VIDEO: History will be made in Beijing

Director Oren Kaplan (Miriam & Shoshana hardcore gangstas) offers this 60-second ‘commercial’ for the 2008 Beijing Olympics

Welcome to the Orwell Olympics

Now that every dissident within a hundred miles of Beijing has been intimidated, jailed or internally exiled; now that the Chinese communist party has shut down formerly legal means of citizen redress, like petitioning the government; now that free assembly has been banned, unsightly small businesses have been bulldozed, hotel computers have been bugged, and the foreign press has been bamboozled, the “quiet diplomacy” favored until this week by President Bush and International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge has given way to Mr. Bush’s “>Washington Post, spokesmen for Beijing’s Olympic Organizing Committee and for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said at a recent press conference that “reporters did not actually need to visit blocked Web sites to do their jobs.” Sure enough, journalists arriving at the Olympic media center last week found that their Web browsers could not connect to sites like Western news outlets, human rights organizations, Wikipedia and Chinese dissident groups like the Falun Gong and Free Tibet.

Ever since Beijing won the venue for the games, M. Rogge has been telling everyone who’ll listen what a swell development this will be for free speech and human rights in China. Instead, foreign news crews have found their access to Tiananmen Square sharply curtailed – lest those images remind viewers of the tank crackdown of dissidents in 1989 – and thousands of non-violent protesters across China, according to a new Amnesty International report subtitled “Broken Promises,” have been persecuted, punished and jailed.

Last week Sen. Brownback (R-Kan.), whose rages I have previously not shared, released documents showing that international hotel chains have been required by the Chinese Public Security Bureau, under threat of harsh punishment, to install Internet spyware designed to capture Beijing’s hotel guests’ Web browsing history, their Googling, even their keystrokes, which means their e-mail.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the keystrokes of foreign tourists, athletes’ families and NBC executives were being captured today by the Chinese security apparatus. Nearly 30 years ago, soon after the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing, I went to China as part of the highest-level official U.S. visit to date. The Chinese housed us in a campus-like compound of guesthouses, where we took walks between events. One member of our delegation, a National Security Agency staffer, pointed out to me a picturesque bridge where Henry Kissinger had often paused to chat privately with aides during his visits. Turns out that bridge, like all the places we stayed, was bugged. The upside of this was getting to go to a meeting in the new U.S. embassy in Beijing, where confidential conversations were enabled by entering a floating clear-sided room-within-a-room that totally reminded me of the cool cone of silence in the television series “Get Smart.”

China has come quite a distance since 1979. Economically its story is breathtaking, and freedoms like travel and property ownership have made demonstrable gains. But China’s human rights record remains depressing, its tolerance of dissent and minorities is minimal, its environmental damage to the planet is terrifying, its intransigence on the genocide in Darfur is unconscionable and its cheap exports are candy to American consumers.

The $900 million that NBC paid for the rights to broadcast the Olympics, like the billions that China spent to get ready for the games, have created a Potemkin village for the world to admire.

From Rupert Murdoch’s kowtow to the Chinese police state, which enabled him to crack the Chinese market by eliminating BBC News from his satellite television programming; to the complicity of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco with Chinese Internet censors, the rationale has always been the same: The more we engage with China, the more free their people will be. Once those 1.3 billion people develop a taste for openness, there’ll be no stopping them.

Why do I have the feeling that if hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese imports and of American business investments in China were not at stake, “quiet diplomacy” wouldn’t have become the slogan du jour?

President Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” wasn’t particularly quiet. President Bush doesn’t have to ask Mr. Hu Jintao to tear down the Great Wall of China, but the least he can do—now that the opportunity represented by the years running up to the Olympics has been squandered—is to use in public, in China, some of the lovely human rights language he claims he’s been saying in private.

Our president never let the bully of Baghdad crimp his freedom-agenda rhetoric. Why did it take him so long to send some public pro-democracy love to the Big Brothers of Beijing?

Marty Kaplan has been a political speechwriter, a movie studio executive, a screenwriter and producer, a radio host and a blogger. Today he directs the Norman Lear Center for the study of the impact of entertainment on society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears here weekly and

Attempt to pressure China on Darfur loses to the Olympics

Sudan’s president may soon be the target of an arrest warrant for the killings in Darfur, and Iran was blasted by the United States and Europe for testing the missiles it threatens to fire at Israel. But the international player accused of complicity in both developments appears to be getting a pass.

China has used its veto powers in the U.N. Security Council to block strong international action against the regimes in Tehran and Khartoum and has thrown them lifelines by continuing oil and arms trade, despite Western attempts at isolation.

Jewish groups have taken lead roles in drawing attention to China’s policies and specifically sought to spotlight the country’s record in advance of this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing. Yet it appears as if China will suffer no significant international sanction when the games open Aug. 8.

President Bush will be on hand for the opening ceremony, despite calls from the American Jewish World Service and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs that he stay home. Joining Bush will be Israeli President Shimon Peres, who has said that a nuclear Iran would be “a nightmare” and that international unity, which China has played a key role in blocking, could make military action unnecessary.

Calls for boycotts of the Olympics, some with comparisons to Nazi Germany’s hosting of the 1936 Berlin games, also have been rejected by mainstream Jewish organizations. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee both warned that challenging Beijing during the Olympics would not produce the anticipated results.

“The only thing that can affect China is the big Western powers in unison, but they will never do that,” said Raphael Israeli, a professor of Islamic and Chinese history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “Only then would the Chinese do something as a gesture. They can absorb a lot if they don’t have to do anything practical.”

Just a few months ago, the value of the Olympics as a showcase for China’s exploding economic power seemed in danger of running aground. In addition to reports questioning the quality of Beijing’s air for elite athletes, some tried to brand the games the “Genocide Olympics” because of Chinese ties with Sudan.

Jewish filmmaker Steven Spielberg withdrew as an artistic adviser to the games, saying “conscience will not allow me to continue with business as usual.” Riots in Chinese-occupied Tibet led Elie Wiesel to organize fellow Nobel laureates to protest China’s brutal crackdown. In addition, a group of 185 Jewish leaders, mostly rabbis, called on Jewish tourists to stay away from Beijing.

As the Olympics draw closer, however, even activists are quietly admitting they are likely to go off without much of a hitch.

“It’s been frustrating,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, “because it doesn’t appear we’re being listened to.”

VIDEO: Is Tibet the home of one of the Lost Tribes?

Quantum Physicist Fred Alan Wolf (from the film “Dalai Lama Renaissance”) speaks about Tibet being one of the “Lost Tribes” of Israel, and the similarities of Jewish culture (Judaism) and Tibetan culture (and Tibetan Buddhism).


Jewish Olympians must shine light on genocide

In the summer of 1936, a year after the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws, the world turned a blind eye to Nazi Germany’s genocidal intentions as Hitler hosted the Olympics in
Berlin. With next summer’s games set to take place in Beijing, Jewish and Israeli athletes have a responsibility to help ensure that the world does not make the same mistake.

This time, the Jews are not the victims. Rather, China’s victims are the 1.2 million Tibetans who have died as a result of Beijing’s invasion of the previously independent Buddhist nation. They are the untold thousands of dissidents and prisoners of conscience who will be kept out of view in modern-day gulags, while the world’s attention is focused on the action inside Beijing’s ultramodern sporting arenas. They are the 200,000 Darfurians who, according to United Nations estimates, have been killed as a result of the genocidal campaign waged by the Beijing-backed Sudanese regime.

China’s state oil company owns the largest stake in the consortium that is developing Sudan’s petroleum industry, and China buys about four-fifths of all Sudanese oil exports. An estimated 70 percent of the oil profits in Sudan are spent on a military that lays waste to villages in Darfur.

To stand by idly while the blood of others is shed would be un-Jewish.

One Jewish luminary who isn’t staying silent is Steven Spielberg, who has threatened to resign as artistic adviser to the games unless China changes course in Darfur. His demand, he explained in a letter to Chinese leader Hu Jintao, stems from his “personal commitment to do all I can to oppose genocide.”

Unfortunately, other Jewish leaders don’t seem to share that commitment. The president of the Israeli Olympic Committee, Zvi Varshaviak, said last month that in light of its experience, Israel “will continue to act toward keeping politics outside of sport in general and the Olympic Games specifically.”

Would Varshaviak also have remained silent in light of the Jewish experience at Berlin?

We are not proposing a boycott. Olympic boycotts have been tried before — Israel, the United States and five dozen other countries stayed away from the 1980 Moscow Games to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. But this time, a boycott might shift attention away from Beijing, when the goal instead should be to cast a spotlight squarely on China — on its human rights abuses and its support for genocide.

Indeed, human rights activists across the globe have teamed up to brand Beijing 2008 “the Genocide Olympics.” The Genocide Olympics campaign is a “nightmare” for the Chinese hosts and their corporate sponsors, according to BusinessWeek magazine. But that nightmare pales in comparison to the daily nightmare of Darfurians, Tibetans and the democracy activists in Chinese prisons.

If the numbers from 2004 are any guide, more than 60 Jewish athletes — about half from Israel — will participate a year from now in the Beijing Games. They can play an important role in the Genocide Olympics effort.

Regardless of whether they are dressed in the blue-and-white uniform of Israel, the blue and red of the United States or the blue and yellow of Australia, they can wear the green wristbands that have become the symbol of the Save Darfur movement worldwide. When television cameras zoom in on Jewish athletes, the green bands will be a reminder of the ruthlessness of the Beijing regime. And the bands will be a powerful sign that on the most important human rights issues facing the world today, Jews will not remain on the sidelines.

When Jewish sports stars take their place among athletes from the 200-plus nations at the Games, they should also join ranks with the activists who have signed on to the Olympic Dream for Darfur Campaign — a list that includes Ira Newble of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, Ruth Messigner of the American Jewish World Service and actress Mia Farrow.

Organizers of the campaign recently lit an alternative Olympic torch near the Chad-Darfur border and are carrying it to locations of past mass murders across the world — including a Holocaust site in Germany — en route to its final destination in China.

Seventy-two years after Berlin, Jewish athletes from Israel and around the world will have the opportunity to speak out for justice in the same circumstances under which other nations were all too willing to stay silent. If Jewish athletes take the lead, next year’s Olympic flame will shed light on the bloodshed that Beijing has carried on in darkness.

Peter Ganong is an intern at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and a third-year economics student at Harvard University, where he has advocated for Darfur on campus. Daniel Hemel is a first-year international relations student at Oxford University.


Journey’s End

Lunda Hoyle Gill sat in her spare room at a Westwood assisted-living center, the last stop on her remarkable life journey.

The artist once traveled to the remotest parts of the globe, racing to paint indigenous peoples before they disappeared. But that was before cancer ravaged her gut and Parkinson’s disease crippled her fingers. Today, at 72, the artist can no longer paint. She can barely walk or hold a spoon.

In the final months of her life, the Cedars-Sinai Hospice Program has helped Gill to achieve a longtime ambition: a retrospective of her work, to open Sunday at USC Hillel.

Gill’s international travels began in 1974, when she read about Stone Age tribesmen in the Philippines and thought they would make inspiring subjects. Over the next decade, she traveled from Tonga to Tibet, cramming as much food and medicine as she could fit in a duffel bag, often backpacking alone into the bush.

"My vulnerability allowed me to reach the native people more deeply," she explained.

Gill breakfasted with Genghis Kahn’s 23rd descendant in Mongolia, had a gun pulled on her in the Aleutian islands and painted Eskimo whale-hunters while precariously perched on an iceberg. Once, 40 miles from Siberia, she was stranded for a week on a fog-bound island that she called "a spit of gravel in the ocean."

Even more dangerous was painting the tribal executioner of a headhunting clan, whose menacing portrait looms from a corner of Gill’s room. His face is hidden by a mask: "If I had given away his identity, I would have been killed," Gill said.

Gill, whose work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum and who has had three exhibits at the Smithsonian, traveled throughout China to paint the country’s 55 minority cultures in the early to mid-1980s. Several years later, she traveled to Israel to paint ethnic groups of the Jewish state. An Ethiopian Jewish women proved a difficult subject: "She’d gone to the beauty parlor, so I had to study museum photographs to get the traditional hairstyle just right," Gill recalled.

When Gill was in her 60’s, her travels came to an end. In 1997, the artist was diagnosed with inoperable cancer.

Last year, she entered the Cedars-Sinai hospice with a final wish for a pictorial life review; hospice official Mary Hersh responded by mailing an urgent letter to some 15 museums and galleries.

USC Hillel program director Matt Davidson was one of those who replied. "It was an unbelievable chance to do a mitzvah for someone, so saying ‘yes’ was a no-brainer," he told The Journal.

In September, the Southwest Museum will also mount an exhibit of Gill’s work, though she is unsure she will live long enough to see it. "I didn’t think having any kind of exhibition was even close to possible while I was still alive," she said.

Sitting in her quiet room last week, Gill hoped she would feel well enough to attend her Hillel opening May 6. "I hope there will not be tears," she said. "But if they come, it’s fine."

For information about the Hillel show, call (213) 747-9135.


The Man Behind ‘The Jew in the Lotus’

Documentary focuses on spiritual transformation of Rodger Kamenetz

By Naomi Pfefferman, Entertainment Editor

Eight years ago, writer Rodger Kamenetz, pictured below, traveled to Dharamsala, India, to meet the exiled Dalai Lama of Tibet. He went as scribe to a group of Jewish scholars and rabbis invited by the Tibetan leader to share the Jewish secret of survival in exile. Kamenetz described the historic dialogue in his popular 1994 book, “The Jew in the Lotus.”

Now a compelling new film version of the best-seller, also called “The Jew in the Lotus,” reveals the as-yet-untold personal story behind the book. Laurel Chiten’s documentary focuses upon Kamenetz’s spiritual transformation in India, at the lowest point in his life.

The film describes how Kamenetz arrived in Dharamsala, anguished over the death of his infant son. He had poured his heart and soul into a book about the baby’s death, which had been brusquely rejected by publishers. He had disappointed his Jewish parents by not becoming a doctor; now he was a writer unsure he could write.

“I had an overwhelming sense of inferiority,” says Kamenetz, who scribbled his sentiments in a journal upon reaching India. “I’m nervous, which is nothing new in itself,” he wrote. “‘Nervous’ is my religion.”

But something unexpected happened to Kamenetz in Dharamsala; through his encounter with the Tibetan Buddhists, he realized he had undervalued what was precious about his own religion. Kamenetz began his journey back to Judaism; he went on to write “The Jew in the Lotus,” which put him on the map as a writer, and to become an expert on Jewish-Buddhist interface. When he returned to Dharamsala in 1996, with the film crew in tow, he finally had the courage to look the Dalai Lama in the eye.

Chiten, above, tells Kamenetz’s story with interviews of the author, his family and friends, underscored by brutal images of Indian poverty, teeming streets and misty, ethereal visions of the Himalayan foothills around Dharamsala. The award-winning filmmaker says she was drawn to Kamenetz’s story because it is so much her own.

She came across “The Jew in the Lotus” at a low point in her own life, after Tourette’s Syndrome had ruined her career as a sign language interpreter and brought her to a personal crossroads. Chiten thereafter returned to film — her first love. But in 1994, her documentary about Tourette’s, “Twitch and Shout” was rejected by broadcasters, leaving her debt-ridden and determined never to make another movie. “My mantra was, ‘Nobody wants me, nobody wants my film,'” says the director, who for solace logged on to a Jewish-Buddhist chatroom where everyone was talking about “The Jew in the Lotus.” Chiten was at the bookstore the next morning to purchase the tome.

“I became obsessed with it,” says the Boston-based filmmaker, a Jew who has been interested in Buddhism since she began meditating and practicing yoga at age 14. “I carried it around with me everywhere. It was like glue in my hands.”

Before long, she wrote to Kamenetz, informing him that she had sworn off filmmaking until she had read his book. He agreed to a movie version of “The Jew in the Lotus,” though Chiten was initially daunted by the wide, esoteric scope of the book. When Kamenetz told her about the death of his infant son over tea one evening, Chiten knew she had her angle. “I realized what interested me the most was Rodger’s voice” she says. “I also wanted to talk about how spirituality deals with suffering.”

Now that the documentary is earning critical acclaim, Chiten sees another parallel between her life and Kamenetz’s. “I went to India terrified of making another film,” she says. “Today I’m taken seriously as a filmmaker.”

“The Jew in the Lotus” runs from Sept. 3-10 at the Laemmle Grand 4-Plex, 345 S. Figueroa St., L.A., (213) 617-0268.The filmmaker will answer questions at the Sept. 3 screening.

Redemption, Hollywood Style

Let me be direct and come to the point right off the mark:

“Seven Years in Tibet,” appropriately filmed in Argentina — whereold Nazis go to be rehabilitated or to die, whichever comes first –is a turgid piece of filmmaking and as dishonest as, well, “TheDevil’s Own,” Brad Pitt’s last outing on film.

The story of Austrian athlete Heinrich Harrer’s sojourn on theroof of the world, where he became a tutor to the Dalai Lama –pronounced by Pitt, for reasons known only to his voice coach, as the”Dolly Lomo”– would not have raised a schilling from the moguls hadit not been that golden boy Brad found something familiar in thisstory of a self-absorbed fellow striving for meaning.

New Age interest in Tibet, the Dalai Lama and Pitt, notnecessarily in that order, may bring the multitudes to the multiplex,but I doubt it.

Those who do go will see some very pretty scenery — the Andes notthe Himalayas — some fine acting by the wondrous young man fromBhutan who plays the Dalai Lama, and a picture of a singularlyunpleasant Austrian climber, selfish, egotistic, banal to the pointof boring — but a Nazi? Bite your tongue.

The news broke first this summer in Stern magazine: Harrer, itseemed, had been a sergeant in the SS, a fact he tried to slough offas a career move. He had also — and this was harder to explain away– joined the SA storm troopers in 1933, when he had to breakAustrian law to do so. He had even applied to no less a personagethan Heinrich Himmler for permission to marry, providing properdocumentation to prove that he and his future wife had impeccableAryan credentials.

Following publication of these interesting historical facts, therewas so much egg on Hollywood faces that you could have servedbreakfast for 500.

The filmmakers Mandalay Entertainment, French directorJean-Jacques Annaud and Pitt engaged in some rapid damage control,hastily adding voice-over commentary that would, they said,acknowledge Harrer’s party membership.

This is what they added: As Chinese troops storm their way intoTibet, mowing down the pathetically outgunned Tibetan troops, Pitt’sHarrer says: “It reminds me of the aggressiveness of my owncountry…. I shudder to recall how at one time I was no differentfrom these Chinese.”

Maybe I need one of those hearing-assist devices provided bycinemas these days, but I didn’t hear the word Nazi in thereanywhere.

During the course of the action, when he is congratulated on someGerman athletic achievement, Pitt’s Harrer answers, “Thank you, butI’m Austrian.”

When the British show up upon the outbreak of war to arrest him asan enemy alien, he protests: “You don’t understand. I’m Austrian; Ihave nothing to do with your silly war.”

This is known as the “Sound of Music” defense: We Austrians weretoo busy climbing mountains, picking edelweiss and being gemutlich tobe involved in any of that Third Reich unpleasantness.

A swastika flag is handed to Pitt/Harrer as he climbs on board thetrain taking him to the Himalayas. He grabs it with all theenthusiasm of a lawyer being served with a subpoena. And, strangely,he seems to have left at home this time the SS lapel pin Harrer worewhen he was photographed standing next to Adolf Hitler at a receptionin 1938.

Director Annaud says that he was aware that German climbers, theperfect exemplars of the ubermenschen, and therefore wonderfulpropaganda vehicles, wore swastikas on their climbing bags. So whereare they in the film?

On a visit to the real Harrer in his Austrian home, Pitt, with allthe sense of history, not to mention sensitivity, of a Hollywoodscreen idol, wrote in the guest book in the impressive museum Harrerbuilt to his own glory: “It’s an honor to sit in your home. It’s anhonor to share in your life. We will not let you down.”

Director Annaud says that he discussed Harrer’s past with Pitt.

“From the beginning, he understood he had to play a veryunpleasant character,” Annaud says. “That’s why he dyed his hair andwent for a Germanic accent which is perceived as quite unpleasant.”

Oh, I get it. This is a new form of movie shorthand. From theyellow hair and the phony accent, we’re supposed to know that he’s aNazi without having to be told. So when Pitt’s accent disappearscompletely, by about September 1942 by my reckoning, are we to assumethat he is no longer a Nazi or simply that Pitt is no Meryl Streep?

British actor David Thewlis, who plays Harrer’s climbingcompanion, Peter Aufschnaiter, went along on the same visit toHarrer. Thewlis, who works most of the time in a world far removedfrom the dream factories of Hollywood and, consequently, seems to bethe only person in this whole enterprise who is remotely in touchwith reality, had this to say about the mountaineer:

“He was a very garrulous old man who talked so much, you couldn’tget a word in edgeways. He’s quite proud of himself and has built ahuge museum as a monument to himself, which he loves to show you.When [Annaud] asked him how he felt when Germany was defeated in thewar, he never quite answered the question. That’s why I wasn’tsurprised about the more recent revelations of his dubious past.”

At the end of the film, Pitt is shown climbing a mountain with theson with whom he has recently reunited, planting a Tibetan flag onthe summit. This is redemption, Hollywood style. In real life, PeterHarrer was repeatedly rejected by his father and quite sensibly, inhis turn, rejected mountain climbing and went to work for Swisstelevision.

The story of the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s struggle against theChinese is a wonderful subject for a movie, but “Seven Years inTibet” isn’t it. It’s as phony as Pitt’s accent and Harrer’s redemption.

Sally Ogle Davis is a Southern California-based free-lancewriter whose work has appeared in magazines and newspapers in NorthAmerica and around the world.


All rights reserved by author.