza; and now they see their so-called “peace partner” Mahmoud Abbas trying to make peace with Hamas, a terror entity sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Israelis see an Arab Spring that has generated even more Jew-hatred and even worse conditions for peace.

When they look east, they see an Iranian madman building a nuclear arsenal to wipe Israel off the map. And when they look north, they count their blessings that they never gave up the Golan Heights to a murderous despot now fighting a horrendous civil war.

Simply put, Israelis have come to understand that no amount of concessions or settlement freezes or red-carpet summits will thaw the icy Jew-hatred that lies at the core of the conflict.

They’ve come to understand the perverted and ruthless logic of the Middle East: The more you want peace and show weakness, the more you get war.

The more desperate you appear for a solution, the further you get from it.

Many American Jews are perplexed and exasperated that Israel has not been more “practical” or done “whatever it takes” to get their enemies to come to the peace table. 

They assume that the more you push for something, the better your chances of getting it. They can’t see how “dig in and tough it out” can even be an option.

What they’ve missed is that, in recent years, Israel has taken on a very Middle Eastern attribute: patience. 

Essentially, Israel has been telling the Arab and Muslim world: We’ve waited 2,000 years to come home, and we’re ready to wait another 2,000 years to make peace. Whenever you’re ready to accept us, we’ll be here, ready to talk peace.

In the Middle East, patience is leverage.

Patience itself is a very centrist idea. It avoids the extremes of both sides.

Bibi is fortunate that a centrist party, Yesh Atid, has done remarkably well. This will help him shape a more reality-based coalition.

This reality cuts both ways. On the one hand, it means recognizing that Israel must eventually make peace with its neighbors, and never lose hope.

On the other, it means recognizing that if the conditions are not ripe for peace, pushing too hard actually can backfire.

Let’s hope that Bibi’s new coalition will be able to pull off that balancing act: to show the world that Israel is absolutely ready to make peace, while exercising the hard-nosed realism that the neighborhood demands.

Israelis have learned the hard way that pushing for peace with those who hate you can bring you further from peace, and that showing weakness with those who compare you to pigs and apes can be an invitation to another war.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry: Oslo Accords could be canceled over Palestinians’ U.N. bid


A document being circulated by Israel's Foreign Ministry instructs its envoys to warn their host governments that the Oslo Accords could be canceled over the Palestinian Authority's attempt to upgrade its status at the United Nations.

The document, which says the possible upgrade to non-member state “would be considered a crossing of a red line,” reportedly also calls for “toppling” the regime of PA President Mahmoud Abbas if the proposal is approved, the French news agency AFP reported.

Abbas has said he will go to the U.N. General Assembly this month to ask that the Palestinians be upgraded to non-member state status.

The document also recommends offering the Palestinians immediate recognition of statehood along provisional borders for a transition period, according to Haaretz.

“In the event that the Palestinians give up going to the UN, Israel must reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority for a Palestinian state along provisional borders, during a transition period — until the stabilization of the Arab world, new elections in the Palestinian Authority, and a clarification of the relations between the West Bank and Gaza,” the document obtained by Haaretz reads.

The Palestinians currently are considered an observer “entity” at the United Nations. Acceptance of the Palestinians as a non-member state, similar to the Vatican's U.N. status, could grant the Palestinians access to bodies such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where they could file complaints against Israel.

The status upgrade seems certain to win approval in any vote in the General Assembly, which is composed mostly of post-colonial states historically sympathetic to the Palestinians. Palestinian diplomats also are courting European countries to further burnish their case.

The Palestinian Authority last year sought full U.N. membership. The bid failed because of U.S. opposition in the U.N. Security Council.

“Observer status” does not need approval of the Security Council, where the United States wields a veto.

Palestinians take anti-Oslo protest to Abbas


Hundreds of demonstrators marched on the offices of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday to protest against diplomatic contacts with Israel and to denounce police violence at a previous rally.

Chanting for an end to the Oslo accords, which were meant to pave the way to permanent peace with Israel, the flag-waving crowd cut through Ramallah’s crammed city center under the watchful eye of scores of plainclothes security officers.

Heavy handed security forces intervened on Sunday to prevent a smaller group of protesters from reaching Abbas’s headquarters in the occupied West Bank, and beat some journalists who tried to cover the event.

But a government source said police were under orders on Tuesday to allow the protesters to take their message to the gleaming stone walls of Abbas’s compound, which is also the burial place of previous Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat.

“The streets are open to us today, and that’s the result of a political decision. They realize the violence before made them look bad,” said Ali Nakhle, a student who joined approximately 400 other, mainly youthful protesters in downtown Ramallah.

While there were no slogans directed specifically against Abbas himself, the protesters were scathing about a recent announcement that the Palestinian president was ready to meet Israeli Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz.

The planned encounter would have been the highest-level meeting between the two sides since direct peace talks broke down in 2010. However, it was abruptly called off at the weekend in apparent response to Palestinian public opinion.

“We want your head Mofaz,” the crowds chanted on Tuesday, adding: “The people want the fall of Oslo,” adapting a common refrain against the ruling elites in countless Arab Spring protests over the past 18 months.

The 1993 Oslo Accords gave the Palestinians limited self-rule in the occupied territories, and set out guidelines for future peace talks to end the Middle East conflict.

However, a lasting deal has proved elusive and the latest round of talks collapsed two years ago in a dispute over continued Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

The protesters, who do not appear to belong to any political faction, called for a fresh rally on Thursday, hoping their grass-root movement, which first took to the streets at the weekend, will gather momentum.

The demonstrations have come at a particularly delicate moment for Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which is facing a severe cash crisis because of a failure by some donor states, particularly in the Gulf, to hand over promised funds.

Finance Minister Nabil Kassis told reporters on Tuesday that the government could not pay its workers this month because the coffers were empty. Palestinian officials said they did not know why various donor nations were not honoring their commitments.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Anti-Semitism limited in Norway, survey shows


More than a third of Norwegians believe that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is similar to how Nazis treated Jews, according to a survey of attitudes toward Jews in Norway.

The recent survey found that 38 percent of Norwegians feel that way about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. It also indicates that 25 percent of Norwegians believe Jews exploit the memory of the Holocaust to their own advantage and 26 percent think Jews “consider themselves better than others.”

Some 12 percent of the Norwegian population “can be considered significantly prejudiced against Jews,” according to the survey, which was published last month by the Oslo-based Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities. The survey said the prevalence of anti-Semitic notions in Norway is limited and comparable to that of Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.

TNS Gallup collected data from 1,522 respondents last November for the survey.

Seventy-six percent of those who demonstrated anti-Jewish attitudes in the survey displayed similar attitudes toward Muslims.

Meanwhile, the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Wednesday urged the Norwegian Justice Ministry to “protect threatened children” in Norway’s school system following an unconfirmed report about alleged schoolyard abuse against a Jewish teenager in Oslo. The report, which appeared on the blog Norway Israel and the Jews, said a classmate of the 16-year-old Jewish boy branded him by placing a hot coin on his neck. The blog said the boy’s father was Israeli.

The head of Oslo’s Jewish community, Ervin Kohn, told JTA that he had not heard about the incident prior to the blog posting. Øivind Kopperud, a researcher at the Oslo-based Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities, said his watchdog organization was unaware of the attack.

At Harvard, Dennis Ross takes another bite of the apple


Appearing considerably greyer than when he began negotiating the Oslo peace process for the Clinton Administration 18 years ago, former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross addressed Harvard University’s first Israel Conference April 20 on the topic of “Innovating the Peace Process.”

A month earlier, the same auditorium hosted Harvard’s “One State Conference,” produced by Students for Justice in Palestine and other assorted anti-Israel student groups. Roiled by the controversy of being hosted by Harvard’s prestigious Kennedy School of Government, the “One State Conference” welcomed veteran Israel-bashers Ilan (“The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”) Pappe, Stephen (“Israel Lobby”) Walt and Ali (“Electronic Intifadah”) Abunimah, among others.

In spite of being planned before the anti-Israel conference, the latest program’s focus on cooperation with Palestinian business ventures and Israel’s remarkable technological innovations stood in stark contrast to the One State Conference, whose self-proclaimed goal was the supposed peaceful elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.

Ross currently serves as counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy after resigning last November as special adviser to Hillary Clinton on Iran and Southeast Asia, reportedly after clashing with George Mitchell during his failed attempt to secure a permanent settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict for the Obama Administration. Overall, he has served as a Middle East adviser for five U.S. presidents.

At Harvard April 20, Ross’s appetite for a second bite of the apple—or, perhaps his 10th bite—amounted to proposing a “hybrid model” for Arab-Israeli negotiations, this time around an amalgam of two previous models. First, the “incremental” model, in which each side fulfills step-by-step conditions. Second, the “comprehensive” model, that goes straight to final settlement negotiations ultimately producing a new Palestinian state including East Jerusalem, and a durable peace including Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. There have been so many proposed models that it’s hard to keep them straight. But don’t worry, said Ross, this time it’s sure to work.

Of course, there is one critical component of the “hybrid,” echoing the sine qua non of Ross’s former boss, President Obama: Freezing (and dismantling) of “settlements” must accompany final status negotiations. He reminded his audience of this provision, contained in 2002’s so-called Road Map. But, he chose not to mention the crucial provision from the Israeli point of view that calls for all armed Arab factions to be disarmed and disbanded. It would seem that some provisions are created more equal than others.   

In addition to Ross’s latest model, there’s another one described by its brilliant author, Ambassador Henny Youngman—the “eternal look-the-other-way model”:

“My doctor gave me six months to live. I didn’t pay the bill—so he gave me another six months.”

When it came to confronting Palestinian terror and the refusal to educate their people for a culture of peace and coexistence, Ross and his employers were always ready to give another six months.

Or, perhaps the Albert Einstein model applies: “Insanity amounts to doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” At any rate, Dennis Ross would love to get back in the game.

Sadly, the nearly 20-year-old peace process has become a self-sustaining industry, producing lucrative incomes and prestigious accolades for people who have accomplished exactly nothing in terms of solving the conflict. Still packing halls around the world, Ross represents certainly not the triumph of diplomacy, but rather its abject failure. One questioner seemed to nail it when he suggested that all these years of failed “models” may have produced more conflict than would have occurred in the absence of any peace process.

Inexplicably, for Ross and his employers, the Palestinians never conformed to the logical models set up for them.  It would seem that Arafat and Abu Mazen were reading from a different script. And when all else fails, put more pressure on Israel—it’s a proven tactic that works for Labor and Likud and everything in between.

This season’s latest model from Ross is the “hybrid.” But, alas, the Middle East will suffer buyer’s remorse when it finds out that its new car gets zero miles per gallon.


Hillel Stavis is a writer based in Cambridge, Mass. He focuses on investigative reporting on Harvard University and the Boston higher education community.

After Norway and before 9/11 anniversary, U.S. answers questions about homegrown threats


With the Norway attacks fresh in mind and the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks fast approaching, are U.S. authorities paying attention to the right kinds of threats?

The fear is that with polarization intensifying in America, extremists might mark the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 with a major attack, said Heidi Beirich, the research director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremists in the United States.

And Beirich said the July 22 mass killing of 77 people by Anders Behring Breivik, an anti-Muslim extremist in Norway, “raises considerable fears that something similar could happen here in the United States.”

Asked about homegrown threats, an FBI spokeswoman pointed JTA to an April 14 speech by Mark Giuliano, the assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

In his speech, Giuliano outlined four areas of focus. Three have to do with Muslim terrorism or its potential: al-Qaeda, homegrown Islamists and the changes roiling the Arab world. The fourth was identified as domestic terrorism.

“The FBI continues to maintain a robust effort against domestic terrorism,” Giuliano said in the speech. “The domestic terrorism movement continues to remain active, and several recent domestic terrorism incidents demonstrate the scope of the threat.”

Giuliano cited as examples three recent successes for the FBI: the March 2010 indictment of nine members of a Michigan militia who planned to kill police; a pipe bomb found before it exploded at a Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, Wash., this year and the arrest of a suspect; and the arrests of three suspects in Fairbanks, Alaska, on weapons charges.

After the attacks in Norway, U.S. officials offered assurances that they are paying close attention to the homegrown potential for violence, including from white extremists.

A White House strategy published Aug. 3 on encouraging authorities to use community outreach to prevent terrorism recruitment focused mostly on the Islamist threat, but made clear that anti-government extremists still posed a danger.

“In recent history, our country has faced plots by neo-Nazis and other anti-Semitic hate groups, racial supremacists, and international and domestic terrorist groups,” it said, “and since the September 11 attacks, we have faced an expanded range of plots and attacks in the United States inspired or directed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates and adherents as well as other violent extremists.”

In an interview with JTA, the FBI spokeswoman would not comment on whether the United States has seen an extremism or if there was a focus on particular regions of the country.

Matthew Levitt, the Washington Institute’s senior fellow analyzing counterterrorism who hosted Giuliano, said the U.S. government has been concerned about the possibility of an increase in violence from extremists since the election of Barack Obama as president.

“It was the first time an African American was elected president, and it was a shot in the arm” to white supremacist extremists, he said.

Levitt, who was a counterterrorism analyst for the U.S. Treasury in the mid-2000s, said the FBI’s focus is still on Islamist terror, but that it’s not neglecting homegrown threats.

“They are focusing on jihadi networks, which are by any measure the major threat,” Levitt said, but noting that Giuliano at the April 16 meeting at the institute “made it a point that the bureau stills has an independent section focused on domestic terrorism.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center says the attention paid to domestic terrorism is inadequate.

“Are we safe from the threat of right-wing terrorism?” Mark Potok, the director of publications for the center, rhetorically asks in the latest issue of Intelligence Report, its signature publication. “As the Patriot movement that wreaked so much havoc in the 1990s comes roaring back and hate groups soar to record levels, is the American population being protected adequately?”

To underscore the threat, the law center ran an accompanying list of planned and successful homegrown terrorist attacks since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that is top-heavy with events since June 2008, when Obama emerged as the presidential front-runner. Of the 31 events listed since June ‘08, only one is by a purely indigenous Muslim group. The rest were carried out by an array of militias and lone wolves seemingly motivated by anti-government, anti-abortion, anti-Muslim and racist rhetoric.

Some of the attacks had an anti-Semitic component, including the 2009 slaying of three Pittsburgh policemen by an extremist obsessed with the notion of a “cabal” of Jews running the United States, and the fatal shooting that same year at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Left off the law center’s list are recent planned attacks by groups or individuals backed by overseas Islamists—for instance, the 2010 Times Square bombing attempt. Pakistani extremists might have funded that attempt, authorities have said.

The group listed 23 attacks from Sept. 11, 2001 until Obama’s emergence as the likely president.

Other groups that track extremists say it doesn’t help much to track one extreme separately from another; a holistic strategy is required.

“We have extremists across the ideological spectrum in this country,” said Oren Segal, the co-director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “To describe one threat as more dangerous than another is not a luxury we have.”

Levitt of the Washington Institute agreed.

“A lot of the efforts the bureau and others have done have been efforts to constrict the environment whatever the ideology,” he said, citing as an example tracking the sale of quantities of fertilizer that could be used to build a large bomb.

Security experts: To prevent extremist violence, look at behavior, not ideology


Focus on behaviors common to all extremists: That’s the advice security experts are offering in the wake of the recent attacks in Norway by a perpetrator who appeared to be anti-Muslim rather than an Islamist.

In the United States, the attacks in Oslo and on the island of Utoya are prompting government officials and those advising the Jewish community on security to look for lessons that can be applied to America.

The Secure Community Network, known as SCN and funded by the Jewish Federations of North America, set up a conference call this week for Jewish summer camp officials with a top Homeland Security Department official. Most of the 77 people killed in Norway died in a shooting attack at a youth camp on Utoya.

SCN in its notice to camp officials said the call, scheduled for Wednesday, was to “discuss planning, mitigation and response policies and procedures camps can implement to address the risk, threat and impact of active shooter and other events.”

Anders Behring Breivik has claimed responsibility for the Norway attacks but has pleaded not guilty, saying the killings were justified.

Whether one is a right-wing or Islamic extremist, the telltale signs of a possible attack in the works may be the same, a senior Homeland Security official told JTA.

The likely attacker is “an individual becoming increasingly vocal and visible in their anti-American, anti-Jewish community, anti-government rhetoric”—whatever the provenance of their beliefs, said the official, who spoke on condition of not being named.

That was true, the official noted, of Faisal Shahzad, the Islamist convicted of attempting to set off a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010, as it was of Richard Poplawski, the white supremacist on death row for killing three Pittsburgh policemen in 2009.

Past and current U.S. government security officials laid out three interlocking strategies for prevention: Getting family and acquaintances to report such behavioral changes; getting others in the community to note suspicious behavior around likely targets; and making sure such reports are streamlined so that local and federal authorities are able to coordinate a response.

“We seek through intelligence and information-sharing to better inform local authorities and community members to recognize the behaviors associated with violence,” the Homeland Security official said.

In reports after the Pittsburgh shootings, friends and family of Poplawski said they had noted, but not made an issue of, his legal weapons purchases as well as his propensity for anti-government, racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

The Homeland Security official said the department was examining the Norway attacks and assessing the information, just as it had previous attacks.

After an attack, the official said, “we look at events that occurred, what people had observed, whether community members, family members saw something that was present that would have forewarned” of an attack. Those reports are then forwarded to local authorities so “they’re more sensitized to it.”

Another element is educating the target community, said SCN director Paul Goldenberg. The Homeland Security Department’s recently launched “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign in the Jewish community is critical, he said.

Goldenberg said that potential assailants tend to look at previous attacks for inspiration, which is what made Breivik’s assault on the Labor Party youth camp so exceptional. Some of his victims were as young as 14.

“What’s remarkable is that this individual sought to kill children, and that is a wake-up call for our community and any other community to do all they can to ensure that wherever our children gather and congregate would be a potential location for someone who wants to cause direct harm to the hearts and souls of the Jewish community,” Goldenberg said.

The Homeland Security official identified patterns of behavior around synagogues and other Jewish community buildings that merit reporting to the authorities: “multiple instances of appearances” by a stranger “in an entrance or exit area, parked cars that are in places that unusual—places that people walk past as they enter a JCC, an individual trying to monitor activities, maybe photographing security personnel, photographing the building in a way that doesn’t seem typical of someone who’s interested in architecture.”

It is also critical to train staff to know what to do in case of an attack, Goldenberg said. SCN has trained Jewish summer camp personnel to have planned safety routes in the event of an incident, and walkie-talkies planted in strategic places for effective communication.

“Sending our children to camps and overseas and to Israel—that should never stop,” said Goldenberg, a former counterterrorism adviser to New Jersey’s state government, “but we need to be more vigilant and train those who are responsible and accompanying our children.”

So-called lone wolves are an increasing concern for law-enforcement authorities because advance detection of a plot through wiretapping and similar measures is not possible.

“Some people recognize that based on a lot of the plotters and conspiracies that have been foiled, it is more likely you’re going to get caught if you have conspirators,” said Oren Segal, the co-director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “Lone wolf attacks are most concerning, as they don’t fall into one or another movement.”

Groups like the ADL track extremism, particularly on the Internet, which has facilitated the empowerment and exchange of extremist ideas.

“The fact that people are reading ideologies and being influenced online poses a serious threat,” Segal said. “Extremist movements tend to ebb and flow. There have been spikes by those motivated by militant Islam; at other times we’ve seen spikes in anti-government types.”

Breivik’s anti-Muslim extremism “seems to represent a developing ideology,” he said. “It’s not isolated.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center along with Daryl Johnson, a former Homeland Security official, has accused the Obama and George W. Bush administrations of not aggressively tracking right-wing extremism and instead focusing more on Islamic extremists.

Johnson left Homeland Security after conservatives assailed as an attack on free speech a 2009 report he authored on the increased likelihood of attacks in the wake of the election of the first black president. The department squelched the report and shut down Johnson’s unit.

Heidi Beirich, the research director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Breivik was influenced by the online writings of Americans such as Pam Geller and Robert Spencer, who see Islam generally, and not an extremist offshoot, as a threat to democracy and freedom.

“We’re concerned that as the Sept. 11 10th anniversary comes up, someone may attack government buildings or Muslims,” Beirich said. “We understand the threat from Islamists, but there is also a threat from people motivated by anti-government beliefs.”

The Homeland Security official told JTA that the department had not dropped its tracking of right-wing extremists in the wake of the shutdown of Johnson’s unit, and that such monitoring had been incorporated into other departments.

Michael German, the American Civil Liberties Union’s counsel on security and a former FBI agent who infiltrated neo-Nazi and skinhead groups from 1988 to 2004, said that Johnson’s report was useful in many respects, but committed the flaw of tracking ideology instead of extremist activity.

“The way you go about it,” German said, “is focusing on illegal behavior rather than people’s beliefs or ideologies.”

Musicians Kill Only Themselves


I’d love to know if, in the long history of human evil, a great musician ever became a mass murderer. I ask this question because I’ve always had this crazy theory that when someone is busy and obsessed with creating and playing music, he or she doesn’t think about killing other people.

For example, I can’t imagine Amy Winehouse expunging her rage by going to a gun shop and mowing down people who trigger that fury. Similarly, I can’t imagine Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik going on his rampage if his passion had been playing the guitar and writing great songs. He might write protest songs to convey his anger, but chase down kids and kill them? I don’t see it.

Of course, I might be completely and stupidly wrong on this. I have never seen any formal evidence for my theory. In fact, there’s evidence that mediocre painters who get rejected by art schools (Hitler) or who paint silly clowns (John Wayne Gacy) don’t turn out very well. But I’ve observed many artists up close over the years, and, especially with musicians, one thing I’ve noted is that most of them pour their hearts into their art and music above all else—even above their most valued human relationships.

That’s because, from what I’ve seen, their true love—their deepest passion—is for their music. Nothing satisfies their egos or constant craving to create quite the same way. Their music is their spouse, lover, best friend and sibling all rolled into one. Unfortunately, often it’s also their drug dealer. Creating and playing music can be as addictive as doing drugs. In the case of Winehouse, the two acts seem to have merged.

But for all the tragedy of her death, who lost the most? Who lost a life? Her family and friends are devastated, yes. But who is dead and who is alive?

Breivik, however, is still alive, and 76 people are dead because of him. Maybe they are dead because he had no other way to express himself but through violence.

I can only lament that he was not a passionate and tormented musician whose hatred for foreigners had led him to overdose on cocaine rather than bullets.

Envoy compares terror in Israel, Norway


Norway’s ambassador to Israel drew distinctions between the Oslo and Utoeya massacres and Palestinian terrorism.

Svein Sevje said in an Israeli newspaper interview Tuesday that while the Norwergian bomb and gun rampages that killed 76 people and Palestinian attacks should both be considered morally unacceptable, he wanted to “outline the similarity and the difference in the two cases.”

Palestinians, the ambassador told Maariv, “are doing this because of a defined goal that is related to the Israeli occupation. There are elements of revenge against Israel and hatred of Israel. To this you can add the religious element to their actions.”

“In the case of the terror attack in Norway, the murderer had an ideology that says that Norway, particularly the Labor Party, is forgoing Norwegian culture,” Sevje said, referring to suspect Anders Breivik, a Christian nativist who is opently anti-Islam and anti-immigration.

Unlike European Union states, Norway has engaged Hamas and often been fiercely critical of Israel, to Jerusalem’s dismay.

While Sevje voiced sympathy for Israeli terror victims, having experienced “the inferno” of such attacks during his posting, he saw little chance of Norway reviewing its Middle East policies.

“We Norwegians consider the occupation to be the cause of the terror against Israel,” he said. “Those who believe this will not change their mind because of the attack in Oslo.”

He added, “Can Israel and the Palestinians solve the problems without Hamas? I don’t think so.”

Norway attacks spotlight far-right outreach to Jews, Israel


For decades after World War II, far-right political movements in Europe stirred up for Jews images of skinheads and Nazi storm troopers marching across the continent.

But in recent years, as European xenophobia has focused on the exploding growth of Muslims on the continent, right-wing anti-Semitism has been replaced in some corners by outreach to Jews and Israel. It’s part of an effort in far-right movements to gain broader, mainstream support for an anti-Muslim alliance opposed to the notion of a multicultural Europe.

Indeed, in the anti-Muslim manifesto attributed to Anders Behring Breivik, the accused perpetrator of the July 22 deadly attacks in Oslo and the nearby Norwegian island of Utoya, the pseudonymous author expresses sympathy for Israel’s plight and cites numerous critiques of the Palestinians.

“Aided by a pre-existing anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, European media have been willing to demonise the United States and Israel while remaining largely silent on the topic Eurabia,” the author writes in his manifesto, titled “2083: A European Declaration of Independence.”

Later, he lists four potential political allies among Israel’s political parties: Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and National Union.

Breivik’s apparent proto-Zionist viewpoint is shared by a number of far-right leaders around Europe.

“The Arab-Israeli conflict illustrates the struggle between Western culture and radical Islam,” Filip Dewinter, the head of Belgium’s far-right, anti-immigrant Vlaams Belang Party, said last December during a visit to Tel Aviv.

“Israel is of central importance to us,” German Freedom Party head Rene Stadtkewitz told JTA last year. What Israelis do to fight terrorism, he said, “is what we would have to be doing here. And I am very thankful that they are doing it.”

But after the deadly attacks in Norway, which authorities say left at least 76 people dead, the dangers of making common cause with movements where extremists like Breivik can find an ideological home and where some supporters are known for being violent is all too clear, some Jewish figures are saying.

“A large-scale hate crime attack such as the one in Norway demonstrates the clear and present danger of incitement against political, ethnic and religious groups,” said Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations. “Hate crimes are among the most insidious of dangers to democracy.”

To be sure, Breivik is an extreme example of the anti-multicultural tide rising in Europe, and far-right leaders say they eschew the killing of innocents in their crusade to restore Europe to its pre-heterogeneous state. But some watchdog groups say that European far-right movements provided the ideological underpinnings to Breivik’s attack and they must be held to account.

“Breivik was clearly influenced by an ideological movement both in the United States and Europe that is rousing public fear by consistently vilifying the Islamic faith,” warned the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman.

The fact that Breivik attacked those he viewed as collaborators with Muslims rather than Muslims themselves shows just how dangerous extremist ideology can be, the ADL suggested in a statement.

Jewish leaders in Europe, who in recent days have taken pains to distance themselves from Breivik’s proto-Zionism, long have warned that even far rightists who do not espouse anti-Semitism are dangerous for the Jews.

Far rightists “want a Sweden for the Swedes, France for the French and Jews to Israel,” Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary general of the European Jewish Congress, told JTA last October.

“Islamism certainly is a danger to the Jews and to Western democracy,” Stephan Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told JTA last year. “The way to fight [Islamists] is not, however, to demonize and ostracize all Muslims.”

Not all Jews have gotten the memo, however. Polls show that a small minority of European Jews supports some far-right parties, and a few far-right figures have gained a certain measure of respectability among some Jews.

When firebrand Geert Wilders, the leader of Holland’s Freedom Party, spoke at an event in Berlin last year, former Israeli Knesset member Eli Cohen of the Yisrael Beiteinu party was one of the featured speakers.

Wilders also has his Jewish fans in America. One is Daniel Pipes, a columnist and director of a think tank that warns of the dangers of domination by radical Muslims, or Islamists.

In a column last year for The National Review titled “Why I Stand with Geert Wilders,” Pipes called the controversial Dutch political figure “the most important European alive today” and the man “best placed to deal with the Islamic challenge facing the continent.”

Pipes’ writing was quoted extensively in Breivik’s manifesto. Reached this week by JTA, Pipes declined to comment for this story.

As for Wilders, he was quick to condemn last Friday’s attacks in Norway.

“That the fight against Islam is conducted by a violent psychopath is disgusting and a slap to the face of the global anti-Islamic movement,” Wilders said in a statement. “It fills me with disgust that the perpetrator refers to the [ Freedom Party] and me in his manifesto. … We fight for a democratic and nonviolent means against the further Islamization of society and will continue to do so.”

Of course, not all far-right parties in Europe are trying to make common cause with Jews. Many, like Jobbik, a far-right movement in Hungary, lump Jews with Gypsies, Muslims and others as undesirables.

Far-right parties in Europe have varying degrees of support, but polls show their political backing is rising across the continent. In Norway, the anti-immigrant Progress Party is now the second-largest in parliament. In Hungary, Jobbik won nearly 17 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections last year, making it the country’s third-largest party.

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s sagging popularity and the collapse of the anticipated presidential candidacy of Dominique Strauss-Khan following rape charges were filed against him in New York gave Marine Le Pen—leader of the anti-immigrant National Front party and daughter of Holocaust-minimizer Jean-Marie Le Pen—a lead in some polls of French presidential contenders.

In June 2009, far-right parties across Europe captured a sizable share of seats in the European Parliament, a development attributed to rising xenophobic sentiment fueled by the global economic downturn. Among the winners were the neo-fascist British National Party and the Austrian Freedom Party, which campaigned with posters reading “FPO veto for Turkey and Israel in the EU.”

The appeal of far-right political positions is not relegated to the political fringes. Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim stances have permeated mainstream political discourse and influenced government policies.

In Switzerland, the far-right Swiss People’s Party is the largest party in the National Council, one of two federal legislatures. Two years ago the party helped spearhead a national referendum that succeeded in outlawing the construction of minarets on newly built mosques.

Earlier this year, France outlawed the wearing of the niqab, the Muslim full-face veil. Last summer, Sarkozy launched a campaign to strip French nationality from foreign-born individuals who attacked police officers and started a program to rapidly deport Gypsy—or Roma—migrants to Romania and Bulgaria.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared last fall that Germany’s experiment with multiculturalism had failed.

It’s still not clear how the deadly attack in Norway will impact Norwegian politics, much less the rest of the continent. That will depend on how well far-right parties are able to draw a sharp distinction between Breivik’s violent attacks against multiculturalists and their own opposition to immigrants, Muslims and multiculturalism.

As Norway’s Jews mourn, concern about muting of pro-Israel voices


Norway has just 1,500 Jews, but to hear Avi Ring tell it, the country is reacting to last Friday’s bombing of a government office building and massacre at a political summer camp in a traditionally Jewish way.

“As soon as people speak about it, they start to cry,” said Ring, a neuroscientist and former board member of Norway’s official Jewish community organization, called the Mosaic Religious Community and known by its Norwegian acronym, DMT. “It’s like a country sitting shiva.”

A sea of flower bouquets, candles, photographs and handwritten notes line not just major Oslo memorials—like the fence of the exclusion zone around the blast site or the central Domkirke Cathedral—but far-flung fountains, parks and statues with no connection to the violence.

“We’ll be together in the grief,” said Ervin Kohn, the leader of DMT, which is also the country’s main synagogue and counts about half the country’s Jews as members. No Jews are known to have been injured in the attacks.

Yet even as they mourn along with their fellow countrymen, some Jews here are quietly expressing concern that the attack by a right-wing xenophobe who apparently sympathized with Israel may further mute pro-Israel voices in Norway, where anti-Zionist sentiment already runs strong.

In the rambling 1,500-page manifesto attributed to the alleged perpetrator of the attacks, Andres Behring Breivik, anti-Muslim diatribes are punctuated at times with expressions of admiration for Israel and its fight against Islamic terrorism.

And on Utoya island, the young Labor Party activists who were holding a retreat when Breivik ambushed them, had spent part of the day before discussing the organization of a boycott against Israel and pressing the country’s foreign minister, who was visiting the camp, to recognize a Palestinian state.

If the Norwegian public is looking for a larger villain than Breivik, Jews here are worried that Zionism and pro-Israel organizations may be singled out.

“Can the average Norwegian accept that this is the one random act of one confused ethnic Norwegian?” Ring asked. “What I’m worried about is that in the Norwegian mind it will slowly attach an antagonism to Israel.”

Joakim Plavnik, a young Norwegian Jew who works in the financial sector, said he’s already worried by news reports that have focused on the seemingly pro-Zionist parts of Breivik’s writings.

“That can potentially have very negative ramifications toward the small, vulnerable Jewish community,” Plavnik said. But, he added, “We can’t be paralyzed by that fear.”

Rachel Suissa runs the Center Against Antisemitism, a pro-Israel group that counts about 23,000 supporters and 10,000 subscribers to a quarterly journal. She said the Norwegian government’s general pro-Palestinian stance—Norway’s foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store, recently said that Oslo soon would announce its support for an independent Palestinian state—makes Zionism difficult to promote here.

“Anyone who dares support Israel is demonized,” said Suissa, a professor of medical chemistry. “The Jews need to know that they have a lot of friends in Norway, but the Norwegian politicians are not our friends.”

In an interview published Tuesday by the Israeli daily Maariv, Norway’s ambassador to Israel, Svein Sevje, said it was important to recognize the distinctions between the Norwegian attacks and terrorism in Israel.

“We Norwegians consider the occupation to be the cause of the terror against Israel,” he said. “Those who believe this will not change their mind because of the attack in Oslo.”

Suissa said she is concerned that Breivik’s attack will make it more difficult for Israel supporters and the right-wing Christian groups she works with to express their views. But Rabbi Joav Melchior, spiritual leader of the community synagogue also known as DMT, dismissed such concerns.

“That someone … calls himself pro-Israel shouldn’t in principle change anything for us,” he said of Breivik. “We don’t feel that he’s a part of our group.”

The bombing in Oslo and shooting rampage on the nearby island of Utoya has sparked a national debate in Norway about security measures in this country of 4.6 million where political leaders routinely travel without a protective security detail and police officers do not carry guns. The slow police response to the massacre—it took about an hour for police to reach Utoya—has been widely reported and debated here.

“This happened in a place where if someone walks in and steals a pack of eggs, it would make the news,” Ring said. “Norway will have to increase its awareness of security on all levels.”

At Oslo’s main synagogue, which was the target of an early-morning shooting attack in 2006 that resulted in cosmetic damage but no casualties, security already is high. Concrete barriers make it impossible to park in front of the building, and a receptionist told a reporter that he could not enter the facility on Tuesday “for security reasons.”

Norway, like practically every country in Europe, has a spotty history when it comes to the Jews.

Jews were first allowed into Norway after the Inquisition, but were banned from 1687 to 1851. The first synagogue in Oslo was established in 1892. Some 800 Jews were killed during the Nazi occupation of the country, and many who fled to seek asylum in Sweden did not return after the war.

Today, most of the country’s Jews live in Oslo, though smaller congregations do exist in other cities, like Trondheim, a seven-hour drive north.

David Katzenelson, an Israeli transplant who has lived in Norway for 15 years, said Norway is not known as a particularly hospitable place for Jews. A high school math and science teacher who also runs the small Society for Progressive Judaism here, Katzenelson said he has had a swastika spray-painted on his mailbox and that Jewish students of his have been afraid to publicly disclose their faith.

“There’s a feeling in the society that you have to be nice to everyone who’s in the room—and since Jews are generally a very small group who are usually not in the room, you’re allowed to speak nasty about them because that doesn’t discriminate against anyone present,” he said. “That can develop into very ugly things.”

In the wake of last Friday’s attacks, however, the prevailing mood among Norwegian Jews has been solidarity—as it has for all Norwegians.

More than 150,000 people participated in a “rose march” in front of Oslo City Hall on Monday even after the event was officially canceled for security reasons because it had grown too large. People have taken to cheering for policemen and Red Cross workers when they pass by on the streets. And bars and restaurants are packed in Oslo in an apparent show that this city of about 600,000 will not cow to terror.

While many Norwegian Jews interviewed by JTA were quick to say now is the time for grief and that soul searching should be put off for later, Rabbi Shaul Wilhelm, who runs the 7-year-old Chabad-Lubavitch center in Oslo, said the way to prove Breivik and his ideology wrong is to embrace tolerance.

“What we should try to learn from all this is that multiculturalism isn’t just a thesis and a concept,” he said. “That would be the greatest revenge against this murderer and against people of his ilk: that we can actually practice tolerance in a very real way.”

Norway killer espoused right-wing philosophy


The confessed perpetrator in the attack in Norway that killed at least 76 people espoused a right-wing philosophy against Islam that also purports to be pro-Zionist.

Anders Behring Breivik is charged with detonating a car bomb outside Oslo’s government headquarters, which houses the office of Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, that killed eight people and of shooting and killing at least 68 mostly young people at a political summer camp on nearby Utoya Island. The July 22 massacre reportedly was the the worst attack in Norway since the end of World War II.

In numerous online postings, including a manifesto published on the day of the attacks, Breivik promoted the Vienna School or Crusader Nationalism philosophy, a mishmash of anti-modern principles that also calls for “the deportation of all Muslims from Europe” as well as from “the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

According to the manifesto, titled “2083: A European Declaration of Independence” and published under the pseudonym Andrew Berwick, the Vienna School supports “pro-Zionism/Israeli nationalism.”

Breivik listed numerous European Freedom Parties and neo-Nazi parties as potential allies because of their anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim stance, and mentioned that right-wing populists like Dutch politician Geert Wilders “have to condemn us at this point which is fine. It is after all essential that they protect their reputational shields.”

Among the potential allies he listed for Germany were the three largest neo-Nazi parties—the National Democratic Party, Deutsche Volksunion and Republikaner. In Holland, Wilders’ Freedom Party topped the list, and the British National Party topped a long list of potential supporters in the United Kingdom.

European right-populist parties increasingly have been waving the flag of friendship with Israel, as well as expressing vehement opposition to Europe’s multicultural society.

Last month, after it emerged that German-Swedish far-right politician Patrik Brinkmann had met in Berlin with Israeli Likud Party lawmaker Ayoub Kara, who is deputy minister for development of the Negev and Galilee, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding that Kara be prevented from making further trips abroad. According to Ynet, Lieberman accused Kara of meeting with neo-Nazis and causing damage to Israel’s image. Brinkman said he had reached out to Israeli rightists hoping to build a coalition against Islam.

In postings on the website Document.no that appear to be by Breivik, the poster pondered whether one could “accept the moderate Nazis as long as they distance themselves” from the extermination of the Jews.

The words of right-wing populist politicians “are dangerous, it allows them to radicalize,” Hajo Funke, an expert on right-wing extremism in Europe and the Holocaust at Touro College Berlin and the Free University Berlin, told JTA in a phone interview.

“It is a tactical viewpoint of the rising populist right-wing to use this kind of identification, or forced identification with Israel, to be accepted,” he said. “They say, ‘Our enemies are not any more the Jew … the real enemy as you can see all over the world is Islam, and not only Islam, but the Islamic person.’ This is the new, great danger.”

Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told JTA that “in the recent years we have witnessed the phenomenon of radical rightists proclaiming their sympathy for Jews and their support for Israel, also in Germany,” adding that “In many cases, it is clear that this is no more than a PR maneuver to create an air of respectability.”

“Whatever ‘support’ for Israel Anders Behring Breivik may have had in his abominable mind, it is not any kind of support we want,” Kramer said.

One day after the attack, members of Norway’s small Jewish community gathered at the Synagogue of Oslo to pray for the survivors.

“We also pray that the authorities will be less naive on security issues and threats,” businessman Erwin Kohn, newly elected head of the 750-member Jewish community, said in a telephone interview from Oslo.

Kohn added that it appeared that no one in the Jewish community was injured or killed in the attack, but “we are affected just the same as the Norwegian society in general.”

On the reports about Breivik’s online postings, he offered his concerns.

“You have many others who are in the same ballpark, being scared of multiculturalism,” Kohn said, adding that Breivik’s alleged pro-Zionism is a sham. “We don’t need such friends, we don’t need such friends.”

Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary general of the European Jewish Congress, in a call from France said that Breivik “is not pro-Israel—he is anti-Muslim.

“It is a national catastrophe,” he said, “and we share the sadness of the sorrow of the families.”

German journalist Ulrich Sahm reported on the pro-Israel Israelnetz.com website that many of the youths who survived the massacre said they thought the killer, dressed as a police officer, was simulating Israeli crimes against Palestinians in the occupied territories. They believed that “the cruelty of the Israeli occupation” was being demonstrated to them, Sahm wrote.

Meanwhile, Israel on Saturday night condemned the attacks in Oslo.

“Nothing at all can justify such wanton violence, and we condemn this brutal action with the utmost gravity,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We stand in solidarity with the people and government of Norway in this hour of trial, and trust Norwegian authorities to bring to justice those responsible for this heinous crime.”

Israeli President Shimon Peres called the king of Norway, Harald V, to express condolences. “Your country is a symbol of peace and freedom. In Israel we followed the events over the weekend in Norway and the attack on innocent civilians broke our hearts. It is a painful tragedy that touches every human being. We send our condolences to the families that lost their loved ones and a speedy recovery to the wounded. Israel is willing to assist in whatever is needed,” Peres said, according to his office.

The king thanked Peres for his phone call and for the expression of Israeli solidarity.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited Norway last week and was told that Oslo will recognize Palestine, but not immediately.

While much attention in Norway has been focused on the threat of Muslim extremism, the threat from the far right was generally considered to have abated.

Kohn noted that anti-Semitism in the country remains a serious problem. A recent study of 7,000 Norwegian teens showed that more than half of youth of all backgrounds, whether Christian or Muslim, use the word “Jew” as an expletive.

Anecdotally, Kohn said, “one-third of the Jewish kids in our schools have experienced harassment … but not from one specific group.”

Norway massacre suspect pleads not guilty in court


The man who has confessed to carrying out a bombing and shooting spree that left 76 people dead in Norway will be held for at least eight weeks, half of that in complete isolation, after a closed hearing in which he said his terror network had two other cells.

Anders Behring Breivik pleaded not guilty to one of the deadliest modern mass killings in peacetime, saying he wanted to save Norway and Europe from a Muslim takeover and send a strong signal, but was not trying to kill as many as possible, Judge Kim Heger said after a closed court hearing.

Nowegian police on Monday revised down the death toll from Friday’s bomb and shooting attack to 76 people from a previous estimate of 93, citing difficulties in gathering information at Utoeya island, where the shooting spree occured.

Breivik could tamper with evidence if released, and will be held for at least another two months without access to visitors, mail or media, the judge said.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Beck likens Norway victims to Hitler Youth [AUDIO]


Talk-show host Glenn Beck on his radio show likened the victims of the shooting at a Norwegian summer camp to young members of the Nazi Party.

In the seven-minute segment Monday morning, Beck described the attack “as a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like the Hitler Youth. I mean who sends their kids to a political camp?”

At least 85 people, some as young as 16, were killed in the second attack allegedly by Anders Behring Breivik at a summer camp that draws young members and children of the governing Labor Party.

Breivik, who adhered to radical right-wing theories about Islam and multiculturalism, was disguised in a police uniform when he carried out the attack on Utoyoa Island. He allegedly had set off a bomb in Oslo outside a government building, killing at least seven, before making his way to the island by ferry.

The Hitler Youth to which Beck referred was a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party comprised of teens and preteens that existed from 1922 to 1945.

LISTEN HERE:

At least 87 dead in double Norway terror attack


A gunman dressed in police uniform opened fire at a youth camp of Norway’s ruling political party on Friday, killing at least 80 people, hours after a bomb killed seven in the government district in the capital Oslo.

Witnesses said the gunman, identified by police as a 32-year-old Norwegian, moved across the small, wooded Utoeya holiday island firing at random as young people scattered in fear. Norwegian television TV2 said the gunman detained by police was described as tall and blond and had links to right-wing extremism.

“We had all gathered in the main house to talk about what had happened in Oslo. Suddenly we heard shots. First we thought it was nonsense. Then everyone started running,” a survivor, 16—year-old called Hana told Norway’s Aftenposten.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

 

Annapolis parlay repeating the mistakes of Oslo


Before year’s end, a U.S.-sponsored conference involving Israel and the Palestinian Authority will convene in Annapolis, Md., to frame yet another plan to end the Arab-Israeli war and create a Palestinian state.

Sadly, this conference has as much chance of succeeding as did Oslo, because the same mistakes that ensured failure then are being made now.

During the Oslo years, the Palestinians received half of Judea and Samaria, all of Gaza, weapons and billions in aid while the world ignored Yasser Arafat’s non-fulfillment of any of his obligations to prevent terrorism, arrest terrorists, outlaw terrorist groups and end incitement to hatred and murder against Israel and Jews in their media, schools and official speeches.

We even ignored the fact that the Palestinian Authority named schools, streets and sports teams after terrorists. Indeed, Arafat was not held accountable for his lack of compliance and promotion of terror. From then until now, the Palestinian public has become more, not less, radicalized against the very existence of Israel even as Israeli concessions and U.S. funding continued.

Now the same failed scenario is unfolding with the new “Annapolis accords.” Instead of ending concessions and aid and applying pressure to the Palestinian Authority to finally fulfill its Oslo commitments, Israel and the United States are promising virtually all of Judea and Samaria, parts of Jerusalem, the forced eviction of 70,000 Jews and hundreds of millions in U.S. aid. It’s as if the past 14 years of Palestinian terror and promotion of terror didn’t happen.

But we’re told the big difference now is that P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas is not Arafat and is a “moderate.” Is that true? Hardly.

Not only does Abbas allow the incitement against Israel to continue and refuse to arrest terrorists, but he refers to terrorists as “heroes,” proclaims “our rifles are aimed at the occupation” and “it is our duty to implement the principles of Yasser Arafat.” He proved these anti-peace statements have meaning by endorsing the so-called “prisoners plan” and the Hamas-Mecca agreement, which called for more violence against Israel.

Here is further proof that Annapolis won’t succeed with Abbas: some U.S. aid to the P.A. president has ended up in Hamas’ hands; Abbas has called Hamas “an integral part of the Palestinian people;” and he promises to engage in further talks with Hamas if it cedes control of Gaza. Hamas could take over the Palestinians anytime it wishes — and Abbas knows this.

Why do Abbas and the Palestinian Authority continue to promote extremism and terror? Because their goal is not a two-state solution but Israel’s destruction.

The Arabs keep saying “no” whenever a state is offered. They rejected a Palestinian state in 1948; they didn’t establish one from 1948 to 1967 when they controlled Judea, Samaria, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem; and they rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of statehood in 2000.

Not only does Israel not appear on any Palestinian map of the Middle East, but recently Abbas told a Palestinian TV audience, “It is not required of Hamas, or of Fatah, or of the Popular Front to recognize Israel.”

And this very week, both Abbas and senior P.A. negotiator Saeb Erekat refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Regrettably, the evidence makes it painfully clear that the Palestinians never wanted a state alongside Israel but rather an Arab state in place of Israel.

Yet despite all of these disturbing facts, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are willing to take some vague words in English from P.A. officials as proof of moderation, rationalize the Palestinians’ anti-peace behavior and convince themselves that maybe after they are given a sovereign state, peace will prevail. But remember, North Korea, Iran and Syria are sovereign states. Are they peace-loving countries?

Even Egypt’s foreign minister has advised that all should find a pretext to postpone Annapolis indefinitely, realizing it can’t succeed.

The Zionist Organization of America suggests that before there is any Annapolis-type conference, American Jews should urge their members of Congress, the State Department and Israel to demand that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority first comply with all its written commitments to end terror and incitement, and accept Israel as a Jewish state.

We must also demand that U.S. funding be conditioned on fulfilling these 14-year-old Oslo obligations and urge no consideration of Israeli concessions until this happens. Otherwise, any “agreements” will suffer the same fate as Oslo.

Morton Klein is the president of the Zionist Organization of America.

A meaningful peace plan


While attending a Muslim American conference in Doha, Qatar, in 2005, an Arab leader asked me at the dinner table: “Tell me, why didn’t Israelis accept the Saudi
peace proposal of 2002? In fact, they did not even respond to it. Did it not offer them everything that they ever wished for: peace, recognition, security, you name it?”

I looked at him with amusement.

“Do you know what Israelis see when they read a peace proposal in the newspaper?” I asked.

“They skip the text about peace, recognition and security and seek the one word that counts: ‘refugees.’ The rest is trivial. If that word is embedded in ‘right of return’ or ‘a just solution’ or ‘Resolution 194’ or some other euphemism for dismantling Israel, the proposal is automatically deemed a nonstarter.”

“What did the Saudi proposal say about the refugee problem?” he asked.

“Like you, I don’t have the precise language,” I said. “But like most Israelis, I distinctly recall the words ‘just solution,’ which should settle your question right there.”

“Interesting,” my Arab colleague said. “I have always assumed that if we build trust and solve the land problem, some solution will eventually be found for the refugees’ problem.”

“Yes, many Israelis made this assumption during the Oslo period,” I said. “But no more.”

I was reminded of this conversation last week, when I read President Jimmy Carter’s book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” and found the following passage on Page 211: “The Delphic wording of this statement [the Saudi proposal] was deliberate, in Arabic as well as in Hebrew and English, but the Arabs defend it by saying it is there to be explored by the Israelis and others and that, in any case, it is a more positive and clear commitment to international law than anything now coming from Israel.”

I recalled how the Delphic wording of the Oslo agreement was deliberate, too, and how, in the aftermath of the Oslo breakdown, leaders of the shattered Israeli peace camp confessed in public that they had been fooled and betrayed by their Palestinian comrades. Specifically, sworn promises to prepare the Palestinian public for compromises on the refugee problem were never acted on (Haim Shur, Maariv, June 2001).

This inaction, according to Israeli analysts, was the main reason for the outbreak of the second intifada. Yasser Arafat could simply not face his people with “an end to the conflict” after decades of promising them a return to Haifa and Jaffa.

But more than six years have passed since the breakdown of the Oslo process, and memory is short. People tend to forget that leaving the hard problems to resolve themselves exacts a heavy toll.

Last month saw renewed calls from both Israelis and Palestinians to revitalize the Saudi proposal (e.g., Collett Avital, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 23), and I was a bit concerned that another case of “hard problems later” would be looming in front of our eyes.

I was pleasantly mistaken. Israeli peace activists seem to remember the Oslo lesson vividly and painfully. In his third exchange with Palestinian analyst Salameh Nematt, published simultaneously in Hebrew, Arabic and English, Israeli peace activist Akiva Eldar wrote: “….We, the Israelis, need to be convinced that there is a solution to the refugee problem. Nothing is more likely to deter Israelis than the expression ‘right of return.’ In their eyes, these words are a synonym for the destruction of the Jewish state.

“Politicians on both sides know that it is inconceivable to strip a sovereign state, such as Israel, from its authority to decide whom to accept as its citizens. New cities have been built on the villages in which the refugees lived. Children and grandchildren of Jewish refugees from Europe were born in houses that remained standing.

“Anyone in his right mind knows that the solution to the Palestinian refugee problem is not to create a Jewish refugee problem. The solution can be found in a peace process that is based on two states and the absorption of most of the Palestinian refugees in their new state.”

But suppose the Palestinians do sign a peace agreement with the provision that most refugees will be absorbed into their new state. How does one ensure that after Israel withdraws from most of the territories and makes room for a Palestinian state, Palestinian refugees will not continue to be kept in their wretched camps as a source of anger and uncontrolled militancy against Israel?
After all, Israel cannot be asked to make irrevocable concessions in land and security while the Arabs are merely signing reversible promises to settle the refugees.

Here comes my humble suggestion, resting again on Saudi wisdom and good will. Instead of drawing fancy peace proposals, the Saudis, together with other oil-rich countries, should immediately launch a “Palestinian Marshall Plan” to build permanent housing for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank.
Israel would monitor the plan and lift the embargo on foreign aid in stages. Each month’s allotment would be proportional to the number of housing units completed.

We are constantly being told that the ball of peace lies entirely in Israel’s court, because Palestinians have no control over their destiny and Israel’s economy is so much stronger. It ain’t necessarily so. Here is a peace proposal that depends entirely on Arab good will and peaceful Palestinian intentions. It should start today.

Judea Pearl is a UCLA professor and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation Storyopolis Art Gallery & Bookstore

Better late than never, Theodor Herzl, children reunited in death; Ex-N.J. Governor McGreevey’s Isra


Theodor Herzl, Children Reunited in Death
 
Two of Theodor Herzl’s children were reinterred in Jerusalem after decades of debate. Hans and Pauline Herzl, who died in 1930 and were buried in France, were laid to final rest alongside the Zionist visionary at the cemetery that carries his name in Israel’s capital. Theodor Herzl, who launched the modern Zionist movement and wrote “The Jewish State” a few years before dying in 1904, had expressed the wish to be buried next to his children. But Israeli authorities, after reinterring Herzl himself in 1949, were reluctant to do the same for Hans and Pauline given the controversy over their deaths. Pauline died of a drug overdose in what might have been a suicide, prompting her brother to shoot himself. Hans’ conversion to Christianity shortly before his death further stoked religious opposition to his burial in Israel. But rabbis recently ruled that Hans had disavowed Christianity before dying, and that Pauline’s demise was a result of mental disturbance.
 
“Having brought in the remains of Pauline and Hans, we are completing the mission and achieving historical closure,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the burial ceremony.
 
Ex-N.J. Governor McGreevey’s Israeli ‘Lover’ Denounces Book
 
An Israeli who was James McGreevey’s declared love interest attacked the former New Jersey governor’s memoir. McGreevey, who stepped down in 2004 after declaring he was gay, published a memoir this month titled, “The Confession.” In it, he details an affair he said he had with Golan Cipel, an Israeli whose appointment to serve as homeland security adviser in New Jersey raised eyebrows. But Cipel, who says he is straight and suffered sexual harassment by McGreevey, issued a statement attacking the book as a “pack of lies.”
 
Cipel said: “I strongly hope that the gay community rejects this obvious and shameless ploy from a man who has engaged in acts of deception, sexual violence and intimidation.”
 
Latino Jews React to Miami Radio Caricature
 
Hispanic Jews in Miami formed a group to monitor Spanish-language media for anti-Semitism. The establishment of the Hispanic Jewish Initiative comes after Jews said they were offended by Goldstein, a Jewish character on the top-rated 95.7 FM show, known in English as “The Morning Hijinks,” local media reported. A Web page, until recently linked to the show, depicts a black character, Al Jackson, with the mug shot of a man whose lips balloon from his face. In place of a photo for Goldstein is a Nazi eagle and swastika.
 
The group, created under the state chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, will monitor and address other concerns of Florida’s Spanish-speaking Jewish population.
 
Israel Unmoved by Irish Boycott Call
 
Israel’s education minister downplayed an Irish call for Israeli academics to be boycotted. In an open letter published by the Irish Times newspaper earlier this month, 61 local academics urged their country, as well as the European Union, to impose a moratorium on ties with Israeli educational institutions until Israel “ends the occupation of Palestinian territories.”
 
The letter also deplored Israel’s “aggression against the people of Lebanon” during the recent war against Hezbollah. Israel’s education minister, Yuli Tamir, said she would meet the Irish ambassador to discuss the boycott call but played down its importance.
 
“At this time, I don’t see a real danger to Israel’s academic ties, though any boycott is despicable and we have to make sure it is lifted,” she told Army Radio.
 
Four Men Charged In Norway Synagogue Attack
 
Norwegian police charged four men in the shooting attack on an Oslo synagogue. The men were initially charged with vandalism Sept. 21, but the charge was upgraded to organizing an act of terrorism, an offense punishable by up to 12 years in prison. Police said one suspect was Norwegian, and the others had different backgrounds. They declined to provide more information about the suspects. However, Norwegian news outlets have reported that one suspect was a 29-year-old Norwegian of Pakistani origin who had been held briefly in Germany in June on suspicion of planning an act of terrorism against the soccer World Cup. No one was hurt in the Sept. 17 incident.
 
Czechs on Security Alert During High Holidays
 
The Czech Republic went on high alert for a terrorist attack during the High Holidays. The government announced the alert in the early hours Saturday and said it would continue for some time, with no specifics given. Czech officials noted that the Czech alliance with the United States in its war on terror might have made it a target, but there was also media speculation that an attack was planned to coincide with Rosh Hashanah. A government spokesman reportedly hinted that the alert was connected to the arrest of four men charged with shooting at an Oslo synagogue last weekend. Norwegian authorities have said the men were plotting to blow up U.S. and Israeli embassies in other cities. Thousands of additional police are present in the streets of Prague and are particularly noticeable near Jewish sites, such as synagogues and the Jewish community headquarters.
 
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.