Claim that Elton John was asked to pledge loyalty ‘delusional,’ Israel says


Israel’s Interior Ministry denied a claim by an Israeli concert organizer that singer Elton John was asked to sign a pledge of loyalty to Israel in order to get a visa.

The ministry has threatened to sue producer Shuki Weiss over the claim he made on Monday, at a conference sponsored by the Hebrew daily newspaper Yediot Acharonot and Ynet on the issues surrounding the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Weiss said a question on the standard visa entry form is problematic. It says: “I declare that I have never acted against the Jewish people or the security of the State of Israel.”

He said John, who is scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv on May 26, is not the only artist to refuse to sign the form. John has performed three times previously in Israel, the latest in 2010.

The Interior Ministry spokeswoman told Haaretz the claim was “delusional.”

“This is a blatant lie aimed at grabbing headlines at the expense of a government ministry,” the spokeswoman said. “Never has any artist been asked to sign such a declaration. We are considering a libel suit against Weiss.

“Why hasn’t Shuki Weiss, who brings foreign artists here every Monday and Thursday, ever raised an outcry over the years and waited until today?”

Newsroom Rebellion Silences Gossip About Mayor’s Family


 

An extraordinary minirebellion erupted in two Los Angeles newsrooms recently. At the Valley’s Daily News and the L.A. Weekly, reporters refused to pursue a story that senior editors at both papers very much wanted.

Insubordination is potential grounds for dismissal, so this refusal required chutzpah. But it’s not obvious that the editors were wrong and the intrepid reporters right.

The tip/rumor/innuendo in question involves personal information, as yet unconfirmed and unpublished, about a member of Mayor James Hahn’s family. Faced with resistance from reporters, management at the Daily News has since dropped the subject. The L.A. Weekly’s editor, apparently, still wants the story. Editors at the Los Angeles Times, for its part, elected to let the matter lie; no reporters’ rebellion was required.

In this column, I, too, will not disclose personal information about the Hahn family. But that doesn’t necessarily argue for my virtue. My wife, for one, objected to this article in any form. Alluding to personal, private information — gossip if you will — is no better than blurting it out, she insists, because it keeps the matter alive and dangling. Her views line up compatibly with the Torah, the Talmud and the writings of latter-day rabbis. All of these texts warn about lashon hara (gossip), carefully making distinctions between types of gossip, but generally condemning them all.

My wife adds that it’s elitist and condescending to obliquely reference something that journalists and politicos are whispering about, when I have no intention of actually informing the reader.

Her last point is awfully close to why Ron Kaye, managing editor of the Daily News, wanted his reporters to chase this lead.

“What’s so taboo about it?” Kaye said in an interview. “What makes us privileged and the public not? I don’t really understand why — other than it’s elitism and it goes to the timid culture of Los Angeles.”

This personal information, if published, would be captivating enough to get attention, but it pertains to nothing illegal, immoral or unethical. So is it automatically off limits?

Not in Kaye’s view: “If you’re going to step on the stage, you risk being totally exposed or revealed. I think the public should know fully the story of who Hahn is. And what his life is like and what happened to it. I think we have a right to know. Why do we talk about the personal lives of presidential candidates? It’s not because it’s the most important thing. We’re interested, and it becomes a form of symbolic language. When you step into the role of mayor in the media and glamour capital, you become part of the conversation.”

If Los Angeles worked like New York City, competitive pressures already would have flushed out any gossip involving the mayor. The tabloids might begin it, but the august New York Times would invariably respond with the “responsible” version. When it comes to celebrities, say Kobe Bryant or Michael Jackson, people are so conditioned to invasiveness that the publishing of revelations is hardly questioned. But why is it in Los Angeles that the personal life of actor Robert Blake looms more newsworthy than the mayor’s? Is it a reflection of Los Angeles’ civic culture that the mayor barely seems to qualify as a public figure?

In a Los Angeles Times guest column, blogger Mickey Kaus defended the fun of gossip, but also asserted that tattling on public officials would make more people pay attention to — and care about — what actually happens in official Los Angeles.

Kaye sees a connection between the handling of this story and the local media’s frequent unwillingness to pursue other, weightier grist.

“I’ve worked in journalism in this town for 25 years,” he said, “and the No. 1 issue has always been motivating staff to go full-bore, with the understanding that everything done by government is my public right to know. We need to confront public agencies and tell them that they have no right to any secret. It’s not as bad as 25 years ago, but it’s still bad.”

It’s a stretch to equate details about a politician’s personal life with the push for open, accountable government. But there are exceptions. In the early 1960s, no one reported on the philandering of President John F. Kennedy, as per the customs of the day. Yet, historians have since learned that one Kennedy mistress had connections to the mob, which could have — and may have — compromised JFK as president. Nor did anyone look into Kennedy’s serious health problems, which contrasted sharply with a projected youthful vigor so quintessential to his image.

If newshounds had bothered to examine Kennedy’s private life, they would indeed have found something newsworthy.

These conundrums plunge inevitably into situational ethics. It probably was nobody’s business that Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) paid for his wife’s abortion — except perhaps until he equated abortion with murder on the floor of Congress. Nor did the long-ago affair of Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) seem worth exposing years later — until perhaps the moment Hyde thundered that President Bill Clinton deserved to be impeached for lying about an affair.

When it comes to Hahn’s family life, the case for disclosure rests on shakier ethical footing, especially when looking through the prism of Judaism. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin dealt with such topics in his writings, and I do his work injustice to reference it so briefly and incompletely. But his citations include Leviticus, which prohibits being a “talebearer.” This stricture applies even to telling truthful tales. The Talmud goes so far as to warn against speaking well of a friend, “for although you will start with good traits, the discussion might turn to his bad traits.”

So well-behaved rabbis would keep their mouths shut — and forbid their children from majoring in journalism. But what about us scribes? I lean toward a difficult middle path, splitting the baby if you will, though unlike King Solomon, I’d be prepared to follow through.

That is, when it comes to a public official, it usually makes sense to investigate gossip or rumor. The Los Angeles Times called it right by probing the sexual-harassment rumors surrounding then-candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you don’t investigate, you never know when there’s something that you should know — something that you ought to report. Critics lashed the Times for landing its Schwarzenegger stories closely in advance of the recall election. But the alternative of not publishing news of credible, multiple sexual-harassment allegations would have been irresponsible.

If newsmongers did choose to invest scarce resources in pursuit of the Hahn-related tidbit, and then confirmed the scuttlebutt, it would be contrary to their temperament to stay silent. Yet, in rare cases, when journalists check out rumors, they should be prepared to take their findings and shove them under the mattress. I say rare, because false rumors themselves can be newsworthy and fair game — and they can be dealt with sensitively, even if it undermines titillation.

Maybe the Los Angeles Times checked out the Hahn thing and let it go. Maybe it didn’t bother to check at all — which would be less defensible. Assistant City Editor John Hoeffel said he couldn’t share information about what stories his paper is or isn’t pursuing. He added: “In deciding whether to write a story about the mayor or the mayor’s family, we would weigh whether it affected his job as a public official. It would depend on whether the gossip is just colorful details about the mayor or a private matter. If we felt something was information that was important for the public to know about, we would write it.”

Editors at the L.A. Weekly did not reply to a request for an interview.

There’s another section of the Leviticus sanction against gossip. It states, “Neither shall thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.” Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt, in his column, has taken this admonition to mean that ethical journalism, which keeps its civic mission front and center, might pass the rabbis’ scrutiny after all.

Kaye of the Daily News said he could’ve found some reporter ambitious enough to do the deed. But he relied on the discretion of the veteran journalists he trusted most, such as Beth Barrett and Rick Orlov.

“If my best reporters, whom I respect deeply, won’t do it, it’s probably the wrong thing to do,” he said. “Nothing ever moved in the story. It didn’t become a public event. Nobody else touched the story and made you have to respond. It was an extremely close call. And I don’t know that, collectively, we as journalists did the right thing.”

 

Beyond Despair


Last September, in Khartoum, Sudan, a rumor surfaced that Westerners were going about town, shaking the hands of Muslims, and thereby causing the Muslim’s penises to disappear. Really. This was reported in the Arabic language Al-Quds Al-Arabi and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (memri.org).

The rumor spread, mass hysteria ensued, hospital rooms filled with nervous men and police arrested some 40 foreigners on suspicion of sorcery. Only when the health minister publicly discredited the claims did quiet return to Khartoum, but not before a Sudanese columnist blamed the sorcery on “an imperialist Zionist agent that was sent to prevent our people from procreating and multiplying.”

I thought of the Great Penis Panic of 2003 when I heard the now-infamous remarks of outgoing Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. In a keynote speech to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, he called for the world’s 1 billion Muslims to take on the several million Jews who he says, “rule the world by proxy.”

Mohamad’s speech earned a standing ovation from the Arab and Muslim potentates, but that’s hardly surprising. In societies where rumors of a Zionist genital-wasting disease gain instant traction, tirades like Mohamad’s must seem positively Churchillian.

My reaction to the speech teetered from outrage to fear. The outrage was tempered by the fact that Mohamad’s speech was actually an articulate critique of Muslim rulers that stand in the way of reform and modernity. And my fear was tempered by the thought that not every anti-Semitic statement presages Shoah II. As Norman Mailer has written, “How splendid it will be in the next century if we are rid finally of Hitler’s curse, and begin to see ourselves as a strong people who need not mistake every passing anti-Semite for the Angel of Death.”

But I, like so many other Jews I know, harbor an uneasy sense that what’s passing before us is not a random anti-Semite, but an entire parade. Consider the results of a new Gallup Poll conducted for the European Commission, which shows that more Europeans consider Israel a threat to world peace than any other country.

There is no question that some of Israel’s policies contribute to instability in the Middle East, but to say, as 59 percent of Europeans surveyed did, that Israel is more of a threat than Iraq, Syria, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea is to look upon a complex and dangerous world and find solace in the simplicity of “Blame the Jews.”

“There is a sense the world will not accept us and will continue to reject us,” said Stephen P. Cohen, president of the Institute for Mideast Peace and Development. “There is hostility in the Islamic world and anti-Semitism in Europe.”

Cohen was speaking at a Beverly Hills parlor meeting hosted this week by the Israel Policy Forum. But as much as Cohen understands our fears, he counseled against our despondency. The perception that we are under siege, he said, “is in fact becoming our mood.” And that is very bad for the Jews.

Malaysia’s Mohamad disguised his spot-on critique of Muslim rulers as an attack on Jews. Those in Europe and elsewhere who refused to condemn Mohamad, or who say Israel is more of a threat than, say, North Korea, are in some ways using criticism of Israel as away to attack the Unites States. What this pas de deux-plicity illustrates, Cohen said, is a “new linkage between Jews and the United States. The hostility toward one and toward the other are linked together.”

In every Muslim land he has visited, Cohen has seen that one issue — Israel — was poisoning the attitude of elites and people to the United States. You begin to wonder, he said, whether there’s an emerging theory linking the old resentment over the idea of Jews as a Chosen people to the new resentment of America as a modern world power.

“Ancient chosenness and modern chosenness are the objects of a joint hostility that is widely spread,” he said.

Standing at the crossroads of this hate is American Jewry: strong and scared, powerful and paranoid, secure and anxious. We read of the Gallup Poll, Mohamad, The New Republic fracas, the anti-Israel hate fest at Ohio State University, and we can’t be sure if the writing on the wall is in pencil or ink.

Cohen’s concern is that, in our fear, too many of us have turned to what he calls, “cognitive self-ghettoization.” We hold conferences, collect evidence and point fingers, but do little that is positive other than calling attention to our dilemma. In the beginning of the last century, Jews answered their enemies with two energetic and brilliant ideas: the creation of American Jewish culture and of Zionism itself. At the beginning of this century, we are all but bereft of ideas when confronting new threats. American Jewry, at the crossroads of the animus toward Israel, Jews and America, has both an obligation and opportunity to do something beyond crying, “Oy.”

I asked Cohen to name one thing we could do that could possibly make a difference. His immediate answer: education. A younger generation of Muslims is starved for American education. We need to enable more Muslim youth to study here, and open more American campuses in Muslim lands. We need to bring ourselves into an “effective relationship” with the troubled world beyond our borders. Instead of withdrawing, we need to reach out. We need to shake hands, so to speak, and let things fall where they may.

Global Confusion


In what may be another case of an e-mail rumor run amok, the Anti-Defamation League is laying to rest allegations that Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club are selling globes nationwide that denote “Palestine” but not Israel.

E-mails spreading the rumor are circulating throughout the Jewish community, prompting numerous calls to ADL offices across the country, said ADL spokeswoman Myrna Shinbaum.

In fact, the Chinese-made “Semi-Precious Stone Mosaic Globe” — a decorative gift that sells in some stores for $249.99 — does indeed identify the state of Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital.

But in a curious twist of the half-century threat against Israel, it is something called “Palestine” — and not the Jews living in Israel — that seems to have been pushed into the sea. Above “Israel” and below “Lebanon” to the north, the word “Palestine” inexplicably appears on the globe, “kind of floating in the Mediterranean, without dots or demarcation,” Shinbaum said.

“Should it say Palestine? Clearly there is not an entity today that is called Palestine. There is a Palestinian Authority. But more importantly, Israel and its capital are so indicated.”

That brought relief to Tom Williams, spokesman for Wal-Mart Stores, of which Sam’s Club is a division.
“We’re gratified to see that Israel is correctly on there,” Williams said in a telephone interview from Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

The glitzy globes are landing stateside through different importers. Only some of them say “Palestine,” Williams said, though none replace Israel with Palestine.

As for why the word Palestine is even on there, Williams said, “We don’t know. We’re looking into it, seeing what’s what. It’s a decorative piece more than a globe you would actually use.”
He said several calls from the media notified him of the situation and was unaware of if or how many customers complained.

The fact that so many in the Jewish community were worked up over it illuminates one pitfall of the Internet, Shinbaum said.

“Now you can instantaneously put out information, misinformation, rumor and innuendo, and it kind of becomes fact, because it’s out there,” she said. “And the person who initiates this usually calls for some kind of action.”

In August, CNN came under fire and eventually returned Jerusalem to its place beneath the “Israel” heading on its Web site’s weather map.

However, protests against McDonald’s earlier this month petered out when it was discovered that Israel’s outlets were excluded from the chain’s Web site due to a decision made by the Israeli franchise owners, not McDonald’s.

While the ADL relies on eagle-eyed activists to notify the organization of genuine slights, inaccuracies or injustices, Shinbaum said, “People who get e-mails should be careful before they act on the e-mail, to make sure that what they’re being asked to do is the right thing to do.” — Michael J. Jordan, Jewish Telegraphic Agency